Best Bets to Make Now: Nikola Joki, New Favorite to win MVP

Jan 22, 2023

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DENVER, Colorado – The Denver Nuggets center Nikola Joki has replaced Luka Doni as the betting favorite to win the NBA MVP award, moving him to the top of the FOX Bet odds board.

Strong pundits can see why he’s the favorite right now; the Nuggets have the best record in the Western Conference, and Jokic has by far the biggest efficiency differential, according to Cleaning the Glass, which is a wild 23.9. This means that the Nuggets perform nearly 24 points better when Jokic is on the court than when he isn’t.

Even though he may not have previously appeared first on my MVP ballot, we cannot necessarily anticipate him to take home the trophy for a third year running. The fact that many don’t think he’ll continue like this doesn’t mean we can’t bet on it happening. Or perhaps the 100 or so media members who vote for the award — most people, by the way — don’t take other considerations into account when they cast their votes in three months.

Let’s get started with the odds and then go on to my three current value picks for NBA MVP wagers.

The Denver big man would become one of only three players in NBA history to win the honor three years in a row if he were to receive the award, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Larry Bird. This is the No. 1 big-picture consideration. Joki’s special talent may make that sound less bad to you than it actually is, but if he were to win back-to-back championships, he would beat out Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It would imply that, historically speaking, Jokic has been the league’s most dominant player for the past three years, which is difficult to square with his lackluster postseason performances.

All those two-time winners, including Wilt, Bill, and Larry, have one thing in common: they’ve all collected multiple rings. Joki stands out among two-time champions because he hasn’t even gone close to winning one, which makes him a rare exception.

Because he wasn’t put at the top of my ballot the previous two years, none can hold that against him, but no one’s sure the majority of other pundits. Especially if there is evidence to suggest that Joki is not as individually dominant as he was a year ago, which, lo and behold, there is.

According to statistics, he is underperforming in various areas. His field goal and three-point shooting percentages are up, as well as his assist totals, but his point, rebound, and blocked shot totals are all down. I don’t anticipate that to alter, barring an injury to Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., or Aaron Gordon. All of which would imply that rather than Joki’s development, the Nuggets’ conference-leading record is more a result of Murray and Porter’s return after missing a significant portion of the previous campaign.

The fact that the Eastern Conference seems to be substantially tougher than the Western Conference is another factor working against Jokic. This will make it more important for that team to win the conference, which will benefit the MVP candidate who oversees that squad. The MVP odds of Ja Morant and Luka Doni are similarly impacted.

The East is suddenly the more formidable beast, even if the Nuggets manage to maintain the best record in the Western Conference. Dallas has a 24 to 21 record as of Tuesday, earning them the fifth seed and a position in the playoffs; in the East, they would have received the seventh seed and a place in the play-in game (Miami).

The three best wagers to win the MVP this year are all with elite Eastern teams, which is why they are all at this point.

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