Updated NBA Championship Odds: Revisiting Boston and Utah
Another week of NBA action is in the books and our model’s favorite teams keep winning -- the Raptors have extended their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference with a five-game win streak. The Bucks and Pacers keep winning and are right behind Toronto in second and third place, respectively. After a slow start, the Celtics have climbed all the way to fifth in the East, and second in our model, only behind Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the Jazz, who were an early-season favorite have fought their way to the eighth seed, where they’re tied with the Lakers. Donovan Mitchell had three 30-point games last week en route to being named the Western Conference Player of the Week. Utah is our tenth ranked team and project to earn the seventh seed in the West with 44.8 wins.
While our model suggested that bettors should fade the Celtics and back the Jazz before the season started, the landscape in the NBA is always changing. It’s time to take a second look. As always, odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
numberFire Title Probability: 10.5%
FanDuel Odds: +900
Defense has never been a problem for Boston, as they rank fifth in defensive efficiency behind some of the best defenders in the league like Marcus Smart and Al Horford. Both Smart and Horford rank among the top 25 players in defensive real plus-minus (RPM) in the league. Boston has been particularly good at defending long range shot attempts -- they’ve limited opponents to shooting 33.2% from beyond the arc, which is second in the league, according to NBA.com.
The Celtics’ problem earlier in the season was their one-dimensional offense that hinged on the success of Kyrie Irving. Now they’re up to ninth in offensive efficiency due to a massive improvement in shooting. In late November, they ranked 22nd in effective field goal percentage (eFG%), but now they’re up to 10th. Marcus Morris leads Boston’s rotation (players with at least 20 minutes played per game) with an eFG% of 60.8% and has provided the Celtics with another scoring option. Both Morris and Horford average at least four catch-and-shoot attempts per game and have given Irving solid options to pass to when he’s drawing opponents’ attention.
Boston is still among the favorites to win the
championship -- their current odds are only behind Golden State and Toronto. Our
model gives them a slightly higher probability at winning it all that the odds
would imply, so bettors should keep their eye on the Celtics throughout the
numberFire Title Probability: 3.2%
FanDuel Odds: +6000
Utah has remained in the mix in the West behind their fourth-ranked defense, led by Rudy Gobert, who has the second-best defensive RPM in the league, trailing only DeAndre Jordan. The Jazz do everything on defense well, but they haven’t been as potent as in years prior. Utah has allowed opponents a slightly higher eFG% this season (50.6% in 2018, but 51.1% in 2019) and thus have had a slightly higher defensive rating (103.9 in 2018, but 105.5 in 2019) per Basketball Reference.
Even though the Jazz have been worse on defense this season, bettors can expect that Utah will regress positively. Based on scoring differential, they have three more expected wins than actual wins. But things are looking up -- Mitchell has started to play more like he did last year as a rookie sensation, based on last week’s numbers. If Utah can continue to improve and reach their defensive height from a season ago, they should be right in the middle of the Western Conference race.
The Jazz have fallen out of favor among the favorites according to the odds, but our model projects their probability to be higher than their odds would imply. Utah have some of the best long shot value in the NBA right now, especially since they’re on the edge of the playoff picture but projected to improve.