NBA Player Futures: Is James Harden a Good Sleeper MVP Bet?

By in NBA on
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The All-Star Game has come and gone, which means the unofficial second half of the 2020-21 NBA season is right around the corner. Games resume later this week, and we have about two months to go until the playoffs roll back around.

Players around the league will have until the end of May to make their cases for some of this season’s individual hardware. We know LeBron James has made no secret of his desire to win his fifth career MVP award this season, but the King has no shortage of competition. online NBA betting sites have also adjusted their odds for various other individual awards as the league prepares for the stretch run.

A few players have established themselves as clear-cut favorites to win certain awards, but nothing is settled just yet. There is still more than enough time left in the campaign for others to rise up and stake their respective claims. 

You may know who the favorites are, but which players are good sleeper value bets to take home a trophy at the end of the season?

Rookie of the Year

  • LaMelo Ball (-700)
  • Tyrese Haliburton (+500)
  • Anthony Edwards (+1200)
  • Immanuel Quickley (+2000)
  • James Wiseman (+2800)

At this point, Rookie of the Year is clearly LaMelo Ball’s to lose. Ball began the season as a reserve for James Borrego’s Hornets, but he has quickly established himself as arguably the franchise’s centerpiece after just a couple of months playing at this level. Ball has already been promoted into the starting lineup, which is a position he’s unlikely to give up at any point over the next decade-plus.

There is a very good chance that Ball’s Rookie of the Year odds will only improve from here. He began the season as the slight favorite over Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman. While Edwards and Wiseman have both shown flashes early on, Ball is on another level production-wise. Melo is averaging 15.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 6.0 rebounds per game on solid all-around shooting. We just don’t see rookies put up those kinds of numbers very often.

If Ball Doesn’t Win the Award, Though, Kings Guard Tyrese Haliburton Presumably Will

Haliburton’s counting stats leave plenty to be desired in comparison to LaMelo’s (13.2 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds), but he also has more competition for playing time in Sacramento. De’Aaron Fox is the Kings’ franchise point guard, which means Haliburton doesn’t enjoy as much playmaking responsibility as Ball does in Charlotte.

Still, Haliburton has clearly been the second-best rookie in the class thus far. He’s still averaging over 30 minutes per game despite coming off the bench, and he has played his way into Luke Walton’s closing rotations. Closing games is more important than starting them, and the fact that the rookie has already gained enough trust to be on the floor in crunch time speaks volumes about his two-way impact.

It’s likely going to take an injury for Ball in order for Haliburton to win the award. We certainly don’t want to wish injury upon anyone, but the value is there on Haliburton at the current +500 odds. If he’s able to close the season strong, he could still give Ball a run for his money.

Rookie Of The Year –Haliburton (+500)

Defensive Player of the Year

  • Rudy Gobert (-200)
  • Ben Simmons (+220)
  • Myles Turner (+575)
  • Joel Embiid (+1200)
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (+1800)
  • Anthony Davis (+3300)
  • Draymond Green (+6600)
  • Bam Adebayo (+8000)

The Jazz have the best record in the NBA coming out of the All-Star break as well as the No. 2 defensive rating in the league. Only the Lakers have been tougher defensively so far this season. While Rudy Gobert does deserve his fair share of praise for Utah’s excellent play on that end of the floor, the Stifle Tower still isn’t quite the dominating force he was several years ago.

Regardless, Gobert is still the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year at -200. It would be Gobert’s third DPOY trophy, but I don’t think he’s the best bet on the board.

You have no shortage of contenders here, but Ben Simmons really stands out at +220. While the Jazz have risen to the top of the Western Conference, the 76ers have done the same out East. Simmons’ play on defense has earned plenty of recognition, but I still don’t think we fully appreciate just how great he is on that side of the ball.

Simmons’ size (6’10”) makes him arguably the most versatile defender in the game. He spends plenty of time guarding point guards considering that’s the position he plays offensively, but we have also seem him body up opposing centers. That includes Gobert. When the Sixers met the Jazz with Joel Embiid sidelined back in February, it was Simmons that drew the task of trying to check Utah’s seven-footer. While Utah ultimately came away with a win, Simmons posted an incredible line of 42 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds, a block, and a steal while logging nearly 40 minutes playing center on defense.

There just aren’t many other players in the league that can do that. The Sixers are now tied with the Jazz for the second-best defensive rating in the NBA. Both Simmons and Embiid are major factors in Philly’s defensive renaissance, but Simmons’ versatility makes him the more impactful all-around defender.

Myles Turner (+575) is impressively averaging better than 3 blocks per game, but the Pacers aren’t even a playoff team right now. Giannis Antetokounmpo (+1800) is unlikely to win the award for a second straight year, while Anthony Davis (+3300) has seen his chances fade amid an injury-plagued campaign.

This award will likely come down to Gobert or Simmons. Given the way the odds look now, there’s a lot more upside in taking a flier on Simmons’ +220 odds to snag Defensive Player of the Year for the first time.

Defensive Player Of The Year –Simmons (+220)

Sixth Man of the Year

  • Jordan Clarkson (-400)
  • Eric Gordon (+1100)
  • Terrence Ross (+1200)
  • Chris Boucher (+1600)
  • Montrezl Harrell (+1800)
  • Thaddeus Young (+1800)
  • Goran Dragic (+2000)
  • Tyrese Haliburton (+2000)

Unlike several other awards, we have a firm frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year. That would be none other than Jordan Clarkson, who has settled into a useful role as a microwave scorer off the bench for the Jazz.

