Nikola Jokić passes Joel Embiid as NBA MVP betting favorite

Nikola Jokić passes Joel Embiid as NBA MVP betting favorite thumbnail

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic supplanted 76ers center Joel Embiid as the betting favorite to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award with only a handful of games remaining.

Jokic leapt from having the second-best odds at SI Sportsbook–behind Embiid–to being the clear favorite with -138 odds. Embiid, who was once the favorite while hovering around 140 odds to earn MVP honors for the first time, is 125.

Those two are far and away the betting favorites, with Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sitting at 1200 odds. It seems no other player has a realistic shot at winning with the regular season ending April 10.

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Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) goes to the basket against Charlotte Hornets center Mason Plumlee, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Monday, March 28, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.

Jokic won the award for the first time in the 2020-2021 season, and Embiid finished as runner-up. This season’s race could be similar, but the voting will likely go closer than last year.

So what could have made Jokic the frontrunner over Embiid.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps’ third and final MVP straw poll came out Tuesday and Jokic supplanted Embiid as the favorite. The Nuggets star had 62 first-place votes and 860 total points, while Embiid finished with 29 first-place votes and 719 points. Antetokounmpo had a podium finish–nine first-place votes and 593 total points.

Embiid had 45 first-place votes to Jokic’s 43 in the mid-February straw poll. Surprisingly Jokic was not included in a few ballots for that iteration.

For reference, Jokic received 91 first place votes and 971 points in the actual vote last season. Embiid had just one first-place vote and 586 total points. In terms of team performance the change would have been minor. Jokic has played in 14 of Denver’s 15 games in March and the team is 8-6 when he plays. He’s having his best scoring month of the year (29.4 ppg) but his rebound (12.7) and assist (7.9) numbers are down from his season averages of 26.3/13.6/8.

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Embiid has similarly played in 14 of Philadelphia’s 15 games this month and the team is 8-6 when he plays. His scoring numbers are up ever so slightly to 30.1 ppg in March and his rebounding numbers are also up (12.4)–Embiid averages 29.9/11.4 on the year.

The Nuggets are 2-5 without Jokic this season, who has been propping up a team without All-Star point guard Jamal Murray and has only had Michael Porter Jr. for a few games. The 76ers are 5-8 without Embiid, who also had been single-handedly propping up a team before the blockbuster James Harden trade.

When the last straw poll came out on Feb. 17, the trade was a week old and Harden had yet to suit up for his new team.

Both Jokic, Embiid lead the league in many traditional and advanced stats. Jokic is 10th in scoring, second in rebounding and eighth in assists. Embiid is tied second in scoring, seventh in rebounding, and leads the league with free throws attempted and made.

Jokic is first in player efficiency rating (PER) and Embiid is third. And Jokic has a near clean sweep on basketball-reference’s stats page. He’s first in: win shares, offensive win shares, win shares per 48, box plus/minus, offensive box plus/minus, defensive box plus/minus and value over replacement player. The final standings could impact the outcome of the voting. The 76ers are in fourth place in the East but just 1.5 games back from first place. The Nuggets are currently in sixth place in West. They could move up to fifth or forth place, or risk falling into play-in.

A wager on a player other than Jokic or Embiid at this point seems foolish. Congratulations if you get Jokic at plus odds. Grab that ticket. If you are bullish on Embiid there is new value now that he isn’t the favorite.

What’s clear is that rather than Embiid loosening his grip on MVP, Jokic appears to have simply leapfrogged him. And who’s to say Embiid can’t snatch back the momentum before the season finale April 10?

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