The NBA season just ended. We haven’t gotten to the draft, let alone free agency or trades which are always wild.
And yet there’s still some value to be had with various futures even now, just days day after the NBA championship.
For this exercise, a few primers:
- If you don’t like having your money tied up, then, duh, this is not for you. It’s a calendar year.
- This is not meant as “the only futures you will buy.” It’s part of a broader position you can add on to later.
- A nice trick in the new sportsbook economy, depending on your stakes and which book you use is cash-out. You can basically put in bets now on longshots that will likely shorten significantly once the margin for error tightens by midseason when you can re-evaluate. Teams that may be 20-1 now may be 8-1 by midseason. Again, this is book-dependent and may not be available depending on circumstances, stake, and value.
- For this exercise, we’re starting with 5 units to disperse.
Best NBA Futures Bets
1. Denver Nuggets (+2200): 2 units
Why the odds are long:
Jamal Murray is recovering from a torn ACL and is not expected back until sometime midseason. (The Nuggets have not and will not commit to a timeline on Murray, don’t expect one, but I’m working under the assumption given his rabid work ethic and relative health otherwise that “sometime in March” is a reasonable spot to throw a dart at for his return.)
They are not a marquee market, Jokic is the least superstar superstar in the league. The roster is made up of good players without exceptional resumes. Will Barton has declined his player option for next season, leaving the Nuggets in a financial pickle. So too has JaMychal Green. There’s mutual interest in bringing both back, but the money is a concern.
Where the value is:
The Nuggets, for the brief time they were healthy after the Aaron Gordon trade, looked like serious contenders. Their numbers in terms of net rating were incredible. They went on a seven-game win streak, before a schedule loss to Boston and the Warriors game where Murray went down.
After Nikola Jokic’s MVP season, he opted out of the Olympics for Serbia, meaning he gets some well-earned rest after 72 games played and grueling minute demands.
Michael Porter Jr. should return with an improved handle and more comfort in the offense, there will be time in preseason to build Aaron Gordon more into the offense.
There are sneaky good players in the pipeline as well, with Zeke Nnaji having played very well in required midseason minutes, and PJ Dozier has the confidence of both the front office and coaching staff.
The Murray injury will scratch them off most preseason headlines. The conversation will be, “Watch out when Murray gets back.” But the regular season is about basically gaming the schedule, beating the bad teams and hanging with the good. The Nuggets play at a level that’s high enough for their floor to insulate them from a high number of “Just didn’t have it vs. a bad team” night.
The Nuggets were 19-5 vs. bottom-10 teams in point differential and 16-8 vs. middle-10 teams. That’s 37-13 against all but the elite teams. And against those top-10 teams, they went .500.
This is after a slow start where they lost to the Kings three times.
OK, but that’s the regular season. What about the playoffs?
Beyond the upside discussed above with a fully healthy Core-4 of Jokic, Murray, MPJ, and Gordon, regardless of what Barton does, the Nuggets have proven to be better suited for the playoffs. They had no real guards vs. the Blazers, a team that you need guards to beat, and still got past them. Michael Malone hasn’t truly been out-coached in a series yet.
The only teams in the West they should really be concerned about are the Lakers and the Warriors. Everyone else they match up pretty well against. (Yes, even the Suns who swept them. Phoenix, right now, would be favored against a fully healthy Nuggets team, but not by much, and how that series went down was largely a product of context).
So, worst case the Nuggets struggle in the regular season without Murray, only to likely sneak into the sixth seed or win the play-in (they thrive in adversity) and then pull an upset, halving these odds considerably. Or even better, Murray returns earlier than expected because he’s a psychopath when it comes to his work ethic and the Nuggets hold the fort, winding up with another top-three seed, and again, by the end of the first round, this ticket has great value.
It’s a long time to hold it, I get it, and I can’t guarantee there won’t be spots where the Nuggets odds get even longer. But if you’re like me and starting to build a long-term position for next year’s title, I’m starting with Denver.
2. Golden State Warriors (+1200): 1 unit
Why the odds are long: They missed the playoffs after losing to the Lakers and Grizzlies in the postseason.
Klay Thompson is coming of both a torn ACL and torn Achilles. That combination is essentially the most devastating combination that doesn’t involve a fracture.
Steph Curry turns 34 next season, Draymond Green turns 32. The rest of the roster beyond the Big 3 is basically Andrew Wiggins — never a player to instill long-term confidence — and incomplete “nice” players. Juan Toscano-Anderson and Kevon Looney are probably the fifth- and sixth-best players respectively.
Why there’s value:
See the whole board.
