Your Way Too Early 2023 NBA Championship Value Bets
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard #2 and Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers.
The NBA season is over. It’s time for the draft, Summer League, free agency, and the laziness of August before ramping up for training camp in a few months. The next NBA title won’t be decided for at least a calendar year.
…But the markets are open!
So if you want to try and beat the market before free agency and the usual offseason craziness hits, here are five bets to consider right now for the 2023 market.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a hedge fiend. I build long-term positions, adding them throughout the season, reacting to how the market moves and trying to find value along the way among the teams I think can viably win the NBA title. So if you’re looking for one NBA futures bet, these are not for you. There’s too much we not only don’t know but also can’t account for certain consequences.
A butterfly flaps its wings, and the latest NBA star decides it’s time for him to join the never-ending parade of stars that want to play for the Lakers. Friendships fracture, and superteams break up. Ownership decides to cut costs because of the economy, and suddenly All-Stars are on the block for a discount. Those moves don’t just impact those teams and the new teams they create but also the competition in-division and in-conference for those teams.
But if you want to get something in now and then bet later, here’s a guide.
1. Los Angeles Clippers +850
This was a bet that we started talking about on the Buckets podcast as soon as the Clippers traded for Norman Powell and Robert Covington at the deadline. Here’s what the Clippers bring to the table:
- Kawhi Leonard after a full season to get healthy, on a multi-year max with no intention to relocate
- Paul George after a season where he played just 31 games
- Ty Lue, widely considered a top-five, or better, coach in the NBA
- A deep roster with Reggie Jackson, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Terrance Mann (who took a step forward last season) and role players like Ivica Zubac, Nic Batum, Isaiah Hartenstein, Marcus Morris, and Luke Kennard
- A switchable defense with size, athleticism, and plus defenders
- Star players adept at making tough shots
Ultimately, this is the best value on the board.
The qualms will be about Leonard and George’s injuries, and it’s a fair point. Leonard is coming off surgery to repair a partial tear of his ACL last July. However, there was talk all through the season that it was possible for Leonard to return this season. His decision not to was likely linked to the team’s play-in positioning, at least to some degree.
Leonard will have had 15 months off, and you can be assured his injury will be “managed” by the Clippers. George, on the other hand, had a freak injury and returned by the end of the season. There’s no real reason to think George will miss more time.
Here’s the key question: will the Clippers number be lower next April than +850? Most likely. Will they be live to win the title with Kawhi Leonard and a better team than a year ago when they were set to match up well with the Suns fully healthy?
Finally, don’t rule out an upgrade. It’s no secret in league circles that Leonard has wanted the team to pursue a major point guard upgrade to play next to Jackson. If they find such an upgrade, it only makes them better, depending on what they give up in a deal.
This won’t be the last time I bet the Clippers, but it’s definitely the first.
2. Philadelphia 76ers +1600
I know, I know, I know. Look, I have advocated strongly for betting against Joel Embiid’s Sixers based on his track record. I was ready to bet heavily on the Heat vs. the Sixers before Joel Embiid’s injury. But ultimately, let’s look at their playoff run:
They beat the Raptors in six with an impressive closeout game after almost collapsing. In truth, they had that series firmly under control through the first three games, got a little sloppy, and recovered.
They lost to the Heat in six and the ending was miserable and a little pathetic, but Embiid was playing with pretty clear limitations both with his face/eye and his hand. There are always injury concerns with Embiid — that’s written in. There are injury concerns with every contender.
The latest word is that the Sixers plan to re-sign James Harden, who looked awful, on a shorter-term deal.
I understand you wanting to avoid this like the plague. I get it, but this is the time to take longer bets that will shorten later.
Here’s my most compelling argument for the Sixers: a full season for Daryl Morey.
Morey joined in November of 2020. He dealt with the weird, interrupted 2020-21 season and then spent the following season dealing with the Ben Simmons situation. In the interim, he built a team that almost got Embiid the MVP and finished tied for the second seed, all without Simmons being anything until the Harden trade.
Morey is tied to Harden. That’s his guy. He’s betting on him, and even the rumored short-term deal is an admission that he may not be what he once was. Harden has clearly not invested himself in his conditioning and has dealt with subsequent hamstring issues over the past year. Without intervention on Harden’s part, this could get ugly. Really ugly.
However, Morey has the summer to really reconfigure the team in the way he wants. He doesn’t have to manage the Simmons situation. He’ll focus on reconfiguring shooters and ballhandlers around Embiid, improving the depth.
Tyrese Maxey made a real leap last season and figures only to improve. They have trade assets of viable rotation players like Tobias Harris, Danny Green, and Matisse Thybulle, along with a late draft pick after the Nets elected to defer their trade asset to next year’s draft.
I’m betting the Sixers team that enters next season will look better, and have shorter odds, than the team that exited so meekly. You don’t get to buy low on teams that finished the year great.
3. Milwaukee Bucks +800
The Bucks went seven games against the Eastern Conference champions without Khris Middleton, their second-best player, for the entire series. You can have whatever view you want, and you can very rightfully bring up the 2021 Nets series where Kyrie Irving and James Harden were missing against the Bucks.
However, we still have a Bucks team with an MVP candidate in his prime in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Middleton with good coaching, great defense, and championship experience.
I’ll pretty much always think the Bucks will have won the Celtics series with Middleton; that’s the respect I have for Middleton but also Middleton’s specific impact on self-created scoring, the very thing Milwaukee was missing in that series.
The Bucks were +700 or better for most of the season, and +500 before the first round of the playoffs. This is after Middleton and Holiday went straight from a deep playoff run after a short offseason directly into the Olympics, forcing them to miss time early in the season. This is also after Brook Lopez missed five of the six months of the regular season.
So why are they not higher?
They need to address their wings. They traded Donte DiVincenzo and Rodney Hood for Serge Ibaka because of the idea they needed bigs to battle Embiid in case Lopez was unavailable. Ibaka played 22 minutes in the playoffs total. They banked on Grayson Allen who was great in the regular season and unplayable against Boston.
Everything else with the Bucks is fine. Mike Budenholzer is stubborn and resistant to overcorrection, even when warranted, but has won a title. Giannis is in his prime and arguably the best player in the league.
But they need to improve their wing depth. However, by the time they do so, the number on the Bucks likely drops to below +750. At that point, you’re better off waiting for mid-season when the market falls in love with another Eastern Conference shiny object.
For right now, though? This is a good number.
Teams with Value That It’s Not the Time for:
Warriors +600: They just won the title, and their value will not be higher than right now going into the summer. There will be chances to bet them at good value between now and the season open, or in-season due to injuries (just like this year).
Nuggets +1700: They get back Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, but there’s no telling what they’ll be when they come back. They need to reconfigure their entire wing rotation to improve their defense. Wait to see what they can and will do in free agency and trades.
Nets +700: Nope. The Ben Simmons situation remains unstable, and yet it somehow has more certainty than Kyrie Irving’s. Too much instability.
Dallas Mavericks +1900: The Christian Wood trade improves them to the point I think this number is soft, but that’s based on their standard this season being “real.” It could be, it could very well be. But a lot of things contributed to the Mavericks reaching the Western Conference Finals, and those surprise teams tend to be skittish, at least before free agency. Let’s see what they do with Jalen Brunson and if any other moves come.
Suns +950: They’ll likely take a hit if they move Deandre Ayton, but depending on what they do, they might come out better if they add stretch-five capability with Dario Saric coming back from injury. This is a good number, but it’s just not good enough with Chris Paul turning 38 before next season’s playoffs.