Is this the year the LA Clippers finally get over the top? Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The NBA is back, and that means plenty of betting opportunities coming our way.
Our analysts answer questions surrounding some of the most popular bets heading into the season and offer their picks. We’re talking NBA title, long shots, award winner and more. Let’s get to it.
All odds from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
What is your favorite bet to win championship/conference/division?
Doug Kezirian: LA Clippers +700 to win the title. Honestly, they should be the betting favorites — on paper, at least. We know the track record of this seemingly snake-bitten organization and the checkered health history of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. However, this team is loaded. Their second five is better than some teams’ starters, and that actually will matter because they will still pick up wins while addressing load management. I like that John Wall is a role player and guys like Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Luke Kennard and Terrance Mann will come off the bench. They are incredibly deep, and head coach Ty Lue has done it before.
Andre Snellings: The Cleveland Cavaliers to win the Central Division (+260). The Cavaliers challenged to win their division last season, contending until after the All-Star Break when injuries derailed them. They return their entire young nucleus from last season, healthy, and add Donovan Mitchell to the mix as another premier offense creator/finisher. The only questions in my mind, are if they can develop chemistry and stay healthy. If so, the Cavs have the talent to win 55 games. I still believe the Milwaukee Bucks to be the best team in the division, but their goals are postseason-oriented and much of their nucleus is in their 30s and will need to conserve to be ready for the playoffs. The Cavs are all in their early 20s, can run all day and are trying to prove they’re ready for the big time.
Tyler Fulghum: I’ll lay the juice with Denver Nuggets to win the Northwest Division (-140). The only legit threat in the division is the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves (+140). The Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma Thunder will be actively tanking for Victor Wembanyama, and the Portland Trail Blazers don’t have enough around Damian Lillard anymore. With Nikola Jokic alone, the Nuggets are one of the more formidable teams in the West, but this year, PG Jamal Murray and F Michael Porter Jr. return to give the two-time league MVP the help he needs.
Anita Marks: Bucks to win the championship at +800. This is a Bucks team with little turnover, that came a game away from representing the East in the NBA championship last season and was without Kris Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo is 27 and entering his prime. If the Bucks can avoid the injury bug they suffered last season, these are great odds.
Joe Fortenbaugh: Nuggets 18-1 to win the title. Those odds imply a 5.2% win probability, which I believe is worth a bet. Denver won 48 games last season with no Murray and some of the weakest depth in the NBA. So what happens now that Murray is back and the depth is more than respectable? This team has the goods to grab a top-3 seed in the Western Conference.
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What’s your favorite long shot bet to win championship/conference/division?
Snellings: Toronto Raptors +1100 to win Atlantic and Timberwolves to win the West +1600. The Raptors challenged to win the Atlantic last season, even though they were expected to have a rebuild season. They are led by two All-Stars in Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes is only getting better, and they built a bit more depth onto their team this offseason, which helps them be better prepared for the rigors of the marathon season. They are in a tough division, with three other legitimate contenders and a New York Knicks team that is only a season removed from a top-4 seed as well, but I’d estimate the Raptors have more like a one in five chance to win than the one in 11 of their odds.
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The East is stacked this season, with at least nine teams that could be credible preseason picks to make the Conference Finals. The West, on the other hand, has fewer legitimate contenders. The Timberwolves made the playoffs last season as a team on the way up, going 22-10 down the stretch to secure their seed before sitting their players in the last game. Their offseason trade for Rudy Gobert is potentially massive. Gobert has ranked as a top-10 impact player in the NBA for the past two seasons, almost entirely due to defense — the Timberwolves’ biggest weakness. If Gobert fits on the new roster and leads them to a strong team defense, Anthony Edwards makes the All-Star leap in season three that many expect and the team stays relatively healthy, they could legitimately contend in the West. The biggest factor working against them is experience — and that’s significant — but I still think they have better than 16-1 odds for it to all come together.
Kezirian: Detroit Pistons 100-1 to win the Central. First off, this is not going to happen. Way too much has to occur, such as injuries to other teams’ stars. However, we saw the Cavs lead this division last season until crumbling late. Detroit could conceivably pull it off, although I like the price of +650 to make the playoffs much more. Cade Cunningham is a budding star, and perhaps he continues evolving into the second coming of Tracy McGrady. Summer league indicated they have two more gems in Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Shooting was an issue last year, but they added Bojan Bogdanovic. This team is well-balanced and could be a regular-season nuisance for contenders. The +650 is definitely a play for me.
