NBA Scoring Leader Odds & Picks: Luka Doncic, LeBron James Have Value Down the Stretch
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images. Pictured: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks.
The NBA is simple, in the end — you simply need to score more points than your opponent.
For all the other stats and advanced metrics, we still count one team’s points against the other to decide who wins. Points reign supreme. So with FanDuel and DraftKings offering the opportunity to bet on the NBA scoring leader and individual Points Per Game (PPG) results, it’s a great time for a “mid-season” check-in.
It’s important to note why “mid-season” has to have quotes around it there. We like to think of the All-Star Break as the halfway point of the NBA season, but it really isn’t. The truth is we’re already more than two-thirds of the way through the season.
We’ve already played 883 of the 1230 regular season games. The season is 72% over. If the NBA season were racing around a track, we’d be turning that final corner and hitting our final stride as the announcer screams out, “And down the stretch they come!!”
The math is important because mid-season futures bets are secretly just math equations. We have to weigh in the 58 or so games of numbers already in tow with the 24ish games remaining — and we must remember that this final home stretch can only sway the math so much.
So who will lead the NBA in scoring this season, and who’s worth betting on? We’ll consider four popular longer shots and the four leading candidates, with the odds below from DraftKings and FanDuel.
Players must play 58 games to qualify for the leaderboard and, subsequently, to win this bet. And history tells us we’ll likely need around 30 PPG to win this. This century, 16 of 21 scoring leaders (76%) scored at least 30 PPG, including each of the last six, and all but one scored at least 28 PPG.
The bar is pretty high. And remember, no matter how hot a home stretch a player has, two-thirds of the math is already set in stone. Let’s use a popular long shot to illustrate how that plays out.
The Long Shots
Devin Booker 100-1
Booker is an obvious candidate to have a huge finish since Chris Paul could miss the rest of the regular season, leaving Booker as the clear engine of the Suns offense.
Book has played only three games without CP since Paul joined the team last year, and two of those came in the playoffs with heavier minutes too, so we don’t have much data to go off of.
Still, in those three games without CP, Booker is averaging 32.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.0 assists a game, including that memorable 40-point triple-double in the playoffs. If Booker is a monster down the stretch with Paul out, could he steal the scoring crown? Don’t count on it.
Booker’s at 25.5 PPG through 51 games. If he played all 24 remaining games and scored 30 PPG — by far the best stretch of his career — he’d finish at 26.9 PPG, with no shot at the crown.
Even 35 PPG over that stretch gets him to 28.5, still not enough. Average 37.5 PPG and Booker gets to 29.3 and in the mix — too bad only Wilt, MJ, Elgin, Kobe, Harden, Iverson, and Barry have done that over a 24-game stretch in NBA history, per Basketball Reference.
Will we be playing some Booker game overs down the stretch? Absolutely. But even at 100-to-1, he’s too far back to make a serious enough push at the scoring crown to be worth betting on.
Trae Young +1900
Trae can put up points in a hurry, and he’s at 27.8 PPG so he’s closer than Booker, hence the much shorter odds. Young has shown he can increase his scoring lead in bigger games, and the Hawks are pushing for a postseason berth. He’s also shown he can score more when teammates are out — he’s averaging 32.0 PPG in 17 games without Bogdan Bogdanovic and 34.1 in six games without John Collins.
Collins missed the three games before the break with a foot injury. What if that injury lingers and Young averages something like 32 PPG over the home stretch? That’s a pretty steep ask, but it would get Trae to 29.1 PPG on the season. That might put him in the mix here, but as you’ll see once we get to the four favorites, even that makes him a long shot.
You can play Young over/under 27.9 points at DraftKings. We basically need Young to average around 28.4 PPG the rest of the way to hit that over, which seems like a good bet considering Atlanta’s shortened rotation and push for the playoffs. Take the over.
