Updated NBA Championship Odds: The Rise of Milwaukee

The Bucks have surged to number one in our NBA power rankings, but is that enough to warrant a bet on Milwaukee to win the title?

LeBron James poured in 51 points against the Heat last Sunday, leading the Lakers to their fifth win in six games. That one loss came at the hands of the Magic, as part of a three-game winning streak that has vaulted Orlando into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Meanwhile, the hottest team in the league has been the Clippers, who’ve beaten both the Warriors and Bucks in the last week, for a four-game winning streak of their own.

Although there have been some surprises throughout the month of the season, the championship odds have stayed relatively stagnant. The odds for the Warriors and Celtics haven’t budged, while the biggest move odds-wise for contenders at the beginning of the year has been the Toronto Raptors, whose odds have been cut in half (from 18-1 to 9-1) after a hot start. Here are the updated odds for the realistic contenders -- teams that are within 50-1 odds -- per the FanDuel Sportsbook (negative differences imply value).

TeamTitle OddsImplied ProbabilitynumberFire ProbabilityDifference
Golden State Warriors-16062.5%34.2%28.3%
Boston Celtics+50016.7%9.2%7.5%
Houston Rockets+90010.0%5.3%4.7%
Toronto Raptors+90010.0%13.0%-3.0%
Philadelphia 76ers+14006.7%5.7%1.0%
Milwaukee Bucks+20004.8%6.4%-1.6%
Los Angeles Lakers+23004.2%3.6%0.6%
Utah Jazz+33003.0%1.4%1.6%
Oklahoma City Thunder+50002.0%4.6%-2.6

Only one team has completely changed their title odds in one month’s time, and they’ve done it with success on both ends of the floor. The Milwaukee Bucks are second in offensive rating, just behind Golden State, while ranking fifth in defensive rating. Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, their core has stayed mostly the same from last season. However, a major coaching change that put former Gregg Popovich assistant and Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer at the helm has spurred (no pun intended) this breakthrough season for Milwaukee. The Bucks’ odds have decreased from 100-1 at the beginning of the season to current odds of 20-1.

The Bucks’ method of success is quite simple: shoot the ball extremely efficiently on offense and force opponents to shoot away from the basket and rebound on defense. They rank first in the NBA in effective field goal percentage (eFG%), much of which can mostly be attributed to two players.

Khris Middleton has scorched opponents from behind the three-point line, and although he’d set a career-high by far if he kept up his current pace (suggesting negative regression is due), part of his improvement has come with Budenholzer’s pace-and-space style offense.

Middleton averages 3.4 open three-point attempts per game (defined by as having a defender within 4-6 feet) as opposed to 2.0 per game last season. The Bucks’ offensive spacing has also opened opportunities for Brook Lopez, who averages 4.5 wide open (defender 6+ feet away) three-point attempts per game. Lopez, who was acquired over the offseason, has replaced minutes that were mostly allocated to John Henson and Tyler Zeller last season, and has been a much better shooter with an eFG% of 62.5%.

While Giannis hasn’t quite lived up to the astronomical expectations this season with a real plus/minus (RPM) that ranks 23rd in the league, he’s cleaned the glass like few in the league with a 29.7% defensive rebound rate, per Basketball Reference. He’s been Milwaukee’s best defender due to his freakish length and can shut down opponents’ best perimeter scorers.

The Bucks are also first in free throws per field goal attempts allowed, mainly because they force opponents to shoot from long distance.

Milwaukee allows 37.1 3-point attempts per game (most in the NBA) as opposed to 27.8 two-point attempts per game (3rd-fewest in the NBA). The Bucks’ length has made it extremely difficult for opponents to get open looks within the three-point line. On a more granular level, Milwaukee allows the fewest shots within five feet, but the most shots from the range of 10-14 feet, 15-19 feet, and 25-29 feet, according to Overall, the Bucks' strategy to limit opponents into mid-range shots and three-pointers without second chances has been a success.

Milwaukee has skyrocketed to the top spot in our model’s power rankings, and while we project their likelihood to win the title to only be 6.4%, the Bucks are solid value at current odds of 20-1. Budenholzer’s Bucks have shown they’re a completely new team and with Giannis on the floor, the sky is the limit for this team in a manageable Eastern Conference.