The NBA season begins in less than two months. There are various player awards and futures props up at the books, and one of the more intriguing options is assists per game.
Here’s a look at the best value to lead the league in dimes next season.
James Harden (+120, BetMGM)
Not gonna lie.
I was prepared to basically present this as “wrong players favored” given the value of the players with longer odds.
In the regular season, it was 12.8 in the seven games they played together, which still would have led the league.
It’s a small sample, as is everything with the Nets. The Nets played at the 11th-fastest pace last season. If that drops a bit, there’s a higher chance he gets usurped, but he’s definitely the favorite for good cause.
Russell Westbrook (+200, DraftKings)
It’s a bit surprising that Russell Westbrook is as short as 2-1. He’s going to the Lakers and even if there’s a healthy chunk of time where it’s Westbrook ball, and even if Anthony Davis gets him a reliable pick and roll threat, there just won’t be enough minutes without LeBron James on court and enough available assists in the minutes they are on court together.
Bear in mind the last time he was next to a ball-dominant superstar in Houston, his assists dropped to seven per game. James isn’t Harden, but that differential is enough to mean his odds shouldn’t be that short.
However, I do think there’s value on others.
Trae Young (+450, BetMGM)
Last season, Young finished second among qualified leaders to Westbrook with 9.4 per game despite playing three fewer minutes.
Young averaged 13.8 dimes per 100 possessions, with a 33% usage rate. He was sixth in usage, no question he had the ball a lot, but there’s still room for him to bump that up this season and increase his minutes to closer to 35 per game.
Among the top 20 players in assists per game, Young was middle of the pack (12th) in assist conversion (the percentage of assists out of potential assists). He was already a top-three finisher, Westbrook is likely to slide, and Young’s usage and minutes could very well rise.
A small element of concern: Young’s assists per 36 minutes dipped under Nate McMillan after Lloyd Pierce was fired, from 10.4 to 9.8. Atlanta went from 12th in assist percentage (percentage of buckets assisted on) to 21st. There are injuries (like De’Andre Hunter’s), but in general, that’s something to consider.
I still believe Young is the best bet outside of Harden based on usage, play style, and expecting a surge after his playoff breakthrough.
Draymond Green (+4000, DraftKings & BetMGM)
Yes, Draymond Green.
This number is, quite honestly, insanity.
Green finished fourth for the assists title last season, tied at 8.9 per game with Chris Paul. He averaged fewer minutes than Westbrook, Harden, and Young. Among the top 20 players in assists per game, he had the second-highest assist conversion rate.
This puts Green in the conversation. Here’s how he gets over the top.
One, the schedule is more balanced this season, so Green is likely to play more minutes. Golden State’s training staff has always been metrics-forward, with indicators revealing if a player needs a night off or not, or fewer minutes. Those nights are likely to reduce with an easier schedule.
Two, Klay Thompson is back. Thompson’s usage will impact the rest of the Warriors, no question, but 75% of Thompson’s buckets, and 92% of his 3-pointers, in his last season in 2019 were assisted. With Thompson coming off injury, he’s more likely to play as a spot-up threat, not less.
Finally, the Warriors are going for it. Last season, they were balancing not burning out Green and Steph Curry in a nightmare season schedule-wise. This season, the Warriors are genuinely going for it.
The draft of Jonathan Kuminga may have signaled they still have an eye on the future, but Moses Moody is ready to get buckets now. The bench has a few more shooters.
Green needs two more assists per game from last season to beat out Harden’s 10.8 from last year. That’s a lot, not gonna lie.
But at 40-1, with Westbrook’s usage being curtailed in LA, if Harden isn’t able to replicate last season’s numbers for whatever reason, Green could very well sneak into that conversation.
Chris Paul (+1200, BetMGM, and DraftKings)
Paul is simultaneously the most appealing choice, metrics-wise, and the one that makes me most nervous.
The upside: Paul was 2nd in assists per 100 possessions last year. Not only that, but he’s the only one that came close to Westbrook outside of Harden. Paul averaged 14.0 assists per 100 possessions compared to 14.9 from Westbrook.
And his numbers should have been higher.
Among the top 20 finishers in assists per game, CP3 had the fourth-lowest conversion rate of potential assists, despite the Suns being 3rd in eFG%.
So Paul was tied for third per game, and should have had even more.
The bad news: Paul just finished the longest playoff run of his career, after the most condensed schedule of his career, with the shortest offseason of his career.
He’s 36 years old, and averaged 31.4 minutes per game last year. Paul played 70 games last year, which is extremely impressive. He also may peel it back this year to manage his body. He has some wiggle room to still qualify, but a minutes reduction would lower his chances significantly.
It’s just hard to see a 36-year-old Paul being able to put in the minutes, usage, and numbers after such a prolific season.
If the Suns regress a bit from last year’s terrific season, the conversion rate is likely to dip as well. There are enough red flags here to say I can’t get behind this bet, but at 12-1, it’s certainly playable.
Nikola Jokic (+1800, DraftKings) had the third-highest conversion rate of the top 20 assists per game leaders last season, which is impressive considering (a.) his roster and (b.) Jamal Murray’s injury. However, as the season went on, teams went to playing his pass more and more (which Jokic responded to with scoring to compensate).
Jokic is arguably the best passer in the game today. But after going all 72 last year and then a playoff run, he was gassed in the playoffs. Coach Michael Malone has already said he plans to work in rest for the reigning MVP. Jokic finished 6th last year per game and the Nuggets play at a slow enough pace for this to not be the way.
I wanted to make the case for Luka Doncic (+600). But in Jason Kidd’s four years in Milwaukee, the Bucks never finished higher than 10th in offensive efficiency. Their assist rate was good in each season but his last in 2018, but never at the top.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to argue the Mavericks improved substantially in the offseason. There’s still tension between Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis by all reports. The Mavericks lost Josh Richardson, which is not going to hurt Doncic at all, and Reggie Bullock may give him a more reliable spot up weapon.
But there’s no reason to think the Mavs’ pace, style of play, or approach will put those numbers up for Doncic. Simply playing Doncic, the favorite, for MVP has to be considered the better approach.