The 2017-18 NBA season gets going on Tuesday (October 17) with two very intriguing match-ups — Boston at Cleveland and Houston at Golden State. Before the year gets underway, it is worth exploring some season-long prop bets. These can both be good propositions for making some money, and a fun way to stay involved over a long 82-game regular season. Here are the bets I’m keenest on as we build toward a fourth straight Warriors/Cavaliers NBA finals. (Snore.)
Unfortunately, the player I love in this category also has the shortest odds. Remember, this isn’t an award for the best player, it is most valuable, and Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (15/4) is San Antonio’s only star. Leonard is in the prime of his career, and when the Spurs reach 50 wins again, he will deservedly get a ton of the credit.
LeBron James (4/1) is still the best player in the league, but he is going to rest more than Leonard and arguably has more talent around him, especially once Isaiah Thomas returns from injury. Both of those realities put him at a disadvantage to Kawhi.
Kevin Durant (11/2) has way too much around him to win MVP, unless Steph Curry gets hurt or his usage inexplicably goes way down.
Defending champ Russell Westbrook (6/1) is going to have a lot of difficulty matching the stats that earned him the hardware last season now that he has a better supporting cast that includes both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
If the Rockets finish second in the Western Conference, ahead of San Antonio and OKC, James Harden (10/1) has a good chance to win the award. Like Westbrook in OKC, Harden now has another legitimate superstar (Chris Paul) who will get his share of looks and usage. While Harden’s assist numbers will undoubtedly decline, Paul is an elite distributor who should set the Beard up for success at the offensive end, and there is no doubt who the biggest star in H-town is. Harden rarely misses a game (something he prides himself on), is a triple-double threat every night, and, because of the arrival of Paul, should be even more efficient than last year.
Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons (2/1), the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball (43/20), and Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr (7/2) are the big favorites. Cogent arguments can be made for all three. Simmons was one of the best college prospect in the last decade during his one-and-done season at LSU, even though he was barely coached and his team stunk. At 6’10, he essentially plays point forward, averaging 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists per game with the Tigers. His team may take an enormous leap this year, and that will be worthy of lots of headlines. Don’t forget that narrative plays almost as big a role in individual awards as performance.
Ball garnered comparisons to Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson during his time at UCLA, though he didn’t play particularly well in the NCAA Tournament. While his dad gets most of the headlines right now, Lonzo is primed to be a huge star in a market that gets more than its fair share of media attention.
Smith is an athletic dynamo who will star for the Mavs. He is sure to be a regular on highlight shows, and like Simmons and Ball, can do a bit of everything.
The Kings De’Aaron Fox (21/2) and Charlotte’s Malik Monk (27/1) don’t play on good enough teams or in large enough markets to win without being head-and-shoulders above the rest of the rookie crop, while Philly’s Markelle Fultz (19/2) isn’t fully healthy, and is on the same team as Simmons. Jayson Tatum (11/1) is going to have trouble being the guy on a loaded Celtics team.
It is hard to swallow 2/1 on a wager that, in theory, is wide open, but objectively this is a three-man race. If Simmons stays healthy, he is in the best position to contribute on an improving team. The hype machine will be in full effect with Ball, but the Lakers may not be competitive. Simmons has the feel of a soon-to-be All Star and is the play.
This award doesn’t just go to the coach of the best team, case in point: Steve Kerr won in 2015-16, when the Warriors broke the record for most wins in a season, but not the year before or the year after when Golden State also finished first in the NBA. Kerr (7/1) has the best team again, but probably would need to win 70+ games to win the award.
We can all probably agree that Gregg Popovich (8/1) is the best coach in the league and should win this award every year. But the expectations for him are so high that his Spurs will also need to do something truly special for Pop to win.
It is reasonable that Boston’s Brad Stevens (4/1) is the favorite, since he may get a ton of credit if he can get his new-look (yet incredibly talented) team to coalesce. Yet the Celtics earned the top seed in the East last year, and Stevens finished just fourth in the voting.
It’s unlikely that voters are going to give Houston’s Mike D’Antoni (6/1) the hardware for a second straight season; no coach has ever gone back-to-back. Tyronn Lue (8/1) gets little credit for LeBron’s dominance in Cleveland. The Cavs would need to run away with the Eastern Conference for him to win.
This award often goes to the coach of the breakout team of the season. Who will that be this year? Jason Kidd (12/1) has a young nucleus ready to take a step forward in Milwaukee, and Quin Snyder (15/1) has the same in Utah. However, the two best under-the-radar teams are the Nuggets and Sixers. While Mike Malone (30/1) in Denver offers a huge number, the Western Conference is impossible and he’ll struggle to get the hype he needs to win the award. In Philadelphia, Brett Brown (20/1) has the best young core in the league, a conference full of awful teams, and a city starving for success. The Sixers are rather likely to be the darlings of the league after so many years of brutal basketball. If the Sixers go .500, Brown will get votes. If they make the playoffs, he may pay off at a big price.
Featured photo:Alexandra Walt (flickr) [CC License]
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