2018 NBA Draft: Evaluating Betting Odds for Which Player Will Go First Overall
The NBA Playoffs are all the rage right now. Between LeBron James and the Cavaliers trying to overcome the young, determined Celtics and the Rockets coming for the Warriors' Western Conference crown, there isn't much room for more NBA storylines.
But the NBA Draft Lottery will be held Tuesday night to determine the order of the first 14 picks of this June's draft. So we're going to have to make room.
Beyond the order itself, the lottery can decide so many things: if a team will pick in the top-3 or top-5 or if a pick will be conveyed via a previous trade, but chief among them is the landing spot for potential picks. And the top overall pick is, as always, the most polarizing of them all.
There are a number of candidates headlining the top of this year's draft class, but sportsbook BetDSI has these six players pegged as the best bets to become the latest top overall pick.
|Jaren Jackson, Jr.||+500|
|Marvin Bagley III||+650|
|Michael Porter Jr.||+1000|
Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton tops the list at +150, an implied probability of 40.0%. He's followed closely by 19-year-old European phenom Luka Doncic, who carries an implied probability of 33.33%.
In the middle of the group, both Michigan State's Jaren Jackson and the field (the rest of all available players) share an implied probability of 16.67%, with Duke product Marvin Bagley III at 13.33%. Vegas has Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. (9.09% implied probability) and Texas' Mohamed Bamba (6.25%) with outside shots at being the first name called on draft night.
But should Ayton really be the favorite? Even if you think he is the most likely player to go first overall, which other players carry the most betting value? And is the field even worth a second look?
Ayton and Doncic
Other than their age (19), these two top prospects don't have much in common.
Ayton hails from Nassau, Bahamas and the University of Arizona, where he played just one year under coach Sean Miller. At 7'1" and 250 pounds, he profiles primarily as a power player at the next level, though he has shown the ability to step out and hit from the perimeter (34.3% from three in 2017-18). And that ability has proven very important over the last few years.
Using Basketball Reference's Draft Finder tool, we can see that, since 2010, of the six center-eligible players drafted in the top-three picks, three have shot better than 30% from beyond the arc at the next level. One -- Joel Embiid -- went third overall while both Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns went first in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Oddly enough, Ayton has compared himself to Davis while Towns' skillset has proven to be a fair comp in NBA circles.
While Ayton will slot into the center position wherever he lands, Doncic -- 6'6", 228 pounds -- is expected to play more of a point-forward hybrid role in the NBA. After all, the young Slovenian has been known to show off his ball-handling and play-making skills in his time with the EuroLeague's Real Madrid.
By historical standards, Doncic isn't a likely top pick as no Slovenian-born player has ever been selected first overall, let alone within the top-10. Goran Dragic was the last Slovenian drafted, when he went with the 45th pick in 2008. Expanding the international narrative further, the last time a player not born in either Australia, Canada or the United States went first overall was in 2006, when Andrea Bargnani (out of Italy) was selected by the Toronto Raptors.
History is history, but this could certainly speak to the bust rate of European players and teams' general unwillingness to gamble on the upside of a guy like Dragan Bender (fourth in 2016), the last Euro-phenom to go in the top-five.
Jackson and Bagley
It's fitting that Jackson and Bagley are coupled together in the midrange. Both players are versatile bigs, one-and-dones and guys who played their college ball under long-time powerhouse coaches in Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski.
The two are almost identical builds, but most sites covering the draft -- including ESPN and Tankathon -- have Jackson (6'10", 225) as the third-best prospect and Bagley (6'11", 220) sitting outside the top-three. By experience and college production, it doesn't make much sense as Bagley played 350 more minutes and averaged better numbers across the board. However, Jackson has the advantage in two key areas: age and versatility.
At 19, Bagley went 23-of-58 from the three-point line in his one year at Duke while the 18-year-old Jackson finished his lone college season 38 for 96 from deep. Six months younger and more equipped for today's pace-and-space league, it's no wonder Jackson comes in third.
What's scary about Jackson at his odds is the playing time. Going back to 2000, not a single number-one pick has averaged fewer than 27 minutes a game in college, whereas Jackson averaged just 21.8 (albeit over 35 games). There's an element of the unknown, and that's uncommon for a guy after a full freshman campaign.
Porter and Bamba
There are more question marks here, and it's likely for that reason that the odds drop like they do. For Bamba, he is a different kind of unicorn and more unproven than Ayton, Jackson or Bagley. He's also 20 years old and, in spite of a ridiculous 7'9" wingspan, is more unpolished than the younger commodities before him.
Compared to Jackson, Bamba averaged just 2.0 more points per game in 30.2 minutes. And while many speak of his outside shooting stroke, he managed to shoot just 27.5% on his 51 attempts from long range. Of the other lengthy Texas players and top-15 selections in recent years -- Myles Turner (2015), Tristan Thompson (2011), Kevin Durant (2007) and LaMarcus Aldridge (2006) -- only Durant had more threes, and if anyone profiles as closely to Bamba, it's Turner, who shot an eerily similar 27.4% on 62 attempts before going 11th overall three years back.
The chances of being the first name called don't look great for Bamba, but the odds on Porter Jr. come with a lot more upside in the return. With the NBA as driven as ever by guard-type skills -- especially for those with length a la Giannis Antetokounmpo -- Porter has the look of a superstar talent. He's 6'10", 215 pounds but has been brought up as more of a small forward -- possible point forward -- given his size and skillset. The 20-year-old was once the most coveted recruit in the country before living out a shortened collegiate career at Missouri because of a back issue.
Porter returned to play just 53 minutes over three games before he ultimately announced his departure for the NBA ranks. He didn't do much to excite on the court, but his presence has to be encouraging to NBA scouts. But, either way, it shouldn't matter all that much.
Dating back to 2011, when Kyrie Irving went first to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there have been a few top picks to play limited games (30 or fewer) in college, including more notable names like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Irving, Embiid and Simmons seem to have panned out, so there's a chance that Porter's youth and talent could win out in the end.
With the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks having rather young players at Porter's presumed position (small forward), the Memphis Grizzlies could be the best option -- 19.9% odds at the first pick -- for Porter to somehow climb all the way to the top spot. See how the ping-pong balls fall and try to take advantage of the injury flag here.
If you were looking for little guys or pure point guards, you'll have to venture into the field to make a pick like that.
Oklahoma's Trae Young is the most intriguing candidate among the others. In his freshman season, Young bombed from three (10.3 attempts per game), scored in bunches (27.4 points per night) and displayed elite passing skills, dishing out an NCAA-leading 8.7 assists a game. He's quite undersized at 6'2", 180, but many liken him to Stephen Curry, and we know how that one worked out.
Among the other players around the top of most mock drafts are: Duke center Wendell Carter, Villanova guard Mikal Bridges and Alabama guard Collin Sexton. Carter is the only one who seems like a shoo-in for the top-8 selections, and Bridges -- 21 years old -- doesn't fit the mold of today's youthful top picks (average age of 19, with none older than 20 years and 110 days).
The field isn't looking too hot as this is a top-heavy draft. If anyone is going to somehow steal the top spot, it would probably be Young. However, if you have to pick between Jaren Jackson and the field at the same return, you should be going with Jackson every time.
Following recent history, though, Porter is the value bet to exploit behind the clearcut top-two in Ayton and Doncic.