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Betting awards update: Does Giannis still have a shot at MVP?

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Betting awards update: Does Giannis still have a shot at MVP?
  • Andre Snellings, ESPNMar 6, 2024, 02:56 PM ET

Can Giannis Antetokounmpo win his third MVP award this season? According to ESPN BET, he has the fourth-shortest odds in the NBA at 14-1, behind Nikola Jokic (-155), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+230) and Luka Doncic (+750), and just ahead of Jayson Tatum (22-1).

Here’s why he can: Antetokounmpo is quietly putting together the best offensive season of his career. He is a decimal point away from his highest scoring average at 30.8 PPG while dishing a career-high 6.3 APG and shooting a way-career best 61.9% from the floor.

In fact, Antetokounmpo is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average at least 30 PPG on 60 FG% for an entire season. Not even the most dominant interior scorers in NBA history — not Shaq, not Kareem, not even Wilt — have ever been able to score at such high volume and high efficiency at the same time.

Up until recently, the reason why Antetokounmpo couldn’t win the MVP was that, for all his offensive brilliance, the Bucks’ struggles on defense and therefore in the win-loss column would have been enough to keep him out of it.

But, have you happened to notice what’s going on in Milwaukee since the All-Star break?

The Bucks have won six straight games. But it’s not that they are winning that’s the story — it’s how they are winning.

The Bucks are playing good, old fashioned, lights-out defense!

They have held their six opponents since the break to an average of only 98.7 PPG. Antetokounmpo missed their last game, but in the four games before that, none of the four opponents cracked 100 points. In today’s NBA, that is unheard of.

The Timberwolves have the stingiest defense in the NBA, allowing opponents to score 106.5 PPG on average. No other team is allowing fewer than the Cavaliers’ 109.4 PPG. The Bucks still have 20 games remaining to prove this defensive renaissance isn’t a fluke.

But if they do?

Then suddenly, Antetokounmpo isn’t just having one of the most remarkable offensive seasons in the NBA, but he’s also re-established himself as one of the best defensive anchors in the league. And he’d be doing so on a team with one of the best records in the league, because if the Bucks keep holding teams under a century, they won’t lose very often from here on in.

And how would this result, should it happen, stack Antetokounmpo up against his peers?

Jokic is the frontrunner and odds-on favorite to win MVP, what would be his third in the past four seasons. For the second straight season, Jokic is a fraction of an assist per game away from averaging a triple-double. He also has his Nuggets within a game of the best record in the Western Conference, and his status as the defending Finals MVP and de facto baddest man in the league holds some weight in the minds of potential voters as well.

Gilgeous-Alexander has kept his Thunder at the top of the Western Conference, currently 0.5 games behind the Timberwolves for the one seed. He is an elite scorer and offense creator, carrying a Thunder team that was not expected to contend to the brink of the promised land. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging more than 31 PPG for the second straight season, and also leads the NBA with 2.2 SPG.

Doncic is in the midst of his own remarkable campaign, vying to become the first player in NBA history to average 30 PPG (league leading 34.5 PPG), 9 APG (9.7 APG) and 8 RPG (8.9 RPG). The Mavericks have the worst records among the teams with a leading MVP candidate, and Doncic’s impact +/- stats are also the weakest of the bunch, which really hurts his case.

Finally, Tatum’s MVP case is the exact opposite of Doncic’s. He is the best player on the best team, leading the Celtics in scoring (27.1 PPG) and rebounding (8.4 RPG), and is a fraction away from leading them in assists as well (4.8 APG, behind Derrick White’s 4.9 APG). But Tatum just doesn’t have to do as much, on a team starting four All Stars, as the other leading MVP candidates. His stats are great, and being the best player on the best team is quite an accomplishment, but ultimately is unlikely to allow him to catch the top candidates in the vote.

Ultimately, this award is Jokic’s to lose. Barring a tragic finish where the Nuggets fall completely off the pace and/or Jokic is unavailable for large swatches of games, it is likely he takes his third award. But Gilgeous-Alexander and Antetokounmpo are the only two competitors with both the statistical footprint and the team success to be able to push Jokic to the wire.

Antetokounmpo is dealing with Achilles tendonitis that kept him out of Monday’s game; if it causes him to miss much more time down the stretch, it could keep him from being able to close the gap on his MVP rivals. But as the only one of the three most likely candidates with greater than 10-1 odds, Antetokounmpo is the long shot MVP candidate with the most value at this point in the season.


