2021 NBA MVP Preseason Straw Poll: How Voters and the Betting Market View the Early Odds

Action Network senior NBA writer Matt Moore compares preseason betting market data from sportsbooks to a strawpoll of anonymous MVP voters.

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Do you want to know where MVP bettors go wrong most often?

It’s in believing that anticipating performance is the most important element. Yes, the points, rebounds and assists, the field goal and 3-point percentages, the steals and blocks matter. Yes, the advanced metrics give good indicators of who will have the edge. 

The missing component oftentimes is in believing that objective performance predictions outweigh anticipating voter behavior and market value. It’s the same with award futures as with any game bet. You want to factor in the process for how the outcome is reached, not just your perceptions of the players and teams in play. 

If you ask most bettors how the NBA MVP is decided, they would say “the media.” That’s it. Guess what? “The media” is a broad group! Kendrick Perkins is part of the media but won’t vote the same as a beat writer who won’t vote the same as a stats analyst who won’t vote the same as international voters. “The media” is not a monolith. 

The voting bloc for MVP is 100 voters selected from broadcast personalities, writers, columnists and analysts. You can typically put the voters into several buckets as described above.

There are typically representatives from each NBA market, each of the national TV studio shows, a few emeritus voters, a few stats writers, some international writers, and a handful of analysts or reporters (or combo of both in Zach Lowe’s case).

To get a sense of where the voters are this season, I polled 20 likely voters anonymously, crossing a variety of subgroups. The question asked: “What three players do you believe will be in the MVP conversation come April?” 

Here are the anonymously drawn results, along with their average odds from a variety of books as of Oct. 8: 

Player Total Votes Average Line
Kevin Durant 15 +731
Giannis Antetokounmpo 13 +731
Luka Doncic 12 +411
Stephen Curry 5 +791
Joel Embiid 5 +875
LeBron James 3 +1425
Nikola Jokic 2 +2463
Jayson Tatum 2 +1413
James Harden 1 +2238
Donovan Mitchell 1 +2938
Paul George 1 +3588

Comparing this to the market is fascinating. Kevin Durant appeared on 75% of the ballots in this sample of likely voters and is still +731 on average. My prior going in has been that much like Durant with Steph Curry in 2017-2019, the presence of a super team suppresses the chances for a player winning.

However, the Kyrie Irving situation might free that up. If Irving doesn’t play, Durant will still play next to former MVP James Harden, but as most voters would agree that Durant is the better player between the two, and given that the Nets have the highest win total and shortest title odds, the assumptions that (A.) the Nets will be awesome, and (B.) Durant will be the biggest reason for that awesomeness are sound. 

At +731 on average, the implied probability for Durant to win is 12%. Given that he’s starting out on 75% of priors for a sample of likely voters, he objectively has value there. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo was our consensus best bet on the Buckets podcast, and he continues to have value at the same averaged odds as Durant. With no big postseason anchor hanging around his narrative (for a regular-season award, but I digress) after he won the title and the odds implying that the Bucks once again will win 55 or more games, Giannis will likely be on the ballot late. 

Doncic is the consensus favorite entering the season and appears on a high amount of ballots. There’s probably better value on waiting to see the kind of start that the Mavericks get off to. You might lose some preseason value but you gain more certainty on the impact of going from Rick Carlisle to Jason Kidd and the small roster changes the team made in the offseason. 

Curry’s number has a higher range of variance with the high-end at +900 and low end at +650. 

So that’s where the voters are at before any games are played. Is this information actionable? The games will matter more than anything, but having a preseason expectation to play against is always helpful. 

As for the market, Action Network reached out to several books to get an idea of where the handle is for MVP going into the season. 

Player DraftKings PointsBet BetMGM
Kevin Durant


1.4% 5.15%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 13% 30.2% 23.4%
Luka Doncic 12% 3.3% 5.09%
Stephen Curry 9% <1% 7.09%
Joel Embiid 8% 1.3% 2.92%
LeBron James N/A N/A 8.76%
Nikola Jokic 13% 2.1% 9.83%
Jayson Tatum 5% 30% 2.81%
James Harden 4% <1% 3.38%
Donovan Mitchell N/A 2.2% 1.8%
Paul George 8% 1.4% 2.03%

Now, the sample size on these bets is not nearly what it is for NFL futures or for NBA games on average. However, we still have a lot to glean here.

The market definitely agrees with our assessment of Giannis. Those market figures also indicate Durant still hasn’t been properly valued by bettors. Curry has roughly the same average handle percentage across available books as Doncic despite Curry being significantly longer is notable as well. 

Ultimately, the season has to play out. There will be time in-season to get value on MVP, even early on in the season. However, if you’re looking for preseason value with lampposts to guide you, the market data and our straw poll let you know the clearest image of where things stand before the season tips off next Tuesday.