NBA

Odds: NBA MVP, playoff races takes shape

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

An injury to MVP frontrunner, Houston Rockets guard James Harden, could blow this season’s race for individual glory wide open. The Golden State Warriors star duo of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry look like intriguing sleepers. The prevailing logic when Kevin Durant signed for the Warriors was that he and Stephen Curry were no longer contenders for the regular season MVP award. To win the gong you really have to carry your team and be virtually ever-present, while also telling a compelling story. Golden State’s super-team is more interested in collective glory, and Curry and Durant were not really in the conversation last year, despite starring for a Warriors team that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the league. This season they are once again outsiders, but write them off at your peril.

Bovada will have odds for all playoff teams, make sure to check them and you will see that Golden State is the -200 favorite to win the Championship once again. However, Durant is only fifth in the list of top contenders for the regular season MVP award, while Curry is seventh. Harden is still the favorite, priced between +100 and +220 with various sportsbooks, and that makes sense as he leads the league for player efficiency. However, his hamstring strain could damage his chances. The initial prognosis was that The Beard would miss two weeks of the season, but that seems highly ambitious. The longer he is out, the more the race opens up. He will miss a minimum of six games, and the last player to win the MVP award despite sitting out for more than six matches was Steve Nash in 2004-05.

LeBron James is poised to be the main beneficiary from a potentially lengthy layoff for Harden as he is second for player efficiency and posting his best numbers in many years. He is among the league leaders for minutes played, and he has carried an injury-ravaged, transitional Cavs team that lost Kyrie Irving and missed Isaiah Thomas for the first chunk of the season. Some also feel he deserves a lifetime achievement nod to bring him in line with Michael Jordan on five MVP awards. He is the second favorite in the betting and that is not much separating him and Harden right now.

Giannis Antekounmpo is also in the mix, but the Bucks are struggling and the Greek Freak is not hitting the heights he reached early in the season. Irving is the fourth favorite at +1400, but he has gone off the boil recently too. Last year’s winner, Russell Westbrook, no longer has to carry OKC as he has a pair of All-Stars alongside him, but his numbers have gone south and the Thunder have underwhelmed.

Then you have Durant and Curry. Some sportsbooks have Durant as low as +1000 but you can get +2200 on him with others, while Curry is as long as +3300. Curry’s chances are also hindered by an extended layoff in December, but he is shaping up to have his best season since 2015-16, when he was unanimously named MVP. His true shooting percentage is identical and he also leads the league in Offensive Box Plus Minus. He has twice before led the league for OBPM and both times he won the MVP award. Since returning from injury, Curry has scored 176 points, 28 assists, 28 rebounds and seven steals in just 162 minutes, and that is terrifying form.

However, Durant might be in with a better chance as he held down the fort well in Curry’s absence, as the Warriors went 16-2 and soared to the top of the west, leaving Harden’s Rockets well in their shade. He is threatening to hit 50/40/90 shooting numbers again, form that carried him to the MVP award in 2014, and he has had a greater defensive impact than anyone else in contention. He too is a key cog for the best team in the league and puts forward a compelling case.

Semantics could count against Durant and Curry, as it is the most valuable player award, and Golden State is less dependent on them than Cleveland is on James, Milwaukee is on Antekounmpo or Houston is on Harden. The Warriors’ roster is stacked full of talent and Steve Kerr is able to rotate in the regular season to preserve his stars’ energy for the post-season. One stat counts in Curry’s favor though: with him in the team, Golden State’s offensive rating is an amazing 120.2, 14 points better than when he is off the court. You could argue that Durant is the better player as he is more dominant on the court, but the Warriors are never better than when Curry is in full flow, bending defenses to his will. There are cons for both players in this race, but both look interesting long shots as their influence is enormous, their stats are strong and improving and their talent is undeniable. Either way, you simply cannot leave them out of the conversation as they are the best players on the best team.

 

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His credits include Yahoo Sports and Bleacher Report, among others.
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