Nikola Jokic spent the entire season locked in a miserable debate for the MVP award. He'd won it in 2021 and 2022, and had he won it again in 2023, he would have become the first player since Larry Bird to win the trophy three years in a row. This led to quite a bit of backlash, with many questioning whether or not he deserved an honor that was not bestowed upon Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Ultimately, he lost that MVP award to Joel Embiid.
Fortunately, he has a chance to win a far more important MVP award in the coming weeks. While Embiid is home following an embarrassing second-round loss to the Boston Celtics, Jokic is in the NBA Finals for the first time. Unsurprisingly, he has emerged as the heavy early favorite to win the Finals MVP award in the Nuggets matchup against the Heat. Below are the current odds for all 15 players currently listed at Caesar's Sportsbook.
Jokic's status as the heavy favorite makes sense. The Nuggets are a heavy minus-410 favorite to win the series, and ever since the backlash that came with Andre Iguodala's Finals MVP award in 2015, the trophy has been given exclusively to superstars. LeBron James won in 2016 and 2020. Kevin Durant won in 2017 and 2018. Kawhi Leonard won in 2019, Giannis Antetokounmpo won in 2021 and Stephen Curry won in 2022. The pattern here is that the best player on the winning team typically wins the trophy.
This held true in the Western Conference finals, when Jokic won the Magic Johnson MVP award despite teammate Jamal Murray outscoring him by almost five points per game. The same was true in the Eastern Conference. Jimmy Butler won a narrow vote over Caleb Martin despite Butler's numbers taking a dip and Martin having a flawless seven-game run by his standards. Voters no longer look exclusively to the box score. They understand the intangible value the best player on the floor brings. Even when Jokic and Butler don't have the ball, they are affecting the outcome. That makes them the obvious favorites.
But if you're looking for a dark horse, there are a couple that make some sense. If Miami maintains its small starting lineup with Caleb Martin at power forward, Michael Porter Jr. will have a chance to bomb 3-pointers over defenders significantly shorter than he is. His 100-to-1 odds are worth a look. Bam Adebayo at 40-to-1 makes sense under the Iguodala logic. He is not the best player on the floor, but he will likely defend the best player on the floor. If Miami wins a close series and Adebayo locks down Jokic, he'll have a compelling case. Of course, considering Jokic's 10-2 career record against Adebayo, that seems unlikely.
And then there is the currently unlisted Tyler Herro, who is currently expected to return to the series in Game 3. Imagine the following scenario: Denver predictably protects its home court. Herro returns for Game 3, has a couple of hot shooting nights, and the Heat turn things around to win the title. That creates an easy narrative that his return was the catalyst for all of it. It's unlikely, but the odds, when they eventually post, will reflect that. Keep an eye on the odds after Game 1 to see if his line ever goes up.
But for now, Jokic is the clear front runner. There isn't much value at play when we're talking about a minus-360 favorite, but if you think Denver will win the series, he's probably going to take home this trophy.