DeMar DeRozan +1200
DeRozan is at 28.1 PPG on the season thanks mostly to a monster month heading into the All-Star Break, at 34.5 PPG over his last 15 games. He’s been molten lava. Don’t bet at that continuing the rest of the way though.
Zach LaVine missed seven of those 15 games but is back now, and the Bulls will get Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso back soon too, maybe even Patrick Williams. All of those guys will take some shorts and balance the scoring back out here. DeRozan averages 34.1 PPG in 12 games without LaVine this season but 26.5 with him, and he was at just 25.7 PPG in the 40 games before this recent stretch.
Figure around 26 PPG the rest of the way, which leaves DeRozan at about 27.5 on the season. Don’t bet on him to win the scoring crown — but do bet the under 28.1 at DraftKings.
Steph Curry +10000
Curry will be a popular bet after his All-Star Game explosion, but at 25.8 PPG on the season after that prolonged cold shooting stretch, he’s likely too far back. Heck, we just saw Curry drop 50 like it was nothing and a single 50-point outburst would jump Steph all the way to 26.3 PPG on the season.
Curry did score 32.0 PPG last year to lead the league, and he averaged 29.5 over the first 15 games this season. But remember, both of those stretches were without Klay Thompson there to share the scoring load.
The Warriors also have five back-to-backs left and are prepping for a deep playoff run, so Curry might only play 18 or 20 more games. He’d need to do something historic like average 40 PPG during those games to get into this race.
My most likely range of outcomes for Curry puts him between 25.3 and 26.7 PPG on the season. I’ll pass on Steph as season leader and pass on the 25.9 PPG line at DraftKings too. He’s still a better MVP long shot.
We’ve passed on four obvious long shots. The math just doesn’t work out. So which of the four betting favorites are worth a play?
Giannis Antetokounmpo +190
The reigning Finals MVP is scoring 29.4 PPG on the season, just off the lead, and he’s the betting favorite to win the scoring title.
The Bucks have played a bunch of shorthanded games, so Antetokounmpo has played 18 games without one or both of Jrue Holiday or Khris Middleton. Believe it or not, he’s actually averaging fewer points in those shorthanded games at 28.6 than in games with all three at 30.0.
The lesson isn’t that Giannis is a better scorer with a full team, but rather that we pretty much know what we’re getting here. Antetokounmpo averaged 28.1 PPG last season and 29.5 the year before that. He’s at 28.6 PPG over the past four seasons. Basically, over any given stretch, it’s reasonable to expect something between 28 and 30 Giannis points a game.
That gives Antetokounmpo a relatively narrow range of outcomes, likely something in the 29.0 to 29.6 range. There’s probably not a huge ceiling since the Bucks may not push hard down the stretch, but that’s a heck of a floor, and it’s why it’s so hard to bet on the long shots above.
I’d lean slightly under Antetokounmpo’s posted line of 29.5 but will pass on both that and his scoring leader odds. The Bucks have their eyes on a bigger prize and Giannis hasn’t won a scoring title and doesn’t seem the sort of player to push for it. Still, Giannis is the floor someone has to leap past to win this.
Joel Embiid +210
Technically, Embiid is the only player who doesn’t have to leap past Giannis since he’s slightly ahead of him at 29.6 PPG on the season. But there’s no way I’m betting on Embiid.
This team just traded for James Harden! We have no idea what the Sixers will look like, but we can almost certainly bet on fewer touches and shots for Embiid the way Harden dominates the ball. His presence also slows Philly’s pace, which means fewer scoring opportunities. He also makes the Sixers better, but that means more fourth quarters with Embiid on the sidelines.
Heck, Embiid’s ever-present injury risk means he could lead the league in scoring and still not qualify for the scoring title simply by missing 13 of the remaining 24 Philadelphia games. With five back-to-backs left, Embiid is probably already at 20 games max. You’re sure he won’t miss seven more?
In games with 32-plus minutes, Embiid has averaged 31.1 PPG, carrying the load when the Sixers needed him most. But the whole point of a second superstar like Harden is to lessen the load. In games with 32 or fewer minutes this year, Embiid is scoring 27.3 PPG.
