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‘We Got Smoked’: Oddsmakers React to Crazy NBA Draft

‘We Got Smoked’: Oddsmakers React to Crazy NBA Draft article feature image
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(Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
Pictured: Adam Silver and Paolo Banchero.

The 2022 NBA Draft will go down in history as one of the most nauseating events ever to set odds on.

Unprecedented topsy-turvy betting movement on who the Orlando Magic would select with the No. 1 overall pick sent oddsmakers into a week-long tizzy they’d never fully recover from.

“We got smoked,” said Andy Morrissey, a trader at WynnBet.

For months, nearly every mock draft had Jabari Smith Jr. as the prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 and the betting odds reflected that. But after surprise money started coming in on Paolo Banchero just a few days before the draft prices flipped and uncertainty ran rampant.

“This draft was different,” said Sam Garriock, Trading Manager at PointsBet. “There was less publicly-available information out there — or at least the stuff that was out there was incorrect — and therefore we had to be very responsive to money.”

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Slews of big bets on each prospect caused Banchero’s and Smith’s odds to fluctuate throughout the week, until Thursday night when the dust settled and Banchero went No. 1.

“If I were to base the scale on how unique it is a week or so before the draft, it would have to be an eight or nine,” said Motoi Pearson, a senior trader at Wynn Bet. “Paolo moving from 20/1 to the favorite within a couple days is just as aggressive as I’ve seen in the last drafts I’ve booked.”

How Oddsmakers React to Big Bets

After the first wave of sharp money on Sunday, PointsBet dropped Banchero from +1000 all the way down to +225 by Monday evening.  On Wednesday, he shot back up to +425 after another wave of sharp money — this time on Smith, who moved to -450.

“There could be certain bettors moving the line to cause an overreaction, but if they’re betting on something you must respect the money behind it,” Pearson said. “There can be information we aren’t aware of.”

Oddsmakers must consider whether huge bets signal there’s been a change in expected outcome, but it’s “really all about where we want to sit relative to the rest of the market and how it changes our fair price,” Garriock of PointsBet said.

But not all oddsmakers are the same. Michael Ranftle, a sports trader at BetMGM, leans on his customers more than the market.

“It’s best to just work with what the bettors are telling us rather than try to stay close to other market prices,” Ranftle said. “The books don’t know too much more than the players.”

How Oddsmakers React to the Media

Less than 13-hours before the draft Smith’s odds slipped to +130 — their best price yet at PointsBet — while Banchero was the favorite at -230.

A few minutes later, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski — widely considered the most plugged in NBA Insider in the world — seemingly put an end to the chaos.

As team boards finalize today, the 1-2-3 of the NBA Draft is increasingly firm, per sources: Jabari Smith to Orlando, Chet Holmgren to Oklahoma City and Paolo Banchero to Houston.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2022

“The media reports dictate a lot of the bettors behavior so we’re mostly watching our players, but also keeping an eye out for news,” Ranftle said.

After Woj’s tweet books closed their markets and came back later with totally different prices … again.

At PointsBet, Banchero was back to +300 and Smith was once again the favorite at -476. At FanDuel, Smith moved to an unbeatable -10000, while Banchero moved to a juicy +1000.

But Woj, wasn’t done. Less than an hour before the draft he tweeted again.

As the Orlando Magic move closer to getting on the clock, Duke's Paolo Banchero is now looming as a frontrunner to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, sources tell ESPN.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2022

Oddsmakers finally had enough. A few minutes later they pulled odds on the bet. But the damage was done. Banchero, the underdog throughout most of the month and once again at the bitter end, was the winning bet.

Woj spent the rest of the draft tweeting out who each team would pick before they did so. He’s not often wrong, which is why the events leading up to Banchero’s selection left so many scratching their heads.

“Obviously, you have to stay up to date with the media, but you also have to understand incentives for leaks,” Garriock said. “An important part of last night’s result was that Woj very clearly was reporting what other GMs thought [Orlando] would do, based upon actions that had come from their team — trade calls for example.”

Good bettors try to identify a source and place their motivation, he added. “A good trader will be doing something similar.”

Here’s the final breakdown of how much each sportsbook took on either guy:

Paolo Banchero

Sportsbook Tickets (Bets) Handle ($)
WynnBet 54.5% 43.4%
PointsBet 20.2% 12.4%
BetMGM 22.8% 11.9%

Jabari Smith Jr.

Sportsbook Tickets (Bets) Handle ($)
WynnBet 20.7% 50.9%
PointsBet 47.6% 81.2%
BetMGM 34.3% 70.7%


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Draft Oddsmaking Stands Alone

Thursday night’s events are a microcosm of why oddsmaking — like betting —  the draft is so unique compared to everything else that gets wagered on.

There’s no stat-based formula or betting model with x or y return on investment.

Instead it’s much more akin to an awards race, like MVP or Defensive Player of the Year, where oddsmakers are trying to guess how the media will vote, Garriock said.

But even awards races are easier to set lines on than the draft, as oddsmakers have a year’s worth of statistics and line movement to base decisions off of, Pearson said.

He called the NBA Draft a headache, but added that he enjoyed the challenge.

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