NBA Player Prop Bets, Picks: Can LeBron James Be Superhuman vs. the Warriors? (Wednesday, May 19)
Unless you had the over on Jayson Tatum’s point total, Tuesday wasn’t the most exciting night of player prop betting, but beggars can’t be choosers. Wednesday night should be more entertaining, in part because we get to watch LeBron James and Stephen Curry play a meaningful basketball game against each other again.
We’ve got one prop from tonight’s amuse-bouche, but then we’re grabbing two props from the big one when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Golden State Warriors in the finale. We’re taking a pair of Lakers unders, and spoiler alert — one of them is King James.
For those who are new to this article, we’ll be using the Action Labs Player Prop tool to compare our NBA projections to the props posted at a variety of sportsbooks. Each bet is then graded on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the best possible grade.
Below, I have laid out three prop bets that I’m playing, the case for each bet and the best books to find odds on those player props.
NBA Player Props & Picks
Jakob Poeltl, Over 7.5 Rebounds (-120)
|Spurs vs. Grizzlies||Grizzlies -4|
|Time | TV||7:30 p.m. ET | ESPN|
The Spurs are still playing in this play-in tournament in part because they finally turned over their starting center role to Austrian big man, Jakob Poeltl.
San Antonio began the season old school, built around DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge started all of his games in December and January before a hip injury sidelined him for a month, hidden on the bench for three games in his return, and then excised altogether.
Poeltl is the starter now, and he’s been quietly very good for the Spurs. Poeltl is a very good defender and a useful part of an efficient offense, even if he doesn’t put up splashy numbers himself. He’s far more mobile than LMA was at this stage of his career with the ability to switch on the perimeter and protect the rim. That’s the sort of role that should give Poeltl even more value in tonight’s play-in game, and thus more minutes.
Poeltl averaged 8.6 points and 7.9 rebounds this season, and that explains this rebounding line, but those numbers came in 26.7 minutes per game. In an elimination game against Jonas Valanciunas, Poeltl should play heavy minutes because the Spurs need him out there, especially since the alternate options are Gorgui Dieng and Trey Lyles. We project Poeltl at 33.7 minutes, and those extra minutes should mean more rebounding opportunities.
Poeltl averaged one rebound every 3.4 minutes this season, so he’d only need about 25 minutes to get to 7.5 boards. We project him at 9.0 instead, so I’ll play this over to -140.
Andre Drummond, Under 21.5 Points + Rebounds (-102)
|Warriors vs. Lakers||Lakers -5.5|
|Time | TV||10 p.m. ET | ESPN|
There are a lot of reasons a player can go under his prop number. One of those reasons is because he’s not good enough to play the necessary minutes to hit those marks.
That’s the angle on Andre Drummond, who just doesn’t feel like the right matchup against the Warriors. It’s true that Golden State lacks size and Drummond could certainly mash the glass if he gets the opportunity, but the Warriors also have a guy named Stephen Curry — perhaps you’ve heard of him — who can put Drummond through the ringer in defense.
Drummond could seriously struggle to hang with Golden State defensively, and with only a one game series, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Frank Vogel give him a quick hook. Marc Gasol is the guy the Lakers went out and got for the playoffs, and besides, the Lakers’ true center is still Anthony Davis. Davis is the cheat code LA knows it can throw on Draymond Green if necessary, stifling Green and shutting off that deadly pick-and-roll combo with Curry.
That’s why we’re projecting Drummond at only 21.8 minutes, and if he doesn’t get minutes, he can’t record stats.
We project Drummond at 9.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. Our Props Tool slightly prefers the rebounding under, but since this is an overall minutes fade and Drummond always has the chance to rack up boards in a hurry, I’ll add in the points too and give us a bigger margin for error plus better juice in our favor.
Drummond’s minutes are all over the place with LA. He’s had six games with at least 28 minutes but nine others with 22 or fewer. Drummond was never meant to be a feature for this team. He’s a rainy day plan meant to soak up minutes until the games mattered more — and this one matters.
I’ll fade Drummond and grab the points + rebounds under 21.5 at -102. I’ll play to -130, and our Props Tool rates this a 10 out of 10.
LeBron James, Under 35.5 Points + Assists (-113)
|Warriors vs. Lakers||Lakers -5.5|
|Time | TV||10 p.m. ET | ESPN|
Folks, we’re betting against LeBron James in a game with playoff implications. God help us all.
Most of the time in this space, we focus on the numbers and how or why a player can go over, but you’ve watched enough basketball over the years to know exactly how LeBron can put up 35.5 points + assists in game with a playoff atmosphere. He could do that in a half and no one would blink.
It’s terrifying betting against James in a must-win, and books know that, so they can goose the lines a little bit because they know how tempting it is to take the over. But our Props Tool is fading LeBron, so we’re taking an under. And rather than explain exactly why that under will hit, this is a good time to remember that unders tend to be safer than overs specifically because there are so many different ways unders can hit.
Let’s list off some of the reasons James might hit this under:
- It’s not actually a playoff, or elimination game. This is just the start. It’s easy to imagine him playing 45 minutes in a do-or-die spot, but this isn’t that spot yet. James has played four games since March 20 and just tweaked his ankle again Sunday night. The Lakers have to be smart with LeBron’s minutes, not just play him every second.
- James played 27.5, 28.5, 27.5, 31.9, and 10.6 minutes his last five games. That’s 25.2 minutes per game and far from James’ usual minutes load.
- LeBron told us the ankle never fully healed and then tweaked it again Sunday. He’s played four times in almost two months and left two of his last five games early.
- The Warriors’ defense is very good, just as the Lakers defense is very good. This game will be lower scoring than you think, with two top-five defenses and two bottom-10 offenses. Less scoring means lower numbers for James.
- The Lakers could dominate on the glass, force turnovers, double Curry, and run the Warriors off the court, leaving LeBron chatting it up and laughing in the second half instead of compiling numbers.
- Curry could go supernova and the Ws run away with it while Anthony Davis gets another nagging injury, and the Lakers call off the dogs early for an actual must-win game Friday.
- LeBron plays normal minutes but doesn’t score a ton — he’s had 30 points just nine times all season — instead facilitating for others and hitting our under.
Are you getting the picture? We project LeBron at 32.5 minutes, far less than you might think at first glance, mostly because there are so many paths to reduced minutes, and because that’s all he’s been playing lately anyway. Fewer minutes mean fewer stats, though I’m skipping the rebounding here since Bron’s boards often take a playoff leap and the Warriors play small.
So, yes. We are fading LeBron James in a huge postseason game. The Props Tool rates this a 10 out of 10, and in the Props Tool we trust. I’ll play to -135.