There’s way more downside than upside here, and it’s telling that DraftKings won’t even set an individual line for Embiid. I’d set it at 29.2 and take the under. I’ll put Embiid’s likely range of outcomes between 28.5 and 29.4. Hard pass.
LeBron James +310
James hasn’t led the NBA in scoring since 2008, but at 29.1 PPG, he’s just a half point off the pace. Steph Curry was the oldest scoring leader since Michael Jordan last year at age 32, and Jordan himself was the oldest scoring leader ever in 1998 at age 35. You think LeBron might like to take one of those MJ records and add yet another line to his resume?
Remember, the Lakers are clawing for every win down the stretch just to get into the play-in, and LA just lost its second star for at least four weeks and, with Anthony Davis’s history, maybe longer. LeBron entered the break at 30.0 PPG over his last 10, and he’s scored 32.7 PPG in 20 games without Brow this season. James should have a monster final stretch without Davis or any other help, single-handedly dragging this tattered roster to the postseason.
The Lakers have 24 games left, and they’ll need LeBron to play as much as he can with Davis out. If he keeps up that 32.7 PPG without Brow the rest of the way, LeBron will finish at 30.4 PPG and probably win the scoring crown. I’ll put LeBron’s likely range of outcomes between 29.5 and 30.5 PPG.
We know James loves his individual accolades and that he wouldn’t scoff at the chance to one-up MJ. I have to make him the favorite to win the scoring title, so he’s definitely a play at +310 at FanDuel. I’d smash a James individual over too, if the books offered it.
Luka Doncic +1000
There’s one other name stuck right between the favorites and long shots, and he’s worth our attention. Luka Doncic entered the All-Star Break at 35.4 PPG his last 10 games and a sizzling 39.8 over his last five. He’s finally in shape after a slow start and playing as well as anyone in the NBA over the past month.
During this past month, Doncic is at 33.3 PPG in 15 games, way up from 24.6 PPG before that. That cold start is clearly behind him, and Doncic’s numbers actually benefit from all that time he missed in December. With only 44 games so far, Doncic has fewer games played than anyone else on this list, which makes each game in this closing stretch worth slightly more for Luka.
And like LeBron, Luka will close this season without his co-star. Kristaps Porzingis is gone, and he ain’t coming back. Doncic averages 28.4 PPG without Porzingis on the season and a whopping 41.5 since he was traded. KP only played in six games during this month-long Doncic outburst and was already being minimized in a few of those.
This absurdly high-usage is who Luka is now, especially with the little help he has around him. Don’t forget, last year’s third-leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. is also out injured, and Doncic averages 33.5 PPG in 11 games without THJ. Dallas is pushing to stay above the play-in race and Doncic doesn’t sit often, so he should play heavy minutes and take a ton of shots these final 23 games.
The way Doncic is playing, it’s entirely possible and maybe even likely that he scores 30-to-35 PPG down the stretch and makes a run at the scoring title. The books know it too, setting his line at 27.9, well above his current 27.5 average. Doncic should crush that, so I’m smashing that over.
But he might not stop there. At 32 PPG the rest of the way, Doncic gets to 29.0 PPG and puts himself in contention for the scoring crown. At 33.5, he hits 29.6, our high-end outcomes for Giannis and Embiid. Average 34.8 and Doncic breaks 30 on the season and contends with even those high-end LeBron outcomes.
These are not outlandish expectations the way Doncic has played over the past month. They’re realistic, maybe even reasonable and expected. I’ll put Luka’s likely range of outcomes between 27.3 and 29.9 PPG. It’s a broader range, but those high-end outcomes are very much in play.
This is a four-man race, not three. I’m smashing Luka’s over 27.9 PPG, and I have to play him at +1000 to win the scoring title too. Antetokounmpo sets a high floor, but I expect LeBron or Doncic to pass him and win this so I’ll split my bet between the two.