Kyrie Irving Returns: Sportsbooks Unconcerned About Vaccination Status

Written By Mo Nuwwarah on October 12, 2021 - Last Updated on January 4, 2022

NBA team media days typically mean a time to wax poetic about all the positive things to come. But, things took a more serious slant for 2021 as COVID-19 vaccination has emerged as a key topic. The Kyrie Irving vaccine status saga in particular remains a focus as he returns to the court.

The Nets’ star guard didn’t provide a concrete answer on whether he will get vaccinated at any point during 2021-22 NBA season. Now, he could miss every home game.

Here’s the latest outlook on the Nets with Irving set to make his season debut. Plus, TheLines reached out to a couple of sportsbooks before the season to see how and if they adjusted odds to Kyrie not being vaccinated and missing games.

Kyrie Irving, Still Unvaccinated, Expected To Debut Jan. 5

In December, the team walked back its previous statements about not accepting Irving as a part-time member of the team. Whether due to the unexpectedly stiff competition in the East, the rising COVID-19 cases gutting the roster for several weeks, or a simple change of heart in the locker room, the team has announced Irving will rejoin the Nets.

He remains unvaccinated and therefore unable to play in home games.

The Nets have fared pretty well in his absence, as Johnny Avello at DraftKings Sportsbook predicted below before the start of the season. At 23-12, they rank second in the East, trailing only the upstart Bulls. They have +3.2 differential per 100 possessions, by Cleaning The Glass’ numbers, eighth-best in the league and pacing them for 49 wins. Typically, a title contending team should rank top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and the Nets miss this cutoff by just a hair with the 12th-best offense and ninth-best defense.

The markets still price them as the title favorites at , well ahead of the next pack of teams. At this point, that price obviously bakes in the return of Irving on some level.

Given that conditioning was a stated reason for delaying Irving’s debut even as COVID-19 left the team incredibly short on bodies, expect him to start on a minutes limit and ramp up. Markets have yet to post for his debut game against the Pacers, and we’ll update this space when they do.

The Kyrie Irving Vaccine Situation

While the league has trumpeted its 90% vaccination rate for the players, much of the media focus has centered on the other 10%. Most of that number has the potential to play through the season without incident, albeit with increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and missing a chunk of games.

However, players in certain jurisdictions have a bit of a dilemma on their hands. If they don’t want to get the vaccine, local law may bar them from playing in home games.

NYC does require athletes get vaccinated. An executive order issued by the mayor requires indoor athletes to show proof of at least one shot.

Additionally, the league announced NBA players who miss games due to lack of vaccination won’t get paid.

However, Irving has adamantly opposed to the vaccine. Via a report from Rolling Stone:

Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.”

Irving declined to answer questions about his vaccination status. But, his lack of physical presence at media day (he was the only Net attending via Zoom) gives a rather clear hint. Whether his resolve cracks in the face of $400,000 game checks remains to be seen.

The bottom line: if Kyrie Irving doesn’t get a vaccine, he could miss more than half of the season. The Nets play half of their games at home, plus they play the Knicks on the road.

How Did Sportsbooks Respond To Kyrie Irving Vaccine News?

Irving missing half of the season could have a material effect on Nets futures. The team opened as the championship favorites and remain such at odds. They also have one of the higher win totals at .

Last season, they flamed out due to injuries to Irving and James Harden but looked set to easily defeat the eventual champion Bucks before Irving went down with a sprained ankle.

TheLines reached out to several sportsbooks to see how they have responded to the Kyrie Irving vaccine situation. BetMGM and DraftKings Sportsbook responded and both evoked little concern.

“Not That Much” Of An Adjustment In Store If Irving Sits

Christian Cipollini, sports trader for BetMGM, said the trading team expects Irving to ultimately get vaccinated. However, even if he fails to do so, the team won’t radically alter any of its numbers.

“If Kyrie were to miss time, there would not be a big adjustment on the team’s win total or game spreads,” he said.

Johnny Avello, director of race & sportsbook operations at DraftKings, echoed that sentiment when asked how much his team’s view of the Nets would change without Irving.

“Believe it or not, it’s not that much if they have the rest of their guys intact,” he said. “It depends what the matchup is but as long as you have the other two guys in there, you’re looking at 1, maybe 1.5 points.”

Avello accurately pointed out the three rarely played together last season — 414 possessions the entire season according to Cleaning The Glass. It didn’t hinder the team much, as they still had the most efficient offense in league history and a top-five differential.

Lineups without Irving but including Harden and Kevin Durant scorched the league for 129.3 points per 100 possessions and had a monstrous +19.9 differential.

Irving’s Vaccine Status Not Pushing Bettors To Fade Brooklyn

As of yet, bettors have not responded to the news. In fact, Avello said DK Sportsbook’s “still taking a bunch of money” on Nets overs and futures. BetMGM also reported “no uptick” in under money.

Avello acknowledged the DK Sportsbook team may take another look if a respected player makes a wager on the under.

While the strength of Brooklyn’s roster dictates no big adjustment, that may not be so for many other teams. For example, Wizards G Bradley Beal has also spoken critically of the vaccine. Washingon can’t replace his production so easily as the Nets can weather Irving’s absence.

The difference, obviously, is Washington D.C. hasn’t issued a mandate to its athletes.

Avello said he has “a whole team” keeping eyes and ears open on the news to see if anything actionable comes across the wire.

“You have to stay on top of it,” he said. “Right now some of the guys are saying they don’t feel any pressure [to get vaccinated] but maybe there will be pressure. If they say they aren’t and there’s a mandate, at that point we really need to look at where we are.”


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Mo Nuwwarah

Mo Nuwwarah got his start in gambling early, making his first sports bet on his beloved Fab Five against the UNC Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament. He lost $5 to his dad and got back into sports betting years later during a 15-year run in the poker industry. A 2011 journalism graduate from Nebraska-Omaha, he combines those skills with his love of sports and statistics to help bettors make more informed decisions with a focus on pro football, baseball and basketball.

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