Despite Missing 18 Games, LeBron James Is Still The Most-Bet-On NBA Player This Year

Written By Grant Lucas on February 15, 2019 - Last Updated on April 29, 2021
LeBron James

The first half of the NBA season is in the books. Well, between 57 and 59 games are completed, leaving between 25 and 23 games remaining on respective schedules.

A brief moment of silence for the league’s ability to understand how math works.

All-Star Weekend has arrived, a lackadaisical convention in Charlotte signifying the homestretch toward the playoffs.

Yet something interesting has happened that forces us to reflect on what happened during the “first half” of the season. It’s not the fact that the Golden State Warriors, ruiners of NBA sports betting, don’t own the league’s best record or even the second-best record. (Respect, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.)

The lightning rod of hate, the titan of tampering, has garnered mass attention from bettors, particularly in New Jersey.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook data in NJ, LeBron James received the most betting action among individual players so far this season. Despite the King missing 18 games just ahead of All-Star Weekend, James still drew more attention for individual performances such as over/under totals on points in a game, among other player-specific prop markets.

That’s ahead of Houston’s James Harden, who’s eclipsed 30 points in 31 straight games that’s tied for the second-longest streak in NBA history. It’s ahead of Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as well as Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s next generation of stars.

But that is only the beginning of what we’ve learned from NBA betting thus far.

It’s the Warriors’ title to lose

The season began as it has each of the past few years: Golden State will win the NBA championship.

This year was, and still is, even more to the extreme. From the season’s get-go, pundits crowned the Warriors and looked ahead to the 2019-20 season. Golden State, after all, entered the season with a -200 line to win its third straight title. No other team over the past 30 years carried such heavy favorite odds.

Naturally, at both DraftKings and FanDuel Sportsbook, the Warriors have been the most wagered-on team in the league this season, ahead of the 76ers and Lakers.

For this exercise, though, who the Warriors play — and could potentially lose to in the playoffs — becomes more entertaining.

Per DraftKings, the most popular Warriors opponent wagered on has been the Boston Celtics, followed by the Lakers and 76ers. Additionally, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles have been the most bet-on teams to claim the NBA title outside of Golden State, just ahead of Toronto and Milwaukee.

In-play betting is king for NJ sportsbooks

Just before the NBA season tipped off in OctoberKambi Group, which powers DraftKings, introduced in-play betting for the 2018-19 season. The game had become “extremely popular over the last few years,” according to Kambi Head of Live Basketball Stefanos Moysidis. It had become faster and smarter with “teams relying on analytics more than ever before.”

Kambi recognized the demand of in-play wagering. And answered. As have other NJ online sports betting products.

FanDuel, for example, has seen in-game betting become a lynchpin for NBA action. According to the sportsbook, 45 percent of sports betting handle for NBA games have come via in-play betting.

Interestingly, no other market has emerged as a go-to for bettors. Moneyline wagering and “other bet types” represent 30 percent of bets, while point spread and over/under totals come in at 27 and 13 percent, respectively.

Risers and fallers for NBA futures

No other sport has a trade deadline quite like the NBA. The first month and a half of the new calendar year features a spinoff of sorts to the NBA season. Yes, the Warriors are great, and who can dethrone them? Harden is balling, as is Russell Westbrook, averaging a triple-double for the third straight season, has logged an NBA-record 11 straight triple-doubles.

But the trade deadline takes center stage until early February. While the Pelicans did not deal Anthony Davis, as many anticipated, futures odds did shift for several teams after the deadline passed.

According to DraftKings, the Philadelphia 76ers, after shedding Markelle Fultz and acquiring Tobias Harris, among other moves, jumped from 16/1 to 14/1 odds to win the title. The Bucks, with the addition of Nikola Mirotic, went from 14/1 to 11/1 post-deadline. And the Raptors, who brought in Marc Gasol, inched up from 9.5/1 to 9/1 odds.

While Golden State remains the odds-on favorite to win the NBA championship (-225 at DraftKings, -210 at FanDuel), the gap has closed a tad. The Raptors and Bucks have risen to the second- and third-favorites, respectively. Even Philly has climbed, to a fourth-place tie with Boston (DraftKings) and a third-place tie with Milwaukee (FanDuel).

Since the start of the season, the Bucks (70/1 to 11/1) have made the biggest jump in NBA title odds at FanDuel, followed by Toronto (18/1 to 9/1). Even the Denver Nuggets, with the second-best record in the Western Conference and fourth-best leaguewide, have leapt from 100/1 to 30/1.

The flip side of that conversation is just as fun to soak in.

After opening at 7/1 to win the title, the Rockets have slipped to 14/1 at FanDuel. The Lakers went from 9/1 to 22/1, and the Celtics slid from 6.25/1 to 12/1. Going back to the Davis drama, the Pelicans have plummeted from 35/1 season-opening odds to win the championship to 150/1.

The NBA: It’s fantastic.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sports writer who has covered the high school, collegiate and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield and Oregon State athletics, the Portland Trail Blazers and golf.

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