Handicapping the field to win NBA 2018 MVP

Oct 9, 2017 |

Predicting who will win the NBA MVP award is normally a simple procedure. Look at the list of favorites to win on your sportsbook NBA odds board and see who’s at the top of the list.

Odds courtesy of Bet365.com.

The preseason favorite to win the regular season NBA MVP award has walked away with the honors in six of the last 11 seasons. But this isn’t a normal season. Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 summer turned the league juggernaut into.. ummm… a super juggernaut? Yes, that’s right a super juggernaut on speed.

Durant is inarguably one of the league’s best three players and his teaming with a two-time MVP threw everything out of whack. Suddenly, two-time MVP runner-up James Harden is joining forces with nine-time all-star Chris Paul, and the Thunder are trading for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to complement the defending Most Valuable Player – Russell Westbrook.

All the big-name player movement in the offseason is mixing up the MVP odds like prime Tony Parker putting defenders in the spin cycle. 

But we still have a blueprint of what type of team and individual numbers will need to be met for a player to be a serious contender for the NBA regular season MVP award.


Win a lot of games

The data in the chart above tells us our MVP winner must qualify for the postseason and his team needs to win around 54 or 55 games at least. The Westbrook 2017 campaign is an outlier here. The importance of team wins gets lowered significantly when there’s a player averaging a damn triple-double and leading the league in scoring.

Putting Westbrook’s volcanic lightning season aside, seven of the last 11 NBA MVPs have been the best players on the team that finished with the most wins – including the infamous Derrick Rose 2011 season.

High or highest PER (Player Efficiency Rating)

The statistic created by former ESPN writer and now executive with the Memphis Grizzlies, John Hollinger, is the best stat to predict MVP winners. Seven of the last nine MVP winners finished with the league’s best PER for the season.

Scoring points is big – three of the last four winners were the league’s scoring champ – but PER is an all-inclusive number that today’s writers will lean on.

High usage rate

Usage is a statistic created to measure how much of a team’s offense is dedicated to a specific player. Westbrook had a historically high usage rate at 40.8 last season. Recent history tells us our MVP candidate needs to finish with a usage rate of at least 29 or 30.

No big men needed

The game used to be big-man orientated, but that’s no longer the case. The league is run now by ball-dominant guards who can shoot from deep. Today’s bigs are told to rebound, defend the paint, space the floor and mostly get the hell out of the way on offense.

Of the last 10 MVP winners, four were point guards, five were small forwards and there was one shooting guard. Dirk Nowitzki, the original stretch four, was the last big man to win and that was in 2007.

Best long shot pick

Kyrie Irving +1600

NBA media members – the people who vote to determine the award winners – love a good story. Irving demanding a trade to leave LeBron James and a team that had been to three straight NBA Finals is a big story.

The Celtics will win enough games to help Irving’s case and gain him some MVP buzz – most sportsbooks have the C’s as season win total at 54.5 or 55.5 – and Irving will be motivated to prove he made the right decision.

There is a lot of talent on Boston’s roster, but there’s no question whose team this is entering the new campaign. The Celtics parted with too big of a haul to let Irving play second fiddle to Gordon Hayward or Al Horford.

Best choice among the favorites

LeBron James +400

James’ greatness is unquestioned and, like Michael Jordan before him, his greatness is his biggest thing preventing him from winning another MVP. He could average 25 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 1.5 steals per game this campaign and it wouldn’t even crack his top five best seasons. If Kawhi Leonard put up the same numbers he would be a MVP shoe-in.

James is still considered the best player in the league by most writers and his peers, and he hasn’t won the honor since 2013. Voting fatigue will no longer be a hurdle James needs to overcome to reclaim the trophy.

He lost his most talented teammate (Irving) and his replacement (Isaiah Thomas) might not be healthy enough to play until the All-Star break. He will have the voter sympathy card and his usage rate could go way up until Thomas returns.

He’ll have the strongest case for the MVP if he puts up his usual numbers and Cleveland earns the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and it wins 57 to 60 games.

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