It feels like just yesterday that football season got underway, so, naturally, here comes the NBA! The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t getting the respect typically afforded defending NBA champs by various sportsbooks, while the Lakers got older and the Bulls are really going for it.
Meanwhile, the Warriors seem primed for one last title run, provided Klay Thompson gets back on the floor by Christmas, while coaching great Gregg Popovich has a full-scale rebuild on his hands for the first time in forever.
But, most importantly, with any new season comes uncertainty. And with uncertainty comes a plethora of futures bets that can seem irresistible — at least until the first whistle blows on Tuesday night. Following is a rundown of who US Bets staffers are backing between now and season’s end:
The 2021-22 NBA season has plenty of storylines, as usual, but some of those stories make me scratch my head.
For instance, at DraftKings, the Los Angeles Lakers, at +400, are only trailing the Brooklyn Nets (at +205) to win the NBA title. Along with that, the Lakers win total is pegged at 52.5 at -110. I love the under on that number. LeBron James is another year older, Anthony Davis went to the locker room in the time it took you to read this sentence, and Russell Westbrook — while still super fun to watch — has not exactly meshed yet with the other two superstars. Age + ego + injury concerns, and I love the under here.
I do know I’m putting a few bucks down on Paul George at +4000 on Caesars to be MVP. With Kawhi Leonard on the shelf until playoff time, this team will live and die with George. And without his running buddy to compete for stats, if the Clippers are winning, they’re going to be doing it with George setting the pace.
Lastly, give me the Milwaukee Bucks to win it all at +900 at BetMGM. I truly believe if you moved the Bucks to Brooklyn and the Nets to the Midwest, the two team’s title numbers would be reversed. I also vow this will be the year where I don’t have to look up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name — both first and last — every time I need to type it. (Flash odds set on that are +50000.)
– Jeff Edelstein
Chicago Bulls, over 43.5 wins, -110, FanDuel
Lonzo Ball averaging more assists than LaMelo Ball, +155, DraftKings
Here in Illinois, there is something unusual surrounding the Chicago Bulls heading into the 2021-22 season: optimism. Despite missing the playoffs four straight years and posting one winning record (and 42-40 at that in 2015-16) in the last six, there is sentiment Billy Donovan can have the Bulls contend for a postseason spot in his second season in the Second City.
While some of that may be Chicago sports fans distracting themselves from the desire to see Bears coach Matt Nagy’s head on a pike, the offseason acquisitions of point guard Lonzo Ball and swingman DeMar DeRozan by team Vice President Arturas Karnisovas to complement Zach LaVine have been widely accepted by the fan base. It feels OK to be Bull-ish (and try the veal!) on taking the over of 43.5 wins, which can be grabbed for -110 at FanDuel in Illinois.
For betting purposes, however, we’re also all about the fun, and in this case fun is going in, Big Baller Brand style, with Chicago’s new point guard. I am absolutely on board taking Lonzo over little brother LaMelo for head-to-head assists average for +155 at DraftKings. Lonzo averaged 5.7 assists in New Orleans last season, less than LaMelo (6.1 apg), but Donovan — a former point guard himself — has an excellent track record of showcasing his guards.
With a proven scorer in LaVine, a solid low-post option in Nikola Vucevic, an up-tempo offense, and Lonzo’s passing skills, I expect that number to climb to at least 7.0 per game and likely higher since the Bulls will need to outscore opponents to win games. On paper, Chicago has more firepower than Charlotte, which makes this pick feel like excellent value.
– Chris Altruda
Chicago Bulls to make the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, +120, FanDuel
Stephen Curry to lead the league in scoring, +600, multiple books
Furkan Korkmaz, Sixth Man of the Year, +15000, Kambi
I have three futures bets I’m willing to risk various portions of the kids’ college funds on this NBA season, at three very different levels of potential return.
The Bulls prop was listed at FanDuel Sportsbook last week, so I pounced on it with our betting bankroll on the latest episode of the Gamble On podcast. As we prepare to publish this article, I can’t find it anymore. Hopefully that will change before the Bulls tip off their season, because I love this wager and can hardly believe it pays better than even money. We’re betting on the Bulls to finish between the 7-seed and the 10-seed. Among the Nets, Bucks, Sixers, Hawks, Heat, Celtics, and Knicks, Chicago would need to finish higher than two of those presumably strong teams to land in the top six. And they’d need to finish below three of the Magic, Pistons, Cavs, Raptors, Wizards, Hornets, and Pacers to be sub-top 10. Unless the Bulls are a lot better or a lot worse than they look on paper, they sure shape up as a favorite to settle into that sweet spot in the middle.
The 6/1 price on Curry leading the league in scoring is available at numerous books, including DraftKings, BetMGM, and FOX Bet, and it’s mildly surprising that Curry isn’t the favorite to win the scoring title. All of those books have him below both Bradley Beal and Luka Doncic. Only FanDuel, which lists him at a less attractive +460, seems to be giving the defending and two-time scoring champ his due respect — and FD still has Beal ahead of him. Yes, Klay Thompson is due back at some point and that will cross some scores off Steph’s bucket list, but a 6/1 payout on the guy who averaged 32 per game last year and has never seen a shot he didn’t like? Again, FanDuel’s price seems prohibitively accurate, whereas the other sportsbooks seem to be committing the cardinal sin of presenting consumer value at +600.
