2021 NBA MVP Best Bet

NOT FOOTBALL PART DEUX…FPS subscribers get a sneak peak of my NBA piece on Fantasy Pros. Enjoy, and bet well…

With every selection, or betting exposure I advise, we focus on one thing: profit. With that being said, whether through data or procedure I’ve found it best to start out “reverse engineering the problem”. What’s the problem? How to maximize likely profit, by selecting the NBA MVP. As for the solution, with all futures bets, (especially MVP picks) the first step is to understand how the award is determined. 

The NBA MVP selection process has had a unique history, and has changed multiple times. At first, it was essentially a player’s award (MVP being selected by peers). After 1981 it was decided that a panel of NBA media, including not desirably in hinesight:  “hometown” broadcasters, would make the selection. As of today we have the modern system where the MVP is decided (mainly) by a disclosed select panel, of “non-hometown” media types. Knowing this, we start the process by looking at the current favorites.

As for the 2020-21 NBA MVP race the lines list the odds as follows: 

Current NBA MVP Odds:

PlayerNBA MVP Odds
LeBron James160
Nikola Jokic200
Joel Embiid600
Giannis Antetokounmpo1400
Luka Doncic1400
James Harden1400
Stephen Curry1600
Damian Lillard1800
Kawhi Leonard3300
Kevin Durant5000

Those odds, along with a fun graphic thanks to SportsBettingDime to see the change in odds over time gives us a starting point.

2020-21 NBA MVP Change in Odds (thanks to SportsBettingDime):

Now that we see the landscape, it’s best to first consider what the EVENTUAL NBA MVP “looked like” (in regards to odds) coming into the season in the past seasons. 

Previous Winners (and Preseason Odds)

2019-20Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks275
2018-19Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks400
2017-18James HardenHouston Rockets750
2016-17Russell WestbrookOklahoma City Thunder300
2015-16Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors650
2014-15Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors4000
2013-14Kevin DurantOklahoma City Thunder300
2012-13LeBron JamesMiami Heat160
2011-12LeBron JamesMiami Heat250
2010-11Derrick RoseChicago Bulls2500
2009-10LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers275
2008-09LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers250
2007-08Kobe BryantLos Angeles Lakers500
2006-07Dirk NowitzkiDallas Mavericks700

As you can see, the NBA is relatively predictive in terms of eventual NBA MVP given the award has been given out to a player averaging +808 payout. Put another way, the NBA MVP is typically within the top 3-5 favorites coming into the season.

Knowing this, along with the current odds the next step is to whittle down our pool to those most likely to be productive. With any bet, advanced statistics will be the best place to start. Remember, it’s not what you know, it’s what you know relative to the market. And the market, or at least 75% of it, use traditional data/gut to make selections. In other words, you can gain a clear advantage leveraging advanced metrics. Metrics like Basketball Reference’s “VORP” (their NBA version of WAR). As it turns out, VORP is HIGHLY tied in/predictive with the NBA MVP. Frankly, it’s almost eerie. Outside of (likely bias against) LeBron James in a handful of years, the number one ranked VORP player for the year has won the MVP, and never has been lower than 3rd. Take a look at this chart of previous winners and their VORP Ranking.

NBA MVP, VORP Ranking and “Higher ranked VORP player if not selected MVP”:

YearPlayerTeamOddsVORP RkHigher Ranked
2019-20Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks2752James Harden
2018-19Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks4002James Harden
2017-18James HardenHouston Rockets7502LeBron James
2016-17Russell WestbrookOklahoma City Thunder3001na
2015-16Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors6501na
2014-15Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors40002James Harden
2013-14Kevin DurantOklahoma City Thunder3001na
2012-13LeBron JamesMiami Heat1601na
2011-12LeBron JamesMiami Heat2501na
2010-11Derrick RoseChicago Bulls25003LeBron James, Chris Paul
2009-10LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers2751na
2008-09LeBron JamesCleveland Cavaliers2501na
2007-08Kobe BryantLos Angeles Lakers5003LeBron James, Chris Paul
2006-07Dirk NowitzkiDallas Mavericks7002LeBron James

Granted, these are end of year metrics, but there’s still plenty to glean from this info from a predictive nature. At least with some simple adjustments. 

Adjusting for the remaining schedule thanks to tankathon, we can get a decent proxy as to where VORP will most likely end up at the end of season.

NBA MVP Favorites, VORP and Remaining Schedule Adjustment

Stephen Curry1600GSW43.136
Luka Doncic1400DAL62.827
Nikola Jokic200DEN14.9169
Giannis Antetokounmpo1400MIL23.52213
Joel Embiid600PHI82.71013
LeBron James160LAL33.22516
Kawhi Leonard3300LAC102.41216
James Harden1400TOT92.71718
Damian Lillard1800POR52.92719
Kevin Durant5000BRK431.2847

Putting it altogether, 

  • VORP is insanely correlated with MVP (so let’s only consider top 5)
  • Final VORP is what actually matters, so lets add an adjustment for upcoming schedule
  • Knowing that the NBA winner is typically in the +800 range (and much more likely to be on the favorite end of the spectrum compared to MLB), we would LIKE to keep picks in that range, but EV along with the other variables have us setting the limit at +1400

This leaves us with two picks:

The best pick: Nikola Jokic.

Dallas Mavericks: 5 predictions for Luka Doncic in the 2020-2021 season

The most likely profitable pick: Luka Doncic

If you bet on Giannis Antetokounmpo, or even James Harden we wouldn’t blame you. They are still positive EV picks given our process. If you really want to go above and beyond, and minimize risk, similar to the process we broke down in MLB Futures, we highly recommend you follow the MVP selectors to make the absolute best pick. If you haven’t read up on the thought process, simply put, the award is determined by humans. Humans that have twitter accounts. Twitter accounts reveal. We hope to automate the “MVP Selector’s Twitter Post” data mining in the future, but if you want to help ensure profit, here’s a great list/account of picks of the current NBA MVP panel by Hoops Hype.

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