How Many Points Are the Best NBA Players Worth to the Spread?
Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: James Harden.
Now that the playoffs have finally begun, the real NBA season has started. No more resting, no more tanking, just hard-fought playoff hoops.
Before the year began, I posted an article that listed every player oddsmakers felt were worth at least a point to the spread. A lot has changed, though, and this feels like the perfect time to check back in and see what type of adjustments have been made.
To find out, I contacted Scott Cooley. There are essentially five “tiers” he uses to categorize players, ranging from one to five points to the spread. They can vary a bit and are of course subject to change depending on the market reaction and opponent.
For example, if LeBron James slips on a puddle of sweat during warmups and breaks his tailbone, the oddsmakers would generally adjust the line by five points. Perhaps the market thinks he’s worth six or seven and bets heavy on the opponent to move the line even further. Or, perhaps bettors think the Cavs can take care of business without him and they push it down to a four-point move.
Playoffs are also a very different animal than the regular season. When I asked Cooley if he treated players differently during the postseason, he said:
“The playoffs are an entirely different beast when it comes to player value because we know the opponent for as many as seven games. So to answer the last portion of your question, yes, players are treated differently for the playoffs. As I’ve always contended with the values, much depends on the opponent.”
During the regular season, a star player isn’t going to be worth as much when his team is a double-digit favorite against a lottery team. Though we will still see some large spreads in the playoffs, a player’s full worth to the spread is more likely to be relevant.
So, without further ado, here is the updated list — excluding players who aren’t in the playoffs and those who are out for the year due to injury.
For the most part, these players remain where they were at the beginning of the season. Some have changed, however.
James Harden: He’s finally made it. It only took an MVP season to get there, too. Before the season began, I thought, and apparently oddsmakers did too, that the Rockets’ acquisition of Chris Paul would make Harden less valuable. Well, I guess I was wrong! Harden has moved from a Tier 2 to a Tier 1 player, now worth five points to the spread.
Anthony Davis: I’m guessing this one will cause some heads to turn. The Brow was a Tier 3 player before the season, seeing as he and Boogie sort of shared the workload. After Cousins’ injury, I figured AD would move all the way up to Tier 1, but instead he’s only been bumped up to Tier 2.
LaMarcus Aldridge: With Kawhi Leonard out for most of the year, Aldridge had a chance to be the main man and did a fine job. This allowed him to move from Tier 5 to Tier 3.
Joel Embiid: Embiid’s worth is still probably held down a bit due to his limited workload compared to other stars. He played slightly more than 30 minutes per game this year, which is a big step up from the 25 he played in his rookie season, but we could see another bump in value down the line if he starts logging heavy minutes.
Kevin Love: The departure of Kyrie Irving left Kevin Love as the clear No. 2 in Cleveland. With great responsibility comes a rise in value according to oddsmakers, as the old saying goes.
Victor Oladipo: The Pacers must be very pleased with Victor Oladipo’s play this year, as he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. He’s moved from Tier 5 to Tier 4, but I imagine the market would feel he’s worth even more.
Al Horford: With Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving done for the year, Horford has a much more important role. He does have some help from the youngsters, though, which I’ll touch on later.
Rudy Gobert: I was a bit confused about this one, but I guess you could argue that Gobert isn’t quite as important to the Jazz with Donovan Mitchell’s emergence.
Nikola Mirotic: Mirotic began the season on the lowly Bulls, where he was perhaps their most important player. Now that he is a Pelican, his value has taken a hit.
Added to the List
Ben Simmons: He certainly looks like a keeper! Simmons has proven himself to be one of the better point guards in the league during his rookie season and is making process-trusters happy. Along with Embiid, Philly has two Tier 3 players that should be franchise cornerstones for years to come.
Donovan Mitchell: It’s looking like the Jazz got the better of that draft night trade with the Nuggets, eh? Mitchell averaged more than 20 a night in his rookie year and has become Utah’s No. 1 scoring option. As such, he’s now the team’s most valuable player to the spread.
Jayson Tatum: Without Kyrie, Jayson Tatum is one of Boston’s most important players. Though he may take a step backward in value at the beginning of next year, it may not last long, as Tatum could potentially develop into an all-star caliber player in the very near future.
Robert Covington: The king of undervalued players has earned some respect from the oddsmakers this season. Not exactly a household name by any stretch, Covington is a legit player on both ends of the court and may be worth even more than the one point Cooley believes he is.
Taken Off the List
George Hill: Before the season, some felt that George Hill could put up some numbers on a Sacramento Kings team that was not expected to do much. Instead, they didn’t give him heavy minutes (only 26.6 per game), and he wasn’t very good, either. Now a Cleveland Cavalier, Hill takes a back seat to several players.
Carmelo Anthony: Say what??!? No more Carmelo? Anthony averaged 16.2 points per game this season on 15 shots a night and a shooting percentage a tick above 40%. With Carmelo the clear No. 3 of Oklahoma City’s big three, it’s understood that Russell Westbrook and Paul George could pick up his slack if he were to get injured. Don’t forget Steven Adams, who may play a more important role than Anthony, too.