The Warriors have:
- a legendary, all-time player in Steph Curry entering the waning years of his prime
- a new arena that has been met with a tanking season and then almost no fans for most of the year
- an owner who has consistently made it clear he does not want to gear down but be as aggressive as possible
- a front office group that consistently aims for big upgrades
- a movable, big contract in Wiggins that is much more palatable than it was when they got it
- two top-14 first-round draft picks (No. 7 from Minnesota and their own 14th)
- a former No. 2 overall pick in James Wiseman who struggled last year which makes it easier to justify including him in an upgrade deal while maintaining his long-term upside
The Warriors have been looking for guard upgrades, major ones. They inquired about Lonzo Ball last season. They have been mentioned as having interest in Damian Lillard should that situation come to a head. They’re already being discussed as a suitor for Bradley Beal.
The response is usually that while the assets are good, they’re not great. There’s already been a report they’re struggling to find traction for Wiggins and the picks. Wiggins’ monster contract, two non-top-five picks (along with whatever future picks they’d include) and various pieces just doesn’t seem like a great combination.
More than one league source has wondered if the Warriors would consider adding Draymond Green to a package for a star upgrade. I need to stress that’s commentary from informed folks, not anyone inside the Warriors wondering if they should trade Green.
The following is completely speculative and not based on any reported indications of such a deal being viable, considered or even suggested: If the Blazers are not going to trade Damian Lillard but are looking to upgrade the roster as Lillard has requested, there’s a framework with Ben Simmons going to the Warriors, Draymond Green going to the Blazers to give Lillard a short-roll weapon and playmaker, and CJ McCollum and pieces going to the Sixers.
The Sixers have been adamant in wanting an All-Star back for Simmons according to league sources, and Green’s value for the Warriors next to Curry is higher than his objective value on the market. So there’s all sorts of ways this doesn’t make perfect sense. But it addresses multiple concerns for multiple teams at once.
There are any number of paths where the Warriors look like contenders again next season. Most of this relies on the idea that the Warriors will do “something.” There’s a lot of league noise about them, but there was noise last year that didn’t translate.
On some level, it just seems unlikely that Golden State, after such a dominant run, won’t find itself back in the discussion if Klay Thompson can still hit shots even if other parts of his game are diminished by injury.
3. Dallas Mavericks (+3000): 1 unit
Why the odds are long: They took a step back last season. The roster seemed to fit around Luka Doncic less, and the worst kept secret in the Southwest Division is that Luka and Kristaps Porzingis don’t get along. It wouldn’t be shocking if Porzingis was moved in pursuit of either cap space or an asset.
The team is starting over with a first-time GM who has never been in this position before in Nico Harrison, and with Jason Kidd.
Kidd, honestly, may be the biggest reason not to make this bet. His teams woefully underperformed in Milwaukee, and he sparked discord and distrust among players. I cannot stress enough how much the Mavericks should have spoken with former Bucks- players under Kidd, and if they did and still felt he was the hire, they should have spoken to them again.
But, Kidd has his supporters across the league.
Why there’s value:
The team is likely to retool in the offseason. League sources don’t expect Josh Richardson to return. If he declines his player option or exercises it and is traded, that could clear $11.6 million in space. They can create enough room to add a player or players.
The Mavericks are considered to be significant contenders for Kyle Lowry, just based on the money. Lowry is looking for a short-term, big money contract with a contender, and Dallas has the means and the will to go that route.
Adding more shooting and another serious playmaker next to Doncic who only continues to improve raises the bar significantly.
Even if the defense is still an issue and the Mavericks are playoff-vulnerable, their odds will split in half if they wind up having a strong regular season. For a second straight season, Doncic is the favorite to win MVP. If he’s the MVP, that likely means the Mavericks are on pace for 55-plus wins and a top-two seed. If they’re a top-two seed, their title odds are shorter and you can either cash out if that’s available or look to hedge the other way on shorter odds come playoff time with a longer ticket.
4. Miami Heat (+3500): 0.5 units
Why the odds are long: Every final four team from 2020 paid the price. The Nuggets were the only one to make it to the second round, where they were swept. Miami was just never the same.
After being swept by the champion Bucks, there’s a sense that the Heat’s magical run in the Bubble was more just that, a product of the specific circumstances and how other teams wilted in that environment, while the Heat shot the lights out.
Miami wasn’t good this season, despite returning most of the Eastern title team. The loss of Jae Crowder hurt, but the offense just absolutely melted. They righted their defense by midseason but it wasn’t enough to avoid being swept.
The Heat are yesterday’s news. They were counting on courting Giannis Antetokounmpo with a combination of South Beach views and their Spartan approach to work ethic and championship dedication, but Giannis chose to build his own empire, not take someone else’s throne.
However … the Heat have not stopped chasing the next king, nor will they.
Bradley Beal, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard. Those three names are on the trade board. The Heat don’t have a great cache of picks to offer, and Tyler Herro’s value has dropped. But if Miami can be the team a guy decides they want to go to above all others, that balances out the assets available. That’s just how it works.
Putting any of those three players next to Butler and Bam Adebayo is enough to put them in the title conversation.
They will have a great defense next season, and likely add some veteran talent somewhere; they have a knack for that. They add an elite offensive player and they’re off to the races and this number gets cut in half before we even get to the end of August.
