NBA Player Prop Bets & Picks: Fade LeBron James on Opening Night (Tuesday, Dec. 22)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images. Pictured: Lebron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA is back! Stephen Curry is back! Kevin Durant is back!
It seems like the NBA barely left, and it genuinely feels like the Lakers just played like three minutes ago, but the new season is here and we’re starting out with an awesome double header.
First up, it’s the return of Curry and Durant, this time in opposite uniforms. Curry will have to acquaint himself to a slew of new teammates (Draymond Green has been ruled out tonight), while Durant is coming off an Achilles tear and will see the floor for meaningful minutes for the first time since 2019.
The night cap gives us the Clippers-Lakers matchup we never saw in the playoffs, with the Clippers and Lakers renewing their rivalry as another banner gets raised in the Staples Center. Let’s get some early props on the board!
For those who are new to this article, we’ll be using the FantasyLabs NBA 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
Stephen Curry Over 6.5 Assists (+120)
|Warriors at Nets||Nets -7.5|
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
We only saw Curry play five games last season, so we haven’t truly seen him in firing on all cylinders since the 2019 Finals — we certainly haven’t seen enough of him with this new roster.
Curry will have to shoulder a major offensive load early and he’ll have to do it without Klay Thompson again this year. You can bet the Nets will do anything they can to stop Curry from beating them himself, and Curry knows there are bigger things in play here than a win on night one. Look for him to facilitate and get his new teammates going while he gets blitzed on the ball.
Before Durant showed up in Oakland, Curry averaged 7.6 assists for three seasons and was on the ball far more often than with KD around. Expect more of that, especially with Draymond out, making the over 6.5 assists at plus odds very tasty here.
LeBron James Under 25.5 Points (-134)
|Clippers at Lakers||Lakers -2.5|
|Time||10 p.m. ET|
LeBron James is an NBA champion once again, and he’ll look to celebrate in style by kicking things off with a win against the cross-arena rival Clippers.
But James tends to be more of a facilitator than an aggressive scorer in spots like this. The Lakers and Clippers played on opening night last season, too, and LeBron scored just 18 points.
He had 22, 28, and 16 in the other games against the Clippers, an average of 21.3 PPG against them on the season. That’s under this line in three of four games and only over because he had 14 free throws in that 28-point game.
LeBron loves to play the long game. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and he looks to get his teammates confident and involved early. That’s what he does in playoff series and it’s how he attacks openers. Remember, LeBron already averaged only 25.3 PPG last year, tying his lowest output since his rookie year.
Our Props tool rates this a 9 out of 10, and unders for James will be a smart play early on since he’s unlikely to push himself for big minutes as he eases back into things after a short offseason. I’ll play to -140.
Marc Gasol over 4.5 rebounds (-120)
Gasol was the biggest addition to this Lakers championship core, both literally and metaphorically. He should have an easy time seeing minutes in his Lakers debut with Ivica Zubac on the other side of things.
How much will Gasol play for the Lakers? That remains to be seen, and it’s why this prop is so conservative for now. Gasol played just 26.3 minutes per game last season for the Raptors and is here for the playoffs, not a random December regular season game.
But he averaged 6.3 RPG even in limited minutes and has averaged 9.0 rebounds per 36 minutes over the last three seasons. The math on that one is pretty easy — exactly half of that gets him to the 4.5 here, and you have to think Gasol plays over 18 minutes (our NBA Insiders tool projects that he will play 22.8 minutes tonight).
Season openers can be a bit ugly and rusty, which means more rebounds for everyone. We also saw Anthony Davis’s rebounding totals fade in the playoffs as he became more perimeter-oriented. Dwight Howard averaged 7.3 rebounds in under 19 minutes for the Lakers last season, and that’s effectively the role Gasol is filling.
This line feels a full rebound too low, and sure enough, that’s where our projections have Gasol, at 5.5 rebounds. Play this one confidently up to -135.