NBA Player Props Forecast: Round One of the Western Conference

NBA Player Props Forecast: Round One of the Western Conference article feature image
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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at Paycom Center. (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

The NBA Playoffs are here! I'll be previewing each of the matchups in the upcoming rounds to give some insight on how I will be betting these markets.

I will be giving series-long prop angles, series leader bets, and per game bets as well. 

Last season we smashed with the series leader bets going 14-15 (+26.01 Units) (ROI 95.63%)! Let’s make this season even more successful than last. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Sunday, Apr 21
3:30pm ET
ABC

The biggest question in this series is the health of Kawhi Leonard who has missed the Clippers last 7 games and has not suited up since March 31st. If he’s healthy he can be the best player in this series, yes even with Luka, but that’s a big question mark. The latest report from Chris Broussard is that Kawhi has “a lot of swelling” in his knee. Kawhi should not be considered for any raw total stat leader props at this juncture. It seems notable though that on Tuesday, after this report by Broussard, that he was named as the 12th Player on the USA Olympic Team. 

These teams have faced off three times this season with the Clippers taking two of the three matchups but they have not played each other since December 20th. The Mavericks have a significantly different roster so we will temper the past games with that in mind. 

The Clippers are different this season than in years past with the addition of James Harden and moving Westbrook to the bench. The craziest thing about this is that Kawhi played 2 games in the Playoffs last season but aside from that neither PG nor Kawhi has played Playoff minutes since June of 2021. They both see their minutes take noticeable upticks though, with both averaging 39 minutes per game. 

When Kawhi does not play, the Clippers have had to lean on the combination of James Harden, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been an innings eater; however, I have questions regarding how much he can play in a Playoff Series where everyone is healthy. Regardless, I think there may be some value on him to lead the series in Assists (+3600 FD) or Rebounds (+6600 Bet365) in the event Kawhi misses time but those would just be sprinkles.

Any series with Luka Doncic in it has the potential for him to completely dominate from top to bottom. He is a legitimate threat to lead in Points, Rebounds, Assists, and 3s

The verbiage for some of these props is critically important. At the time of this writing, Bet365 and Fanduel have opened these leader markets as Most Total Points (FanDuel) or Most Points in Series (Bet365) – neither is a per game market. 

Luka leads all players in this series in points (33.9), rebounds (9.2), assists (9.8), and 3's (4.1) this season. 

Luka to lead the series in points is (-200) and that is absolutely a bet. There is some “cautious optimism” about Kawhi being able to play in Game 1; however, there is significant risk that the injury worsens after playing/practicing in a game and he misses time. There is simply no way to spot Luka Doncic a game and expect to catch him in scoring. I’d take this up to (-250).

With all the scoring though, Luka did see a downturn in assists during his last postseason where he averaged just 6.4 assists compared to 8.7 during the regular season back in 2022. This season has been his strongest ever with 9.8 assists per game; however, even this season he has only logged 6, 4, and 10 assists in three games vs the Clippers. The 10 assist game was without Kyrie Irving though where he had to command an even greater facilitating role in the offense. Luka is the favorite (-250 MGM) but I think there is a stronger candidate to lead the series in assists: James Harden.

James Harden has had strong playoff numbers despite the relative lack of team success lately. Across his last four playoffs, Harden has played 32 games and has averaged 8.5 assists per game. He’s the head of the offensive facilitation for his teams and is able to successfully attack defenses in both the halfcourt and in transition. In three games against the Mavericks he has 3, 7, and 11 assists this season but the Clippers’ offense did take a bit of time to truly gel. Harden should see a meaningful uptick in his minutes during the Playoffs and he is too long to be the Series Assists Leader (+210 MGM).

Bets:

  • 1 Unit – Luka Doncic Points Leader (-200 Bet365)
  • 1 Unit – James Harden Assists Leader (+210 MGM)

Saturday, Apr 20
3:30pm ET
ESPN

The Suns have dominated the season series winning all three contests between these two teams and they have smothered this weak Wolves’ offense. 

On the season, Minnesota has exactly 1 20 point scorer and it’s definitely not who you would expect. Rudy Gobert dropped the lone 20 point game on April 14th in the season finale with a 21 point performance in a 125-106 loss. KAT is averaging 17.5 points and Ant is averaging 14.3. They’ve struggled immensely to generate enough offense to contend with this potent Suns’ offensive attack. 

The major issue is Anthony Edwards. He needs to be the primary offensive weapon and the Suns have found success throwing multiple defenders at him while increasing the physicality. It’s not that he can’t handle a physical game but that along with doubles will impact his process.

