NBA MVP Betting Spotlight: Joel Embiid Is Attracting Attention, So Is LeBron James

Written By Dave Bontempo on February 19, 2021 - Last Updated on December 12, 2023
Joel Embiid MVP

The board says “LeBron, LeBron, LeBron”.

The stats say “Embiid, Embiid, Embiid.”

Welcome to the NBA MVP Watch. It’s heating up as the league approaches the halfway point of its 72-game season.  And NJ online sportsbooks are regularly updating the MVP odds, with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid being one of the players who has rocketed forward from the back of the pack.

The All-Star is more than holding his own in the highly-watched battle against favorite LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers.

And thanks to NJ sports betting, the race to the finish will continue to generating plenty of buzz.

As of Feb. 19, DraftKings Sportsbook had Embiid’s odds of winning it  at +500. Same with Nikola Jokic from the Denver Nuggets.

And there was only one player ahead of them. James was towering above the field at +140.

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks was one of the preseason favorites. He settled in at +1200 (along with Seph Curry of the Golden State Warriors).

Embiid’s monster season

James is regularly one of the highly favored players in the NBA MVP conversation. For one, he has now led three different teams to the NBA championship:

  • Cavaliers
  • Heat
  • Lakers

Not missing time is a plus, too.

Embiid was forced to sit out six of Philadelphia’s games due to varied injuries.

Nonetheless, when he plays, Embiid puts up MVP type numbers. His points per game average of just under 30 is a career high, as he enjoys single coverage more often.

The Sixers helped him by balancing the scoring attack. Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, Shake Milton, and Danny Green have been effective from three-point range, giving Embiid more operating room inside.

More importantly, along as they play well together, the 76ers odds of winning a NBA championship will continue to improve (probably not on the same level as James and the Lakers).

Embiid vs. James comparison

Point per game

  • Embiid 29.7
  • James 25.9

Shooting percentage:

  • Embiid 54%
  • James 50.8%


  • Embiid 10.8
  • James 8.2

However, there is one area in which James’ playmaking abilities create a stark edge, assists:

  • James 7.9
  • Embiid 3.1

Figuring that each assist is worth two points, minimum, that category could mean 10 points more that James provides the Lakers than Embiid gives the Sixers. But James is a forward and Embiid a center, so those numbers don’t surprise.

On balance, this is an excellent year for Embiid.

Shifting betting odds at William Hill

We harp on hitting futures bets early because odds change dramatically during the season. William Hill NJ had Embiid as a big long shot at +4000 when the year began.  Bettors holding that ticket flirt with a monster payday.

On the opening night of the season, Doncic entered as the +400 favorite with back-to-back award recipient Giannis Antetokounmpo right behind at +500.

Neither of those superstars are atop the board now, let alone in the top-3 for lowest MVP odds.

The current favorite is James at +160, although he reached as low as +120. James is aiming for his fifth MVP and his first since the 2012-13 season.

He resided at +700 on opening night, only trailing Doncic and Antetokounmpo.

And James has rolled in February, too.

The player with the second-lowest MVP odds opened as a long shot at William Hill. When it was first posted on Nov. 10, 2020, Embiid was tied for the 13th-lowest odds at 40/1 with Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets.

Embiid remained at that price on opening night, and then gradually saw his odds drop down to 25/1 on Jan. 6. He continued to climb up the list:

  • +1200 on Jan. 12
  • +800 on Jan. 23,
  • +500 on Jan. 28
  • +400 as of Feb. 19 (Embiid got as low as +350)


Waiting for more names to reach this list? How about James Harden, Irving, and Kevin Durant of the  Nets? They are an explosive trio and have recently hit their stride, but they are rested periodically as the team wants them fresh for the playoffs.

The Nets’ post-season ambitions will blunt these individual players in the MVP category.

DraftKings: James and Embiid will slug it out

At DraftKings, James and Embiid have been gathering sizable money.

“LeBron is getting hit pretty well lately,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told Play NJ. “He was a much higher price before.

“But Embiid is playing well for Philly and has been grabbing a lot of money, too. Embiid is a popular choice in the East Coast.

“It’s going to be great to watch this unfold. LeBron keeps getting his points, his triple doubles and he is doing it all right now.”

Nothing defines doing it all more than what James accomplished on Feb. 1, on the road against the Atlanta Hawks. Bettors won’t forget.

The Lakers were -7 across the major sportsbooks and leading by a scant 98-97 with 1:15 left.  About 95% of the time, this ticket is toast.

But not on this night.

Here’s what James did in the final 75 seconds:

  • Hit a three-point shot
  • Blocked a layup
  • Hit another bucket.
  • Made two free throws
  • And two more free throws
  • Grabbed the final defensive rebound

Final: Lakers 107, Hawks 99.

James took control of that game as an MVP does.

This race is fun to watch now. It will gather momentum during the second half of the season and gain high-profile intensity as the season comes to a close.



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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and others. He writes about all major sports in the booming legal New Jersey sports betting industry. Dave also hosts the Why Eagles Why podcast. Dave is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and the Atlantic City International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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