NBA

Updated NBA Championship Odds: Long Odds with the Pacers

Indiana has 100-1 odds to win the NBA title, but should bettors give them a second look?

For an NBA fan, the best Christmas present is an exciting slate of basketball games, and for the most part, that’s what fans received yesterday. Kyrie Irving put up a 40-point game to lead the Celtics to a thrilling overtime win against the Sixers, and LeBron and the Lakers beat up on the seemingly complacent Warriors.

However, there was one team that didn’t play on Christmas day that bettors should keep an eye on through the remainder of the season. The Indiana Pacers have long odds to win the NBA title at 100-1, but they’re the fifth-ranked team in our model . We’ve discussed most of the conventional favorites in this space so far this year, but the Pacers don’t fit that mold. They’re a strong playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but most fans don’t expect them to make a sustained run in the postseason.

Here are the current odds from the FanDuel Sportsbook to win the championship for teams with odds longer than 50-1 yet shorter than 200-1. This range represents the sweet spot for underdog value, and as one can see from the difference between the implied probabilities and our model's probabilities (negative differences represent betting value), Indiana is by far the best bet amongst these teams.

TeamOddsImplied ProbabilitynumberFire ProbabilityDifference
Utah Jazz+75001.32%1.50%-0.18%
New Orleans Pelicans+90001.10%0.50%0.60%
Indiana Pacers+100000.99%7.30%-6.31%
Memphis Grizzlies+100000.99%0.30%0.69%
Portland Trail Blazers+100000.99%0.70%0.29%
San Antonio Spurs+100000.99%3.90%-2.91%
Dallas Mavericks+150000.66%0.40%0.26%
Minnesota Timberwolves+150000.66%0.30%0.36%
Los Angeles Clippers+180000.55%0.80%-0.25%


The Pacers are the best defensive team in the NBA per their defensive efficiency rating of 102.3, and they do just about everything on that end of the floor at a high level. Victor Oladipo is their best offensive player, but he was also named to the all-defensive first team last season. Cory Joseph has the best defensive real plus-minus (RPM) amongst point guards behind Marcus Smart. In addition, Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young rank amongst the top 25 players in the league in defensive RPM.

Indiana’s stacked defensive lineup translates to a team that contests shots, forces turnovers, and grabs rebounds. According to NBA.com, the Pacers defend shots within the paint (but outside the restricted area) and from mid-range better than any other team. Indiana is also third in the league in steals per game and fourth in loose balls recovered on defense.

The one area that the Pacers will need to improve upon to turn their long-odds value into reality is on offense. Although Indiana is an efficient shooting team, led by Domantas Sabonis and Bojan Bogdanovic -- who have effective field goal percentages (eFG%) of 63.7% and 60.9%, respectively (per Basketball Reference) -- they’ve struggled with turnovers. There isn’t one player in particular that is the main culprit, it’s just that as a team, they rank 25th in turnover percentage on offense.

The Pacers’ offense can be stagnant at times because they don’t drive the ball much -- they’re in the bottom three teams in drives per game along with the Sixers and Warriors. The difference between the Pacers and their company at the bottom of the list is that both Philadelphia and Golden State shoot and make threes, while the Pacers make more three-pointers than only the lowly Cavaliers.

However, Indiana still has a go-to scorer in Oladipo, whose usage rate takes a leap from 28.5% to 41.0% in clutch situations. Behind Oladipo and their elite defense, the Pacers are a team our model likes to challenge for the Eastern Conference. Their worst matchup on the way to the Finals will likely be Boston because they limit turnovers on offense and make threes, but with some luck, the Pacers can avoid the Celtics and make a run.

Obviously, our model favors the Pacers over any team in the underdog sweet spot, but the Pacers aren’t a traditional contender. Their deep rotation is like a Swiss Army knife of basketball skill sets, and their defensive prowess will make them a consistently tough out for any team in the league. Bettors should monitor the Pacers throughout the season for betting value and even take a flyer on them to win the title.