Intrigued to see how teams guard Anthony Edwards in the playoffs. Suns physical, Nurk at the level. Gobert's roll is open but the weakside defense is in and Allen commits. pic.twitter.com/6edqJRU9X1

— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) April 6, 2024

Here, Phoenix is unconcerned with everyone else on this Timberwolves team and is able to focus on Ant and if Gobert beats them then he beats them. Ant fared better against the Wolves last season with a pair of 30 point games but the scheme was different and Ayton’s defensive effort just did not limit Ant. I would consider Ant’s Playoff Long ppg prop of under 25.9 (-110 MGM). Coupled with his direct history against the Suns and the fact that this is simply his season scoring average it’s a tough situation. When he played alongside KAT, he averaged 25.4 ppg compared to 27.5 without him. While his minutes should increase in the Playoffs, the matchup has proved difficult. The reason I’d play this a bit lighter if at all is I think you can optimize this under with a different series points leader bet and if the Wolves make it out of this matchup, he has played very well against both the Nuggets and the Lakers, the potential Round 2 opponents.

Anthony Edwards is favored to lead the series in scoring but I think that is a mistake given his history against the Suns. The difficulty with this market though is Phoenix has multiple options between Booker (+210 FD), Durant (+270 DK), and Beal (+3000 DK)  that could be a leading scorer. I’d prefer to sit this market out but I do think Durant is the toughest of the Suns’ offensive options to defend on a nightly basis. 

Neither of these teams take a prolific amount of 3s but Grayson Allen just signed a lucrative extension for his sharpshooting abilities. However, while Allen is incredibly efficient, his volume is not overwhelming. Since March 1st, Allen (3.1) makes the most 3s amongst players on these teams and is followed by Naz Reid, Mike Conley, Durant, Booker, Beal, and Ant who each average 2.0+ 3s per game. The volume is low which increases the chances someone with longer odds could lead the series. 

The player I want to target is Bradley Beal (+2000 FD). Beal has excelled from beyond the arc in this matchup. In two April games, Beal was ⅔ and 6/6 from long range including a 36 point performance. While the Wolves could throw McDaniels or Nickeil Alexander-Walker at Beal, it becomes a tough decision when Booker requires one of their attention and to play both means one of Mike Conley, Ant, KAT, or Gobert needs to be off the floor which negatively impacts the offense (Conley, Ant, KAT) or the defense (Ant, Gobert). I would also play some of Bradley Beal to Record 2+ Made Threes in Every Game of Series (+410 FD).

I can see Allen’s Usage dipping with Beal and it has this season where he averages just 2.4 3s on 5.7 attempts alongside Beal compared to 2.9 on 6.1 without him. Allen’s offense may be a bit expendable for the Suns who could elect to play Royce O’Neal instead to further smother the Timberwolves’ offense. Given Beal’s success and the overall lack of volume, his 3s leader play is worth a bet.

Bets:

  • .25 Units – Beal 3s Leader (+2000 FD)
  • .25 Units –  Bradley Beal to Record 2+ Made Threes in Every Game of Series (+410 FD)

Leans

Anthony Edwards under 25.9 ppg (-110 MGM)

Saturday, Apr 20
8:30pm ET
ABC

We have a Western Conference Finals Rematch! The Lakers were swept last season in the most competitive sweep of all time with each game decided by a relatively small number. Some of the things we learned during the Playoffs last season were that Jokic remained unstoppable and LeBron found an immense amount of success. For the secondary stars, Jamal Murray truly rose to the occasion and led the series in Scoring while Anthony Davis was incredibly inconsistent. Additionally, D’Angelo Russell was unplayable as the series progressed due to the difficulty he had defending the pick and roll while in a drop coverage. His minutes were replaced by Dennis Schroder as he saw his minutes decline to just 20 and 15 minutes in Games 3 and 4. 

Jamal Murray absolutely torched the nets in this series and led all players with 32.5 ppg on an excellent eFG% of 61.0%. He crushed the Lakers’ perimeter defenders as they struggled to contain the Pick and Roll with Jokic. He led the series by 29 total points across the four games. Across the last two seasons, Murray leads the Nuggets in scoring against the Lakers at 26.8 ppg. He is a solid bet to lead the series in scoring (+400 MGM).

I mentioned DLo’s defensive struggles and his rotation is one to watch. I think it is possible that Gabe Vincent finally gets significant run due to his stronger defensive engine. Vincent’s PRA is set at 4.5 which is an incredibly low number for someone that can shoot the way he is capable. Vincent has played 15+ minutes in just 7 games this season, but in those games he has exceeded 4.5 PRA in 5/7 while averaging 9. Over the last two seasons he has hit this in 89/96 games averaging 14.7.Vincent played meaningful minutes against Denver in the finals last season with some monster shooting performances and he exceeded this number in 6 of his last 7 games against Denver. I’ll grab his over 4.5 PRA for Game 1 and am thrilled to see he just played 17.9 minutes in the Lakers’ Play-In Victory over the Pelicans. Additionally, when Vincent gets hot it is generally from long range. Considering no player between these two teams shoots the 3 ball with tremendous volume, I love a sprinkle of Series 3s Leader (+15000 Bet365).

