NBA Betting Dime: Can Joel Embiid Win the MVP?

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket against the LA Clippers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 21, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The LA Clippers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 102-101.
Image Credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Welcome to the NBA Betting Dime. If you missed the debut edition, it’s a weekly basketball column that combines some of the game’s best aspects. You can expect to find some analytical deep dives, social media clips, gambling information, and maybe some dumb pop culture references sprinkled in.

This week, we’re going to take a look at the surging Hawks, the mercurial Russell Westbrook, and some of the updated odds to win the NBA title

However, let’s start by diving into some of the recent developments in the MVP market.

1. Shift In The MVP Market

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets gives high fives against the Houston Rockets at Ball Arena on November 6, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.
Image Credit: Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Warriors got off to an incredible start this season. They won 18 of their first 20 games, and Steph Curry was the driving force behind their success. He averaged 28.6 points, 6.8 assists, and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 46.6% from the field and 42.3% from 3-point range. That caused him to become a massive favorite in the MVP market.

Curry remains the biggest liability for most sportsbooks. John Ewing of BetMGM reports that Curry has received 18.3% of the wagers and 31.6% of the dollars in the MVP betting, both of which are the top marks among players.

However, Curry and the Warriors have cooled off substantially since their torrid start. Since breaking the 3-point record on December 14, Curry has shot just 38.9% from the field and 33.2% from 3-point range. Both of those marks are well below his career averages, and they’ve dragged down his full-season numbers drastically. He’s shooting just 41.6% from the field and 37.6% from 3-point range for the year, both of which would represent new career lows.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the MVP race has opened up dramatically of late.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as the biggest challenger to Curry’s throne. The Bucks sit at a slightly disappointing 30-19 for the year, which puts them in just fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Still, Giannis has been as good as ever. He’s averaging 28.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, and a career-best 6.0 assists per game, all while providing some of the best defensive impact in the league. The Bucks rank seventh in defensive efficiency, and they allow -4.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Giannis on the floor (per Cleaning the Glass).

Antetokounmpo has pulled into a dead-heat with Curry on FanDuel, where both players are listed at +300 to win the award.

Still, Nikola Jokic remains the best player in basketball for my money. What he is doing for the Nuggets this season is simply incredible. He’s averaged 26.1 points per game while shooting 57.3% from the field, and he’s also contributing averages of 13.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. Those numbers are arguably better than his marks from his MVP season last year.

Jokic is also on-pace to set a new record for PER in a single season. That record is currently held by Giannis (he racked up a 31.86 PER in 2019-20) which just slightly edged out Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 31.82 in 1962-63. Jokic is currently at 33.2, which would put him comfortably ahead of the current record.

The biggest obstacle for Jokic remains his subpar supporting cast, but that could actually work in his favor from a “value” perspective. The Nuggets are currently in sixth place in the Western Conference, but they would arguably be the worst team in the league without Jokic. With Jokic on the floor, the Nuggets are outscoring their opponents by an average of +10.7 points per 100 possessions. When Jokic sits, the Nuggets are being outscored by -13.2 points per 100 possessions.

If that sounds like a massive gap, it’s because it is. Jokic’s Net Rating differential of +25.5 points is the top mark in the league by a comical margin. Curry is in second place at +18.9, and he has the luxury of playing alongside guys like Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, and now Klay Thompson. Jokic’s most common teammates? Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, and Will Barton. That’s a pretty clear drop-off.

Jokic is starting to gain some traction in the MVP market, but he’s still available at +500 on DraftKings Sportsbook. If he continues to put up these kinds of numbers and drag the Nuggets into a guaranteed playoff spot, it will be a tragedy if he doesn’t take home the award.

2. The Revenge Of Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on November 19, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Image Credit: Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

It has been a rough year for Westbrook. He and head coach Frank Vogel have become the scapegoats for the Lakers’ disappointing season. Vogel is expected to be fired at some point, but what to do with Westbrook is a lot more complicated. He has a player option for more than $47M next season, and it seems like a near certainty that he will exercise that option. That makes finding a new home for him difficult.

One potential option that has emerged recently is shipping Westbrook back to the Rockets in exchange for John Wall. Wall’s contract for next season is very similar to Westbrook’s, and Wall isn’t doing the Rockets any good by sitting on the sidelines. If they can get something additional in a Wall-Westbrook swap – be it a draft pick, Talen Horton-Tucker, or a bag of balls – it’s something they should consider.

With all of the trade chatter intensifying, it’s understandable if Westbrook is frustrated. No one wants to go from playing with LeBron James to playing for one of the worst teams in the league.

Thankfully, Westbrook is able to take out some of that frustration on the basketball court. For all his flaws, Westbrook remains one of the most explosive athletes in basketball. Rudy Gobert found that out the hard way last week:

My word. That isn’t just an emphatic dunk, it’s an absolute hammer on the best rim protector in the league. Gobert has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards – including last season’s – and Westbrook went through him like he wasn’t even there.

