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Best Bet for 2021 NBA MVP: Doncic, Curry, or Durant?

by October 22, 2020

 The NBA season ended a bit over a week ago, but that hasn’t stopped DraftKings from opening up 2020-21 odds on MVP and NBA Champion. I covered my picks for NBA Champion next season, but here are my top three picks for MVP.

A few names on this shortlist could come as a surprise, but those that didn’t make the list may be more shocking. LeBron James (+700) didn’t make the cut after earning his fourth NBA Finals MVP. LeBron also finished second to the back-to-back MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antentokounmpo (+600). However, the odds are against the two for MVP, as they are both tied for the favorite and runner-up.

LeBron would be the oldest MVP of all-time if he won at age 36, surpassing Karl Malone (35-years-old). Giannis would become the fourth-ever player to win three-straight years, joining Bill Russell (1961, 62, 63), Wilt Chamberlain (1966, 67, 68), and Larry Bird (1983, 84, 85).

Also left off this list is Anthony Davis (+700) and former Rockets’ MVPs James Harden (+2000) and Russell Westbrook (+6000). The Clippers’ duo seems too much of a longshot with a coaching change for former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (+1200) and Paul George (+5000), leaving us with a few reliable options, plus some longshots. 

I’ll take my chances with another favorite that has the opportunity to be the face of the league one day, along with two former MVPs in their own right that have a lot to prove this season. 

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Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks (+600)

Through 133 games, it’s clear Luka Doncic is for real and will be in MVP contention for years to come. This season alone, he finished fourth behind Giannis, LeBron James, and James Harden. Doncic finished just ahead of 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to give you an idea of how he was coming in 2019-20.

He finished his second season with 28.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 33.6 minutes per game; all career-highs. In 99 regular-season games with 30-39 minutes, Doncic averaged 25.9 minutes, 8.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists with a 33.7% usage rate. When he’s surpassed the 40-minute mark, Doncic has averaged 33.7 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 11.3 assists per game. After the 2020 All-Star break, Doncic played some of his best basketball with 28.7 points, 9.2 assists, and 9.0 rebounds per game across 17 contests.

In his first-ever postseason, Doncic totaled 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 8.7 assists in 35.7 minutes per game versus the Clippers. Doncic triple-doubled in two games versus L.A., finishing one assist short of two double-doubles in the series. Doncic did everything asked of him and more, and in the three games he played 38 or more minutes, he averaged 41.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 10.3 assists, triple-doubling in two-of-three games.

Luka Doncic led all guards with 39 double-doubles last season and finished tied for 10th overall. Doncic led the league with 17 triple doubles, four more than LeBron James and Nikola Jokic, who both tied for second. On top of that, Doncic finished with the third-highest Player Efficiency Rating (27.65) behind Giannis and Harden.

Doncic now has 25 career triple-doubles, and I’ll go as far as to say Doncic could post 25 triple-doubles in 2020-21 alone. He’ll be league MVP before he turns 25-years-old, and he’s only 21-years-old now. Derrick Rose was the youngest-ever to be named MVP at 22-years-old and 191 days old. Doncic turns 22 on February 28, just in time to become the youngest MVP-ever by next summer.

Steph Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors (+1000)

Possibly the most forgotten basketball player of all this year, Curry returns from a wrist injury that sidelined him for 60 games. The Warriors select first overall in the 2020 NBA Draft after posting the league’s worst record, 15-50, a season after winning the NBA Championship.

He played five games, but he played three before the injury averaging 24.0 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. In the one game Curry came back before COVID-19, he recorded 23 points, seven assists, and six rebounds in 27 minutes.

Curry put up numbers that saw a fifth-place finish (175 total votes) for MVP in his last healthy season. Curry finished with 16 third-place votes (T-2nd), 25 fourth-place votes (2nd), and 20th fifth-place votes (2nd). Giannis won (941), James Harden finished second (776), Paul George third (356), and Nikola Jokic fourth (212) finished ahead of Curry.

When Curry played 30 or more minutes in 2018-19, he averaged 28.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists on 45.9% from the field and 43.1% from three. The most impressive stats regarding Curry’s last healthy season, he posted a +10.4 differential when he played 30 minutes, and when he played between 20-29, that number skyrocketed to +36.6; sometimes less is more.