You’re taking an established product (Heat Culture) with an intention to upgrade (Heat Mindset) and a player movement landscape with significant upgrades where they need it (scoring).
5. Milwaukee Bucks (+800): 0.5 units
Why the odds are long:
The Nets, mostly.
The Bucks will return most of their championship core. PJ Tucker may not find the money palatable for a sweetheart deal to defend the title. Bobby Portis is almost certainly going to be gone with a big payday. Bryn Forbes likely will head elsewhere trying to capitalize on the same cache.
Other than that, the whole crew comes back. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday will have come off the most brutal NBA schedule in history straight into the Olympics and then straight into training camp. That’s a recipe for badness.
Milwaukee was mostly healthy this season outside of the unfortunate loss of Donte DiVincenzo. If that doesn’t repeat, and the Nets go absolutely bonkers in the regular season, the Bucks could slip again.
The Bucks were +850 before their first-round series against the Heat. Will that number be shorter even with “championship pedigree” if they’re going up against a Sixers team after whatever Ben Simmons nets on the market with the Nets having the 1-seed and homecourt?
The Bucks’ odds were longer on April 1 (+900) than they were in preseason last year (+500).
This is probably not one that gets a lot of value before the playoffs next season, and in that case you’re probably better off waiting so nothing catastrophic happens.
Where’s the value:
Look at the outline of next season, barring major injury (which, granted, is more of a concern with the Bucks than others given how long they went). What teams are you absolutely convinced can or will beat the Bucks in the East?
Brooklyn is a fine answer. You can say the Sixers, but without knowing what Ben Simmons will return, or if Joel Embiid will stay healthy, or if the Sixers’ internal makeup takes a step forward, that seems dicey. Is there anyone else, right now, who scares you?
And if so, if you expect the Bucks right now to beat anyone but the Nets, would the Bucks’ series price vs. the Nets be worse than +800? Because you can either then hedge against the Bucks by betting the Nets, or bet the Nets to win the title.
You’re losing some EV in these hedges, so if you’re not comfortable with that, the whole exercise is not for you.
But Milwaukee may genuinely grow from their championship experience, we’ve seen it before. And if that happens, they’ll be right in the mix and you’ll have a +800 ticket.
What about the Nets and Lakers?
Usually, the favorite at this time of year has a lot of value. The Nets were +900 in the preseason because they hadn’t traded for Harden yet even though there were already rumors. The Lakers in 2020 were +450 after the Anthony Davis trade, and +330 before their series vs. the Rockets in the second round.
It doesn’t feel like that’s the case this year.
The Nets are +225 with implied odds of 30.77%. It’s not that I think those are heavy implied chances, but instead I don’t think that’s the longest odds.
The scenario for this to be the best price on the Nets is this: No one in the East makes any significant upgrade. Not the Heat, not the Knicks, not the Hawks, no one. Everyone stays the same or gets worse. The Nets stay healthy the whole year with Durant who missed significant time last season and is still coming off the most devastating injury in basketball, with Irving who hasn’t had a normal healthy season since 2016, and Harden who has an absurd number of miles on him after his MVP runs.
It’s not that that can’t happen, but all of that would have to happen and the Nets would need to burn through the East and establish themselves not only as the best team in the conference, but in the league. We have multiple All-Stars who may be moved (as it is every summer it feels like) and none of them will be joining the Nets because they don’t have room on the “Did You Make An All-Star Team Between 2010 And 2015? Then You’re A Net” wagon.
And even if that’s the case and all that carries through, you’re still probably better waiting and just betting them series by series. The Nets may wind up as the odds-on favorite, but the Warriors’ shortest odds were in 2019 (a year they lost, by the way) when they were -178 to win the title before the playoffs began.
With the Lakers, the +450 has implied odds of just 18.18%. That obviously feels low. LeBron James will have had a full four months to recover. Anthony Davis the same. The team is already being mentioned as actively looking to upgrade the roster, with names from DeMar DeRozan to Russell Westbrook to less sexy but better fits like Buddy Hield being mentioned.
However, James will be 37. He said after the high ankle sprain he suffered he would never “get back to 100” which was confusing but also alarming. Don’t even get me started on Anthony Davis’ injury history. The Lakers had a pretty good team last year and started messing with it with things like bringing on Davis’ good friend Andre Drummond when they really didn’t need him.
For all the power the Lakers hold to shape their roster because everyone wants to play there and Klutch Sports wields power like no agency before them, will all the decisions be home runs … er … slam dunks?
It’s less about EV and more that the risk for the Lakers is still so high. The Lakers could get a major upgrade and tear through the league and this number dips to +200. Then you’ve gained 81.5% EV off the number alone.
But so much of this feels priced in with the Lakers, who are of course always a public team.
Betting $100 on the Lakers to win the title every season since 2000 would have you up. For now, though, it feels like the better thing to do is wait and risk losing value as the market matures between now and next year’s Finals.