Offseason NBA activity ground to a halt over the holiday weekend as the league waited to see what the Brooklyn Nets are going to get for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but the gambling markets were still churning with sharp bettors eyeing the futures markets.
Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man Award, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved have all been on the board at a few books, and as the summer progresses we will point you toward the markets that we believe may be mispriced or offering higher-than-usual value.
Today, that market is Most Improved Player for the simple reason that nobody is listed at less than +1200. And if we go off what we have seen in the past couple of seasons, we can handicap where the most value lies for wagers that will not pay off for the better part of a year.
Spoiler alert: The player we like most begins Summer League play Tuesday night. So his odds are subject to change and get shorter.
Last season, Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies won Most Improved just two years after winning Rookie of the Year, in large part because his scoring rose 8.3 points to 27.4 points per game and his shooting percentage went up 4.4 points to 49.3 as Memphis finished second in the West. Voters ignored his 25 missed games.
The previous season, Julius Randle of the Knicks got the award in what looked like a national recognition of what the Knicks accomplished, improving from 12th to fourth. Brandon Ingram got it in 2000 as he had a breakout season for the Pelicans following the trade from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis deal, and Pascal Siakam got it in 2019 by improving his scoring average by 9.6 points playing alongside Kawhi Leonard to help lead the Toronto Raptors to a second-place finish.
Quantifiable statistical success along with high achievement for a player’s team seem to be the secret sauces, which is a cautionary factor when looking at a couple of players below who we expect to have breakouts seasons in the extremely crowded and talented Western Conference, where Minnesota, Denver, Dallas and the Clippers have added exceptional players to teams that were already very good.
As noted in the space in our Kevin Durant forecasting column last week, the East is going to stink this season outside of Milwaukee and Boston, where the Celtics are currently the +500 favorites to win the championship following their acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon from the Pacers in exchange for a bag of hammers.
If an East team can hang with the Bucks and Celtics next season, right there we may have half of the framework for who will win Most Improved, where Anthony Edwards is the +1200 favorite for a Minnesota Timberwolves team that will be playing super-big after trading with Utah to acquire Rudy Gobert.
Which team in the East is capable? And who on that team has enticing odds?
Well, until we know where Durant is headed, it is difficult to know exactly which teams will have the same rosters in September that they have right now. R.J. Barrett (+1400) and Jalen Brunson (+1600) of the New York Knicks are the second and third favorites because we know what the ‘Bockers will look like, and we know that Tom Thibodeau should not have all that much difficulty getting them to rise significantly from their 11th-place finish last season. This is also why center Isaiah Hartenstein was on the board at relatively short odds for the Sixth Man Award before that market was taken down over the weekend.
Tyrese Haliburton of the Pacers, Cade Cunningham of the Pistons and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander of the Thunder are the fourth, fifth and sixth choices, and we could see all three of their teams finishing Top 10 and making the play-in tournament at the least next season, which checks the box for “team success.”
But in the case of the Thunder, who are on a streak of two consecutive seasons missing the playoffs, is Gilgeous-Alexander their best candidate?
Or is it Australian Josh Giddey, who strung together three straight triple-doubles in February before being shut down for the season with a hip injury?
Giddey is on the board at FanDuel at +5500, and we absolutely love that wager, the thinking being that too much attention is being paid to No. 2 overall selection Chet Holmgren when looking at that roster, and Giddey’s propensity to load up the stat sheet could allow him to challenge Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic for the league lead in triple-doubles. And NBA awards voters love triple-doubles.
Which brings us to the next guy we want to discuss, Kevin Porter Jr. of the Houston Rockets. Porter had a TD while finishing the season by scoring 30 or more points in three of his team’s final six games, and the fourth-year shooting guard should expected to raise his scoring average significantly from the 15.6 he averaged last season because Christian Wood has been traded. Trouble is, the Rockets are probably going to stink again, and is there is a player on that team who is in contention for an award it will more likely be Turkish center Alperen Sengun now that Christian Wood is out of the picture and the 19-year-old has been elevated to probable starter. So keep that in mind when considering Porter Jr.’s +4600 odds.
Other guys with long odds who we like a little less than Giddey:
Desmond Bane of the Grizzlies finished 10th in the league in 3-pointers made with 228 and second in accuracy at 44.6 percent, and Memphis has a Swiss Army knife productivity hole to fill now that Kyle Anderson has departed for Minnesota. Bane raised his scoring average 9 points last season to 18.2, and something north of 22 ppg along with jumps in rebounds and assists could get him in the conversation, He is on the board at +3600.
Saddiq Bey of the Pistons will not have Jerami Grant ball-hogging next season, and he is an alternative to Cunningham to look at for Detroit after the Pistons dealt Grant to the Trail Blazers. Bey started all 82 games last season and averaged 16.1 points, and somebody now has to replace the 19.2 points and 4.1 rebounds that Grant used to provide. Bey is on the board at +8000.
Markelle Fultz of the Orlando Magic has been pretty much off the grid after being dumped by the Sixers and then not making his 2021-22 season debut until Feb. 28 as he recovered from knee surgery, but he was productive on a per-minute basis backing up Cole Anthony, and if fully healthy could create at logjam for Orlando at that position, especially if he becomes the starter and can pad his assist totals with lobs to Paolo Banchero. He is on the board at +11000.
So while we are giddy about Giddey, a forecast this early would not be accurate without accounting for wind shifts, as the weathermen say. This market and Defensive Player of the Year are annually highly volatile, even late in the season.
But these summer odds are highly enticing while the Nets and Durant keep the basketball world waiting, and they may just get lower if Giddey kills it at Utah Summer League, which begins Tuesday night.
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