Fulghum: I think the Cavaliers (+1500) and Atlanta Hawks (+2000) have legit shots to contend for a top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference. The East is now the deeper, superior conference in terms of talent, in my eyes. The addition of Donovan Mitchell gives Cleveland a legit go-to scorer at the end of games. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley form one of the best frontcourt duos in the entire league, and Darius Garland is one of those players contending for “Best-in-the-NBA-No-One-Knows-About.” The addition of Dejounte Murray to the Hawks gives Atlanta a perfect backcourt foil to Trae Young. Young has already proven capable of carrying a team offensively against any team in the league. Adding Murray makes this team far more athletic and formidable on defense — just what they needed. The East is definitely deep, but I can see either one of these teams taking advantage of bad injury luck for the other contenders and winning the conference.
Eric Moody: Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to the Lakers as an 18-1 long shot bet to win the championship. This will be LeBron James‘ 20th season in the NBA, and he had a great season last year, averaging 30.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.3 SPG and 1.1 BPG. It is well known that Anthony Davis is capable of great things (he averaged 23.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, and 2.3 BPG last season), but his biggest problem is his availability. Over the last two seasons, he has played in 76 out of 154 games. This offseason the Lakers added Patrick Beverley, who is capable of delivering on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Everyone is wondering, though, if James, Davis, and Russell Westbrook can coexist. If that’s what’s best for the team, will Westbrook take a step back? Apparently Westbrook and new Lakers coach Darvin Ham get along well. It’s clear that James is nearing the end of his career, but at these odds, this team stands a chance of taking the crown.
Should we expect a bounce-back season from LeBron’s Lakers or another down season? Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
What is your favorite win total bet?
Fortenbaugh: Jazz under 23.5 wins. After the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell trades, is there anybody on the planet who thinks Danny Ainge is trying to win this season — especially with Victor Wembanyana waiting in the wings as the first overall pick in the draft? What’s the point of trading two superstars and stockpiling all of those draft picks if you aren’t tanking for one of the most highly-coveted prospects of the last two decades?
Snellings: Chicago Bulls over 42.5 wins. The Bulls won 46 games last season, but that was after injuries derailed what could have been a special campaign. They were 27-12 through 39 games, when All-Star Zach Lavine injured his knee early in game 40. They’d lose five of six games with him out, and even after he returned he wasn’t at full speed, and the team felt it. When added to the major injury absences of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Coby White and Patrick Williams, it was too much for DeMar DeRozan to try to carry the team through, and they struggled to a 19-24 finish to the season. While Ball is still injured, the rest of the team is healthy, and the Bulls brought in veterans Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond this offseason to build quality depth. Their team is built to win more like 50-ish games than 42.5.
Kezirian: Bulls under 42.5 wins. Andre is a bud, but I am directly opposite here. This is not a .500 ball club. Ball might miss the entire season, and Caruso also has injury issues. Overall, their defense stinks and that’s just one reason Nikola Vucevic does not fit well. Plus, Patrick Williams was slated to be a huge focal point and he has essentially been demoted from the starting lineup in the preseason. They won 46 games last year with Derozan in the MVP conversation. I do not expect a .500 record this season.
Fulghum: Los Angeles Lakers under 45.5 wins. Unless the Westbrook for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner trade actually goes down, I struggle to see how this Lakers team wins 46-plus games. Let’s start with the Pacific Division, which is probably the strongest in the entire league. The Warriors, Clippers and Suns all have win totals north of 50, while Sacramento probably has its best roster on paper of the last decade. Even if Anthony Davis and LeBron James remain healthy all season, do they have enough around them to compete? The Lakers’ record in games last season where the two played together was basically .500. Now, if you think Russ is traded for shooting (Hield) and defense (Turner) then, by all means, disregard what I just said. But that still seems like a pipe dream for LA given its current situation.
Marks: Hawks over 45.5 wins (-120) and Lakers under 45.5 (-125). I love the addition of Murray to his roster. Align him with Young, Hunter, Bogdanovic, John Collins and Clint Capela … watch out! I have this team winning 50 games. The Hawks will face the 16th-ranked schedule in the NBA, based on their opponents’ combined win total last year. As for the Lakers, Lebron’s durability is a thing (he has averaged only 55 games while a Laker), Anthony Davis is brittle and Russell Westbrook is drama. There is too much good competition in the West.
