LeBron James is the betting favorite to win his fifth career NBA MVP award, but Joel Embiid’s ascension is keeping the Los Angeles Lakers’ star from running away with the honor.
James was considered one of the preseason favorites at most sportsbooks, trailing Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Steph Curry at PointsBet. Embiid hasn’t come out of nowhere, but his rise on the MVP oddsboard has been the most notable.
The Philadelphia 76ers center opened at 36-1 to win the award at FanDuel Sportsbook when odds were first released. That number cut to 26-1 in December when the season began. He stayed there in January, but following a huge month that number was cut all the way down to +550.
Embiid was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January after averaging 28.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game on 55 percent shooting. He didn’t slow down in February either, averaging 33.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists in nine games this month at time of publication.
As a result, Embiid’s odds are at a season-low +350 and right behind James at +150 odds.
Embiid’s performance isn’t catching bettors by surprise. He’s second in total handle in the MVP market at FanDuel, behind only LeBron. Doncic, Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic round out the top five for handle — or amount of money placed.
The biggest bet on Embiid so far at FanDuel is $3600 at +550. That bet, which was placed on Feb. 6, would bring a $19,800 profit should he win.
As of Feb. 23, Philadelphia is the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers earning the No. 1 spot will only help Embiid’s MVP narrative against James, who hasn’t won the award since 2013.
They’re not the only two in serious consideration, though.
Jokic is hanging around at +550 before a clear drop off to Curry at 11-1. Jokic was the Western Conference Player of the Month in January, and Matt Moore laid out his case a month ago. Denver is 16-14 and seventh in the Western Conference, but Jokic is averaging 26.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game.