LeBron James drops behind Nikola Jokic in NBA MVP odds

LeBron James drops behind Nikola Jokic in NBA MVP odds

LeBron James had a bad Saturday, as did everyone who wagered on him to win this year's Most Valuable Player award. His high ankle sprain has shaken up the MVP race, and Nikola Jokic is now a heavy favorite to win it.

Yes, the same Jokic who plays for the fifth-best team in the Western Conference.

“I hereby cast my ballot for Nikola Jokic because the Nuggets never would have finished fifth without him!”

Anyone with a ballot who would dispense that type of quote is undeserving of a vote, so take what the sportsbooks are doing with a grain of salt. 

The race is now super wide-open, and the only big winners are the folks who take bet slips for a living, along with those who invested in sports gambling companies when the pandemic hit.

DraftKings, Bet365 and William Hill all took MVP odds down overnight when James suffered his injury against the Atlanta Hawks. FanDuel and BetMGM made Jokic the +110 favorite (wager $110 to win $100), and made the Nuggets' All-Star big man an even bigger favorite at -110.

When DK reopened the market, Jokic was at +110, James was at +450, Joel Embiid was at +600 and Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden were both +800. WilliamHill had the odds listed as Jokic +110, James +450, Embiid +600, Antetokounmpo +750, Harden +1000 and Damian Lillard +1400. Bet 365 did not have the market re-listed by noon Pacific time. 

It is unclear how long James will be sidelined, but the pivot by the books reflected an expectation that he will be on the shelf for a while. James had played in all but one of the Lakers’ first 42 games, so a two-week absence would not necessarily knock him out of the race. Allen Iverson missed 11 games in his MVP season of 2000-01, and Bill Walton sat out 34 when he was MVP for Portland in 1977-78. 

But the books are not privy to what the Lakers’ medical staff knows, and perhaps they did not read the end of his latest tweet closely enough?

“Soon” means different things to different people.

One place sportsbooks are most popular is among investors and investment firms, who saw the growth of this industry coming the same way commissioner Adam Silver did when he penned an op-ed for the New York Times in 2018, about five months before the main U.S. sports gambling law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since the pandemic hit and people stopped spending money on things like restaurants, gasoline and commuting costs, the industry has exploded.

The stock of DraftKings has risen from $9.85 in August of 2019 to more than $72 now. The parent company of FanDuel, Flutter Entertainment, was at $38.19 on March 20, 2020. It is now trading at around $117 on the London Stock Exchange. Why? Because this is a worldwide growth industry, and many Americans like to gamble. Penn National stock was less than $8 when the pandemic struck. On Friday, it closed at $117.37. Folks who saw that coming are getting rich.

It remains to be seen which NBA player will elevate his stock during the time when James is sidelined. Harden has triple-doubled in three of Brooklyn’s last four games. Lillard is averaging more than 33 points per game this month, as the Blazers have gone 8-2. Antetokounmpo’s team has won six in a row. Utah has the league’s best record, yet Donovan Mitchell is +125000 and Rudy Gobert is +250000 at PointsBet. 

DraftKings’ biggest exposure is on James, while PointsBet is exposed on Embiid. These liabilities are often determined by where particular books are popular on a geographical basis.

“The action is spread out between Jokic, Giannis, Harden and Lillard,” Bet MGM spokesman John Ewing said.

"Bettors are looking for guys at higher prices in the wake of the LeBron news,” PoinstBet spokesman Patrick Eichner said on Sunday. “Harden and Lillard have been the top two most-bet players to win MVP since. Price shifts include Lillard (from +2500 into +1600 last night, and +1600 into +1400 this morning), Giannis (+1000 into +700), LeBron (+150 out to +500), Jokic (+175 into -110) and Embiid (+1000 into +800). Harden remains at +1000 (moved from +1400 to +1000 on March 18).”
“It’s the same thing that hit Embiid, and somebody else has taken over as the favorite. Jokic’s numbers are tremendous," said Johnny Avello, the head oddsmaker at DraftKings, adding that action was coming in steady Sunday on Harden and Lillard.

Jeff Sherman of LV Sportsbook took the line down when James was injured, and then reposted it with Jokic lowest, followed by Embiid, James, Harden, Antetokounmpo and Lillard.

“A few tickets have come in here and there, most on Harden and Lillard,” Sherman said.

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