The NBA season begins Tuesday night when Giannis Antetokounmpo and the reigning champion Bucks host Kevin Durant and the Nets in a rematch of this summer's epic Eastern Conference Semifinals. Later in the evening, Steph Curry and the Warriors face LeBron James and the new-look Lakers at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
MVP candidates will be all over the court to tip off the season, but who takes home the hardware—and who should you bet?
SI Betting will make the case for each of the favorites for the NBA’s season-long individual awards leading into Tuesday’s season opener.
You can find the latest NBA futures odds from SI Sportsbook here. We begin with MVP:
2021-22 NBA Awards Betting Previews: MVP | ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Luka Dončić (+400)
What will it take for Dončić, 22 (23 in February), to become the youngest MVP since Derrick Rose? Even though Dallas’ fourth-year, do-it-all star is the betting favorite, the short answer is a lot.
Dončić finished sixth in the voting last season and didn’t receive a single first-place vote despite carrying the Mavericks to their first Southwest Division title in 11 years and the franchise’s best win percentage since the 2014-2015 season.
Dončić’s raw numbers (points, rebounds, assists per game) all dropped a hair from his sophomore season, when he finished fourth in the voting. Still, he became a more efficient player last year, improving his field goal and three-point shooting percentages while leading the league in usage percentage.
It appears Dončić is suffering from the burden of expectations at this early juncture of his career. His statistics have been on par with the previous two MVP winners (Nikola Jokić and Antetokounmpo) and the regular season team success has been there too.
For Dončić to take home the trophy, the Mavericks realistically need to finish as a top-four seed while winning approximately 50 games. Perhaps a bump in Dončić’s scoring output could solidify his case—the last three guards to win MVP (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry) all averaged 30 points per game.
Stephen Curry (+550)
A bet on Curry to take home his third MVP trophy is a bet on Golden State returning to its mid-2010s level of dominance or something resembling it.
Curry averaged a career-best 32 points per game en route to his second scoring title last season. He dragged the Klay Thompson-less Warriors to the play-in tournament, where the team fell short. Curry was rewarded with a podium MVP appearance—his third-place finish was his best showing since winning the award unanimously in 2016.
Curry turned in a career year in his age 32 season and that wasn’t enough to edge out Jokić or second-place finisher Joel Embiid. His likelihood of winning the award hinges on the Warriors' success, and they last made the playoffs in the 2018-2019 season.
Injuries suffered by Curry and Thompson the last two years have played a big part in the Warriors' playoff drought. When Thompson returns to the lineup, it will cap Curry’s ability—or rather impetus—to play hero ball while also elevating the team’s ceiling.
If Curry does what he’s been known to do, which is flirt with 50-40-90 while averaging north of 25 points, and the Warriors are true title contenders once again, he can vie for the award for the third time.
Check out the odds at SI Sportsbook
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+650)
Voter fatigue is real. Antetokounmpo would have to do some truly absurd things to capture his third MVP award in four seasons. But if you watched the Bucks this past summer, you saw that the reigning Finals MVP is more than capable of casually and consistently making the absurd commonplace.
So, what constitutes “absurd”? Milwaukee would have to win the East, for starters. Letting the Nets take the conference somewhat unfairly torpedoes Antetokounmpo’s case, but that’s the tax he pays for having won the award twice in recent years.
Next, he’d have to continue his offensive growth. That means having a respectable three-point percentage, a mid-range game, reliable free throw shooting. Put all those together, you get the 30-point, 12-rebound monster who buried Phoenix in the Finals.
Antetokounmpo finished fourth in MVP voting last year. His numbers dipped ever so slightly, but the real difference was the Bucks weren’t the best regular season team. The previous two years—Antetokounmpo’s MVP seasons—Milwaukee had the best record in basketball and had first- and second-round exits to show for it. The winning recipe for coach Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks was to use the regular season to ramp up to the postseason.
If Antetokounmpo takes yet another offensive leap and Milwaukee returns to its 2018-2019 regular season dominance, he can make his case for most valuable player with his signature tough defense and nightly double-doubles.
Kevin Durant (+650)
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks received their flowers this summer, but Durant made his best-player-in-the-world case apparent in the semifinals: a seven-game instant classic against the eventual champions. All he did was average 35 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 42.7 minutes per game with Kyrie Irving injured and Harden hobbled.
The path is clear for Durant to go scorched Earth on the East and the NBA. It seems likely that Brooklyn is without Irving, a COVID-19 vaccine holdout who is unable to practice in New York due to indoor restrictions. That leaves the responsibility of carrying the title contenders to Durant and his running mate, Harden.
Availability is key for Durant’s MVP case. He only played 35 regular season games last season after missing the entirety of the 2019-2020 season with a torn Achilles.
Durant won MVP with the Thunder seven years ago, while also securing his fourth scoring title. The playoffs proved that Durant is just as unguardable as he was in his youth. Battling for a scoring 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 PICK: Durant.
I think Durant’s scenario has the highest likelihood of coming to fruition.
The Irving component really drives the MVP conversation for Durant, and the odds are enticing when paired with just how good he looked this summer and the high possibility of the Nets finishing with the East’s best record.