Basketball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. While the NBA is still largely dominated by Americans, a number of foreign-born players have also become legitimate superstars over the years. Players like Dirk Nowitzki, Drazen Petrovic, Yao Ming and Hakeem Olajuwon have all left indelible marks on the world’s top basketball league.
It’s also worth noting that the league’s current reigning Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was born in Athens and grew up in Greece. The Milwaukee Bucks star became the fourth foreign-born league MVP in history, following Olajuwon, Nowitzki and Steve Nash. Considering Antetokounmpo is still just 24 years old, it’s safe to assume that he may have a few more MVP trophies coming his way in the years ahead.
While he may be the odds-on betting favorite to win the award again this season, Antetokounmpo surely won’t be the only European player in the conversation. The NBA is rife with young talent these days, and much of it has come from outside the United States. Almost all NBA betting sites list Antetokounmpo as the odds-on favorite to win a second MVP this season. The following are a few other foreign players that could give the Greek Freak a run for his money in the MVP race.
Luka Doncic (+5000 to win MVP)
Luka Doncic may well be the most well-known European in the league nowadays other than Antetokounmpo. Despite the fact that he is in just his second season in the league, Doncic is already a household name. The Slovenian sensation won the league’s Rookie of the Year award last season after averaging 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6 assists per game. It was statistically one of the best rookie campaigns the league has ever seen, and the world is excited to see what Doncic can do for an encore.
Doncic won’t even turn 21 years old until February, so the fact that he is already as dominant as he is is something to behold. Few players come to the NBA from Europe and enjoy as much success at such a young age. This is essentially uncharted territory, so it will be exciting to see what Doncic will be able to accomplish if his career continues its upward trajectory.
Doncic’s MVP case will likely hinge on whether he can help the Mavericks reach the playoffs. Dallas went just 33-49 last season, and most oddsmakers believe their chances of qualifying for this year’s playoffs are fairly slim. The Western Conference is loaded with talent, and the Mavs are well behind teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets and Jazz in the pecking order.
Doncic is clearly good enough to win MVP, and I would be willing to bet a large sum of money on that happening at some point during his NBA career. Whether it happens this season remains to be seen, however. He is a long shot for a reason.
Joel Embiid (+1200)
NBA betting sites give Embiid the best odds of any foreign player other than Antetokounmpo to take home the MVP trophy this season. Giannis is a clear frontrunner at +300, while Embiid comes with very profitable +1200 odds. He has quickly become one of the most unique players in the league, and the argument can be made that there is no more impactful offensive center in the game today.
Embiid’s MVP case is better than Doncic’s thanks to the likely team success. NBA MVP is rarely given to a player on a team that fails to qualify for the playoffs. Embiid’s 76ers are a total lock to make it out of the Eastern Conference, and there is a very strong chance that Philly will wind up with the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. As we saw last season with Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, playing for a winning team is vital when it comes to attracting MVP votes.
Health will likely determine whether Embiid can actually win it. The big man averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and just under 2 blocks per game last season, but he still only played in 64 regular season games. Every year, it seems as though Embiid is forced to miss time due to an injury of some sort. He didn’t even play a game in either of his first 2 seasons in the league.
The 76ers will go as far as Embiid can carry them. If he can avoid a long-term injury and play at least 70 games, he makes for an excellent value bet to win MVP at +1200.
Pascal Siakam (+4000)
Pascal Siakam was listed at +10000 to win MVP before the season started, but his odds have already risen all the way to +4000 following a strong start. Last season’s Most Improved Player winner inked a big-money extension with the Raptors just before the beginning of the season, and he is already living up to the hype. The Cameroon native is averaging 28 points and 9 rebounds per game at the time of this writing.
Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard over the summer, but Siakam looks ready to take over as the face of the Raptors’ franchise. He has proven to be an incredible value after being taken with the 27th overall selection in the 2016 draft, and his continued improvement is a major reason why the Raptors were able to beat the Warriors in last year’s NBA Finals.
The Raptors are likely to take a step back in the standings without Leonard, but Toronto should still easily qualify for the postseason out of the Eastern Conference. If Siakam continues to put up big numbers, bettors will have no choice but to take him seriously as an MVP candidate. As a result, buying low on Siakam at his current +4000 odds comes with all sorts of profit potential.
Kristaps Porzingis (+6600)
Kristaps Porzingis may be overshadowed now that he’s teammates with Luka Doncic in Dallas, but he is still among the best European players the league has to offer. Porzingis rose to stardom during his time with the Knicks, but he has missed the last season-and-a-half after tearing his ACL in January of 2018. He has returned to the court to begin this season with Dallas, and he hasn’t missed a beat.
Porzingis is unique in that he is 7’3” with legitimate shooting range well beyond the 3-point line. While Doncic may get most of the accolades if the Mavs are to exceed expectations this season, Porzingis’ part in helping Dallas reach the playoffs won’t be for naught. His presence is the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team that won just 33 games. So, if the Mavericks do make a run, Porzingis makes for an interesting long shot betting option.
No other player in the league has a skill set comparable to Porzingis’, which makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. His MVP case would also improve if Doncic were to go down with an unfortunate injury. Injuries are obviously unpredictable, but +6600 makes Porzingis a solid value bet.