The Larry O’Brien trophy is the ultimate prize for every team, but the Finals MVP award can only go to one outstanding performer in the championship round.
Ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals there is so much up in the air regarding how the series will play out and whether the most recent back-to-back MVP winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo will play.
The uncertainty has allowed for some opportunity elsewhere, including the current favorite across the betting markets.
Our NBA analysts make their case for their favorite bets to win the coveted award below.
Matt Moore: Chris Paul (+160 — BetRivers)
He’s the favorite for a reason. The Suns should be favored to win the series (a position I’ve only recently come around on). The voters for MVP are a small panel of experienced writers and broadcasters. Some will be dedicated analysts, but most will be writers with narrative backgrounds.
If all things were equal, Devin Booker likely has the better chances — but they are not equal.
Booker does not have to just play better than Paul or have an impact on the series. He has to do so by a magnitude. The drive to recognize Paul and what he’s accomplished leading this Suns team to the Finals is significant.
Booker will likely draw the easier defender in Khris Middleton relative to Jrue Holiday, but Paul doesn’t have to have a monster series. A line of 18 points 9.0 assists per game is doable for Paul and enough to get him the trophy if they win.
This is also likely to be a gritty series, so overall numbers may not be as big of a factor. I hate to take the boring favorite here, but Paul has inherent advantages baked into the competition.
Raheem Palmer: Chris Paul (+160 — BetRivers)
The NBA Finals MVP is awarded by voters and that means it will always involve a narrative.
If the Suns can make and win the NBA Finals, who has a better narrative than Paul?
He’s arguably the greatest point guard of this generation and a future Hall of Famer who ranks fifth on the all-time assists list, has made 10 All-NBA appearances, 11 All-Star teams, and nine All-Defensive teams.
From the Hornets to the Clippers, Rockets, Thunder and now the Suns, Paul is a proven winner. There isn’t a more decorated active NBA player who has not won an NBA title than Paul and it would certainly play a role in the narrative that voters will use when making their decision.
Although Devin Booker leads the Suns in scoring and is second in MVP odds at +250, Paul’s impact is responsible for this team’s success. In the postseason, he leads the team in advanced metrics like PER (21.3) and Box Plus/Minus (6.1) despite playing two fewer games than his teammates.
Paul is the team’s best player and if the Suns win the NBA title, Booker’s scoring impact can’t overcome what Paul brings to the table. I’ll back CP3 to win the Finals MVP.
Austin Wang: Devin Booker (+250 — BetMGM)
It sure seems like this is destined to be Chris Paul’s year. He has finally made it to the NBA Finals in his 16th season after multiple post-season failures. The young and exciting Suns are heavy favorites to win the NBA championship and it will be tempting to back the narrative and choose Paul as the NBA Finals MVP.
However, I do not think there is much value at the price.
I hate to mention Paul’s age and injury history, but that should definitely be factored into the overall risk assessment. He was limited throughout the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers with a shoulder injury.
He missed the first two games of the Clippers series due to health and safety protocol. And after the Western Conference finals, it was revealed that some of the struggles in the Clippers series were due to some partially torn ligaments in his right hand.
Given the trend of awful injuries in this postseason, I simply cannot place that much confidence in him winning the award.
The better option is Booker, who has been a break-out star this postseason, upping his averages to 27 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game in the playoffs. He really stepped up his game when Paul was hurt in the Lakers series. His triple double and clutch performance in the Game 1 win over the Clippers was admirable as they were in danger of losing that game with Paul out.
With Paul drawing a physical defender like Jrue Holiday on him, it will give more opportunities to Booker to get more usage. Booker has a higher ceiling and I think +250 is exceptional value for him to win the award.
Joe Dellera: Khris Middleton (+650 — FanDuel)
Middleton’s odds are different depending on the book you use ranging from +450 to +650 and I think he’s a bit undervalued. At the time of this writing, we are unsure if Giannis Antetokounmpo will be able to start the series. In the event that he sits out or is limited upon his return, this opens up a window for Middleton.
Middleton has averaged 23.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists this season in 10 games without Antetokounmpo this season. Those numbers spiked in Games 5 and 6 against the Atlanta Hawks where he averaged 29 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists in 43 minutes. These are strong numbers and he’s clearly capable of leading this Bucks team.
Middleton owns a 28% Usage Rate during the playoffs, second only to Antetokounmpo. While he’s seen a slight dip in efficiency per shot attempt, the Suns give up 3-point attempts on 38.3% of their opponents’ shots this postseason, per Cleaning the Glass.
