NBA Futures Odds: Way-Too-Early Analysis for NBA Title, MVP and Scoring Champion
NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured (L-R): Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets, Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans.
While the entire NBA world is focused in the drama of the NBA Finals matchup between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, oddsmakers at DraftKings have released title odds, MVP odds and scoring leader odds for the 2021-22 season.
Surprisingly, neither of the two teams currently battling for the Larry O’Brien trophy are the favorites to win it all next season — that distinction belongs to the Brooklyn Nets (+210) and Los Angeles Lakers (+475). The early leader in the clubhouse for the league’s Most Valuable Player is also not the most recent winner, Nikola Jokic, but Luka Doncic.
Bradley Beal, who fell 0.7 points per game short of winning the scoring title this season is now the favorite to take the scoring crown in 2022.
Below, I took a look at three very early value plays to keep an eye on heading into the summer.
NBA Title Odds: Brooklyn Nets +210
With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden on the roster, the Brooklyn Nets were a sure fire bet to not only be one of the best teams in the league but to win the NBA 2021 title.
Injuries were a problem all year for this group as the Big 3 as they played just eight games together during the regular season. Still, the Nets were made it to a Game 7 in Round 2 on the back of Durant and were literally inches away from winning despite Irving being out and Harden nursing an injury.
The fact that the Nets were able to cruise to a 48-24 record and finish second in the Eastern Conference speaks volumes about their potential going forward.
They were unstoppable offensively even with the lack of time together as they finished first in Offensive Rating, scoring 118.3 points per 100 possession this season. The five-man lineup of Durant, Harden, Irving, Joe Harris and Jeff Green finished with a +17.4 Net Rating, and a 125.6 Offensive Rating in just seven games last season.
There’s not much value on the Nets at +210 so you can wait this out, but it’s clear, with a full year of health this team is so far ahead of any other contender that they should have no problems running through the rest of the Eastern Conference on their way to the NBA Finals.
NBA MVP Odds: Jayson Tatum +2500
After making it to the Eastern Conference finals in three out of the past four seasons, the Boston Celtics had a disappointing campaign. They didn’t fare much worse than the other three conference finalists that played deep into the bubble in the (Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets) as the short turn around to the new season did them no favors.
Still, for a team as talented as the Celtics are, it was jarring to see this team finish just 36-36 and get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. In addition to the short turn around impacting the Celtics, injuries and absences due to health and safety protocols plagued this team all year long and they never quite found their footing, needing to win a play-in game just to make it into the postseason.
All things considered, the 2020-21 Boston Celtics had an outlier season and this team should be a lot better next season. A big part of that is 23-year-old budding superstar Jayson Tatum who has is already a two-time All-Star and made third-team All-NBA in the 2020 season.
Averaging 26.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists in his fourth season, Tatum is poised to make the leap from All-Star to MVP candidate and if it weren’t for absences due to health and safety protocols as well as the struggles of the team around him, we might have seen him in the MVP discussion last season.
With a Ime Udoka stepping in as the new head coach and an improved Celtics roster, I expect the Celtics to be back in contention in the Eastern Conference and for Tatum to be the driving force behind that, which gives this +2500 wager some value.
To go into more depth, determining the NBA MVP is a process of elimination. To win the Award you need to put up a superstar level stat line and voters can’t be tired of seeing you win. Most importantly, your team has to win enough games to finish as the first or second seed in your conference.
There are exceptions to the rule, however. Since 1985, the MVP Award winner has only finished lower than the No. 2 seed three times.
In 1987, Michael Jordan averaged 35 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 AST, 3.2 SPG and 1.6 BPG and lead the Chicago Bulls to the third-best record in the conference at 50-32.
In 2017, Russell Westbrook’s took home the award despite finishing No. 6 in the West with a 47-35 record as he became the first player to average a triple double for a season since Oscar Robertson in 1961.
This past season, Nikola Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists, leading the Nuggets to the No. 3 seed in the West despite injuries to Jamal Murray and other key players.
Age is a key factor as well. There hasn’t been an MVP aged 30 or above since the 2005 and 2006 seasons when Steve Nash won the award. Since the 1985 season, the winner of the award has been 30-plus years old just eight times: Magic Johnson (1990), Hakeem Olajuwon (1994), Michael Jordan (1996, 1998), Karl Malone (1997, 1999).
The years from 1994 through 1999 were played with the least amount of possessions and it’s no surprise that we’ve seen more 30-year-old MVPs in the 90s than we’ve seen in any other decade in NBA history.
LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Harden are all over the age of 30 and we’ll likely see them manage their workload in the regular season going forward.
Nikola Jokic was 25 years old during his recent MVP campaign and looking at the landscape of the league it seems there’s a next generation of stars who should be taking over.
The other factor I like to consider is advanced metrics. Despite its problems, John Hollinger’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) has a positive correlation as a predictor for the MVP Award. Given PER’s tendency to reward high-volume scoring and filling up the stat sheet (things MVP voters actually account for as opposed to defense), it’s something I like to consider when making an MVP prediction.
Looking at the past 12 MVP winners, all but two have finished first in PER: Curry finished third in his 2015 campaign and Derrick Rose finished ninth in 2011.
Typically this also means you’ll have a high usage percentage. Similar to PER, most of the MVP award winners over the past 10 years have had Usage Rates above 30% and have been among the league leaders.
Ideally that also means, you’re not playing with another high-usage/high-scoring teammate. There’s a reason why all-time greats like Kobe Bryant and Westbrook won their respective MVP awards after Shaquille O’Neale and Durant left town.
Tatum fits the mold of a player who is under 30 years old, has a high Usage Rate, can fill up the stat sheet with eye popping stats and is undervalued in the betting markets. He may be priced at +2500 now, but look for this number to come down significantly when the season starts as we can expect him to lead the Celtics to a bounce back year.
NBA Scoring Title: Zion Williamson +950
Did you know that Durant, Harden, Westbrook and Curry have won 12 out of the last 13 scoring titles? Looking at the landscape of the league it’s safe to say, you can eliminate the usual suspects from the mix when looking for next season’s scoring leader.
The new generation is taking over as the previous generation either grows old or plays on stacked rosters with their championship aspirations superseding their desire for individual accomplishments.
Harden and Durant play together in Brooklyn along with Irving.
Curry, who was this season’s scoring champion, shouldn’t have to carry such a large load with the return of Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors front office looking for upgrades.
Westbrook isn’t on a stacked roster, but at 32 years old I’m not expecting him to lead the league in scoring. While his teammate Bradley Beal has finished second in scoring in each of the past two seasons, his name is swirling in trade rumors, and it is more than likely that Westbrook would not have the same shot opportunities on a lesser team.
That said, it’s time to look to someone new and there’s no better candidate than Zion Williamson. The young phenom averaged 27 points on 63.9% True Shooting attempting just 17 shots per game in his sophomore season. Williamson finished eighth in points per game, but had the fewest amount of field goal attempts of anyone in the top 10.
When you extrapolate his field goal attempts to a higher workload it’s clear Williamson could easily league the league in scoring given his ability to get to rim at will. Williamson is shooting 8.7 free throw attempts per game and this should go up with his rising status in the league.
If the New Orleans Pelicans can find a way to get Williamson more shot attempts, Williamson is live to win the scoring title so +950 presents some solid value.