If the Jazz can keep it up, we should see Utah earn plenty of recognition come awards season. Clarkson took a while to find his niche in the league, but he has quietly become one of the most impactful reserves in the game since arriving in Utah. Through 36 games (all off the bench) this season, the Mizzou product is averaging a career-high 17.9 points on about 15 shots per game.

Clarkson has played a bigger role at times this season due to injuries to Mike Conley. His emergence on offense allows Quin Snyder to play the occasional three-guard lineup, which gives the Jazz more flexibility than they have had in years past.

Clarkson looks like a very strong bet right now, but he doesn’t quite have the hardware locked up. If you want a little more value, Thaddeus Young (+1800) deserves some love for what he’s been able to do.

The Bulls are a team that doesn’t generate a ton of headlines, which means the job Young has done has gone largely unnoticed nationally. Through 30 games, the 32-year-old veteran is averaging 12.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in about 25 minutes a night. Young has really helped stabilize Billy Donovan’s frontcourt amid injury issues for Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Otto Porter this season.

Clarkson is a deserving favorite as the league’s leading scorer off the bench this season, but Young’s impressive playmaking shouldn’t be totally overlooked. If the Bulls are able to challenge for a playoff spot, Young could garner a bit of 6MOY momentum. At +1800, he’s worth a shot.

Sixth Man Of The Year –Young (+1800)

Most Improved Player

  • Jerami Grant (-225)
  • Christian Wood (+450)
  • Julius Randle (+450)
  • Jaylen Brown (+750)
  • Zach LaVine (+1200)
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+2800)
  • Chris Boucher (+2800)
  • Collin Sexton (+4000)

Lots of people laughed when the Pistons offered to pay Jerami Grant $60 million this past offseason. Grant was a key bench cog on a Nuggets team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals in the bubble, but $60 million sure looked like a lot to be offering to a guy that has never played much more than a supporting role at the NBA level.

So Far, Though, It Looks Like the Pistons Knew What They Were Doing

Grant’s productivity has exploded in a larger role with the Pistons. He felt overshadowed in Denver, so he spurned the Nuggets to play a bigger offensive role in Detroit. Leaving a contender for a lottery team drew the ire of many, but Grant’s decision may land him the Most Improved Player Award.

The 26-year-old has averaged 10.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in his career. So far this season, he’s averaging a stellar 23.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists on impressive efficiency. Grant is taking a career-high 17.8 shots per game, and he’s shooting a respectable 46 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three-point range.

Whether Grant is simply making the most of the bigger role is up for debate, but he’s a deserving favorite to win Most Improved Player at this point.

If he doesn’t, though, the award may go to a former Piston. Christian Wood left Detroit for Houston this past offseason when the Rockets offered him a three-year deal worth over $40 million. Many felt at the time that the Pistons would have been better served offering Grant’s money to Wood, but both sides seem to have made out well.

In his first season with a major opportunity of his own, Wood is thriving. The 25-year-old is up to 22 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for the Rockets this season in a career-best 31.2 minutes per game. The only thing keeping Wood from being the likely Most Improved frontrunner is his health. Wood has played in just 17 games this season, and he has missed the last month due to a severe ankle sprain.

Wood will return before the end of the season, but his chances of winning the award likely hinge on how many games he winds up playing. Voters are often reluctant to reward players that have missed large chunks of the season. Wood’s numbers speak for themselves, but availability is key.

This award will come down to Grant or Wood. Both are great options, but I slightly prefer the extra profit potential you can get in Wood’s current odds. If you’re looking for a sleeper, Wood’s the one.

Most Improved Player –Wood (+450)

Most Valuable Player

  • Joel Embiid (+180)
  • LeBron James (+220)
  • Nikola Jokic (+450)
  • Luka Doncic (+700)
  • James Harden (+1000)
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (+1800
  • Stephen Curry (+1800)
  • Damian Lillard (+2500)
  • Kawhi Leonard (+4000)
  • Donovan Mitchell (+5000)

LeBron James has been the MVP favorite for most of the season, but the King has been dethroned by Joel Embiid heading into the All-Star break. With the Sixers atop the East and Embiid in the midst of the best season of his life, it’s only logical. The Lakers have endured a downswing heading into All-Star Weekend, which has cooled the momentum behind James’ case for his fifth MVP trophy.

As usual, though, MVP has plenty of competition. Nikola Jokic has been a total monster this season, and he’s really the only reason the injury-plagued Nuggets are even close to a playoff spot at this point. Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard have done incredible things in lifting their respective teams into contention. Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are still Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. You could bet on any of these guys to win MVP, and I don’t think it would be the wrong decision.

The player with the best combination of value and likelihood is James Harden, though. Harden has just one MVP trophy on his mantle despite the fact that he has been the game’s best scorer for the last half-decade. Since leaving Houston for Brooklyn in January, though, Harden’s all-around game has been on display.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have both missed several games this season, but Harden has been a fixture in Steve Nash’s backcourt since his arrival. The Nets are hunting the Sixers for the top spot in the East thanks in large part to Harden’s excellent play. Through his first 23 games in a Nets uniform, The Beard is averaging 25.5 points, 11.4 assists, and 8.7 rebounds while knocking down better than 42 percent of his looks from long range.

Harden has already posted eight triple-doubles with the Nets, which puts him second on the franchise’s all-time list. I will remind you that he has accomplished this feat in a whopping 23 games with the team. If Brooklyn finishes the season atop the East, it will be Harden that deserves the majority of the praise.

Harden’s current +1000 odds represent an awesome buy-low opportunity. I’d be all over The Beard at that number, especially considering his case should only gain steam from here. With no clear-cut favorite at the top, don’t underestimate Harden’s MVP chances.

Most Valuable Player –Harden (+1000)
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...

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