NBA Finals MVP Odds: What Theoretical Playoffs MVP Award Tells Us About Betting Value
Getty Images. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo (top left), Jimmy Butler (top right), Devin Booker (bottom left) and Jayson Tatum.
With the regular season NBA MVP already decided — congrats to Nikola Jokic — the conversation has naturally turned to what’s wrong with the award and how we should consider events that occur after a vote is taken when considering that vote. If you’re wondering how that’s possible given the space-time continuum, it’s not.
Still, the importance of the NBA playoffs in the season-long narrative shouldn’t be brushed aside completely. Legacies are written not just in the Finals, but in the playoffs. We have a regular-season MVP, and a Finals MVP (for one seven-game series!) but no postseason MVP.
But what if we did? What if the NBA were to have an MVP just for playoff performance. How many rounds/games would have to be played to qualify? Is it box-score production-heavy like the regular season MVP or is it more about defense and two-way play?
Furthermore, if we were to examine it this year, what does it say about the Finals MVP market.
I know what you’re saying. “The Finals MVP is just for that one series, though.” But humans are weighted by narrative, and the long arc of the playoffs and what players show does in fact impact these things. You can be a dud in the playoffs and then have a phenomenal Finals have a chance to win, for sure, but your overall contributions to what led that team to the title will factor in.
Here then is my list for the current postseason MVP and how that impacts betting the NBA Finals MVP in the current market.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
- 31.1 PTS | 13.0 REB | 7.3 AST | 1.8 Stocks (Steals + Blocks) | 50-17-64 splits (FG%-3pt%-FT%)
- Bucks On-Court With Antetokounmpo: 109.6 Offensive Rating | 97.5 Defensive Rating | +12.2 Net Rating
The champs have flipped the switch.
There were all sorts of reasonable questions about the Bucks defense going into the playoffs. They were giving up a ton of 3s and were middle of the pack in Adjusted Defensive Rating and had gotten worse later in the year.
And then the playoffs came, and Milwaukee unleashed absolute hell on the two teams they’ve faced.
The Bucks are up 3-2 on the Celtics, despite being without Khris Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the monster his reputation precedes– shifting past coverages, bowling through contact, inexorably piling through multiple layers of defense to find dunks, free throws, or assists.
The Celtics have taken their toll; he’s shooting 43.9% from the field and averaging 4.5 turnovers per game. It’s hard to say who’s gotten the worst of it with Antetokounmpo getting consistently hit by multiple defenders, or those poor souls getting hit by Giannis himself.
Antetokounmpo was not in need of elevated respect. He’s a champion and Finals MVP. Still, this series has shown that no matter the circumstances or what he’s up against, his team has a chance because of him.
2. Jimmy Butler
- 28.3 PTS | 7.6 REB | 5.6 AST | 2.6 Stocks | 54-37-82 splits
- Heat On-Court With Butler: 119.2 Offensive Rating | 103.1 Defensive Rating | +15.8 Net Rating
Jimmy Butler pushes buttons, often the wrong ones. He’s rubbed teammates wrong since the Chicago days, through the Minnesota days, into Philadelphia and even this season had a heated (no pun intended) moment with Erik Spoelstra and Udonis Haslem.
Having Butler on your team comes at a cost. It can be draining, especially over time. But when he performs as he has in these playoffs, man is he worth it.
Butler is at once under the radar and devastatingly present. You’ll notice in the midst of an opponent run that Butler will quietly score to break it up, or go on a 5-0 run.
Butler has shot 3s — actual 3-pointers — in these playoffs, and that’s been needed for the Heat without Kyle Lowry and with Duncan Robinson effectively removed from the rotation vs. the Sixers.
Miami is the No. 1 seed, up 3-2 with a chance to advance to the conference finals, and it feels like no one’s talked about them at all. If Butler keeps playing like this, Miami is going to be the one making noise.
3. Jayson Tatum
- 26.9 PTS | 5.2 REB | 6.1 AST | 2.6 Stocks | 41-35-82 splits
- Celtics On-Court With Tatum: 112.3 Offensive Rating | 107.3 Defensive Rating | +5.0 Net Rating
Welcome to the Jayson Tatum era.
Tatum has emerged as a serious contender as one of the 5-10 best players in the league. He was dominant in the Nets series, guarding Kevin Durant and then dealing with him on the other end.
Tatum’s playmaking hasn’t been appreciated enough. He’s 10th in assists per game in the playoffs despite facing Milwaukee’s ferocious defense and only getting to tear up the Nets’ pitiful one for four games.
The efficiency isn’t terrific on account of facing the aforementioned Giannis & Co. But after a dismal Game 3 on the road, Tatum responded with 30 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter on 5-of-6 shooting in Game 4.
