Free agency is still going on, and the new NBA season is now just 28 days away. But major US sportsbooks are already convinced that the league’s “King” will again lead the Los Angeles Lakers to the title.
After a crazy few days of signings and not even a week after the NBA Draft, the only difference between all of the major books was the price they were putting on the 2021 favorites.
No matter that Dwight Howard has left the Lakers for Philadelphia. He has been more than adequately replaced by reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, along with veteran Marc Gasol.
No matter that Rajon Rondo is now with the Hawks, and Avery Bradley left for the Heat. Dennis Schroder has been acquired from the Thunder, and Wes Mathews has been brought in from the Bucks.
On paper, the Lakers are better now than they were when they defeated Miami 4-2 for the 2020 NBA championship. Their main regular season competitor in 2019-20 – the Los Angeles Clippers – have been relatively quiet outside of replacing Harrell with Serge Ibaka.
At the top US sportsbooks, the Lakers are +250 to win the title at PointsBet, +290 at FanDuel Sportsbook, +300 at DraftKings Sportsbook, +300 at BetMGM and +325 at William Hill. The next closest Western Conference team is the Clippers, who are +550 at DraftKings, +650 at FanDuel, +575 at PointsBet, +650 at BetMGM and +550 at William Hill.
2021 NBA title odds
Fringe contenders looking to break through
These odds, as anyone in Oregon would tell you, are a terrible sign of disrespect toward the Portland Trail Blazers – who added Robert Covington (one of the NBA’s best 3-and-D guys and a terrific glue guy) and Enes Kanter to back up Jusuf Nurkic (who was All-Bubble material in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.). The team owned by Paul Allen’s sister is sitting anywhere from +4000 at PointsBet to +5500 at FanDuel.
And then we have the Dallas Mavericks, who already had top MVP candidate and triple-double machine Luka Doncic alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Dallas added former Heat and T-Wolves enforcer James Johnson, re-signed beastly center Willie Cauley Stein, added 3-point/defensive specialist Josh Richardson, along with free agent Wes Iwundu and draft pick Josh Green of Arizona – who may end up starting alongside de facto point guard Doncic. Mark Cuban’s team is on the board at anywhere from +2000 to +2500, and they are getting action.
“FanDuel customers are showing early faith in the Nets, 76ers and Mavs,” spokesman Kevin Hennessy told TheLines. “Over the last week, the top two selections by bet count in the NBA championship market are the Mavs and 76ers. Also, over the last week the top selection by bet count in the NBA MVP market was Luka Doncic. The top two teams overall by handle in the NBA Championship market are the Mavs and 76ers, and the top two players by handle in the NBA MVP market are Doncic and Kevin Durant.”
No doubt the Lakers are worthy favorites given the fact that LeBron James has been to nine of the past 10 NBA Finals. The one he missed was 2018-19 when he sat out a chunk of the season with an injury, showing that one misstep can change an entire team’s fortunes.
Just ask the Golden State Warriors, who were among the West favorites until Klay Thompson went down with a torn Achilles on draft day during a workout in Los Angeles. The Warriors’ odds have dropped to anywhere from +1000 (BetMGM) to +3000 (DraftKings).
NBA’s dregs moving in positive direction
Assuming the Sacramento Kings do not match the offer sheet for 28-year-old Bogdan Bogdanovic, there is no team in the Eastern Conference that has improved as much as the Atlanta Hawks – who now have a young core of Trae Young (22), John Collins (23), Clint Capela (26) and Cam Reddish (21). They also brought in veterans Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo.
Nobody is saying that the Hawks are true title contenders at this point, but expectations with this franchise are low based upon their history. There is an argument to be made that they can be in the mix in the East. Atlanta is +5500 to win the conference at FanDuel, and only the Bucks, Nets, Celtics, Heat, Raptors and Sixers have lower odds.
The books are slowly putting up team over/under win totals, which we will examine on a team-by-team basis next week. But as a preview, William Hill has the Hawks at a mere 31.5 wins, while PointsBet puts that number at 34 (remember, it will be a 72-game season, not an 82-game season.)
Cream of the crop
Getting back to the main angle here, who will win the title?
The Lakers, Clippers, Bucks and Nets are the chalk teams for obvious reasons. But how soon we forget that Erik Spoelstra’s Miami Heat came out of the East last season, and right now they are sitting at +1500 to +2000.
Gamblers typically do not like to sit on their tickets for months and months and months, but preseason wagering offers opportunities to those who lean on facts like James being 4-6 in the finals during his illustrious career. And if it is not the Lakers coming out of the West – for whatever reason – there are nice prices on other West contenders including Denver (best price is +2500 at PointsBet), Utah (best odds are +4000 at DraftKings) and the Phoenix Suns – who added Chris Paul and Jae Crowder. Phoenix went 8-0 in the bubble and they are priced as high as +5000 at BetMGM.
“The Lakers were the favorites to win the NBA championship before the draft and free agency. LA has made smart moves in the offseason to improve their team and bettors agree – as we have received the most handle on LeBron’s team,” said Jason Scott, vice president of trading at BetMGM – where the Lakers have moved from +400 to +300 and have received 17% of the wagers.
DraftKings is seeing especially heavy action on the Lakers, who are accounting for 35% of the handle. Brooklyn is second, and the Sixers are taking about 10% of the money wagered. William Hill is seeing 24% of the tickets and 39% of the dollars on the Lakers, with the Warriors second and the Nets third. The Sixers are drawing only 3% of the tickets and 1% of the dollars.
“It’s similar to last year at the very top, except the Clippers are nowhere to be found in terms of money wagered,” said Johnny Avello, head oddsmaker at DraftKings.
That is somewhat of a surprise, because with a new coach (Ty Lue), two superstars (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George) and a new big man (Ibaka) – they are not all that different from the team that was a co-favorite to win the title throughout the majority of last season.
But the Lakers rule L.A.. Both in the hearts of fans, and with the wallets of sports gamblers.