NBA Futures Bets & Picks: A Longshot Bet for Kawhi Leonard Potential Return, More Bets to Target

NBA Futures Bets & Picks: A Longshot Bet for Kawhi Leonard Potential Return, More Bets to Target article feature image

Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers.

Welcome back to Futures Friday, our first in the new year.

Every week I dive into futures bets 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 halfway mark of the season. For the most recent edition, click here. For the full list of bets I’ve made so far this season, check out the chart below.

NBA Finals Matchup: Bucks vs. Clippers +5000 (BetMGM, 0.2 Units)

This is a long shot, obviously. However, on TNT Thursday Night, Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported that Kawhi Leonard is "ahead of schedule" and a return this season is "a possibility."

Sources: My @NBAonTNT report on Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard now ahead of schedule in rehab from a torn ACL with a strong possibility of a return this season.

— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) January 7, 2022

The Clippers have a have a tough hill to climb if they want to win West. However, Paul George's elbow injury isn't expected to hold him out for months, and this Clippers team still looks very much like a dangerous team in need of a threat just like … Leonard.

If Leonard were to return in March — an absolutely wild return time given his injury in late June — the Clippers would have enough time to get acclimated before a playoff run.

The Clippers are already hanging in the Western Conference postseason race. While they have slipped to eighth in the standings without George, the rest of the conference isn't running away from them. They're just two games out in the loss column from fifth place.

The Clippers, with Leonard, pose a threat to each of the contenders. Golden State has always had issues with Leonard's versatility and defense, and the Clippers can keep pace with the Warriors' explosive offense from the outside. Phoenix struggled with the Clippers even when they were without Leonard in the conference Finals, and the Clippers beat Utah without Leonard at the tail end of their series last year.

I'm still leaning towards the Bucks in the East despite the Nets having a better record and getting Irving back. Their defense still has me spooked. So we take this long shot at 50-1, which lets us hedge later if both teams make their respective conference finals.

MVP Pick-Two

Select two of the following three to build your MVP position — even if you bet along with us and took Durant last time out at +300.

Stephen Curry MVP +135 (FanDuel, 0.15u)

I already have a big Curry position from preseason. If you don't, you should probably start there, even with Curry at a short number compared to the +900 he was at in preseason.

The reason I think there's still value on this is about what the second half of the season looks like.

Curry is close to an odds-on favorite to win the award. He garnered 94 out of 100 first place votes in a strawpoll from ESPN's Tim Bontemps last month.

And the crazy part? There's still a lot of room for improvement for him this season.

nba best bets-picks-prediction-preview-january 1-2021
Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Stephen Curry.

Curry is in the midst of arguably the worst shooting slump of his career — over the past two games he shot 8-of-41 (19.5%) from the floor. He's shooting just 42% from the field this season, the lowest mark of his career (outside of the five games he played in the 2020 season) and six percentage points below his average in the Steve Kerr era.

From 3-point range, he's shooting below 39%, which is crazy for Curry; he's averaged 43% in the Kerr era.

Quite simply, unless he suffers a major injury, Curry is going to get better, probably by a significant degree. And whenever that happens, the Warriors are going to continue to roll and Curry is going to get closer and closer to locking this up.

As crazy as it seems, we have the favorite and leader in the clubhouse and we're getting him at what appears to be a low point.

Giannis Antetokounmpo MVP +900 (BetMGM, 0.15u)

We have a position on Durant, and we'll add to it, but I want to see how things shake out with Kyrie Irving back in the mix.

Meanwhile, there's another buy-low opportunity here. Antetokounmpo was our consensus best bet for MVP in preseason and hasn't underperformed — he's still a beast at 28-12-6 with 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks on 54% shooting.

Giannis ranks fourth in Estimated Plus-Minus, a metric that has shown strong correlation to winning MVP. He's trails behind Nikola Jokic, Curry, and LeBron James.

After losing Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier for the season, and with Jamal Murray not back until at least February (and coach Michael Malone pushing back even on that idea so far), the Nuggets are having a hard time just keeping their heads above water. Jokic may simply not have the pieces to get enough wins in the West.

The Bucks, however, have had bad injury and COVID luck already, missing key pieces throughout the season, and yet they sit third in the East and are just five games back in the loss column from the No. 1 spot.

Milwaukee is still favored to win the Central division over the Bulls, who are currently leading the East. So if Milwaukee is favored to pass the top team, it stands to reason the odds say they're going to finish with at least a top-two seed.

A run for the Bucks late in the season, if they get back to full health, would put Antetokounmpo in the spotlight and remind everyone he's the reigning NBA Finals MVP who is also a serious DPOY candidate.

9-1 remains too good of value to pass up.

LeBron James MVP +4000 (DraftKings, 0.15u)

Long live the King.

James is averaging more points than Curry, more assists than Durant, and has a better Effective Field Goal Percentage than any of the leading candidates.

The narrative is always with James. He's undeniably still one of the best players in the league at 37. And voters would love to give him that fifth trophy to show that they appreciate what he's done for the game and his place in its history.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers haven't been good, but they're back above .500. The schedule gets much tougher from here, but if the Lakers improve, they'll find a way to get the wins they need. Meanwhile, if they do go on a run, guess who'll get most of the credit?

James is keeping the Lakers afloat without Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook being largely a negative, and the rest of the roster being subpar. He has what feels like less help since 2007 than at any point outside of the first year in LA, and that includes the Cavs' cursed 2018 run.

At 40-1 one, it is undeniable there's value here.

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