Part of why I like Vincent to lead in 3s is also why you need to bet on the next player. Last season, in this series, only Murray (15/37) and MPJ (14/33) took more than 30 3s. That is not an overwhelming amount of volume where an outlier would have no chance. One player to consider is Nikola Jokic. Jokic saw a spike to 1.8 3s made on 3.8 attempts per game in the Playoffs last season and he was an absurd 8/17 from 3 against the Lakers. It’s a shot the Lakers are going to let him take and he can make at a high clip when open. At 100/1, it is also worth a sprinkle.

Jokic is obviously a monster and impacts the game in a variety of different ways. The Lakers employed a strategy of defending him with LeBron or Rui Hachimura while AD was used as a floater. It’s made it more difficult for him to score but a bit easier to find offensive boards and he still is ultra-consistent on the defensive glass. Jokic led the series in rebounding 58-56 head-to-head against AD. I would rather take Jokic to simply average over 12.4 rebounds per game in the Playoffs; however, the concern is the second-round matchup against Gobert or Nurkic is not ideal. Against those two he has averaged just 9.6 rebounds per game over the last 3 seasons. I would lean Jokic to lead in rebounds (+115 MGM) due to the overall consistency but I don’t feel strongly about it.

One player that the Lakers have trusted in this matchup is Austin Reaves. Reaves has continually excelled against Denver and has averaged 16.7 points per game against them across the last two seasons. However, in the Playoffs where the matchups can be exploited even more he saw an uptick to his minutes and scored 23, 22, 23, and 17 points in those four games. There is a prop on Fanduel for Reaves to score 15+ in every game (+1100 FD) and I think that is absolutely worth a play considering he has tallied 15+ in 7 of his last 10 games against the Nuggets and has in 7 of 8 with the one miss being at 14. He’s trusted and this is worth a play.

As for LeBron, I think his props are priced appropriately; however, he does see a spike in rebounding during the Playoffs. Since he joined the Lakers he has never averaged more than 8.5 rebounds per game during the regular season, but in the Playoffs he has averaged a collective 9.9 per game. His line is set at 7.5 for Game 1, a number he has exceeded in ¾ against Denver during the WCF with the lone miss at 7 and in 14 of 17 Playoff games last season. I’ll be taking the over in Game 1 where I expect him to dial up the effort and will actively be searching for a Playoff Long Rebounds per Game over.

Bets:

  • 1 Unit – Jamal Murray Scoring Leader (+400 MGM)
  • 1 Unit – Gabe Vincent over 4.5 PRA (-135 MGM)
  • 1 Unit – LeBron James over 7.5 Rebounds in Game 1 (-105 DK)
  • .25 Units – Austin Reaves 15+ Points in every game this series
  • 0.1 Unit – Gabe Vincent Series 3s Leader
  • 0.1 Unit – Nikola Jokic Series 3s Leader
Sunday, Apr 21
9:30pm ET
TNT

The Pelicans earned their trip to the Playoffs and will had to do so without Zion Williamson. The Thunder are an intriguing matchup but this should be a thrilling series.

Without Zion, Ingram and McCollum both averaged over 20 points per game and Ingram dishes 6.3 assists per game. SGA averages 6.2 per game on the season overall but there could be a good price for Ingram to lead the series in assists. In the one game Ingram played against OKC he struggled to score but recorded 9 assists. I'd take him to be the leader at over 2/1.

One matchup that I am fascinated by will be on the interior. Without Zion, my initial thought is the Pelicans would be forced to play Jonas Valanciunas. However, considering the Thunder play Chet Holmgren at the 5, the Pelicans may elect to stay smaller and more versatile with Larry Nance. This would open up the rebounds leader prop. Chet would be the natural thought to lead in rebounds then but Giddey could be worth a look. Alternatively from the Pelicans' side, McCollum and Trey Murphy would need to be considered. It's tough to speculate at this time how the market would have been price but Chet would be my best bet to lead.

The Pelicans have strong tools to contain SGA. In three games this season, SGA averaged 25.0 points, 7 assists and 4.7 rebounds. The Pelicans' length and athleticism proved difficult for SGA. He still should lead this series in scoring but the margins are a bit thinner. In Game 1, I would take under 30.5 points for SGA, a number he has hit in just 5 of his last 15 games. His playoff ppg is set at 30.1 which is a bet. SGA has averaged just 24.4 points per game in 10 games against the Pelicans, Mavericks, and Clippers this season.

Bets:

  • 1 Unit – SGA under 30.5 Points
  • 1 Unit – SGA under 30.1 Playoff PPG

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Nick Sterling
May 22, 2024 UTC