Dan Favale | Thu 18/01/2018 - 05:20 EST

Monthly NBA MVP Ladder: Can Anyone Stop James Harden?

Monthly NBA MVP Ladder: Can Anyone Stop James Harden?
The first NBA MVP ladder of 2018 looks a lot different than the final one from 2017. And yes, you should be surprised. The MVP race, as much as any race, typically becomes a runaway affair by the midway mark. At the very least, we usually have two discernible candidates who leave the field in the dust. That isn't the case right now. No fewer than four stars are vying for our foremost MVP affections. So, let's rank the cream of the crop, in order of betting appeal.

Updated MVP odds come from Bovada and are accurate as of Wednesday, Jan. 17. Always take a second look at these lines before deciding on a wager, as they will wax and wane over time. And be sure to check out last month's ladder, which can be found here

6. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (+2900)

davis

Last Month's Ranking: Unranked

Welcome to the MVP conversation, Anthony Davis!

Superstars from mediocre teams, as we have discussed ad nauseam, don't typically win the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. The NBA's collection of voters usually gravitates toward the best player on one of the four or five best teams in the league.

But Russell Westbrook opened the door for people like Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo with his victory last year. And while the Pelicans are barely over .500 and hardly guaranteed a playoff spot, they're also within two games of the Western Conference's No. 5 seed. That means something.

So, too, does Davis' performance. His counting stats are gaudy as always, but two things stand out. First and foremost: He's knocking down nearly 35 percent of his threes amid career high volume and setting a new personal best in assists per 36 minutes. Ergo, he really is doing everything, and it translates to the Pelicans' overall results.

Which brings us to our second point: New Orleans is outscoring opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when Davis takes the floor—a team-best mark, and identical to the Boston Celtics' overall net rating. And get this: That differential increases to a plus-9.1 when he plays on his lonesome, without DeMarcus Cousins.

So, yeah, like we said: Welcome to the MVP discussion, AD.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (+700)

bucks

Last Month's Ranking: 4

Giannis Antetokounmpo's MVP argument is the same as ever. The Milwaukee Bucks go from outscoring opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, to being pummeled by 10.6 points per 100 possessions when he's off the court—a 14.3-point swing in the wrong direction that ranks as the largest on this list.

That should, in theory, give him an airtight case. But he's losing ground, because the Bucks continue to lose games. They're just two games over .500 and sitting on the Eastern Conference's No. 7 seed. Only 1.5 games separate them from the ninth-place Philadelphia 76ers—hence why they are not, contrary to popular belief, guaranteed a playoff spot.

This is eerily similar to Davis' circumstances in New Orleans. But the Pelicans were never considered a postseason lock. They're playing in a more superteam-heavy conference. The Bucks, on the other hand, were supposed to make the leap into top-four, if top-two, territory out east.

Failing to do so isn't on Antetokounmpo. At the same time, they're not as good with him as they should be. It's tough to keep rewarding him over other bigger names given that layer of inconsistency at the team level. 

4. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves (+1850)

butler

Last Month's Ranking: 5

Jimmy Butler is changing the Minnesota Timberwolves' culture.

Where they've been a sorry-sack defensive team for most of this year, they actually rank sixth in points allowed per 100 possessions since Dec. 15—a 17-game stretch that has seen them climb within striking distance of the West's No. 3 seed, which is currently owned by none other than the San Antonio Spurs.

Whatever you were expecting from the Timberwolves, it wasn't this. Not now. They weren't supposed to catch the Spurs. 

Context, of course, matters. The Spurs don't have Kawhi Leonard, who is once again sidelined indefinitely with a quad injury. And head coach Gregg Popovich seems more reluctant than ever to use his full cast of troops on any given night. But the Timberwolves are making waves, and Butler, their No. 1 option, is at the center of it all. 

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets (+110)

rockets

Last Month's Ranking: 1

Talk about a rough month.

James Harden has dominated the MVP pecking order much of this year. The sportsbooks, in fact, still have him laying the stingiest odds. But his recent bout with a hamstring injury changes.

His absence has given others around him a chance to build up their case. The Houston Rockets have also, despite intermittent struggles, been able to tread water without him. They're better with him on the court, but they're posting a net rating comparable to that from the Timberwolves when he's out of the lineup.

Complicating matters even further, he's returning to a Rockets rotation that now includes a healthy Chris Paul. And whenever two superstar sync up, they're bound to rip votes from one another. 

On top of all this, the Rockets may not freely let Harden chase the MVP anymore. Hamstring injuries are fickle. Head coach Mike D'Antoni probably isn't going to overwork Harden, which could give way to minutes caps and rest nights and, thus, a weaker MVP candidacy.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (+1650)

curry

Last Month's Ranking: Unranked

Stephen Curry's rise to No. 2 is not completely random. He was injured the last time we did this exercise, which torpedoed his case.

But he's been a man alive since returning. Through his first seven games back in the fold, he's averaging 31.9 points and 6.4 assists while posting an unreal 76.8 true shooting percentage. That should be illegal.

Indeed, the Golden State Warriors fare like a borderline contender when he's not on the court. But the drop-off they suffer compared to how they play with him is substantial—significantly larger than anyone else on the roster, including Kevin Durant (+1850), who finished third in these proceedings for December.

Many other voters will be inclined to pick Harden or LeBron James at the moment. But Curry's case is on the rise. This time next month, if the Warriors are still destroying fools, we could be talking about him as the top candidate. And yet, the sportsbooks haven't accounted for this in the odds.

Now's the time to buy stock in his MVP march.

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (+150)

lebron

Last Month's Ranking: 2

Listing LeBron James at No. 1 feels weird. Not only have the Cleveland Cavaliers fallen off a cliff since their Dec. 25 loss to the Warriors, but they're actually notching a better differential per 100 possessions when he's off the hardwood.

Still, we know better than to read too much into that. The Cavaliers are deeper than ever on paper, but they lack any sort of sustainable defensive mojo. Their second best pest, behind an engaged LeBron James, is either Jae Crowder and Tristan Thompson—both of whom are underachieving.

Somehow, despite all these struggles, the Cavaliers continue to hold the East's third best record. And if they make up what feels like an insurmountable chasm separating them from the second place Toronto Raptors (four games) and first place Celtics (seven games), it'll be a testament to James' effort—which has been nothing short of otherworldly.

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Category : Sports Betting News

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