Another week is in the books and this NBA season feels like it’s shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons in a long time. This week we have the Rise of Anthony Davis and the return of both James Harden and Khris Middleton.
We’ll get a good look at these teams’ chances to be worthy of contender conversations this week — to be fair, the Milwaukee Bucks are already in the conversation — but also how those three players could impact their teams.
Let’s talk props.
We Need to Talk About Anthony Davis
We all make the jokes that Anthony Davis always falls down, or takes too many jumpers, or is always getting hurt. Well, Davis is getting the last laugh lately. He has been an absolute wrecking ball over the past few weeks. He’s recorded 10 consecutive double-doubles while averaging 34.2 points, 15.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.9 blocks.
He capped this stretch off with a 55-point dominant showing against the Washington Wizards and his MVP odds have dipped from about 200-1 a week ago to just 30-1 after Sunday’s game. He’s catapulted himself into an MVP conversation and he now has the seventh-highest Estimated Plus/Minus (EPM) in the league (+6.4).
While the Los Angeles Lakers are still just 10-12, during this double-double streak they are 8-2 and are just one game in the loss column behind the sixth-place Warriors. This move up the standings is significant.
AD’s prop lines have also changed dramatically. On Nov. 11, the first game of this streak (vs. the Sacramento Kings so a general Pace up spot), his prop lines were set at 25.5 points, 10.5 rebounds (plus-money), 2.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks. On Sunday vs the Wizards? 26.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 3.5 stocks (plus-money), and 1.5 blocks.
The notable difference is these totals are now in games with LeBron James as opposed to the game against the Kings when James was out with an injury. In other words, Davis has sustained — maybe even increased — his performance alongside James.
The biggest change AD has made is his shot selection.
He is taking a career-high 55% of his attempts at the rim, and he’s nearly abandoned the 3-point shot with just 6% of his looks coming from downtown.
Moreover, within the midrange, we have seen a notable change. While he is taking 39% of his attempts from midrange, he has decreased his long-mid frequency by half and has moved to taking 25% from the short-midrange (4-14 feet). Overall, AD is taking 80% of his shots from within 14 feet of the Basket, by far a career-high mark.
These are better and more aggressive shots by Davis and defenses have been struggling to contain him. The Lakers have a tough schedule moving forward with a back-to-back road games against the Cavaliers and the Raptors, then a matchup against the Sixers in Philly before a Sunday evening game in Detroit to close out their East coast trip. But looking at those props, they are all lines AD can still exceed even in those games.
He has cleared 26.5 points in seven of 10 games, 11.5 rebounds in nine, and he has recorded at least two blocks in eight games. Of note, he has struggled recently against Cleveland, but I think that’s because James likes to get more run himself against his hometown team.
I think his blocks line is likely the most exploitable moving forward, especially since he is averaging 2.4 on the season and his defensive prowess has always existed as long as he has been healthy.
James Harden Is Back in Philadelphia
James Harden is expected to return on Monday night against the Rockets in Houston . His return should significantly impact the 76ers offense that has been without its two primary ball handlers, Harden and Tyrese Maxey. Harden’s 32.8% Usage Rate is the second-highest on the team behind Joel Embiid, whose Usage is a bit inflated due to the absence of his two guards.
Embiid saw a renaissance without Harden. He was dishing with ease and saw his assists per game double from 3.3 to 6.2 this season while his scoring skyrocketed from 27.2 to 34.2. Embiid was carrying this team.
The last game these two played together was on Oct. 29 against the Chicago Bulls. In that game, Embiid’s prop lines were set at 29.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists (plus-money) while Harden’s were 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 9.5 assists.
It’s tough to imagine Harden playing many minutes in his first game back, so I think Embiid’s assists line may still have value if they reopen it at 3.5 compared to the 5.5 it was most recently.
The other Sixers who will be impacted are Shake Milton, who went from barely playing with Harden in the lineup to a whopping 29.6 minutes per game with him off, and PJ Tucker. Tucker was abysmal without Harden, while he contributed on defense and with his rebounds, he simply could not buy a bucket.
Harden did an excellent job setting him up and he should see his scoring increase from the 1.7 points per game he averaged without him to the 6.2 points per game he averaged with him. I’ll look to bet his points or 3s prop in the near future.
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Khris Middleton’s Return to Milwaukee
Khris Middleton made his long-awaited return to the floor and played 27 minutes while tallying 17 points, 2 rebounds, and seven assists while hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. His points prop was low at just 14.5 points.
He’s averaged 20 or more points the last three seasons on about 30 minutes, so I’d expect this line to regulate itself; however, if it is a bit sticky and does not increase much to about 18.5 or 19.5 again I’d take the over without hesitation as his minutes increase.
Middleton is one of the Milwaukee Bucks‘ best players, and he should command a usage of roughly 27% moving forward. Lineups with Middleton were +6.1 points better than their opponents’ last season and this Bucks team, which is already really good, will be even strong moving forward.
From a prop perspective, Middleton does not cut into any of Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jrue Holiday’s workload or scoring. In fact, Antetokounmpo actually scored 30.4 points per game last season with Middleton, which was more than he has in the past two without him (29.7).
Middleton’s return to the Bucks is significant because he should help with their overall depth, but now we have seen that the Bucks will sit almost their entire team for rest/injury purposes at times. While Grayson Allen saw his points increase the most last season, this season, the key beneficiary is Javon Carter who has been excellent without the Bucks’ Big 3 on the floor.
In four games this season without the Bucks Big 3, Carter has averaged 22.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. If the Bucks ever sit the entire team, Carter is the target moving forward.