Dan Favale | Tue 19/12/2017 - 06:48 EST

Surprise NBA Players Emerging as Dark-Horse MVP Candidates

Surprise NBA Players Emerging as Dark-Horse MVP Candidates
A good bettor always knows when to journey off the beaten path and take a stab at some long-shot odds. Though these dark-horse wagers should never be your sole source of gambling, they are good to use in conjunction with bets on the favorites—particularly in NBA's MVP race. Yes, you've placed your wagers on James Harden or LeBron James, the most likely winners. But if you're looking to stray from the mean for a more lucrative return, you should consider these five under-the-radar candidates.

All MVP odds are coming via Las Westgate Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Sportsbook and are accurate as of Monday, Dec. 18. Dark-horse candidates are ranked in increasing order of the likelihood they might win. These selections not only take into account actual value to one's team, but also voter tendencies, both historically and more recently. And as a basis, we'll consider dark horses NBA players who have +1000 odds or higher.

5. John Wall, Washington Wizards (+2500)

john wall

The temptation to go with Kemba Walker here is real. The Charlotte Hornets go from playing like a top-seven team with him on the floor, to devolving into a mass of nothingness when he steps off. But voters historically don't offer much love to lottery-bound teams, and Charlotte has punched a one-way ticket to NBA purgatory, which precludes him from being selected—barring an impossibly incredible turnaround, of course.

That brings us to John Wall, who just recently returned after receiving PRP injections in his knee. His Washington Wizards are off to a somewhat disappointing start, at 16-14, in sole ownership of the Eastern Conference's seventh seed. Most expected them to contend for a top-three record and home-court advantage through at least the first round of the playoffs.

Well, they still might. The East is wide-open below the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, and the Wizards are demolishing opponents by 7.1 points per 100 possessions whenever Wall's on the floor—a net rating better than that from the 20-8 Toronto Raptors.

If Wall's return to the starting lineup proves indefinite, the Wizards have a chance to sneak back into that top-three or four conversation. And if they flirt with 50 victories, Wall will receive more MVP votes than most people initially foresaw.

4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (+1200)


Stephen Curry? A dark horse? Seriously?


And just barely.

Kevin Durant and Curry will steal votes away from one another, and the Golden State Warriors' recent winning streak without the two-time MVP point guard doesn't bode well for his chances. But that's the point: Curry opened as a +1000 and has already seen his odds dip. They're only going to fall the longer he's out. And that's a good thing.

Despite all Durant does for the Warriors, Curry remains their most valuable player. The sportsbooks haven't yet caught on to that, but the nuanced basketball minds have. If his return sparks the indomitable Warriors' run everyone has been waiting, he'll get more consideration by default, as the best player on the league's best team always does. 

3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (+2000)


Anthony Davis' performance thus far has been overshadowed by DeMarcus Cousins, which sounds absurd to say. How do you gloss over someone who's averaging 25.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.0 blocks on 56.9 percent shooting overall? You don't. And yet, it's happening to Davis.

Cousins has just been that good. He's dishing out more assists and shooting more threes. He's the more polarizing talent, which has led some to wonder whether he's the more value talent.

News flash: He isn't. 

The New Orleans Pelicans are outscoring opponents by 9.2 points per 100 possessions when Davis plays without Cousins, no small feat considering how woefully thin the team is within the second unit. Conversely, when Cousins plays without Davis, the Pelicans are getting blasted by 7.5 points per 100 possessions—a 16.7-point downturn in the wrong direction.

If the Pelicans make the playoffs and Davis keeps up this performance during his solo acts, he could be this season's Russell Westbrook—the megastar who wins the Maurice Podoloff Trophy while repping a middling outfit.

2. Al Horford, Boston Celtics (+100000)


So many people are going to vote for Kyrie Irving, but just as many people are beginning to see that Al Horford is just as, if not more, important to the Boston Celtics' success.

It's Horford, not Irving, who leads the Celtics in Box Plus-Minus—which measures how much value a player adds to his team per 100 possessions relative to the league average. And it's Horford, not Irving, who anchors the NBA's best defense. Irving has been better on that end, but the Celtics don't survive, let alone thrive as they are, without Horford's supercharged switching at the center position.

Yes, Irving is the lifeblood of the offense, which receives more love for being the flashier aspect of the game. But Horford is an expert passer, screen and floor-spacer for someone at his position. The Celtics aren't able to run so much stuff for everyone, including Irving, if he's not able to function as a secondary playmaker from the post and even off the dribble.

Let it be known that the Celtics are still scoring like a top-six offense when Horford plays without Irving while propping up what would still be the league's best defense. They cannot say the same when Irving plays on his own. They're actually being outscored by 7.5 points per 100 possessions, with baseborn low offensive and defensive ratings.

Don't sleep on Horford completely. He'll get MVP love if this trend continues and the Celtics keep winning.

1. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves (+5000)


Watching the Minnesota Timberwolves isn't pretty. Their defense is trash, and the offense can make your eyes bleed even though it ranks fifth in points scored per 100 possessions. 

Jimmy Butler is the antidote to all this—the sole reason why the Timberwolves are on pace to win 47 games, end a 13-year playoff drought and clinch home-court advantage through the first round of the postseason. They play like a borderline juggernaut when he's in the game, before collapsing without him. You better believe that'll matter if they continue at their current pace.

Feel free to wait a little bit for investing in his odds. You'll want to make sure the Timberwolves don't run off five straight losses to close out December. But don't wait too long, because as of now, they're winning enough to put him in the conversation, which means he won't enjoy dark-horse odds for much longer.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference or NBA.com and are accurate leading into games on Dec. 19.

Category : Sports Betting News

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