For NBA MVP, the value bet is Zion, but who will actually win is obvious

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Both Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are expected to make a strong push for the NBA MVP.

Both Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are expected to make a strong push for the NBA MVP.
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It’s easily forgotten that NBA is actually an acronym that stands for National Basketball Association. For a casual observer that follows the league’s personalities and news breakers on social media, the league can be viewed as a multiplatform action/drama that sparks the audience’s adrenaline with the dunks and game-winners, but the juicy storylines are what keep people glued to all their devices for updates.

I, like many others, love following a player who is disgruntled for whatever reason to find out which franchise they end up with by the trade deadline, and watching them as well as coaches and executives try and dismiss reports because of course no person is named “sources.”

All of the drama off the court is high entertainment, but so is the basketball. Talent in the NBA is at the highest level it has ever been. The G-League is a real source for players, as well as every corner of planet Earth.

Competition for the top-six seed in both conferences will be fierce, as there are no stars with preseason injuries — i.e. a slight ACL tear and a foot injury — that will keep them out of the season opener and end up keeping them out for the whole year.

All of this healthy talent, and young players rapidly improving, should result in one of the best MVP races in recent memory. However, remember that the race is a marathon and not a sprint. Appreciate the journey without trying to predict the results after every mile.

Players are going to have epic peaks, and level out as the 82 games play out. While I encourage people to appreciate the basketball, preseason predictions, however, are fun, and gambling is more open than ever. So here is the case for MVP for some of the gambling favorites, along with who I believe will be the 2022-23 NBA MVP.

Luka Dončić

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No matter what sportsbook you look at — DraftKings, Caesars, FanDuel — he is, for the second straight year, the favorite to win the award.

Dončić will certainly have the most opportunity to go after the MVP. The Dallas Mavericks’ other ball handlers are Spencer Dinwiddie and Frank Nitilikina — both of whom come off of the bench. It’s highly likely that Dončić leads the NBA in usage rate for the third consecutive season, and the Mavericks do have an outside shot at one of the top seeds in the Western Conference, with the Golden State Warriors aging and no clarity as to whether whatever internal problems tripped up the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs have been fixed.

He lost the award in the first two months of last season when he and the Mavericks struggled. Then when Dončić returned from injury at the start of the new year, he and his team surged as the star guard averaged 30.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game on 46.2/36.6/75.9 shooting splits, and the Mavericks went on to win more than 50 games for the first time since their 2011 championship. If keeps it up all season, he may never leave the board as the betting favorite.

Zion Williamson

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For those who may still doubt the talent of Williamson, just know that money has been pouring in for him to win the NBA MVP since July. That’s before he showed up to the New Orleans Pelicans Media Day built like an outside linebacker, revealing that he’s being musically powered by the Notorious B.I.G.

He’s still a long shot, but for those looking at a chance at a couple of grand, feel free to put $100 on Williamson at +2500. The last time he was healthy he was the most efficient paint scorer in the NBA, averaging 27 points per game on 61.1 percent from the field, and the last time the Pelicans were on the floor without him they gave the No. 1 seed Suns all that they could handle.

If these young, talented, athletic, and confident Pelicans jump to a top-two seed, and Williamson is the hottest show in the NBA by scoring at will and still showing off his playmaking chops, he’ll have enough hype to carry him to the MVP

Nikola Jokić

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He is the best player statistically in the NBA for the last two seasons, and it hasn’t been close. Last season he led the league in PER, Win Shares, Offensive Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes, Box Plus/Minus, Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Defensive Box Plus/Minus, Value Over Replacement Player, and also total defensive rebounds just for the heck of it.

Jokić carried a Denver Nuggets’ roster held together with spit and glue to a 48-34 record. Not only did the Nuggets make the playoffs, but they also avoided the Play-In Tournament, all while Jeff Green played the fifth most minutes on the team.

Jamal Murray has spent a year and a half recovering from his ACL surgery, and should be ready to bring back the most devastating pick-and-roll attack in the game. Michael Porter Jr. is reported to be healthy, but his back might as well serve as a giant question mark on his whole career. If the Nuggets’ best players stay healthy, they earn a No. 1 seed, and Jokić again leads the NBA in every advanced metric, the MVP voters will have to do what they haven’t since Larry Bird — award a player the MVP for the third consecutive season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

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The case for Giannis — pain. Pain that he will bring to the whole NBA this season after the Milwaukee Bucks’ disappointing championship defense. Only Bobby Portis made it to 70 total games played for the Bucks last season, as injuries and pacing after being forced to return to action 90 days after a full 82-game plus championship season resulted in them only winning 51 games.

While the Bucks finished the season as the third seed in the Eastern Conference with only three more wins than the Nuggets, when Antetokounmpo was on the court, it was becoming clear that he was the best player in the NBA. A two-way force not seen since Miami Heat-era LeBron James.

Then came the playoffs, and in two rounds he completely separated himself from the rest of the league. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and if Khris Middleton doesn’t get hurt in the first round, or Jayson Tatum saves the Celtics’ season in Milwaukee, they win back-to-back titles. If the Bucks get back to the top of the East, and Antetokounmpo continues his warpath from the playoffs, he can snatch a third MVP.

Joel Embiid

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My pick for MVP.

The Philadelphia 76ers were a toddler who should’ve used the bathroom after a fast food lunch on a road trip, but didn’t, and then has an accident 30 miles from the next rest stop kind of a mess in 2021-22. It started in the 2021 playoffs, and carried over because they delayed fixing the biggest problem that after that loss to the Atlanta Hawks: Ben Simmons could never put on a 76ers uniform again.

Daryl Morey hung on to acquire James Harden at the trade deadline, who was nowhere close to the steadying lead-guard force that he was for the Brooklyn Nets the previous season, or the unstoppable force that he was at the top of the key for Morey’s Houston Rockets the previous decade. Harden was slow, his jump shot off, and still a liability on defense. Not the best return for repetitively punching your players in the stomach by holding onto Simmons for so long.

However, through all of that, Joel Embiid had the best season of his career. He played by far the most games he ever has — 68 — and led the NBA in scoring with 30.6 points per game on 49.9/37.1/81.4 shooting splits as a 7-foot-2 tank. He did all of this while being a dominant defensive player.

He had every right to say “I wonder what else I have to do to win it.” He also legitimately lost to Jokić. The 76ers won three more total games than the Nuggets did, and Jokić played in six more individually. For all of the 76ers drama, Jokić would’ve given a pinkie toe to have Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, and Harden as teammates. And again, Jokić’s advanced metric domination was otherworldly.

This season though, can belong to Embiid. The 76ers shored up the rotation by adding P.J. Tucker and DeAnthony Melton. Maxey should continue to ascend after the huge jump he took last season, and Harden appears to be more focused than he has ever been. A performance close to last season’s, and a top-two, maybe even top-three finish in the East as long as they win at least 55 games — the award will go to him. It’s his turn.

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