Since his selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft out of Duke, New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson has played in just 85 regular-season games due to injury. He did not take the floor once this past season because of a fracture in his foot. However, bettors at Caesars Sportsbook are still crushing Zion to win the 2023 NBA MVP Award. Williamson opened at +6000 but is now +5500 -- the only player with odds lower than +10000 to have seen an odds shift for MVP at the book.
Williamson put up MVP-caliber numbers in his 61 games in the 2020-21 season. He averaged 27.0 points on 61.1 percent shooting along with 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Despite his injury history (even at Duke) and the fact has been heavier at times, the Pelicans signed him on July 6 – Williamson's birthday – to a five-year designated rookie max extension that could be worth up to $231 million.
That contract includes a weight clause. Williamson will have periodic weigh-ins throughout the course of the deal and if his weight plus body fat percentage is above 295, he could lose money. Zion was officially cleared to return to full basketball activities May 26.
In terms of MVP betting action at the book, Williamson ranks No. 1 in tickets sold at 18.1 percent and second in handle at 19 percent.
"I guess I'm a little dumbfounded by this," said Adam Pullen, Assistant Director of Trading at Caesars Sportsbook. "He's been injured for a while and his conditioning has been put into question. They always take shots at long odds, but there are just so many questions surrounding him. But he's a former No. 1 overall pick, and people must think if he does play, he's going to do something special this year. Everyone assumed when he came into the league that he was going to be a generational player, maybe this is when he puts it together."
Williamson is one of four players who didn't play a minute last season, along with the Clippers' Kawhi Leonard (+3000), Nuggets' Jamal Murray (+12500) and Clippers' John Wall (+50000), who have attracted more money to win MVP so far this offseason than two-time winner Nikola Jokic (+850) of Denver. Jokic is only 21st in handle and tied for 15th in tickets.
"Jokic's action has been similar to what Aaron Rodgers has gotten for NFL MVP," Pullen said. "When you throw that human element in, voters may think that these guys have had their runs and give it to another player if there's another viable option. It's hard to handicap that human element. The Nuggets get some key guys back from injury this season. So if they finish with one of the best records and Jokic does what he always does, maybe he can be in the mix for a third straight MVP. There's just so many good players who can win this award."
The Mavericks' Luka Doncic and 76ers' Joel Embiid are +600 co-favorites. Doncic ranks first in handle at 29.5 percent and second in tickets at 17.3. Embiid ranks seventh in both tickets (3.8 percent) and handle (4.6).
"I'm a little surprised about Luka's popularity given that he didn't deliver for bettors before as an MVP preseason favorite," Pullen said. "I'd think with his odds this low again, people wouldn't still be jumping on him this much. They are looking for value with longer shots in these markets. It just depends on his health and how far he can lead the team. But he can definitely be in the mix just because he's an incredible player."
The 2022-23 NBA schedule should be released in a few weeks. The All-Star Game is hosted by the Utah Jazz on Feb. 19.
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