Giannis, Jokic and a Guide to the 2020 NBA MVP Odds
Summer has come and gone, and the wildest NBA offseason in years is behind us. It’s the first week of September, and even as the FIBA World Cup unfolds in China, we’re only a few weeks away from the beginning of training camps all over the league.
To pass the time, I will lean on tradition. Every year around Labor Day I like to get reacquainted with the NBA by surveying the MVP field for the coming season. All of this is wildly premature, but that’s part of the fun. With that in mind, and with a nod to Sportsbook.ag for providing the odds, here are some notes on the 2020 contenders for NBA MVP.
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If the Apocalypse Hits.
• Kyle Kuzma (1,500/1)
• Nikola Vucevic (300/1)
• Devin Booker (100/1)
• Zion Williamson (100/1)
• Draymond Green (75/1)
• Jimmy Butler (75/1)
• Luka Doncic (18/1)
Kyle Kuzma is the closest thing the NBA has to a Vine celebrity, and yes, at least half the reason I included this section was to imagine a season where LeBron gets hurt, AD goes missing for several months, and Kuzma rises from the ashes to carry the Lakers all year and raise the Maurice Podoloff trophy in this outfit.
Elsewhere: Devin Booker winning MVP would be a great way to respond to critics of his approach to open gym double teams, but for now, Team Noah is still winning that battle. Doncic should have a great year, but those odds are a little baffling. It’s horrifying to imagine how much league-wide attrition would be required to deliver us a Draymond MVP season. The hypothetical season that ends with a Vucevic MVP has to be the single most boring simulation of what’s possible in 2020. The season that ends with a Zion Williamson MVP is more fun than you can possibly imagine.
The Load Managers
• Paul George (20/1)
• Kawhi Leonard (8/1)
What to make of the Clippers? George’s return from shoulder surgery is still up in the air. George said he’s “progressing really well” but declined to offer a timetable, while last month there were rumors that he could miss the first six weeks. Even when he’s back on the court, he’ll be playing next to Leonard, likely sacrificing some of the scoring we saw through the first half of last year’s Thunder season. An MVP for PG would mean a full recovery from surgery, a return earlier than expected, and probably an extended absence from Leonard that forces George to carry the load and keep the Clips afloat at the top of the West. It’s not inconceivable, but it seems like more of a 50/1 scenario than 20/1.
Then there’s Kawhi. At his introductory press conference, he said he’ll approach this year’s rest schedule on a “game-by-game basis” but that he intends to “play the full season.” Make of that what you will. He’s healthier than he was at the beginning of last year’s regular season—in which he played 60 games—but he’s also someone who’s struggled with nagging injuries for much of his career, including at the end of last year’s playoffs. The case for Kawhi as MVP isn’t complicated. He can anchor the Clippers through George’s absence and his routine excellence will be much harder to ignore after the whole world watched him break the NBA last spring. Maybe the league belongs to him now. I just have a feeling his story will be more nuanced than a full-blown takeover, and either way, I can’t imagine he or the Clippers will care enough about the regular season to make a sustained MVP run across seven months.
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The Best Long Shots
• Rudy Gobert (250/1)
• Ben Simmons (100/1)
• Kemba Walker (50/1)
• Damian Lillard (25/1)
There’s a decent chance the Jazz will have the best record in the West this season, and there’s a decent chance that Gobert will once again be the most valuable player on the Jazz. Someone needs to explain how he has Kyle Kuzma odds in the MVP race. He’s worth a flier just for fun. The same is true for Simmons at 100/1. His game didn’t improve as much as everyone expected last year, but he’s still generally great during the regular season. This is his third full season, the same season that Derrick Rose won his MVP. If Embiid misses extended time and the Sixers play small and fast around Simmons for six months, it’s entirely possible that he enters a wide open MVP race and steals this.
Meanwhile, in Boston, millions of Celtics fans jilted by Kyrie are prepared to build Kemba a statue before he’s even played a game. It’s well-established that roughly two-thirds of sports media somehow has ties to Massachusetts, so the world will hear too much about Celtics stars whether they deserve it or not. If Boston can win 55 games, there will definitely be MVP buzz for the star at the center of everything. The 50/1 feels like a decent value for Kemba.
And Lillard. I’m worried about the Blazers, honestly. Jusuf Nurkic is still recovering from a leg injury, they lost two very solid rotation players (Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless) and replaced them with Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja, and several months’ worth of Anfernee Simons hype. So why bet on Lillard? First, because all the Blazers red flags this summer sound awfully similar to worries that preceded the past few Portland seasons as well. Dame rendered all of that irrelevant. And second: if he can keep things rolling again this year, it may take the best season of his career. If that’s what we see in Portland, it’s not hard to imagine the entire league falling in love with Lillard in March and April and giving him something like a career-achievement MVP.