Clutch Player of the Year Odds: Bridges, Haliburton, LeBron Among Value Bets

Action Network contributor Jim Turvey looks at the race for clutch player of the year to find betting value across the market.

Of all the awards races ongoing in the NBA season, the Clutch Player of the Year Award is potentially the most intriguing. For one, the award is only a year old, with De’Aaron Fox having won the award last season in its inaugural campaign.

Despite this seemingly minute amount of information to work off of, there is a very heavy favorite already, with Damian Lillard currently sitting at +175 at FanDuel. (This is also, easily, the hardest award to bet on, with only a few scant books even offering a price.)

So, is Dame the correct favorite, and is he really deserving of a 36.4 implied percent chance of winning this award less than two months into the season? Let’s look a little deeper at the market and see what the best approach is for bettors.

Last Season’s Rundown

Newly minted Action contributor, NBA First Three (Twitter name, not legal name) wrote up a strong preview of this market before the season in which he locked on to the statistics mentioned in the award announcement.

There were five key factors:

  • Total points in clutch situations (scoring margin within five points with five or fewer minutes left in a game)
  • Points per game in clutch situations
  • Go ahead field goals in the final second of the fourth quarter or overtime
  • Field goal percentage in clutch situations
  • Team success (Kings breaking their lengthy postseason drought)

Now, without years of data to go off of, we don’t know if these accolades were retrofitted to match the winner. In particular, the breaking of a long playoff drought seems unlikely to be essential to this award each season, but team success as a whole might indeed matter. It might even matter to move a team from outside the playoff picture to within.

But in reality, Fox made the decision easy last season. He had 35 more points than any other player in those clutch situations, and did so on the best shooting percentage of any of the top 14 in terms of total points in those situations. There’s a reason he got 91 of 100 first place votes.

This Season’s Race

So who is the Fox of this season? Through just under two months, it is indeed Lillard. His 67 points in clutch situations lead the league by a healthy margin, and while his field goal percentage isn’t quite where Fox’s was, that’s more due to shot diet, as over half those shots have come from three, which he has hit at an impressive 41.2 percent clip.

Add in the Bucks 9-2 record with Dame in games that qualified for these clutch situations, and Dame Time would absolutely be walking out the door with the award if the season ended today.

So we answered our first question, but now we need to determine where the betting value lies.

Last season, on December 6, Fox ranked just fifth in terms of clutch points scored, as many of the Kings tightest games came down the stretch (which also helped his case). It was, however, notable, that Fox was shooting 62.5 percent from the field in clutch situations on December 6, basically guaranteeing himself as the closer for the team the rest of the way.

So who could fit that mold this season?

Five names jump out at me.

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Non-Lillard Candidates

Mikal Bridges (+10000, BetRivers)

These five names are ordered by total number of clutch points as of today. Only Lillard has more points in the clutch than Bridges this season, and only Kevin Durant has more field goal attempts. And while Cam Thomas has been missing for part of the season, he has been in six of the 10 games that qualify as clutch, and he has been rather ineffective, scoring just 14 points on 15 shots, including 1-of-9 from deep.

Bridges also has the most attempts within the final 90 seconds to tie or take the lead, as well as the final minute to take the lead, per Stathead. He should really be in the top three of this race, at minimum, right now.

The biggest case against Bridges is name recognition and whether he’d actually draw the attention of voters. However, De’Aaron Fox and Sacramento aren’t exactly LeBron in L.A., so there’s reason to believe that there’s room in this award for players like Bridges. At 100:1, there is definite value on Bridges.

LeBron James (+1400, DraftKings) | Tyrese Haliburton (+1500, FanDuel)

I’m lumping these two together because they are very similar for a few reasons. For one, both have been incredibly efficient in clutch situations this season, James shooting 65.5 percent from the field, while Haliburton is shooting a BONKERS 73.7 percent from the field, including 7-of-9 from deep.

However, the biggest reason I am lumping them together is because I think this year there is a hidden potential wrench in this award: The In-Season Tournament. It is the closest thing we have to playoffs in the regular season, and a big moment or two in the IST feels like it could carry a lot of extra weight when it comes to voting for this award.

LeBron and Hali are both still alive in the IST, with Hali already having a big moment in the IST quarterfinals for his resume. I don’t believe the market is accounting for this potential wrench just yet, which is why I want to wait to bet on these two (and Lillard, who is also still alive) to see how the IST plays out this weekend.

If you think that the books and/or the market is going to be cognizant of the potential impact of the IST, this would be the time to bet both of these guys.

DeMar DeRozan (+10000, FanDuel)

DeRozan was a pre-season favorite of mine, and he actually has the second-best field goal percentage (72.2) among the high usage guys in the clutch. His case is similar to Bridges, but he has far more room to make up on Lillard, and his Bulls are much less relevant than the Nets as of now. As such, I’m fine waiting to see if the Bulls somehow turn things around/start playing (and winning) a bunch more close games.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+800, DraftKings)

This is a perfect example of how betting is different than ranking. When I was putting together the profile of someone who fit similar to Fox last season at this time, SGA was basically the perfect example. He’s clearly his teams number one. He is shooting an excellent clip from the floor in clutch moments (60 percent). His team is likely to go from outside the playoffs to within. But he’s also the second-favorite for this award right now, despite being 11th in total clutch points. I can’t get there at this number, but will absolutely be keeping an eye on him as the season progresses.

What To Do This Second

I’m going to wait. The In-Season Tournament wraps on Saturday, and with three of the big names discussed here still alive, I want to see if any distinguishes himself. If Dame and the Bucks win the IST, and he has a clutch bucket or two along the way, this market will hold very little appeal to me. Betting a +150 favorite with four months to go in the season isn’t my standard approach, but he would be a very deserving heavy favorite.

On the other hand, if either LeBron or Hali make a move, and the books only get to around +1000 (or even +800 range) for either, I will very much so be betting that player.

And on the third hand (…) if maybe the Pelicans win—or the Bucks, Pacers, or Lakers win but without any notable contributions from those three above—I’ll likely move into a waiting position again, ready to pounce if these clutch points standings start to shake up a little, or if a player has a few notable game winners that capture the zeitgeist.

Best Bets

Mikal Bridges +10000, BetRivers

Wait until Saturday on: LeBron James +1400, DraftKings; Tyrese Haliburton +1500, FanDuel and bet if either has more IST moments.