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LeBron James takes over top spot in latest NBA MVP odds

Profile Picture: Ryan Murphy

February 1st, 2021

The general consensus among NBA insiders prior to the 2020-21 season was that LeBron James would treat the first half of the year like a victory lap. The 16-time All-Star had, after all, just won a championship 72 days before the league’s annual tip-off, and was set to turn 36 eight days into the new season.

Turns out they don’t know LeBron very well. James scored 22 points in 28 minutes on opening night and hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since. The 18-year vet is presently averaging 25.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game while shooting a career-high 41% from beyond the arc.

LeBron's fast start has talking heads eating crow, although In all fairness, they weren’t the only ones who underestimated the Lakers star. Bookmakers also failed to give King James his due.

Coming into the season, LeBron was given +900 odds to win the 2021 NBA MVP award, placing him firmly behind Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry, and fellow Laker Anthony Davis.

Now, 21 games later, LeBron is at the top of the heap at +350.

MVP Winner 2020/2021

Thu, April 1 2021, 10:00 AM

James, LeBron

+350

Jokic, Nikola

+500

Embiid, Joel

+550

Doncic, Luka

+550

Durant, Kevin

+600

Antetokounmpo, Giannis

+1200

Curry, Stephen

+1400

Lillard, Damian

+2500

Davis, Anthony

+4000

Leonard, Kawhi

+4000

It isn’t surprising to see LeBron’s name atop the list given the fact he’s already won MVP honors four times and has finished in the top five in MVP award shares 14 times during his career.

What is surprising is seeing someone playing arguably their best basketball in their 18th year in the league. Consider, for a moment, how other luminaries have fared at the same point in their careers:

Notable Year 18 Seasons

PLAYERPTSREBAST
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
17.5
6.7
2.6
Karl Malone
20.6
7.8
4.7
Shaquille O'Neal
12.0
6.7
1.5
Tim Duncan
13.9
9.1
3.0
Dirk Nowitzki
18.3
6.5
1.8
Vince Carter
6.6
2.4
0.9

And those are just the players who were still able to lace ‘em up. Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan all retired before turning 36. Yes, MJ did return two years later, but he was a shadow of his former self. LeBron, on the other hand, is still chasing down layups and posterizing players nearly half his age.

LeBron’s longevity alone won’t net him another MVP award, but it definitely should be a contributing factor. Few players in any sport do a better job of preparing their bodies to not only perform, but to dominate.

Bettors should also take note of James' advanced metrics, which show just how valuable he's been despite playing the fewest minutes per game of his career. The four-time Finals MVP ranks in the top five in win shares, box plus/minus, and VORP, which measures his value above a replacement player.

It's still early, but LeBron’s ability to put up big numbers and outrun Father Time make him a deserving MVP favorite at the quarter point of the NBA season.

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