They’ve defended those attempts the best of all the playoff teams, but for someone like Middleton who shot 41% from deep during the regular season, this is an opportunity for him to get hot.
If the Bucks would need to steal one of the first two games in Phoenix win the series and if they do, it will be in large part due to an impressive offensive display from Middleton. That gives him a tremendous amount of value here.
Kenny Ducey: Jrue Holiday (11-1 — BetMGM)
I think the Bucks can (and will) win this series, so I want to attack the value there. They looked great at the end of the Eastern Conference finals, and I think they can grab one of the first couple of games, which would presumably come without Giannis Antetokounmpo.
I’m not sure Antetokounmpo plays enough in this series to warrant the award, nor do I think a Bucks win on the road without him helps his case. I want to look to a complimentary piece, but I’m terrified of Khris Middleton given his inconsistency shooting the ball.
I land on two people here: Holiday and Brook Lopez. The latter would be absolutely crazy, which is why he’s around 66-1 to win the award (I’m going to throw some lunch money on it anyway). Lopez was tremendous without Antetokounmpo at the conclusion of the last round, and dating back to last year he’s been a big contributor for them come postseason time.
I think Lopez will probably warrant consideration when it’s all said and done, but the best bet here for me is Holiday. He averaged 26 points and 11 assists in two games without Antetokounmpo, and I expect him to get the lion’s share of the credit and coverage if the Bucks move ahead early in this series.
His shot-making has been sublime at key points in the last couple of series, and he’s been the playmaker the Bucks have needed to find points in when things get stale.
Simply put, Holiday has been in his bag for a couple weeks now, and I love these odds on him. There’s arguably no one coming into this series with more momentum.
Brandon Anderson: Jae Crowder (150-1 — BetMGM)
I’ll state the obvious: this is an extreme long shot. The implied odds of a 150-1 bet are 0.66% and you should not exactly bet your house on this.
In full disclosure, I already have my Finals MVP position covered. We’ve talked about it on our Action Network NBA podcast — I have Khris Middleton at 27-1 back during the Brooklyn series and also grabbed Chris Paul at 12-1 in the second round. Those two give me a strong position on the players I feel best about from each side, and I honestly don’t see much value on the board among the obvious picks.
Crowder runs super hot and cold, and he has become a real bellwether for Suns success. When Crowder’s shot falls early, he plays confident and can rack up 3-pointers in a hurry, and those are basically found points for Phoenix. The Suns are 31-8 this year when Crowder scores double digits.
In the playoffs alone, they’re 7-0 with an average winning margin of 17.1 points. Crowder has averaged 15.1 points in those games with 3.9 3s per game on 52% shooting. And remember, this is the same dude who lit up the Bucks in last year’s playoffs, dropping 15.2 points on 4.4 3s per game when the Miami Heat-– shocked Milwaukee.
We know Chris Paul and Devin Booker will have to be good, but the Suns really unlock when their role players start hitting shots. Finals MVP is a silly small sample size award based on seven games at most, and really on four games since voters tend to focus only on the wins. The Suns play a balanced attack and probably won’t have one player with an overwhelming statistical case for Finals MVP.
Crowder shot 39% this season, and he’s at 37% in the playoffs. Statistically speaking, if he took about 30 3-pointers over four Suns wins (he attempted nine four times this postseason), Crowder would have about a 10% chance of hitting half of those 3s, meaning 15 3s in four wins.
He has about a 43% chance of making at least 12. What if Crowder plays good defense on Giannis and Middleton and keeps hitting key shots on hot shooting all series, much like Danny Green did a decade ago when he was nearly a shock Finals MVP winner?
A sample this small lends itself to variance, and we know the Bucks are prone to being lit up by opponent shooters, particularly the secondary guys. Crowder is going to get his chances this series.
Maybe he’s only a 2 or 2.5% favorite to win Finals MVP, but that implies 40 or 50-to-1 odds, far better than the 150-1 we’re getting. That’s literally the same price as Suns guard Jevon Carter, who has played 22 minutes so far these playoffs.
For a key 3-and-D wing starter who happens to be the only player with any Finals experience, that’s honestly disrespectful.
Don’t go crazy — but let’s have a little fun.
If the Suns win, there’s a good chance Crowder will be very involved. What if Paul and Booker take turns having big games, Ayton has a big game in one, and there’s no clear favorite? Could our long shot rain from 3s all series and end a wonky season with the wonkiest Finals MVP ever?