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Joel Embiid overtakes LeBron James as favorite to win NBA MVP

We take a look at some betting splits heading into the second half of the season and whether the Sixers center should be favored.

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket over LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center on January 27, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The second half of the 2020-21 NBA season is almost upon us and we’ve got some big news to get us started. After a long run as the favorite to win 2021 NBA MVP, LeBron James has been overtaken by Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. James appeared to be running away with the award until the Los Angeles Lakers began struggling without Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, Embiid finished off the first half with a 40-point performance in an OT win over the Utah Jazz. That game really gave Embiid the type of MVP resume builder he had been lacking.

Now, Embiid is the favorite at +200 ahead of James at +250. This doesn’t mean that LeBron is out of it. The issue with James’ MVP case at this point is he would need Embiid — and even Denver Nuggets C Nikola Jokic (+450) — to struggle a bit. That, plus the Lakers will get Anthony Davis back and if the team recovers and does well, you can make the argument AD is more valuable to the team than LeBron. Embiid has the benefit of being the go-to scorer for the Sixers, even with Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris on the roster.

While LeBron and Embiid make up most of the betting percentages at the mid-way point, there are plenty of players getting MVP love. The big three are Jokic, Dallas Mavericks G Luka Doncic and Brooklyn Nets F Kevin Durant. We’ll start with Durant, who hasn’t played in almost a month for the Nets. To me, he’s eliminated from contention and is a waste of money. He won’t play the games to justify MVP and the Nets have been fine without him.

Jokic is the darkhorse. If the finalists are Embiid, LeBron and Jokic, I think we could see a scenario where the voters see it more even than the books. Jokic and the Nuggets were starting to make moves before the All-Star break. At 21-15, the Nuggets sit in sixth place in the West. A move into the top 4 isn’t out of the question and Jokic has the numbers and is an analytics darling.

Doncic also has the stats but isn’t really doing anything outside of what we’re used to seeing. The Mavericks are at the bottom of the playoff picture. Doncic has had issues with mixing big performances and wins. One game he’ll post a 40-point triple-double in a loss. The next he’ll have 20-10-8 in a win. So really, we need to see Doncic string together a few weeks of insane play coupled with the Mavericks making a move in the West for him to get back into the MVP conversation. It’s not out of the question.

Favorite to win MVP

Pick: LeBron +250

There’s value in LeBron dropping a bit in this race and I still think if the season ended now, James would probably win MVP. AD returning will help the Lakers and it’s not like LeBron will stand aside and let him do all the work. So a strong second half by James and L.A. could help him lock up this award.

Long shot to win MVP

Pick: Giannis Antetokounmpo +1600

It’s almost impossible to win back-to-back-to-back MVPs. Larry Bird is the last player to do so back in the ‘80s. The Bucks won six of seven games before the break. If Milwaukee can go on another run and finish first in the East, Giannis could overtake Embiid and at 16/1 this isn’t a bad time to get in on the Greek Freak.

NBA MVP Betting Splits at Mid-Season

NBA MVP Betting Splits

Handle Rank Player Odds % of Handle % of Bets
Handle Rank Player Odds % of Handle % of Bets
1 LeBron James +250 32% 17%
2 Joel Embiid +200 20% 18%
3 Kevin Durant +4000 8% 11%
4 Nikola Jokic +450 9% 9%
5 Luka Doncic +1200 7% 9%
6 Stephen Curry +2000 4% 5%
7 Damian Lillard +2000 2% 4%
8 James Harden +2500 5% 5%
9 Trae Young +25000 1% 2%
10 Giannis Antetokounmpo +1600 2% 2%

NBA MVP Line Movement

NBA MVP Line Movement

Luka Doncic Giannis Antetokounmpo LeBron James Kevin Durant Joel Embiid Nikola Jokic
Luka Doncic Giannis Antetokounmpo LeBron James Kevin Durant Joel Embiid Nikola Jokic
+700 +600 +700 +1500 +4000 +2000
+400 +450 +900 +1200 +4000 +2200
+550 +1200 +350 +600 +550 +500
+1200 +1600 +250 +4000 +200 +450

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