This article is part of our NBA Picks series.
With the trade deadline passed and the NBA returning from the All-Star Break on Thursday, now's a good time to turn our attention to some futures bets for the remainder of the season. In a roundtable format, the RotoWire NBA crew highlights their favorite bets before play resumes.
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Jaren Jackson Jr. for Defensive Player of the Year (-155, FanDuel)
Alex Barutha: Jackson's candidacy for DPOY reminds me a bit of Tyler Herro's Sixth Man of the Year candidacy last year. It doesn't feel like anyone else is really in the discussion for this award, yet his odds remain relatively short. It's fair to point out Jackson has played just 40 games, but those absences were frontloaded, and voters don't weigh October and November absences much, and they don't care about games played in general compared to an award like Most Valuable Player.
The other legitimate candidates (odds shorter than +1000) for DPOY include Brook Lopez (+550), Bam Adebayo (+750), and Nic Claxton (+750).
Lopez's case is that he anchors the league's No. 1 rated defense, but Jackson anchors the league's No. 2 defense, and it feels like splitting hairs since the difference is just 0.6 points per 100 possessions. Statistically, we're talking about 2.9 blocks-plus-steals for Lopez and 4.4 blocks-plus-steals for JJJ. Jackson is also more versatile, able to guard players out on the perimeter, which should mean something.
Miami has the league's fifth-best defense, anchored by Adebayo. He's versatile like Jackson, but voters aren't going to be impressed with his 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks. Those stats aren't everything, but it's nearly impossible to overcome when the gap is that wide.
For Claxton...I hate to be so dismissive, but who is voting him for DPOY at this point? Brooklyn's defense is average, and it would feel bizarre for him to win the award, given the turmoil and roster change around him. That's not fair since he's been fantastic and is averaging 2.6 blocks and 0.7 steals, but his presence doesn't feel impactful anymore to the NBA discourse. We shouldn't declare him the best ship captain after he simply managed to steer it straight after everyone else died of dysentery.
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Thunder to make playoffs (+450, DraftKings)
Alex Barutha: People are scared to bet on the Thunder because of the tanking baggage over the past couple of seasons, but both of those iterations of OKC were bad the whole year, so it made sense to nosedive for better picks. They're too good right now for a tank like that to happen. They have 29 losses compared to Charlotte's 43, Detroit's 44, and San Antonio and Houston's 45. How are they realistically going to get worse than those four teams?
Also, engineering a situation where you're a 25-win team for three years and then suddenly a 50-win team is essentially impossible. Isn't it much more likely that at some point in The Process, you'll be "just good?"
This may be a tangent and a strawman, but I find it weird that people praise Sam Presti's drafting and gush about the individual players he's selected but now refuse to accept that the organization is "letting" their talented collection of young players win games. Again, how was OKC supposed to draft good players year after year but also be bad until puppetmaster Presti decided to contend, as if they'd create phantom injuries for every rotation player if the team sniffed .500 in December? When the 76ers went from 28 wins to 54 wins, it was because they essentially added both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at the same time while also signing J.J. Redick and Robert Covington. That type of thing is the exception, not the rule.
Anyway, bringing us back to the current-day Thunder. They're just good. They've been good all year, and they're actually getting better. Since Jan. 1, OKC has the NBA's third-best point differential (+8.0) -- that's a 59-win pace over the course of 82 games. Put aside that we're talking about "The Thunder." This is a team that's one game out of fourth place in the loss column that's been playing 60-win ball since January (21 games!), and you can get them at +450 to make the playoffs. Plus, they have the fifth-easiest remaining strength of schedule. If that doesn't sound like value, then I don't know what does.
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Jazz under 39.5 wins (-135, DraftKings)
Alex Barutha: I can't take credit for finding this bet on my own, as RotoWire's Mike Barner suggested it during the most recent episode of the Fantasy Basketball Podcast.
How much you like this bet should correlate with how much you like what the Lakers did. We can't praise the Lakers and talk about how Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt are crucial additions to the team without saying they're significant losses for Utah. Plus, the Jazz handed away Mike Conley without getting another guard back. That's three legitimate rotation players playing meaningful roles on teams trying desperately to win games, and three players no longer on the Jazz.
