The Wild World Of Betting 2020 NBA Futures Without Knowing Anything

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The NBA offseason is here. And one thing is clear: There is no such thing as an NBA betting offseason.

Consider the amount of 2019-’20 championship odds movement in a mere 18-hour span that started when the 2018-’19 NBA season ended with the Toronto Raptors beating an injury-depleted Golden State Warriors to win the title in six games.

According to ESPN’s Ben Fawkes, who was tracking the odds posted by the the network’s casino partner Caesars, the Warriors went from the favorites at +280 immediately following the loss, to +1000 once it had been announced that Klay Thompson had a torn ACL, to +1100 after Anthony Davis was traded from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers in that same time went from +500 to +400 to +350. The New York Knicks went from a ridiculously short 12/1 to a still-ridiculously short 22/1 as every superstar they hoped to acquire either suffered a major injury (Kevin Durant), got traded (Davis), or signed with the agency that’s owned by Jay-Z, who just happens to have very direct ties to an NBA team that isn’t the Knicks (Kyrie Irving).

For a brief period in which no actual basketball games were played, that’s some serious odds fluctuation.

And the news dump is just beginning. Almost every team in contention has questions about significant players it may or may not sign or re-sign, and the NBA Draft is three days away and will surely play host to some franchise-altering picks and trades.

Every sports betting venture, every trip to the window or tap on an app, is an exercise in speculation. But this is next-level stuff. This is speculation on top of speculation. This isn’t just, “How well will this team play?” This is “Who will be on this team and how well will these unidentified players play?”

We’d love to use the cliché “all bets are off” — but if you go to any legal land-based or mobile sportsbook in New Jersey, you’ll see that’s very much the opposite of reality.

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Current title odds

As of Monday morning, here are the championship odds for the top teams at three prominent New Jersey online sportsbooks:

 FanDuelDraftKingsPointsBet
Los Angeles Lakers+390+350+350
Milwaukee Bucks+550+500+500
Toronto Raptors+700+750+600
Houston Rockets+850+800+800
Golden State Warriors+1100+800+900
Philadelphia 76ers+1100+1000+900
Los Angeles Clippers+1400+1600+900
Boston Celtics+1900+2500+2500
Denver Nuggets+1900+1200+2000
Oklahoma City Thunder+2400+2500+2000
Brooklyn Nets+3500+2500+2500
New York Knicks+3500+2500+5000
Portland Trail Blazers+3500+4000+3000

Here are some questions to consider before wagering money on any of these teams:

  • Lakers: Do they have the cap room to add a third star? (No, Kyle Kuzma doesn’t qualify.) Can you win it all with a two-man team? Does LeBron James still have any peak years left in him?
  • Bucks: Of all the serious contenders, this is one with the fewest roster questions. You just need to ask yourself: Are they good enough to win in one of every six or seven season simulations and justify those odds?
  • Raptors: Will Kawhi Leonard, the difference between a championship-level team and a league-average squad, re-sign?
  • Rockets: Can James Harden’s game get it done in the playoffs? Is Chris Paul getting traded? Are their chances better than ever with the Warriors decimated by injuries?
  • Warriors: Will Thompson return before the end of next season, and if so, will he be close enough to 100% to make a difference? If not, can this team make any other moves to remain a real title contender?
  • 76ers: Will they re-sign Jimmy Butler and/or Tobias Harris? (And, less importantly, J.J. Redick?) Can Joel Embiid take care of his body and get enough nights off to enter the postseason at full strength? Will Ben Simmons develop a semi-competent outside shot?
  • Clippers: Will they snag Kawhi? (If so, those +1600 DraftKings Sportsbook odds become the tastiest on the board.)
  • Celtics: Assuming no Irving, can the assorted pieces of talent come together like we all thought they would last season?
  • Knicks: Now that you know that they aren’t getting AD, and that if they get KD he won’t play until 2020-’21, why in the hell are you considering betting on this lottery-bound team, even at those +5000 PointsBet odds?

Of all those teams, the Bucks are the only one you should feel safe penciling in for a top-three seed in their conference right now. (And that’s assuming Giannis Antetokounmpo stays healthy, of course.) For every other team, it’s that exercise in compound speculation noted above.

Early over/unders

Many sportsbooks wasted no time getting 2019-’20 win totals posted. They lines vary a bit from book to book, so for consistency’s sake, we’ll use Play SugarHouse’s New Jersey numbers here.

SugarHouse has 29 of the 30 NBA teams listed, leaving out only the Pelicans. It makes sense to wait to post that line; fresh off the Davis trade, rumors continue to swirl about whether they’ll try to trade the fourth pick in the draft for a veteran and push to make the playoffs this year or let (presumed) top overall pick Zion Williamson and the rest of their young talent play one season without pressure.

Among the other 29 lines, here are some of the most interesting:

  • Boston Celtics: 48.5. In line with their 49-33 finish last year, but about 10 wins below their 2018-’19 line.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 23.5. Lowest in the league. Understandably.
  • Dallas Mavericks: 41.5. Big improvement is expected over last year’s 33 wins with Luka Doncic in year no. 2 and Kristaps Porzingis entering the mix.
  • Denver Nuggets: 50.5. A mildly curious assumption of regression from a team that won 54 last season and seems to be on the rise.
  • Golden State Warriors: 47.5. How the mighty have fallen to the middle of the pack.
  • Los Angeles Clippers: 49.5. A fascinating number for a team that may or may not be adding a superstar.
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 54.5. Whether they’ll have any depth, or even five NBA-quality starters, is a mystery for now, plus you’d think LeBron and Davis would both be given some rest during the regular season. But, hey, this is a team that had absurdly low odds to win the title last season, and people were betting on them anyway. The Lakers with LeBron are the most public of public teams. So it’s no surprise that their win total is on the high side.
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 55.5. Highest in the league. Understandably.
  • New York Knicks: 34.5. So they’re 25/1 to win the title but they’re expected to finish about 7 games out of the playoffs. Well then.
  • Toronto Raptors: 52.5. This is either extremely low if they’re a title team bringing almost all the rotation players back or extremely high if they don’t have Kawhi.

One last note: Even though the Lakers would appear to be underpriced, the books may well be rooting against them when the playoffs roll around. David Payne Purdum reported on Saturday that The SuperBook in Vegas took a $10k bet on LA at 5/1 shortly before the Davis trade news broke (though most insiders viewed the Lakers all along as the frontrunners to land “The Brow”).

James and Davis will be the best 1-2 punch in the league now that Stephen Curry will be playing without Durant. In NBA Jam, the Lakers would clearly be the team to beat. In actual NBA? It’s way too early to say.

Photo by Derrick E. Hingle / USA Today Sports

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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