Phoenix Suns Could Become Rare NBA Underdog To Cash Championship Futures

Written By Mo Nuwwarah on July 2, 2021 - Last Updated on July 14, 2021
phoenix suns make finals

When the Phoenix Suns headed to the bubble for the 2020 NBA playoffs, few would have imagined the seeds of an NBA finals run would be planted. Even an 8-0 run there left them 34-39 and out of the playoffs. They remained mostly an afterthought heading to 2021.

But, germinate and sprout the seeds they did. Add in a little extra…sunshine in the form Chris Paul, and an unlikely NBA finals run has come to fruition.

How unlikely? We’ll take a look at their journey to title favorites, as well as see how the sportsbooks fared booking Suns tickets.

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The NBA — Where Underdogs Rarely Bark

Unlikely, incredible moments often define sports, but the NBA experiences less of those than any other major American sports league.

For evidence check out this study from statistician Michael Lopez. He put all “Big Four” American leagues on a scale showing how close the outcome of a postseason matchup is to being a coin flip versus a predetermined result. The NBA rates as a comical outlier compared to its brethren.

According to Lopez, the better team advances roughly 80% of the time in an NBA Playoffs series. For the other American sports leagues to match the match the NBA’s predictability, they’d have to play:

  • Best-of-11 in the NFL
  • Best-of-51 in the NHL
  • Best-of-75 in MLB

The average preseason price of NBA Finals winners since 1985 is +564, according to a list compiled by TheLinesIf anything, that overstates the success of underdogs. For instance, the Warriors at +2800 ranked as the biggest longshot to win the finals. But, they put up historic numbers in the regular season and were seen as consensus favorites by the time playoffs came around.

Superstars drive high-level winning in the NBA, and superstars don’t simply come out of nowhere. Seeing a team like the Phoenix Suns make the finals just doesn’t happen often. They arguably don’t possess a single top-15 player.

How The Phoenix Suns Bucked The Odds

Against that backdrop, the rise of the Suns stands as an even more stark outlier than, say, the Montreal Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Before the season, as usual, a handful of clear contenders had been identified. The Lakers entered the season as consensus favorites around +250. The Bucks, Nets and Clippers were seen as the main obstacles to a repeat, with everyone else north of +1000.

As the season wore on, the strength of the Nets became clear, while the Lakers struggled with injuries. The Nets eventually surpassed them in the futures markets. Bettors could find them favored over the field in certain shops at certain points in the playoffs.

All four of those top contenders crashed out at least partially due to injuries to their star players, aside from the Bucks. Even they, up 3-2 against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, face an uncertain outlook now that Giannis Antetokounmpo could be done for the season.

So, the way partially clearing thanks to other top contenders faltering obviously helped the Suns greatly.

As for the Suns themselves, their bubble heroics didn’t exactly inspire confidence heading to 2021. According to BetMGM Sportsbook, the Suns opened 100-to-1 (+10000) at their shop. After trading for Paul, the price got lopped to +5000 and Suns action pushed it to +4000 by the time the season tipped off.

The DraftKings Sportsbook prices show the progressive climb of the Suns up the futures board:

  • Preseason: +6000
  • Feb. 10: +5000
  • March 2: +4000
  • April 12: +2200
  • Start of playoffs: +1800

BetMGM didn’t take any action at the massive initial price but did book a notable $1,000 bet at +4000. Nonetheless, a Suns title would represent a good outcome for the house, which had liabilities on the Lakers and Nets.

FanDuel Sportsbook told TheLines the Suns represented their biggest liability among the final four teams and a top-five liability overall.

Will The Suns Be Underdogs Again In The Finals?

Even entering the playoffs, PointsBet listed the Suns at +2500 thanks to a perceived difficult draw against the Lakers in the first round. Sharp bettors pounced on them though, and belief has slowly built since.

Now, the Phoenix Suns have made the finals following dominant wins over the Lakers and Nuggets and a closer series with the Clippers. They need only to win four more games to cash as the biggest NBA underdog to win it all since at least 1985.

What will the odds look like for the Suns? That obviously depends on two things: who wins the Eastern Conference and how healthy their stars look. The aforementioned Antetokounmpo injury still looms, as does an ankle injury to Trae Young that has kept him out for two ECF games.

A matchup against the fellow longshot Hawks figures to lock in the Suns as favorites even if Young comes back 100%.

None of the sportsbooks queried by TheLines would commit to the Suns as favorites or underdogs against the Bucks. All said it depends on Antetokounmpo’s health so it sounds like a miracle return at full strength would see the Bucks favored.

A representative from DraftKings did say the Suns would be slightly favored over both teams “right now.”

No matter the result, that’s quite an impressive run for a team seen as a 100-to-1 shot when futures markets opened.

Mo Nuwwarah Avatar
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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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