Nothing But Net (Profits): The NBA Sports Betting Season Preview

The NBA tips off tonight, and intriguing championship, MVP, and Rookie of the Year bets abound if you're willing to shop around.

The 2019-’20 NBA season tips off tonight with a pair of marquee matchups. Sort of.

It starts at 8 p.m. Eastern with the defending champion Toronto Raptors meeting the upstart New Orleans Pelicans. Two little problems: The Raptors no longer have Kawhi Leonard, the superstar who carried an otherwise fringe-contending team to the title, and the Pels are without the new face of their franchise, no. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson, who suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee during the preseason and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks following arthroscopic surgery.

Around the time that game ends, the two best teams in L.A., probably the two best teams in California, maybe the two best teams in the Western Conference, and perhaps even the two best teams in the whole league, will complete the TNT doubleheader. It’s the Lakers vs. the Clippers at Staples Center, the first chance to see LeBron James and Anthony Davis play together in the purple and gold. It does not provide, however, the first chance to see Leonard and Paul George team up for the new-look Clips; George had surgery on both shoulders in the offseason and is expected to miss the team’s first 10 games or so.

NBA 2019-2020 betting preview

These two games serve as a reminder that there is risk every time you place a sports wager. One superstar missing a game changes everything. One injury can throw a season-long bet out of whack. There are no sure things. After all, the Golden State Warriors were a sure thing last year, right? They started the season at Westgate Las Vegas’ sportsbook as a ridiculous -200 favorite to win it all. Then Kevin Durant went down, and Klay Thompson tore his ACL, that bet got buried and the Raptors hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

So, if we can all agree that there are no “locks” when it comes to sports betting, here’s a look at some NBA futures bets worth thinking about as the season gets underway, surveying odds from sportsbooks in a variety of states with legal, regulated betting.

NBA Championship

Whichever team you like, you’d be well advised to shop around, assuming you’re in a state with multiple sportsbooks. But here are the odds for the top dozen teams at DraftKings Sportsbook in New Jersey:

Trail Blazers+3600

Unlike every season since the Warriors won their first title of this era, there isn’t a prohibitive favorite this year.

The Clippers are constructed for postseason success, with newcomers Leonard and George joining a team that won 48 games last year without them and returns Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac, and Landry Shamet, and added another useful piece in Mo Harkless. George is out for now and Leonard figures to rack up at least a dozen “load management” nights off, so betting the over on their season win total (56.5 at DraftKings at a tasty +150 price) is a dangerous game. But they have the shortest title odds for a reason.

There’s a case to be made, though, that with the Eastern Conference looking on paper like a two-team race between Milwaukee and Philly, the best bet is to pick the team you like there and put money on them to beat a banged-up Western Conference survivor in the finals — as the Raptors did last year.

Is there a longer shot worth considering? If you think Thompson will return by season’s end near full strength, Golden State at 13/1 is intriguing. (Though coach Steve Kerr is currently saying not to count on Klay.) Denver at +2000 with a team that won 54 games and a playoff round last year has that under-the-radar-threat feel. And could the Celtics make one midseason move to put themselves back on equal footing with the Bucks and Sixers? As currently constituted, Boston probably isn’t a title contender. But a few teams will have very different rosters in April than they do in October.

As ESPN’s David Payne Purdum reported after surveying numerous sportsbook operators, the Lakers are the most public title team (meaning you won’t get anything too close to true odds on them), and the Sixers are the favorite team at the East Coast books.

Speaking of those East Coast books, some people just love to throw money away betting on their favorite team. Don’t be one of those people.

Most Valuable Player

Using the odds at FOX Bet in Pennsylvania (again, shop around for the best possible price if you can), here are the top 10 MVP candidates:

Giannis Antetokounmpo+250
Stephen Curry+500
Kawhi Leonard+700
Anthony Davis+700
James Harden +700
LeBron James+800
Paul George+1400
Russell Westbrook+1600
Joel Embiid+1800
Nikola Jokic+1800

The advice with this one: Don’t get cute. So many of these players are on two-superstar teams, which means splitting stats and splitting votes. Leonard (who’ll rest a lot also) and George make each other longshots. Same for LeBron and AD on the Lakers and Harden and Westbrook on the Rockets.