The 2020-21 Warriors will be a completely different team than the 2018-19 team, both positive and negative for Curry’s future. He will most likely be asked to do more for the Warriors this season with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green recovering from injuries that forced them to miss time. Golden State’s lineup featured Curry and Andrew Wiggins just once, so that combination’s ceiling is unknown for now.

Curry will either contend for the scoring title or be a load management option to preserve his 32-year-old body for the postseason. Either way, Curry is a reliable option, and up until this season, he’s finished sixth or better in MVP voting five-of-seven seasons, and 11th in the other two dating back to 2012-13.

He won the MVP back-to-back seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16, and Curry only has a few seasons left of MVP contention before the younger generation like Doncic, Embiid, and Tatum come up and take away votes.

Kevin Durant, F, Brooklyn Nets (+1600)

Durant already has two NBA Finals MVPs to his name with the Warriors, and one regular-season MVP with the Oklahoma City Thunder (2013-14). Seeing him win his second MVP would be no surprise, and his legacy should have already featured MVPs from different teams, but he never won with Golden State. With Brooklyn, Durant’s future shifts to the Eastern Conference, where he will contend with teams without a superstar on his level.

Yes, I said that, and know Giannis plays in the East. MVPs, Titles, and Conference Titles are all part of this conversation, and Giannis can only include himself in one category. Durant is arguably the best scorer and shooter in the NBA, contending with Doncic and Curry and a few other players. Durant has scored 25 or more points per season in 11-consecutive years dating back to 2008-09, his second season in the league. He’s recorded 20 or more points in every season and shot 50% or better in seven-straight seasons.

In his last healthy season, Durant averaged 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists for the Warriors. The most interesting aspect of Durant’s game with Golden State was his career-high in assists. He fit seamlessly in that offense, and with the talent of shooters, assists came naturally for KD. Durant said as of this second, he wants to retire a Brooklyn Net, and he was also quoted as saying he could himself retiring at the age of 35, one year after his contract with Brooklyn would expire.

Durant turned 32-years-old on September 29th, and if he’s going to become the franchises’ most legendary player, an MVP or title should be in the cards within the next few years. It’s hard not to imagine the Nets being a top-three contender in the East. If not, Brooklyn should be one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference when odds are released.

Irving being there certainly hurts KD’s stock and chances of winning MVP, but as we all know, your team has to win or be near the top of the league to be considered. The Nets should have the team success next year, and with new coaching, KD has that team on the up-and-up quickly. 

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Longshot Picks for MVP

Kyrie Irving, PG, Brooklyn Nets (+4000): Irving still hasn’t won an MVP, and sadly, Durant will take votes away from him, and he Durant. Both players have the opportunity to shine with the Nets. Irving balled out in his 20 games with Brooklyn, averaging 27.4 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.2 rebounds in 32.9 minutes. For the $100 bettor, a $4,000 return sounds pretty solid and the same for the $10 bettor at $400 winnings.

Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers (+4000): Embiid holds the same value as Irving but has a higher ceiling to earn votes. Yes, a center hasn’t won MVP since Shaq in 1999-2000. Dirk Nowitzki ( 2006-07), Kevin Garnett (2003-04), and Tim Duncan (2001-02, 2002-03) but were listed as power forwards. Embiid is likely the only center in the league that could win MVP. Don’t get me wrong. I like Nikola Jokic (+2000), but Embiid has the potential to average 30 points and 15 rebounds while dominating a weaker Eastern Conference. With Doc Rivers as the new coach of the 76ers, this is my favorite year to back Embiid.

Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans (+6000): Zion, at age 20, would be the youngest MVP in NBA history if he won, surpassing Derrick Rose (22-years-old). Honestly, he would have won Rookie of the Year if not only playing 24 games after sitting most of the season. He averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 27.8 minutes of action. Per his 36 minutes stats, Williamson averages 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.7 assists as a rookie, despite never playing 36 minutes. If he does jump to 30-35 minutes per game next season, which he did in 12-of-24 games, expect him to average 25-plus points and seven-plus rebounds for New Orleans. Whether the team is talented enough to carry him to an MVP this early remains unknown, but an MVP is in his future before 25.

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Vaughn Dalzell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Vaughn, check out his archive or follow him @VaughnDalzell.