DeMar DeRozan has emerged as a viable longshot in the NBA MVP race
With the final stretch of the NBA regular season set to kick off Thursday, Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan has a chance to make a serious push for the 2022 NBA MVP award.
At the beginning of February, DeRozan was listed as a +5000 longshot to claim the award, but a string of 30-plus-point performances in the midst of a five-game win streak has improved his odds to +2000.
MVP Winner 2021/2022
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Injuries to LaVine, Ball have helped DeRozan prove his value
At 28.1 points per game, DeRozan ranks fourth in the league in scoring, behind MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid (+125), Giannis Antetokounmpo (+350), and LeBron James (+15000).
In Chicago's most recent win, a 125-118 decision over Sacramento, the 32-year-old veteran scored 38 points, which marked his eighth straight 30-plus-point outing and the seventh consecutive game he led his team in scoring.
It happened. DeMar DeRozan is the first player in NBA history with 35+ points on 50% shooting in 7 straight games.— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 17, 2022
38 PTS | 59 FG%
40 PTS | 67 FG%
38 PTS | 50 FG%
35 PTS | 64 FG%
36 PTS | 68 FG%
38 PTS | 59 FG%
45 PTS | 60 FG% pic.twitter.com/LjNqZAxnpB
During that stretch, the Bulls were without point guard Lonzo Ball, while two-time All-Star Zach LaVine missed three games during Chicago's current win streak.
Across the last five games, DeRozan has averaged 37.4 points while shooting 61.2% from the field, including 57.1% from 3-point land, and has posted 5.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds per contest.
The Bulls currently own a 38-21 record, which is tied for first in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat, and are a +2500 choice to win the 2022 NBA title.
Morant is closing in on Curry in MVP odds
In the Western Conference, two other MVP candidates have experienced a shift in their MVP odds, as reigning NBA scoring champion Steph Curry fell from +400 at the beginning of the month to +1000 odds, while Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant jumped from +1400 odds to +1000.
The -500 odds-on favorite to win Most Improved Player, Morant has guided his team to a 41-19 record, good for third in the West, behind the Phoenix Suns (48-10) and Curry's Golden State Warriors (42-17).
In his most recent game, he scored 44 points in a narrow 123-119 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, which snapped a five-win streak, in which Morant scored 20 or more points in every matchup.
Ja Morant tonight:— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) February 17, 2022
21/25 FT pic.twitter.com/scQWMEk542
The 22-year-old point guard ranks seventh in the league in player efficiency rating (25.13), points per game (26.8), and is fifth in field goals made per game (10). His production has turned Memphis into a legitimate title contender, just one year after the Grizzlies finished with a 38-34 record and lost 4-1 in their first-round playoff series with the Utah Jazz.
Straw poll provides MVP voting clues
While the best player on the league's third-best team more than deserves a look at MVP, a recent ESPN straw poll ahead of the NBA All-Star break saw Morant rank sixth in MVP votes.
In the informal poll comprised of 100 media members, Embiid held a 35-point lead over last year's MVP winner, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who pulled in 43 first-place votes in the straw poll.
New ESPN story: The latest edition of my MVP Straw Poll is the closest vote I’ve ever had, as it’s shaping up to be Joel Embiid vs. Nikola Jokic for a second straight season. https://t.co/lvsYW1vPZl— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 17, 2022
Antetokounmpo garnered nine first-place votes, while two-time MVP Curry received one.
Golden State has recently hit a skid, with just one win across its last five games, resulting in Curry stumbling in the latest MVP odds. But he could see a resurgence in the final months of the regular season.
He ranks first in 3-point field goals made per game (4.6), ninth in points (25.8), and 18th in assists per contest (6.3). Curry struggled in January, as he shot just 38.5% from the field, including 32.9% from behind the arc, but has seemingly emerged from that slump, with a 37.7% mark from 3 and 49.6% shooting from the field in February.
With Draymond Green and James Wiseman nearing a potential return to the Warriors' lineup, Curry could see his numbers improve further with his team back to full strength.
He makes for an intriguing value play at the moment, with Golden State set to make a strong playoff push, as the Warriors look to close the gap on the Phoenix Suns, who have a 6.5-game lead in the West.