Also, +1800 on Embiid might look like a favorable payout, but even if he stays healthy, the Sixers’ big man is unlikely to play more than 70 games — and when does suit up, he’ll play fewer minutes than he did last year. The addition of Al Horford gives Philadelphia flexibility up front, and the team’s biggest goal this season is to get Embiid to the playoffs healthy.

So that leaves just three names among the top 10 where the price is about right. Giannis is the logical choice, and even at a modest +250, a repeat for last year’s MVP is reasonable value. Curry has a chance to put up gaudy numbers as the chief scoring option for the Warriors, as his years of frequently deferring to Durant are over. This is Steph’s team again, and if he carries them to 50-plus wins, he could capture his third MVP award. And if you want a big return on your money, Jokic is your guy. Last year, he averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. He turns 25 this season. He’s constantly improving. Is it crazy to think he can post a 22-12-8 while leading the Nuggets to the NBA’s best regular-season record?

If you insist on going off the board, here are three options outside the top 10:

  • Kemba Walker (+6600): Has never had a problem scoring; now he has better teammates and could turn out to be a perfect fit on an overachieving Boston team
  • Ben Simmons (+6600): Has a shot if Embiid gets hurt and the Sixers finish with the best record in the East anyway — provided Simmons racks up triple doubles and maybe drains the occasional three-pointer
  • Donovan Mitchell (+8000): Like Jokic, but at longer odds, Mitchell seems like a candidate to make a leap and possibly lead his team to the best record in the West

Rookie of the Year

Until a few days ago, there wasn’t much to discuss here. Then Zion got gimpy. Now this thing is wide open.

Here are the odds on the top 10 ROY candidates at BetRivers in Indiana:

Zion Williamson+130
Ja Morant+215
R.J. Barrett+500
Tyler Herro+1400
Darius Garland+1600
Rui Hachimura+1600
Nickeil Alexander-Walker+2000
Michael Porter Jr.+2000
Coby White+2000
Jarrett Culver+3300

Williamson is expected to miss six to eight weeks, which means between 20-27 games. If he plays in that 55-62 game range, well, that’s not enough for an MVP contender, but it’s more than enough to win ROY. Joel Embiid played a mere 31 games in 2016-17 and still finished third in the voting. Anything over half a season should be enough, if Zion establishes himself as the premier talent in this rookie class.

But Barrett at 5/1 in the biggest media market on a lower-rung team without an overabundance of scoring options might be worth a flyer. If you want a longer shot, perhaps the rookie who turned the most heads during the preseason is worth considering:

Herro’s odds have come down quite a bit — you could get him at 20/1 or more immediately after the Zion surgery news broke. But many experts still see him as the best value on the board at 14/1.

Overs, unders, odds, and ends

The sheer number of NBA futures betting options is overwhelming, including who will win each division, who will be the No. 1 seed in each conference, over/unders on wins for every team, and will/won’t make playoffs bets for all 30 squads.

A few quick favorites using FanDuel Sportsbook’s odds and options:

  • Favorite overs: Pelicans 35.5 (hope you bet the under at 39 before the Zion news was reflected) and Warriors 47.5
  • Favorite unders: Spurs 46.5 (the bettors have already jumped on this, creating -125 juice) and Hornets 23.5
  • Playoff yes/no: Spurs No +180, Mavericks Yes +230 (not saying either of these are favorites to happen, but the prices are right — and they just might hit in conjunction with one another)
  • Division winner: Rockets Southwest -280 (Harden and Westbrook don’t have off switches, and there isn’t another real contender in this division)

Photo by Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports


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