Welcome back to Futures Friday!
Every week I’ll dive into futures to play based on where the value is at that point in the season. Each week we’ll make plays based on distributing a half-unit of value. Over the course of a season, it’ll add up to a sizable position.
Here are the futures bets I’m eying as we near the end of the fourth week of the season. For last week’s edition, click here and full a the full list of best I’ve made so far this season, check out this running chart.
Kevin Durant MVP +300 (DraftKings, 0.25 Units)
In preseason, Durant was +700 when I took my first position on him. Now, after everything, I’m getting him at an implied 25% compared to 12.5% in preseason. His odds have to be higher than 25%.
Bear in mind my biggest preseason position was on Stephen Curry, so I’m able to take these shots and I’ll be adding to Curry as well.
I don’t need to tell you Durant rules, he’s just the monster from the depths of the earth right now. He’s every bit the Slim Reaper, just taking souls. Leading the league in scoring, averaging 30-8-6 on 52-38-82 splits.
The biggest anchor on his odds in preseason was the narrative of playing for a super team. Losing Kyrie Irving was one thing, but Harden has looked miserable for much of the season. He’s had a few Harden games, but in general, he hasn’t been the kind of superstar help we expected.
Then, Joe Harris went down.
Then half the team, including Harden, entered Health and Safety protocols and yet the Brooklyn Nets have still dominated, with Durant playing at an absolutely absurd level.
He’s top three in shooting off the dribble (minimum 100 possessions), the second-most efficient player with at least 100 possessions offensively this season behind Nikola Jokic.
Again, you don’t need me to tell you Durant is great.
Here’s the more important stuff. Tim Bontemps of ESPN regularly publishes a strawpoll on where the MVP race is. (Admission: I was polled for Bontemps’ article.) In this week’s edition, Durant was one of three players along with Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo to register on all 100 ballots, somewhere in the top five.
The gap between him and Curry was just 368 points. That’s a relatively small margin. Curry got 94 first-place votes out of 100, which seems like he’s in a dominant lead. But the margin between those two isn’t indicative of how tight the race is.
The Athletic published an article asking former players who the best player in the world is — Durant won that. The reason I say this matters is there is a growing consensus that despite Giannis Antetokounmpo being the reigning Finals MVP, despite LeBron James being LeBron, and despite the numbers the reigning MVP is putting up in Denver, Durant is and has been the Most Valuable Player.
We fret that LeBron only has four MVPs. Durant has one.
Then there’s the simple record game.
The Nets are not as good of a team as the Warriors so far, by any measure. Golden State has a better record by 2.5 games. Brooklyn is just sixth in adjusted net rating at DunksAndThrees.com, the Warriors are first.
However, they are just 2.5 back despite the Golden State Warriors having the 29th-ranked strength of schedule. The Nets are 12-1 vs. teams under .500, the Warriors are 13-1. Brooklyn is likely to improve, where there is some degree of downside for the Warriors in a tough division.
The Nets are still on pace for 60 wins. If they get to 60 wins, despite Irving missing as much as half the season or more, Harden not being himself and missing time, a thin Nets roster that doesn’t blow you away, and with Durant having these kinds of performances night by night while the Warriors slide just a touch?
That’s a very realistic scenario, far more than 25%.
If this becomes a real two-man race, this number shortens. There’s value on him now.
Central Division vs. Pacific Division NBA Finals Matchup +400 (BetMGM, 0.25u)
We have a three-team array meeting the Bucks at 4-1.
If you like the Chicago Bulls, and I’m not as down on their playoff chances as I thought I would be at this point, then all the better.
The only other serious threat in the West, given the absolute disaster of injuries the Nuggets are suffering through, is the Utah Jazz and I’m just not ready to trust them yet. I might get there — there are promising signs — but I’m not there yet.
I trust the Warriors, I trust the Suns, and I think the Lakers are underrated here. The Lakers rank second on defense the past two weeks. There are signs things have turned. The team might be weighing the possibility of trading Russell Westbrook, but if they do, they’re only doing so to get an immediate help in pursuing the title.
I continue to be concerned about the Nets’ interior defense. In key matchups, they’ve been exposed. The Bucks are big and super athletic at full strength. They’re so far away from the version they hope to have in the playoffs with Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo and most of the team from last year that won the title back.
So we get a 4-1 ticket when by the conference finals, we could very well be looking at two Pacific Division teams in the West and Bucks vs. Nets in the East. That gives us a good hedge position vs. the Nets as a slight favorite at that point.
Implied odds here are 20%. I think the Bucks should be the favorite in the East, even with how last year’s Nets-Bucks series went. I would put them at 55%. Given the Warriors and Suns lead for homecourt in the first two rounds, the teams they’d face, and the chance the Lakers make a run, I’d put the Pacific division winning the West at 60%, putting the odds of both outcomes at 33%, getting 65% EV.
The Pacific is -250 to win the West, there’s no value there. The Bucks are +300 to win the East, there’s value there, but I’d rather get the higher payout with hedge opportunities on Finals matchups later.