We’ve got only five NBA games on Thursday, but it’s appropriate that March Madness returns tonight since this NBA slate is all about that knockout play-in tournament.
The Cavs and Raptors go head-to-head with the East 6- and 7-seeds on the line, while the Bulls and Pelicans meet with play-in implications for each, too. The Nuggets are also struggling to keep their season alive and will try to stay above the play-in fray as the Suns come to town.
Key games should mean increased minutes for key starters, which we can use to our advantage as we play props.
We’ll be using the Action Labs Player Prop tool to compare our NBA projections to the props posted at a variety of sportsbooks. Below, I have laid out seven prop bets that I’m playing, the case for each bet and the best books to find odds on those player props.
NBA Player Props & Picks
Isaac Okoro Over 8.5 Points (-116)
|Cavs at Raptors||Raptors -5|
|Time||7:30 p.m. ET|
The biggest game on tonight’s schedule is between the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Toronto badly wants to get out of the 7-seed and avoid the play-in tournament, and the best way to do that is by passing Cleveland, the current 6-seed.
This game is pivotal for both teams, so it should be close and contested all the way. That should also mean a few extra minutes for starters and key players.
Lately, that has included Isaac Okoro. The young wing was drafted in the lottery as a core piece of Cleveland’s future, but has struggled to find his way while the team has broken out around him. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen are All Stars now, and Evan Mobley is on the cusp of winning Rookie of the Year.
The Cavs also traded for Caris LeVert to get some help on the wing, a further indictment of Okoro’s lack of progress.
Still, Cleveland prioritizes defense, and Okoro is a stout, capable defender — even while still learning the ropes. That has kept him in the starting lineup, even as he struggles to find any shooting or scoring, or any offensive role really. And just being on the court means scoring at least a few points here and there.
With the Cavs shorthanded lately, Okoro has played at least 29 minutes in eight straight games. In games with 29+ minutes this season, he’s averaging 11.1 points and gone over 8.5 points in 23-of-33 games, hitting this over 70% of the time.
He doesn’t go over by much, but he usually gets there. In fact, I’m not even going to recommend playing the alternate 10+ points — even just one more point has meant six fewer hits on that line this season.
Our tool also likes Okoro’s PRA over, but he’ll need the points to get there anyway. Let’s keep it simple and just stick with the points. Last time we did this, Okoro hit his over literally three minutes into the game. Nine points isn’t asking for much from a likely 30-minute starter! Relax, take a deep breath, and wait for the points to come … eventually.
I’ll play to -140.
Fred VanVleet Over 3.5 Rebounds (-110)
|Cavs at Raptors||Raptors -5|
|Time||7:30 p.m. ET|
Fred VanVleet leads the NBA in one stat category. Can you guess which one?
If you’ve been following the Raptors this season, you probably correctly guessed that VanVleet leads the NBA in minutes played. FVV has been an absolute workhorse for Toronto. He played 35.7 and 36.5 minutes per game each of the last two seasons, then upped the ante even further, leading the league at a 90s-throwback 38.2 minutes per game this season.
Toronto is running VanVleet into the ground, but Freddy All-Star is ready for it.
Expect VanVleet to get as many minutes as he can handle in this monster game against the Cavs. We’re projecting him at 38, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit 40. He’ll get as many minutes as he can handle, no doubt.
That could mean a bet on points or assists, but I’m also expecting a lot of defense in this one. Toronto and Cleveland are tough defensive teams, and the intensity should be high in such a big game. That means we should get a lot of rebounds, so that’s the angle here — heavy minutes plus plenty of rebounding opportunity equals volume.
VanVleet has gone over 3.5 rebounds in 13 of his last 18 games, already hitting this over 72% of them at 4.7 RPG over that stretch. When he plays at least 34 minutes this season, he’s at 4.7 RPG and over this line 71% of the time, and that number goes up to 79% at 36 minutes.
We project VanVleet at 4.7 rebounds, right around those usual averages, so this line is a rebound too low.
I’ll play to -140.
Jaxson Hayes Over 10.5 Points (-118)
|Bulls at Pelicans||Pelicans -2|
|Time||8 p.m. ET|
Is Jaxson Hayes a power forward? It’s starting to look that way, at least for now.
The Pelicans drafted Hayes as a rim-running center prospect, but they’ve unleashed their young big man as a four next to Jonas Valanciunas over the last 14 games, and the experiment is working. New Orleans has seen its defense take a big leap with Hayes as a stretchy help defender, and we’re seeing more and more NBA teams find success with two bigs with varying skill sets out there next to one another.
Hayes has started 14 games in a row for New Orleans. He’s playing 27.4 minutes in those games and typically gets about 26-28 minutes, averaging 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. The biggest problem is still foul trouble, not uncommon for young big men.
In four of those starts, Hayes has seen limited minutes, usually with foul trouble, and he had low counting stats in all of them. But in the other 10 games in which he played his expected minutes load, he averaged 13.5 PPG and went over this points line in eight of 10 (80%).
For the season, when Jaxson Hayes plays at least 25 minutes, he is scoring 14.9 PPG. That’s far above this number, and he’s hit this over in 14 of those 17 games — a whopping 82% of them. We’re projecting Hayes at 15.0 points, right around that average, and that makes this a 10 out of 10 prop and one worth playing to -150.
That also means we might consider playing a bit more aggressively.
We’re projecting 15 points, and Hayes has scored at least 15 in eight of his 17 games with 25+ minutes. That’s a 47% hit rate for a 15+ prop we can play at +255 at FanDuel.
But we can go even further.
If Hayes does play enough to score 15, he’ll likely go over his 5.5 rebounding line, too. He’s done that in 14-of-17 games with those minutes, and in all but one when he scores at least 15 points. You can play 15 points and over 5.5 rebounds together at +432 at FanDuel, if you want to go the more aggressive route.
Bonus NBA Prop Bets
- Scottie Barnes Over 1.5 Turnovers (-170) at BetMGM: Barnes is another guy who should get heavy minutes in Raps-Cavs. He’s taken on a huge role lately, averaging 18.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists over the last 15 games. But that extra usage has meant turnovers, too. Barnes is at 2.2 turnovers per game over that stretch, going over this line in 12-of-15 (80%). That’s such a slam dunk, it’s worth drinking the juice.
- Nikola Vucevic Over 9.5 Rebounds (-140) at PointsBet: Vucevuc is averaging 11.3 RPG on the season. The Pelicans are a tough rebounding team and Jonas Valanciunas is a difficult matchup, but Vooch is over this line in 13-of-23 (57%) of his head-to-head starts against JV. Chicago will need big Vucevic minutes against Valanciunas. When Vooch plays 32 minutes, he averages 12.0 RPG and is over this line 75% of the time.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo Under 6.5 Assists (+100) at BetMGM: The Greek Freak is averaging 5.8 APG on the season, going under this line in 38-of-60 (63%) games, and he’s gone under it 10 of his last 11 times out. Even without Khris Middleton, Giannis still averaging only 6.3 APG and under this line six of nine games (67%). Add in the possibility of reduced minutes in a potential blowout against the Wizards, and the under looks like a smart play.
- Will Barton Over 2.5 Assists (-105) at BetMGM: Barton averages 3.7 APG for the Nuggets and continues to be one of their only reliable options outside of Nikola Jokic. Barton has had at least two assists in 56-of-64 games so that puts us in range almost every game, and he’s over this line 46 times (72% of the time). The Suns do allow the second-fewest assists, but the numbers are still in our favor.