Utah is 29-31 right now and have 22 games left, so we need them to go 10-12 to his this under. The Jazz have been relatively healthy this season, so their record feels legitimate. The bottom line is I don't expect them to win at their current pace after losing the three aforementioned players. They won't be favored for many games from here on out, and any game they play without Lauri Markkanen is practically a guaranteed loss.
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Brooklyn Nets to participate in the Play-In Tournament (+350, DraftKings)
Nick Whalen: This one requires some projecting, but it's important to note that the post-Durant/Kyrie Nets will emerge from the All-Star break with an 8.5-game cushion between their current spot (5th) and the 11th seed in the East (Chicago). In order to fall into Play-In territory, Brooklyn has to finish between 6th and 10th. At +350, I can absolutely talk myself into the Knicks (2.0 GB) or Heat (2.5 GB) passing up the Nets for the No. 5 seed. If that happens, the Nets should still have enough talent to easily maintain their spot in the 6-to-10 range with only 24 games remaining after the break.
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Milwaukee Bucks to win the NBA Finals (+600, DraftKings)
Nick Whalen: Milwaukee's title odds haven't moved higher than 8/1 all season, and barring an injury to Giannis Antetokounmpo this may be the best time to jump on the Bucks. It feels like Milwaukee and Boston are on a collision course, and while that potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup feels like a toss-up, there's no debate that the Bucks and Celtics are on their own, elite tier in the East. Value wise, I'd much rather bet Milwaukee at 6/1 than Boston at +275.
First-time-champion franchise to win the NBA title (+130, DraftKings)
Nick Whalen: We're veering into borderline-wacky territory here, but I actually like the value here at +130. Essentially, you're getting the Nuggets, Suns, Clippers, Grizzlies and Pelicans (and technically the Nets, Hornets, Pacers, T'Wolves, Magic and Jazz, too) versus The Field of past champions. Maybe you'd prefer to simply bet Phoenix at +425 or Denver at +800, but if you're interested in consolidating and grabbing a portfolio of Western Conference heavyweights, this is your chance.
Mike Brown to win Coach of the Year (+240, DraftKings)
Nick Whalen: As has been the case in recent years, this is once again a loaded Coach of the Year field. I count at least five coaches with legitimate cases, and I'm split on betting Brown versus Michael Malone (+260) in Denver. The case for Brown is the more traditional Coach of the Year narrative: team with relatively low expectations greatly exceeds those expectations. Sacramento currently sits in third in the West, though the Kings dropped six of their last 11 heading into the break. If Sacramento finishes the season as a top-3 seed, I think Brown wins the award – it may be that simple. But finishing top-3 is far from a guarantee with the Clippers (1.0 GB), Suns (1.5 GB) and Mavericks (2.5 GB) hot on the Kings' tail. The Kings franchise has also never had a Coach of the Year, which could add some minor fuel to the narrative down the stretch.
Nuggets to win the Western Conference (+350, Caesar's)
Michael Gillow: The Nuggets quietly had one of the best trade deadlines and buyout market acquisitions of any team in the league. Adding Reggie Jackson and Thomas Bryant to backup roles should give Denver one of the best benches in the West, with already an elite starting unit. They currently rank first in offensive rating and 13th in defensive rating, with a record of 41-18 that puts them five games ahead of Memphis in second place. With no health scares currently known, there is no reason that the Nuggets shouldn't head into playoffs with home-court advantage throughout and one of the strongest teams. The Suns' acquisition of Kevin Durant has launched them into favorites to come out of the West at +230. However, I have much higher concerns for Kevin Durant and Chris Paul to remain healthy for a championship run. On top of that, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson's departures are not minimal and leave Phoenix's bench as a well-below-average unit. The Suns currently rank 18th in offensive rating and 8th in defensive rating. While Durant's scoring should elevate their offense, losing one of the best wing defenders in the league in Bridges should tank their defense a bit in return. Overall, Denver making it to the finals at +350 is a great value bet.
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