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It looks like NBA sharp bettors may have been onto something.
In July, Mavericks wing Luka Doncic opened at 50-1 to win MVP after an awe-inspiring Rookie of the Year campaign. Sharps pounced, pushing him closer to 20-1 before the season - a price that now looks like a bargain through the first quarter of 2019-20.
The Slovenian star is 13-4 (+325) to win MVP as of Wednesday, second behind reigning winner Giannis Antetokounmpo. Doncic was 10-1 just two weeks ago but has led Dallas to a 9-1 record in its last 10 games, passing four-time MVP LeBron James and 2018-19 runner-up James Harden on the oddsboard with road wins over both. If the sophomore wins this year, he'll be the youngest MVP in NBA history (he turns 21 in February).
Doncic's resume suggests he's got a shot. He ranks third in the NBA in points (30.3), second in assists (9.2), and 14th in rebounds (10.1), with a league-leading seven triple-doubles through 21 games. He averaged a 30-point triple-double in November, becoming only the third player to ever accomplish the feat and earning Western Conference Player of the Month honors.
It's not just stat-padding, either. The Mavericks own the fourth seed in the loaded Western Conference and rank third in the NBA in net rating (7.7). They also have road wins over three of the other top five seeds in the West.
The Bucks rank first in net rating (10.3), which could be Antetokounmpo's best argument for a repeat as league MVP. His gaudy stat line doesn't hurt, either: He's averaging 31 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks, and he's adding 1.6 threes per game - seemingly his only vulnerability a year ago.
If Antetokounmpo continues to improve upon last season's MVP numbers and the Bucks claim the top seed in the East, it'll be hard to deny him the hardware for a second straight season. Still, stories sell; a bump helped Antetokounmpo best Harden last year, and Doncic's rise is similarly attractive. At longer odds with more momentum, Doncic might be the better play for bettors.
Here are the updated MVP odds (500-1 or shorter) with a few notable candidates beyond the top two favorites:
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||5-4 (+125)|
|Luka Doncic||13-4 (+325)|
|James Harden||7-2 (+350)|
Similar to how teammate Russell Westbrook's staggering numbers eventually grew stale in voters' eyes, Harden's sustained scoring brilliance might be his biggest hurdle for an MVP campaign. He leads the league with a ridiculous 39.5 points per game on a 39.6% usage rate, which is somehow lower than his 2018-19 usage.
It's hard to bet against the possibility of Harden ripping off some historic mark to bolster his case, but it seems his chance at another MVP award may have passed him by. It might take Houston claiming a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the Rockets star to topple Antetokounmpo or Doncic.
The preseason concern that two MVP candidates couldn't coexist on one team hasn't prevented James and Anthony Davis from posting massive numbers for the juggernaut Lakers. Thus far, it's James getting the bump on the MVP oddsboard.
Davis ranks higher in PER and win shares, but James' career-high 10.8 assists per game lead the league and have opened up Los Angeles' offense, which is tied for sixth in points per 100 possessions (111.3). If the Lakers reach 65-plus wins, James is a real dark horse in this race.
This is ostensibly a five-man race between Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Harden, James, and Davis. But don't discount Pascal Siakam, who's producing an MVP-worthy encore to his breakout 2018-19 season.
Averaging 25.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and four assists per game, the Raptors star ranks fifth in ESPN's MVP voting ballot - ahead of Davis - despite sitting a distant ninth on the oddsboard. Siakam's guided Toronto to the third-best record in the East and the NBA's second-best net rating (8.8). He shouldn't be a front-runner just yet, but he's got a much better shot than his 80-1 odds imply.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.