Moody: Nuggets over 50.5 wins. Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray are back with the Nuggets to synch back up with Jokic and make them one of the top teams in the West. This trio has great chemistry together. Since the 2017-18 season, the Nuggets have had one season with 54 wins and have been on pace to surpass 50.5 wins in the others. As for Denver’s front office, they did an admirable job of supplementing their big three this offseason as well. I’m also excited to see how Bones Hyland continues to develop. He will play a crucial role in the Nuggets rotation. A very good and underrated coach, Michael Malone is exceptional at developing relationships with his players. Everyone on the team is buying into his hard-working culture. The Nuggets are well-positioned to win 50 or more games this year.
Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid has finished runner-up in MVP voting the last two seasons. Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports
Which awards are you betting ahead of the season?
Fortenbaugh: Jayson Tatum MVP at 12-1. He has averaged at least 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game in each of the last two seasons and is the face of a Boston Celtics squad that could win more regular-season games than any team in the NBA this season. I also like the fact that Golden State dressed him down in the NBA Finals last summer. That’s the type of humbling experience that creates a real playmaker.
Snellings: LeBron for MVP at +2700 intrigues me. It was just two years ago that James led the Lakers to a championship. Both he and Anthony Davis have struggled through injuries since then, and the team deconstructed its role players in favor of veteran scorers that didn’t fit. The public has turned against them after two straight seasons missing the playoffs, and the team has looked pedestrian. But I just have a feeling about this season. LeBron knows he’s near the end, and this may be his last real chance to compete. Even injured, LeBron put up one of his best statistical campaigns last season. If he plays 70 games, the rest of the team stays relatively healthy and the fit works better this season, the Lakers could still win 50 or more games. LeBron will have the stats, he’ll have the narrative of bringing back a team left for dead, and he’ll have the super narrative of surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points in NBA history this season. Those types of narratives could put him squarely into the MVP hunt as a relative long shot.
Kezirian: Tari Eason to win Rookie of the Year (50-1). This is unlikely because he plays in Houston and the Rockets will not generate much attention. However, the 17th overall pick is widely considered the biggest draft steal, and Rockets assistant John Lucas labeled him a “better Dennis Rodman.” That may seem aggressive, but he’s posting impressive numbers without plays even being called for him. Eason will outwork opponents nearly every single night, and the Rockets know how to skew a box score. And there are 80-1 odds also out there at other books.
Marks: Paolo Banchero to win Rookie of the Year (+200) and Joel Embiid to win MVP (+650). Since 1990, nine of the last 15 ROY winners have been drafted in the top three. Banchero will be playing for a horrible Orlando Magic team — where he will be getting a ton of usage. He is the most NBA-ready rookie and should lead the Magic in scoring and assists.
It’s time for Embiid to stop being the bridesmaid. After two straight years finishing second on the MVP voting, this is his season! The Philadelphia 76ers are built to win the East, and James Harden has accepted the role as facilitator. The 76ers offense will set up Embiid for a tremendous season.
Moody: Ben Simmons for Defensive Player of the Year (+3000). The way Simmons looks, how many games he’ll play and where he’ll be mentally and physically remain to be seen after a year and a half off. He’s surrounded by two elite offensive players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The Nets could benefit immediately from Simmons’ defensive skills. It’s worth recalling that Simmons averaged just 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 0.1 3-pointers during the 2020-21 campaign. As a three-time All-Star and third-team All-NBA selection, he has earned recognition from the NBA. A steals champion in 2020, Simmons was already named to two NBA All-Defensive first teams. This is a bet I am willing to make at these odds. There’s nothing better than a great redemption story, and Simmons can write one this year.
Is there anything else you want to bet ahead of the season?
Kezirian: I bet Embiid +700 for MVP and Sixers over 51.5 wins. Philly has demonstrated it can succeed in the regular season, and so has Doc Rivers over the years. Everything fits well together, and they should be an absolute force. Embiid has finished runner-up to the MVP in consecutive seasons, and I think he breaks through. I doubt his odds will be longer than +700, so that’s why I bet it now.