NBA Future Bets & Picks: Ja Morant’s Early Case for Most Improved, More Bets to Target
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies.
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 second week of the season.
Nikola Jokic MVP: +1800 (BetMGM 0.15u)
Jokic wasn’t on many preseason lists to win MVP despite, you know, winning the award last season. Voters were reluctant to give it to him last season, so surely his chances to win it again must be slim, right?
Well, Joker has started the season averaging 26.8 points and 13.5 rebounds per game along with 4.5 assists. He’s shooting 67.7% from the field and 46.7% on 3.8 3-point attempts per game.
Last season, Jokic led the league in VORP and Win Shares. This (very early) season, he’s third in VORP and third in Win Shares behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant, both of whom are in the top three at every book for MVP.
The Nuggets are 2-2, with two impressive wins followed by two disappointing losses. Had Jokic not suffered a bruised knee Tuesday, the Nuggets may very well have pulled off the upset on a back-to-back in Utah vs. the undefeated Jazz.
There are still issues with Denver, but we’re in a similar spot as the start of last season when Jokic started out putting up incredible figures and winning his minutes but was overlooked in MVP discussions.
I have a broad MVP position, but it’s time to add Jokic to it.
Miami Heat to win Eastern Conference: +950 (FanDuel 0.2u)
The Heat busted up a shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks team in their opener, then manhandled the title-favorite Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.
Their offense is still far from overwhelming, but they’re currently the No. 1 team in Defensive Rating, holding opponents to 92 points per 100 possessions. The Heat look like absolute beasts, bullying teams with physicality and veteran savvy.
Stylistically, they mirror those mid-00’s Detroit Pistons who won the 2004 championship and reached the NBA Finals in 2005. Both teams have a group of veterans who made their way around the league and were simply tougher than everyone else.
Jimmy Butler was one of the league’s leaders in free throws generated off pull-up jumpers. His free throw rate has declined this season, but he’s still seventh-highest in free-throw attempts per game. All this, and Kyle Lowry is shooting 29% from the field averaging an uncharacteristically low 7.7 points per game.
The upside is Tyler Herro looks like a real Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He provides some much needed balance as a scorer off the bench averaging 21 points per game.
Unlike some very successful regular season teams that cannot carry that same energy into the playoffs (sorry, Utah), there are no postseason adaptation concerns with Miami. The Heat were expected to be good entering the season, but we needed to see it on the floor. So far, they are meeting said expectations.
They’re worth starting a position on in the East, especially with Brooklyn’s problems being far more than just James Harden free throw woes and Kyrie Irving’s absence.
Ja Morant Most Improved Player: +600 (DraftKings, 0.15u)
I held off on betting Morant here in the preseason because he was the No. 2 overall pick and already considered a franchise player. He nearly made the playoffs as a rookie in the Bubble and led his team to the playoffs last season by knocking out Stephen Curry and the Warriors. The bar was already high.
However, the past five Most Improved Player award winners have been first-time All-Stars, and Morant is very much on track to be one this season. His numbers will regress, but he’s averaging 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game, shooting 54.4% from the floor, 40.6% on 3s with a 28.3 PER. Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies also managed to beat Curry and the Warriors (again) Thursday in overtime after falling behind by 19.
Brandon Ingram, who won two seasons ago, was a No. 2 pick. Kevin Love, a former winner, went fifth overall, while last year’s winner, Julius Randle, was selected seventh overall. The award has shifted from one that rewards players who go from bench rotation players to starters, towards going from talented young player to true stars for playoff teams.
I already bet Jordan Poole in the preseason, and Morant is now the favorite at most books. But he has been so spectacular, even through four games, and Memphis as a team looks good enough to keep him in headlines making this a worthwhile position.
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