Furthermore, alongside the two names above him on this list, not only is Tatum not a weakness on defense, he’s brilliant there. He really cares about the defensive end and executes. Opponents are averaging a 41.3% effective field goal percentage (17th percentile among all players defending) when matched up against Tatum in the playoffs.
Tatum’s not the 18-year-old everyone constantly raved about in terms of his future. That time is now, and he’s the biggest reason the Celtics are the favorite to win the Eastern Conference.
4. Devin Booker
- 25.4 PTS | 4.6 REB | 4.9AST | 0.8 stocks | 49-49-88 splits
- Suns with Booker On-Court: 119.8 Offensive Rating | 112.3 Defensive Rating | +7.5 Net Rating
I’m putting Devin Booker over Luka Doncic for a few reasons.
One, the efficiency is off the charts. 49% from 3? Whew.
Second, Booker’s been better than Doncic defensively. The Suns really picked on Doncic in the first two games of this series; it was glaring and honestly a little embarrassing. You don’t see that happen with Booker.
Both Booker and Doncic missed time in the first round and both have played eight playoff games total. Given that Booker is now 3-2 vs. Doncic, I’ll give him the edge. Chris Paul was sensational in Games 1 and 2 and just like with the MVP discussion, that factor always takes a little off Booker’s shine.
But ultimately, Booker has been the offensive engine when CP3 didn’t have it going, and that happens pretty often at age 37. When Booker returned vs. the Pelicans, Phoenix slammed the door, and he led the Suns with 28-7 in Game 5 to go up 3-2.
The fact that Booker has put himself on this list and on the level of the playoff’s current leader in playoff scoring among players still playing says a lot about his growth.
5. Luka Doncic
- 30.9 PTS | 10.0 REB | 6.8 assists | 2.1 Stocks | 47-33-78 splits
- Mavericks On-Court With Doncic: 113.9 Offensive Rating | 108.7 Defensive Rating | +5.3 Net Rating
Doncic is on this list for the raw production and the way his highlights jump off the page. It always feels like he’s absolutely killing the opponent. His overall numbers in terms of efficiency vs. usage actually aren’t overwhelmingly great, but he’s just having to do so much you give him a pass.
The Jazz actually looked a little more comfortable vs. Doncic than they did vs. the Doncic-less Mavericks led by Jalen Brunson, but Luka also absolutely toyed with the Jazz in Game 5.
This has been a roller-coaster postseason for Doncic. On the one hand, he finally got out of the first round and has pushed the No. 1 seed to at least six games with a chance to sneak out a conference finals appearance.
On the other, he was targeted defensively for the first time in his career, mercilessly, in the first two games, and his efficiency has slid when teams have focused on keeping him away from the easy stuff and challenging his decision making.
But ultimately, Doncic is top-five in the league right now in terms of “one-man engines,” players who make their teams go and without whom there is absolutely no spark in the ignition.
If the Mavericks pull up off an all-time upset, Doncic will be the biggest reason.
Ja Morant, Chris Paul, Jordan Poole, Draymond Green, Tyrese Maxey, Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Bam Adebayo
NBA Finals MVP Odds
Click arrow to expand updated 2022 Finals MVP odds via BetMGM
|Jaren Jackson Jr.||+15000|
Butler unquestionably has the best value here, but you have to believe the Heat are going to get to the Finals. Butler is +900 and Miami will have home-court in the Eastern Conference Finals should it get there. He’s played this well, and that Miami’s path to a title is non-existent if he does not have a great series leaves him as the best value, if the least sexy of the available options.
Antetokounmpo is +450 in a series where he’s been the best player and he was +950 prior to Game 5. If anything, the biggest reason to bet on the Bucks to win the title at all is Giannis. Phoenix fell to his inexorable might last year, and the Warriors’ defensive scheme would have a very hard time given his battering ram approach would so effectively negate their small-ball switching style.
You’ll lose so much value on Antetokounmpo if the Bucks win this series; he’ll drop somewhere between Booker and Curry should that happen. However, it’s also just not prudent to bet on Finals MVP when the risk is so high that he could lose this round.
The same goes for Tatum, who at +1200 is a great price given how good the Celtics are and how they match up with their four possible future opponents (Heat, Sixers, Suns, Warriors, throw the Mavs in if you want). But he has to get past Giannis.
I’ve come around that Booker has value. For the longest time, I believed CP3 would be the choice if the Suns won the title. Legacy award, and all that. But CP3 simply has a lot of games where his box score gets dwarfed by Booker.
The voters are smart enough — it’s a small panel made of writers and broadcasters — to understand the impact of a player without the box score, but Booker really has elevated his game this year to new heights.