I’m not sure if Westbrook finishes the season with the Lakers at this point, but he gave them one of the best dunks of the year.

3. Don’t Forget About Embiid

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers rests during a break in the game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on December 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Image Credit: G Fiume/Getty Images

I still think Jokic deserves the MVP award, but Joel Embiid has made a strong case recently. He has been arguably the best player in basketball over the past month.

Embiid has scored at least 31 points in 15 of his past 17 games, and he’s scored at least 23 in the two exceptions. Overall, he’s averaged 33.8 points and 10.4 rebounds over that time frame while shooting 54.9% from the field and 41.1% from 3-point range. The 76ers have also gone 12-5 over that time frame, which has vaulted them to sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They’re also just 2.5 games behind the Heat for the top spot in the conference, and they have plenty of time to improve their seeding.

Embiid has been even better recently. He’s gone for at least 38 points in three straight games, including a 50-point detonation vs. the Magic. Embiid had some fun at the expense of Mo Bamba after that game:

Embiid remains the clear MVP when it comes to social media.

Like Jokic, Embiid has shot up the MVP leaderboard recently. His best price is +500 at SugarHouse, and there’s a clear formula for him to win the award. Not only does he benefit from “voter fatigue” – Curry, Antetokounmpo, and Jokic have all previously won MVPs – but it wouldn’t take much for the 76ers to get to the top of the Eastern Conference. If the wins keep coming in, it would not shock me if Embiid is the favorite when all is said and done.

4. Steph For The Win

Curry has had a storied NBA career. He’s a two-time MVP, a three-time champion, and a seven-time All-star. There isn’t much that he hasn’t accomplished on a basketball court.

With that in mind, it’s a bit surprising that he had never had a buzzer-beater prior to last week. The Warriors were struggling with the lowly Rockets, but Steph made sure that the Warriors escaped with a win:

This isn’t to say that Curry hasn’t made game-winners before, but this was his first true buzzer-beater at the professional level. Does that matter? Not really, but it’s something he can add to his already sparkling resume.

5. When The Shimmy Goes Wrong

Curry is known for his shimmy move, and you’re allowed to have that kind of swagger when you’re the greatest shooter in NBA history.

But when you’re Terence Davis? That kind of confidence might be misplaced.

Davis is a career 36.6% 3-point shooter, and he’s just 32.7% from 3-point range this season. Those numbers aren’t dreadful, but they’re certainly not good. If Davis is going to try the Curry-shimmy before shooting a 3-pointer, he damn sure better make it. When he misses, he opens himself up to some serious ridicule:

That clip has everything. The Inside the NBA crew is obviously top-notch, and Shaq pulls out an Emmy-worth performance with this clip. The commentary, the GIFs, the replays – it’s all perfect. Even Chuck’s “you know you play for Sacramento” at the end is amazing.

Bonus points for Alvin Gentry’s freak out on the sidelines. He throws the clipboard and pen before yanking Davis from the game. When you’re the head coach of an 18-30 basketball team, stuff like this will obviously make him furious, but it’s extremely enjoyable for the fans.

6. NBA Finals Update: The Suns Are Rising

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on during the game agains the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on November 14, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Image Credit: Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

We’re approximately halfway through the regular season, and we’ve unsurprisingly had some massive movement in the NBA Finals odds. The Nets remain the favorites, and their best price is +280 on FanDuel Sportsbook. However, they have more questions than they did during the offseason. Kyrie Irving is still not vaccinated – meaning he can’t play during home games – while Kevin Durant is currently sidelined.

The biggest movement has come in the Western Conference. The Warriors have moved up to the top spot behind the Nets, and their best price is +500 on Caesars. Even though the team has cooled off following their fantastic start, they still own the second-best record in the league and the second-best Net Rating. Overall, they’re outscoring their opponents by an average of +7.7 points per 100 possessions.

The Suns have vaulted to the top spot in the Western Conference standings, and they also rank first in Net Rating. That makes them a clear threat to win the title, especially after taking their lumps in the Finals last year. The rhetoric has always been that have to lose the big game before you can win it, and the Suns have now officially checked that box.

The Suns have seen some drastic movement in the Futures market. They opened at +1400 on BetMGM, but they’re down to just +700. They’re available at that price across a few different locations, and they’re definitely worth some consideration at that price tag. The Suns remain the biggest liability for most sportsbooks, so expect their price tag to continue to decrease as we get closer to the start of the playoffs.

The biggest move involves the Bulls. They started the year at +12500 on BetMGM, and they’re down to just +2000 to win the title. There are better prices available across the industry – with the best price being +2500 on PointsBet – but the Bulls are real threats in the Eastern Conference. They would need a few things to break in their favor, but they have some elite talent with DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, and Nikola Vucevic.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Lakers opened the year as the favorites to win the Western Conference, but they’re fighting just to hold on to a spot in the play-in tournament. They are expected to get Anthony Davis back shortly – possibly as early as Tuesday vs. the Nets – which should help them move up the standings a bit. Still, they’re down to just +1700 to win the title, and they’re not serious threats unless they can show serious improvement moving forward.

