Updated NBA Division Odds: Betting the Central and Pacific
Perhaps the Spurs had extra motivation with Kawhi Leonard’s return to San Antonio last week, but they showed with their win over the Raptors that they’re still in the contender mix. San Antonio has won 8 of their last 10 to rise to the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings.
Meanwhile, Toronto has kept up their winning ways despite the loss to the Spurs and an injury to Kyle Lowry. They’re first in the East with unexpected contributions from supporting players such as Danny Green and Pascal Siakam, and are currently ahead of our model’s top-ranked team, the Milwaukee Bucks, by one game.
Our model has already suggested that multiple division futures bets have betting value. Near the end of October, the Raptors were +100 favorites to win the Atlantic, and our model’s projections suggested that they’d return value. Now, they’re -250 favorites to win their division, and along with the Hornets, whose odds moved from +440 to +165, they’ve outperformed the sportsbooks’ expectations from the beginning of the season.
Denver has played well since our model suggested that the Nuggets were the best option to win their division in early November, too. They’re currently in first place in the Western Conference, although the Warriors are hot on their trail.
The two divisions with the heaviest favorites, though, are the Central Division (Milwaukee) and the Pacific Division (Golden State). It can be difficult to make money by laying juice on big favorites, especially in the futures market, and even more especially with the Warriors, but let’s see what our model has to say about these divisions' odds, courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been one of the NBA’s best players this year, even with a slower start than expected start out of the gate. Milwaukee has surrounded him with an excellent supporting cast that includes one of the best 10 point guards by real plus-minus (RPM) this season in Eric Bledsoe.
While Milwaukee is the clear favorite in the division according to our power rankings and projected win total, Indiana is worth a look at their current odds. We’ve already discussed why the Pacers as a solid long-shot bet to win the title, but they’re only competing with one other team for the division at this point in the season.
Indiana’s defense is elite -- they’re second in defensive efficiency and first in points allowed per game. The Pacers have also been one of the best teams in the league in hustle stats, according to NBA.com, ranking seventh in both deflections and loose balls recovered on defense. Thaddeus Young has been a great defensive player in the power forward spot this season; he’s averaging 3.2 deflections per game and is amongst the top 40 defenders per RPM.
Myles Turner has been the best defensive player for the Pacers, though. He’s managed to protect the rim brilliantly, helping the Pacers hold opponents to 58.8% shooting within five feet (fourth in the NBA) and 30.5% from five to nine feet (first). Our model projects them to win 51.7 games, about three games behind the Bucks. As long as they stay healthy, there’s solid value on Indiana to win the Central.
Pick: Indiana Pacers +270
Golden State is a massive favorite at their current odds, and even with the low variability amongst the top teams in the NBA, they’re no sure thing. Both Los Angeles squads are within five games of the defending champions, and somehow the Kings have managed a near-.500 record to stay within seven games.
|Golden State Warriors||-3000||51.2|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+1300||43.6|
|Los Angeles Clippers||+1800||45.4|
For a bettor to get the best odds in the futures market, he or she will need to look for under-the-radar teams with the tools to contend. The team that fits the bill in the Pacific Division is the Clippers, who don’t have one clear superstar on their roster. They have five players who score in double digits, including sixth man of the year candidate Lou Williams, who ranks second behind only Devin Booker in offensive RPM amongst shooting guards.
The Clippers aren’t an elite offensive team (they rank eighth in offensive efficiency), but they drive to the rim well and draw fouls, as they’ve shot the most free throws of any team this year. Los Angeles averages 47.4 drives per game, led by Williams with 11.7 per game on his own. Alongside Williams, both Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell shoot more than five free throws per game.
Los Angeles isn’t the most talented team, and they don’t really have another player that can consistently create his own shot outside of Williams. However, they make up for that by getting to the line and with great shooting from Gallinari and Tobias Harris behind the arc. There’s no value in betting on the Warriors, but at current odds, the Clippers are worth a flyer since they’re projected to finish within six games of Golden State.
Pick: Los Angeles Clippers +1800