Where things stand with the NBA awards races

We’ve discussed the MVP candidates. Now, let’s take a look at the state of the union for the futures market of the rest of the NBA individual awards.

Rookie of the Year

Leader: Victor Wembanyama (-3000)
Co-leader: Chet Holmgren (18-1)
Longshots of interest: Brandon Miller (400-1), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (1500-1)

After battling with Holmgren for much of the season, Wembanyama’s historic last month has all but sealed the deal. Wembanyama just became the only player in NBA history — not the only rookie, the only player — to block at least 50 shots and make at least 20 3-pointers in a nine-game span. Over his past 30 games, going back to Dec. 28, Wembanyama has put together this stat line: 22.8 PPG (50.0 FG%, 84.5 FT%), 10.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 3.8 BPG, 2.0 3PG (38.1 3P%) and 1.2 SPG.

While Holmgren is still having a really great rookie season while helping lead the Thunder to the top of the standings, and Miller has stepped up his scoring in a big way for the Hornets, this race is all but over.

Sixth Man of the Year

Leader: Malik Monk (-285)
In the hunt: Norman Powell (+550)
Longer shots of interest: Tim Hardaway Jr. (20-1), Bogdan Bogdanovic (50-1)

This race is the most competitive outside of the MVP race, and has changed dramatically since the last update last month. At that time, Hardaway was the frontrunner, but a disastrous shooting stretch has dropped him to a long shot. After averaging 18.3 PPG up until the start of February, his scoring has plummeted to 9.6 PPG on 34.0 FG% since.

Monk has jumped into the driver’s seat with a strong month from Feb. 2 through March 1, in which he averaged 19.8 PPG (50.0 FG%) and 4.8 APG while helping keep the Kings in playoffs contention.

Powell is a player to watch moving forward. With Russell Westbrook sidelined (hand surgery), Powell could carry a larger offensive load down the stretch for a Clippers team still battling for the top seed.

For similar reasons, I’d also keep an eye on Bogdanovic. With Trae Young (finger surgery) out, Bogdanovic has moved into the starting lineup with nominally more scoring opportunity. In practice, Bogdanovic has struggled with his shot in his past four starts, but if he turns it around he could put some big numbers on the board. And he’s come off the bench for the majority of the season, so he will remain eligible for this award even if he were to start for the rest of the way.

Most Improved Player

Leader: Tyrese Maxey (-600)
In the hunt: Coby White (+700)
Longer shot of interest: Alperen Sengun (18-1)

This is another race that seems to be largely decided. Maxey has been the odds-on favorite all season, but his consistently high-level play and first All-Star appearance have now made him a prohibitive favorite.

White has stepped up in a major way this season as well, taking on the injured Zach LaVine‘s role as the primary lead-guard offense creator on the Bulls and showing he can be a consistent 20-plus point per game scorer.

Scottie Barnes‘ injury drops him out of contention. Sengun had the second-shortest odds at last month’s update, but a stretch of cooler play decreased his odds. Of note, though: Sengun exploded in his matchup against Wembanyama on Tuesday night, dropping a career-high 45 points in a signature performance.

Defensive Player of the Year

Leader: Rudy Gobert (-700)
In the hunt: Wembanyama (+650)
Longshots of interest: Holmgren (75-1), Antetokounmpo (200-1)

Yet another race where the leader has such a big lead that it seems nearly over. Gobert continues to lead the best defense in the league in Minnesota, and seems very likely to hoist his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award at season’s end.

Wembanyama is the only other player given less than 20-to-1 odds to win. That in itself is a massive change from last month’s update, when Wembanyama had +5000 (50-to-1) odds to win. His average of 5.6 BPG and 2.1 SPG in his past nine games, including a 10-block effort as part of a triple-double, have moved Wembanyama way up the list despite his team’s defensive struggles.

That last is significant because of the cash-early option. Often, when there is a major change in odds, the cash-early option allows bettors to cash in for less than the full prize. Wembanyama is unlikely to win, but if allowed to cash out a +5000 bet for +650 odds, that could be a significant award. Keep that in mind with a player like Antetokounmpo who is 200-to-1 at the moment, but if he stays healthy and the Bucks continue their Bad Boy Pistons impersonation on defense, it could shorten his odds before the season ends.

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