7. Cavaliers’ Fans: Salty

Irving returned to Cleveland last week, and he was not greeted very warmly. You would think Irving would be used to that by now – he’s still public enemy No. 1 in Boston – but he took exception to some courtside fans who were heckling him (NSFW):

Irving is clearly a headache, but he has a point here. Irving gave the city of Cleveland their only title since 1964 and the Cavaliers their only Finals win in NBA history. LeBron James was obviously the biggest star on that squad, but Irving hit the biggest shot in that series. In fact, his go-ahead 3-pointer over Curry is one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

If that shot didn’t earn him some respect from the Cavs fans, what will? I can understand Celtics’ fans hating him, but Irving should be revered in Cleveland. I can’t wait to see the reaction in Brooklyn if Irving chooses to leave during the offseason.

8. Are The Hawks Ready to Soar?

Danilo Gallinari #8 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts after hitting a three-point basket against the New York Knicks during the first half at State Farm Arena on January 15, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia
Image Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No team was better for bettors last week than the Hawks. They’re currently riding a four-game ATS win streak, which is the top mark in the league. They’ve won each of those contests outright as well, and they’ve picked up impressive wins against the Bucks and the Heat. Overall, they’ve posted a Net Rating of +11.0 points per 100 possessions over that stretch.

The big question is can the Hawks keep it up, or is this just a blip on the radar? The Hawks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but they’re down to just 12th in the conference this year. They’re only 1.5 games behind the Wizards for the final spot in the play-in tournament, so they’ll need to make up some ground if they want to make another trip to the postseason.

Luckily, there are reasons to believe the Hawks can improve moving forward. De’Andre Hunter is back to playing big minutes, logging at least 33.9 minutes in each of the Hawks’ recent wins. That’s a big addition to the team’s defense. Hunter was an absolute menace on that end of the court last season. The Hawks allowed 7.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Hunter on the court last season, which put him in the 95th percentile for qualified players per Cleaning the Glass.

Trading Cam Reddish to the Knicks could also be a bit of addition by subtraction. Reddish was dreadful over 777 minutes with the Hawks this season, with the team’s Net Rating decreasing by -17.4 points per 100 possessions. Reddish’s only real value came from his ability to score, and he’s an extremely inefficient scorer.

Removing Reddish from the rotation means more minutes for guys like Hunter, Kevin Huerter, and Danilo Gallinari, all of which stand out as sizable upgrades. I’m bullish on the Hawks’ ability to jump the Knicks and Wizards in the standings and grab one of the final spots in the play-in tournament. You can grab the Hawks at +175 to make the playoffs on DraftKings Sportsbook, and I think they have some value at that number.

9. Steven Adams: World’s Strongest Man

The NBA is a league full of extraordinary humans. Some of them can make 3-pointers like layups. Some of them can jump to the moon. Some of them can handle the ball like a magician.

But Adams? Adams might be the strongest human being on the planet. He routinely takes other gigantic people and moves them around the court like they’re nothing.

He put his strength on display last week when the Grizzlies faced the Bulls. Tony Bradley got into Ja Morant’s face, and Adams bounced him like a security guard at the club:

He literally picked up Bradley – who checks in at 6’10” and 247 pounds – like he was a sack of potatoes.

Adams’ strength is legendary amongst NBA players. Jaren Jackson Jr. told Grizzlies’ beat reporters that being picked up by Adams “makes you age backward. It makes you feel like you’re seven.”

Jimmy Butler has also witnessed Adams’ strength first hand:

To cement Adams’ legacy, the NBA should consider adding a strong-man competition to All-Star weekend. Personally, I’d love to watch Adams and Jusuf Nurkic try to tackle the Atlas Stones.

10. Bonus Dunk of the Week

No one was topping Westbrook’s slam over Gobert, but there were some excellent dunks this week.

There were plenty of honorable mentions, but Jalen Suggs’ emphatic throwdown stands out as one of my favorites:

It’s been a forgettable start to Suggs’ rookie campaign, averaging just 12.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.0 assists through his first 27 games. His shooting numbers also leave plenty to be desired: He’s just 36.5% from the field and 24.8% from 3-point range.

Still, moments like that highlight Suggs’ upside. He’s also given Magic fans a glimpse of his talent recently, averaging 17.0 points, 7.0 assists, and 6.0 rebounds over his past three games.

There’s not much to be excited about in Orlando at the moment, but the backcourt combination of Suggs and Cole Anthony has potential. Their progress will be important to monitor down the stretch, at least until the Magic decide to start tanking get creative.