Zion Williamson is +8000 (BetMGM) to win the NBA Most Valuable Player award as we sit here midway though the preseason, despite having just dropped 26 points and 11 rebounds on the Miami Heat in a 22-point win. He had only two double-doubles in 24 regular-season games last season (he did have one in the preseason last year), and his 11 rebounds would have tied his career high.
Zion does not play on the most highly-regarded NBA team but he has a new coach in Stan Van Gundy, who is known as a master motivator. The former Duke star is also running alongside last season’s Most Improved Player, Brandon Ingram, and the best of the Ball brothers, Lonzo. (In case you missed it, the Pistons cut his brother LiAngelo, and his younger brother, LaMelo, logged 20 bench minutes for the Hornets in a three-point lopsided loss to the Raptors Tuesday night.)
This bears mentioning because LaMelo Ball is currently the Rookie of the Year favorite in every single sportsbook in the legalized US sports betting market, yet he will be playing behind veteran Devonte Graham at point guard. That makes him a reserve, and reserves do not win ROY awards unless a starter is injured.
So there are a few things you should know before going chalk in the NBA individual awards futures markets.
Signs of things to come?
We use Monday night’s Hornets versus Raptors and Pelicans versus Heat games as cases in point in looking at the preseason player award futures market because, well, there are some guys out there who are overvalued as well as undervalued.
The winning coach in that latter game, Stan Van Gundy, is +2000 to win coach of the year at BetMGM. The Pels finished 13th in the West last season, and making the jump to become a playoff contender would get him some votes. With a full season of Zion, a top 6 finish in the conference is quite possible.
As for the most popular futures bet — Most Valuable Player — let’s face it. It’ll probably be one of the favorites – Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, LeBron James or Anthony Davis. All are stat freaks who put up incredible numbers, so let’s leave MVP alone for this particular column.
The Defensive Player of the Year award is a good place to start because voters first typically look at the league leaders in steals and blocks and make their decisions. If a guy is a terrific on-the-ball defender such as a Robert Covington or Marcus Smart of Patrick Beverley, he will get little consideration unless the stats are also there … much to the chagrin of coaches.
This far in the preseason, Josh Hart of the Pelicans leads the league in steals, and Jakob Poeltl of San Antonio leads in blocks. You will not find those guys on any sportsbook Defensive Player of the Year ballot at FanDuel, but you can find Smart at +5500, Covington at +6500 and both Beverley and Matisse Thybulle (a steals machine) of the Sixers at +11000. Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert are the favorites because they typically block a lot of shots, but Davis is not a prolific rebounder and Gobert suffers from playing in a small market that gets little publicity.
Rookie of the Year is a crapshoot because winning percentage usually means nothing to voters. Playing time counts, and if the rookie is a contributor for a team that exceeds expectations, you have your next Ja Morant. So with that in mind, let’s look at teams expected to overachieve: In the East, the Washington Wizards have added Russell Westbrook and are starting No. 9 overall pick Deni Avdija, who made all six of his shots in his debut. Westbrook will find him and teammate Davis Bertans for plenty of open looks, so consider the Israeli kid who is +1000 at William Hill Sports, +1400 at BetMGM, +1500 at DraftKings Sportsbook and PointsBet and +2700 at FanDuel.
Yep, quite a difference for the savvy shopper.
The biggest wager that BetMGM has taken on ROY is $500 to win $25000 on Tyrese Maxey of the Sixers – who was at +5000, spokesman John Ewing said.
At FanDuel, it was $681 on LaMelo Ball at +440 for a payout of $3677, spokesman Kevin Hennessy said. At William Hill, it was $1000 on Patrick Williams of Chicago at +3000.
Searching for value in Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player markets
For Sixth Man of the Year award, the chalk is always Lou Williams of the Clippers – because he wins it every year (OK, three of the past six years). Last year’s winner, Montrezl Harrell, will be a starter for the Lakers on many nights. So where is the potential value?
The favorite at DraftKings is Jordan Clarkson, who will back up Mike Conley for a tough Utah team. But 10 of the next 12 favorites have a good chance of being starters for a significant portion of the season. And that takes us to the +5000 and above crowd.
Again, for this award it must be a player who makes a significant contribution for a good team. So the guys fitting that bill at those longs odds include Bobby Portis of the Bucks and Gary Trent Jr. of the Blazers at +5000, J.J. Redick of the Pelicans (+8000) and D.J. Augustin of the Bucks (+10000). All are known commodities on good teams.
And then we have Harry Giles III of the Blazers, who put up 18 points and 14 rebounds in the Blazers first game and 19 points and 13 rebounds in their second game. He is +3000 to be Most Improved at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Over at DraftKings Sportsbook, the largest ticket the book holds on Most Improved Player is $439.37 on Shake Milton of the Sixers. A win would pay out $44,376.37.
There is also Talen Horton-Tucker of the Lakers, who logged only 81 minutes his entire rookie season. On Sunday against the Clippers, he had 33 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in a 131-106 win after going for 19 points and nine rebounds in the Lakers’ preseason opener. Yes, Horton-Tucker was playing big minutes because most of the Lakers’ starters were sitting out. But the 6-foot-4 guard with the 7-foot 1 wingspan is giving coach Frank Vogel something to think about.
“Obviously he’s still young and he’s going to make some mistakes from time to time, but he has as much defensive talent as he does offensive talent,” Vogel said. “So I feel like he’s going to fit in well for us.”
Horton-Tucker is on the board at +5000 at PointsBet for Most Improved Player but had not drawn a single wager as of Tuesday afternoon. Spokesman Patrick Eichner said the book’s biggest single wagers were $500 on Stephen Silas (+2000) to win Coach of the Year and $1000 on Christian Wood (+2000) to win Most Improved.
NBA futures odds