NBA MVP race: Oddsmakers treating Giannis Antetokounmpo like the clear No. 3 and it’s not really clear why

About a month ago, February 16, Tim Bontemps of ESPN published his latest MVP straw poll. This poll is the single most accurate measure of voter sentiment in the NBA because it only includes likely voters. Not surprisingly, given the climate of the time, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was the clear favorite with 77 first-place votes.

In second place, as in the first straw poll, was Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. He edged out third-place Joel Embiid in both the number of first-place votes (11 to six) and second-place votes (38 to 24). Here is what each of them has done over the past month according to statistics, not counting the two games that Antetokounmpo left early due to injuries:

Points per game Rebounds per game Assists per game Effective field goal percentage Write down

Joel Embiid






Giannis Antetokounmpo






If there is a significant gap between them during this period, you will not notice it in the raw numbers. Embiid averaged 2.5 points more but Antetokounmpo averaged 5.3 more points per game thanks to his assists. During that period, the Bucks were much better defensively, ranking fourth in the NBA while the 76ers languished in 22nd.

The Sixers made up for it with a monstrous offensive month, but Milwaukee still leads the NBA with a net rating of plus 6.9 over that period. Oddly enough, Philadelphia have actually gotten significantly better with Embiid since then, winning his bench minutes with 11.7 points per 100 possessions compared to the 4.2 they win minutes on court with Embiid. The Bucks win Antetokounmpo on the bench by 3.3 points per 100 possessions, but dominate the opposition by 10.2 points per 100 with him on the floor.

None of this, of course, means that Embiid’s MVP case is closed. Before the last straw poll, there were weighty arguments in his favor, and they only intensified in one of the best months of his career. However, since we last heard from likely voters, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any definitive way Embiid has outplayed Antetokounmpo. Their performance was pretty even, and if anyone has an edge based on what we’ve covered here, it’s Antetokumbō.

Why, then, did Embiid suddenly take over the race and push Antetokounmpo into third place? At the time of this writing, the 76ers star is minus 115 favorite to win the Caesars Sportsbook MVP. Jokic is a very, very weak underdog for Embiid at even money, despite a recent four-loss streak that many pundits doubt. Antetokumbō is not exactly a distant third, but at plus 300 there is a significant gap between him and the top two. Given the numbers and what the voters themselves told us in the last straw poll, it’s simply incomprehensible why Antetokounmpo doesn’t go head to head with Jokic and Embiid. In fact, he ticks the MVP boxes, which none of them do.

Last month, Antetokounmpo’s Bucks overtook the Boston Celtics for the NBA’s best record. Historically, the best record in the NBA is extremely valuable for the MVP title. Oh, out of the last 30 MVPs, 18 played for the team with the best record in the NBA. That’s 60 percent of hits. No other statistic can match it, and Antetokounmpo did it with his best teammate, Chris Middleton, missing half the season and staying on the minute limit for most of it.

Embiid’s claim to statistical prominence is the scoring title as he currently leads Luka Doncic by half a point. Only nine of the last 30 scoring champions have become MVPs. Jokic averages a triple-double, but of the five triple-double seasons in NBA history, only one has been an MVP. It’s a tiny sample size, but you get the idea: voters appreciate a win. That trend has waned in recent years with both Jokic and Russell Westbrook being the sixth seed, but it’s a historically based principle.

Recently, both awards, especially Jokic’s second award, have been met with protest. There are many reasons for this, but if one of them is the lack of success in the playoffs, then it is worth noting that Antetokounmpo is the only champion of the trio. Having never reached the Eastern Conference Finals, Embiid had the least success in the playoffs. There are voters who think that the MVP award should simply go to the best player in the league. CBS Sports, ESPN And Bleach Report everyone chose Antetokounbo before the season, but for now some outlets (for example Bell ringer) have since switched to Jokic, voters who rely on playoff results to rank players will have a hard time objecting to Antetokounmpo given his last two postseasons.

We have Covered the role of voter fatigue plays in these races, and previous winners such as Antetokumbō are usually judged against their past selves. At a minimum, he matches his previous two MVP seasons. His efficiency has dwindled slightly, but this has resulted in a corresponding increase in scoring as he averages 31.4 points per game. Whether he was better than he was in 2019 or 2020 is debatable, but he certainly had to play a different role when Middleton hobbled like that. He accepted the challenge.

This season has a notable precedent against Antetokounmpo. He’s already missed 15 games. Not a single MVP since Bill Walton scored more than 11 points. However, Embiid didn’t score 13, so any of them would have set a new post-Walton high. If longevity is the deciding factor, then the winner will be Jokic, who has only missed eight games. That’s not to say the Bucks outperform the 66ers in the games their stars miss. Milwaukee 9-6 without Antetokounmpo. Philadelphia 9-4 without Embiid. Resilience may play a small role in Jokic’s favor, especially since Denver is 3-5 without him, but it is unlikely to play an important role in this race.

Ultimately, we are not judging Jokic, Embiid, and Antetokounmpo here. There will be enough time for that later. Rather, it is an examination perception their merits. The evidence tells us one thing, and Vegas tells us another. So why don’t the sportsbooks give Antetokounbo the same respect they do for Jokic and Embiid?

There is a relatively simple answer here, and it suggests that you should probably bet on Antetokounmpo right now. In sports betting, perception is reality. Vegas sets odds designed to distribute money evenly among as many candidates as possible. If the odds are even for the three candidates and all three get the same money, Vegas makes a profit because only one of them actually wins. The odds for Jokic and Embiid are probably the same because the amount of money the books will have to pay for them is probably the same. If Vegas sets higher odds on Antetokounmpo, that should probably spur him into action because players are leaning towards Embiid and Jokic.

So the real question, following this logic, is why players lean towards Antetokumbō. There is no clear answer. The frightening idea of ​​a “narrative” winner is obvious. Embiid has placed second twice, so there may be an opinion among fans that the voters will finally reward him. Jokic, as a long-term favorite, probably attracted bets from random players when his victory seemed imminent. But Antetokounmpo remained consistently in the race throughout the season. His 9-0 start to the season came so early that he couldn’t really pick up MVP momentum, and his recent 16-game winning streak was overshadowed by a hectic trade deadline and an MVP discourse that was much more centered around Jokic. In short, the unsatisfactory and unverifiable answer here is that it was simply overlooked due to bad timing, which won’t matter as much when the voters weigh all their cases.

It doesn’t really mean that Antetokounmpo will win the MVP. We still have over three weeks of play to resolve this, including the upcoming round robin where the Nuggets, Bucks and 76ers play each other over nine days. But if you consider that all three candidates are relatively close to each other, which is what we spent the last 1500 words or so arguing on, then it is logical to bet among the three candidates with higher odds. It may not be the safest bet of the three, but it does offer the most profit.


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