The NBA season kicks off Tuesday night when Giannis Antetokounmpo and defending champion Bucks host Kevin Durant and the Nets in a rematch of this summer’s epic Eastern Conference semi-finals. Later that night, Steph Curry and the Warriors take on LeBron James and the new-look Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
MVP contenders will be all over the pitch to kick off the season, but who will bring the gear home and who should you bet on?
Paris SI will advocate for each of the favorites for the individual NBA season awards leading up to Tuesday’s season opener.
You can find the latest NBA futures odds from SI Sportsbook here. We start with MVP:
Luka Dončić (+400)
What will it take for Dončić, 22 (23 in February) to become the youngest MVP since Derrick Rose? Even though the fourth-year Dallas handyman is the betting favorite, the short answer is a lot.
Dončić finished sixth in votes last season and received no first-place votes despite the Mavericks winning their first Southwest Division title in 11 years and the franchise’s best winning percentage since 2014-2015 season.
Dončić’s raw numbers (points, rebounds, assists per game) all lost a hair in his second season, when he finished fourth in the vote. Still, he became a more effective player in the past year, improving his set-up rate and three-point shot percentages while leading the league in use percentage.
It seems that Dončić suffers from the brunt of expectations at this early stage of his career. His stats are comparable to those of the two previous MVP winners (Nikola Jokić and Antetokounmpo) and the team’s regular season success has also been there.
In order for Dončić to win the trophy, the Mavericks must realistically finish among the top four seeds while winning around 50 games. Perhaps a bump in Dončić’s score could solidify his case – the last three guards to win the MVP title (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry) have all averaged 30 points per game.
Stephen Curry (+550)
A bet on Curry to win his third MVP trophy is a bet on Golden State returning to its mid-2010s dominance level or something resembling it.
Curry averaged a career-high 32 points per game en route to his second scoring title last season. He coached the Warriors without Klay Thompson to the play-in tournament, where the team failed. Curry was rewarded with an MVP podium appearance – his third place was his best performance since winning the award unanimously in 2016.
Curry enjoyed a career year in his season at 32 and that wasn’t enough to get ahead of Jokić or second Joel Embiid. His likelihood of winning the award depends on the Warriors’ success, and they last made the playoffs in the 2018-19 season.
Injuries to Curry and Thompson over the past two years played a big part in the Warriors’ playoff drought. When Thompson returns to the roster, it will limit Curry’s ability – or rather impulse – to play hero ball while raising the team’s ceiling.
If Curry does what he’s known to do, which is flirt with 50-40-90 averaging north of 25 points, and the Warriors are real title contenders again, he can compete for the prize for the third time.
Discover the odds on SI Sportsbook
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+650)
The fatigue of voters is real. Antetokounmpo would have to do some really absurd things to win his third MVP award in four seasons. But if you watched the Bucks last summer, you saw that the reigning Finals MVP is more than capable of casually and consistently making the absurd mundane.
So what constitutes “absurd”? Milwaukee should move east, to begin with. Letting the Nets take the conference torpedo somewhat unfairly on Antetokounmpo’s case, but that’s the tax he pays for winning the award twice in recent years.
Then he should continue his offensive growth. That means having a respectable three-point percentage, mid-range play, reliable free-throw shooting. Put it all together, you get the 30-point, 12-rebound monster that buried Phoenix in the final.
Antetokounmpo finished fourth in the MVP vote last year. Its numbers dropped slightly, but the real difference was that the Bucks weren’t the best team in the regular season. The previous two years – Antetokounmpo’s MVP seasons – Milwaukee had the best record in basketball and had first and second round outings to show. The winning recipe for coach Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks was to use the regular season to advance to the playoffs.
If Antetokounmpo makes another offensive jump and Milwaukee is returning to his 2018-19 regular season dominance, he can defend the most valuable player with his robust defense and nightly double-doubles.
Kevin Durant (+650)
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks received their flowers this summer, but Durant brought out his case as the world’s best player in the semifinals: a seven-game instant classic against future champions. All he did was averaged 35 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 42.7 minutes per game with Kyrie Irving injured and Harden hobbled.
The way is clear for Durant to go on Scorched Earth in the East and in the NBA. It seems likely that Brooklyn is without Irving, a COVID-19 vaccine resistant who cannot practice in New York City due to restrictions inside. That leaves the responsibility of carrying the title contenders to Durant and his running mate, Harden.
Availability is the key to Durant’s MVP case. He only played 35 regular season games last season after missing the entire 2019-20 season with a ripped Achilles.
Durant won the MVP title with the Thunder seven years ago, while also securing his fourth leading scorer title. The playoffs proved Durant to be just as unforgivable as he was in his youth. Fighting for a goalscoring title, the No.1 seed in the East and playing enough games is the recipe for Durant to make another heartfelt MVP acceptance speech.
THE CHOICE : During.
I think Durant’s scenario has the greatest likelihood of coming to fruition.
The Irving component is really leading the MVP conversation for Durant, and the odds are tantalizing when paired with the beauty of his appearance this summer and the strong possibility that the Nets will end up with the best record in the East.