The 76ers’ Korkmaz for sixth man is both a homer pick and a longshot flyer that I have no realistic expectation of winning, but if you can see a possible path to victory on a 150/1 shot — which is how Unibet, PlaySugarhouse, Barstool, and the other Kambi-run sportsbooks price it — you take it. Korkmaz is 24 years old, entering his fifth year in the league, coming off two straight seasons of averaging between 9 and 10 points in between 19 and 22 minutes, and has a chance for an expanded (but still likely coming off the bench) role depending on whether Ben Simmons is a part of this roster for much of the season. He’s capable of shooting over 40% from three and he isn’t shy about gunning from time to time, which means with a few more minutes per game, the Turkish wing could emerge as this year’s Jordan Clarkson. It’s a reach, but then again, most ways to turn $10 into $1,500 are.
– Eric Raskin
Luka Doncic, Most Valuable Player, +450, PointsBet
As the Tokyo Olympics illustrated, Luka Doncic can carry a team without much assistance.
Doncic, the wunderkind Dallas Mavericks guard, single-handedly spirited Slovenia into the medal round in Japan before a bronze medal defeat to Australia. Now, Doncic enters his fourth NBA season as the favorite to win league MVP honors.
Following the Olympics, Doncic returned to Slovenia to take part in an intense training regimen with Slovenian teammate Zoran Dragic and trainer Anze Macek of 2A Sports Labs. The grueling workouts included weighted one-leg lunges, box squats, and stair exercises while sprinting up a steep hill alongside Dragic.
An added emphasis on fitness could give Doncic the extra explosiveness to blow by defenders when opposing teams crowd him with frequent double- and triple-teams. Doncic, who finished the 2020-21 regular season sixth in scoring, also has odds of +500 at PointsBet to win the scoring crown. He’s the second choice behind Wizards guard Bradley Beal (+300) in that regard.
For the second consecutive season, Doncic nearly averaged a triple double for the Mavs. Last season, he rewarded fantasy owners in multiple categories, averaging 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per contest. With a crowded field replete with numerous stars, Doncic will likely need to surpass those numbers to win the MVP.
I’m betting that he will. The Mavericks stayed quiet during the league’s free agency period and enter the season with practically the same lineup that started for the majority of last season. Since joining the Mavs in 2019, Kristaps Porzingis has struggled to remain healthy. If Porzingis is out for a lengthy period this season, Doncic will have to shoulder an even greater load.
At DraftKings, the line for Doncic’s scoring average in the upcoming season is 28.9 ppg. Doncic recorded a career-high of 28.8 ppg two seasons ago. I’m taking the over at -115. If Doncic can lead the Mavs to a top-four seed in the West, he has a decent shot to win league MVP for the first time in his career.
– Matt Rybaltowski
San Antonio Spurs, over 28.5 wins, -125, DraftKings
Keldon Johnson, Most Improved Player, +3000, BetMGM
DeMar DeRozan is gone. So, too, is Patty Mills. Make no mistake about it: The San Antonio Spurs, so adept at tweaking their roster on the fly while remaining competitive during the Gregg Popovich era, have embraced the sort of full-scale rebuild that would have been unheard of back when Tim Duncan patrolled the paint.
It would be stunning if the Spurs somehow managed to make the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference. But you know what would be more stunning? A Popovich-coached team winning fewer than 28.5 games — the total at DraftKings and numerous other sportsbooks — over the course of a full regular season.
In the twilight of his coaching career, Pop is just too cagey and resourceful to not trot out a competitive team, even if he’s saddled with something of a talent deficit. And it’s not like the Spurs are completely devoid of capable players, what with a host of young guards headlined by Dejounte Murray and an intriguing tweener in Keldon Johnson.
A brawny Kentucky product, the 6’5″ Johnson spent much of his summer alongside JaVale McGee on the end of Team USA’s bench in the Tokyo Olympics. Ostensibly a power forward in the relatively positionless modern NBA, Johnson can score from all over the floor and rebounds remarkably well for his size. DeRozan’s exit leaves an offensive void that Johnson is as qualified as any Spur to fill, and at +3000 at BetMGM and other books to win the league’s Most Improved Player award, he’s a good bet to become the latest Popovich product to make a significant leap.
– Mike Seely
Field, Winning State of NBA Champ, +170, DraftKings
I like the “field” at +170 rather than a winner from California (Clippers, Kings, Lakers, Warriors, +215), New York (Knicks, Nets, +195), Florida (Heat, Magic, +2500), or Texas (Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, +2500). Instead, I get the Bucks, Suns, Jazz, 76ers, Nuggets, etc. at mild longshot odds.
– John Brennan
Photo: David Banks/USA TODAY