NBA Draft: Evaluating the Top Picks and Draft Position Props to Find Betting Value
The NBA Draft is entirely different than the NFL one.
Oftentimes in basketball, the very top prospects have been identified for a draft entering their one year of college, overseas, or in the NBA's G-League. Everyone knew LeBron James would end up phenomenal as an NBA player in high school, and one year at Ohio State wouldn't have changed that.
As a result, there's not really a ton of drama with most NBA Drafts. Instead of a wide net of players that could go at a multitude of positions of need, the top teams in the lottery are often choosing between a very small contingent of top prospects, and talent gaps between picks can be enormous.
FanDuel Sportsbook currently has NBA Draft odds listed for the player at each of the top-five picks, and they also have over-under listings for a few of the more ambiguously-ranked prospects later in the lottery.
In this piece, I'll give you my five-pick mock draft to help choose bets inside those top-five spots, and we'll highlight a few interesting players further down the board.
1st Pick: Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic (+230)
Buying in after the odds move isn't always the wrong call.
You can even look at the 2022 NFL Draft as an example. Travon Walker was +175 on April 18th to go as the top pick, and he ballooned to -300 before eventually becoming that top pick. Odds are rapidly shifting because the information is being updated.
Paolo Banchero was +1600 to be the top pick on Sunday. He's now +230. I'd get on this train before it's at minus-money odds by Thursday.
It makes all the sense in the world for the Magic to go with Banchero. They already have two former top prospects to man the middle in Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter, and they have Chuma Okeke and Jonathan Isaac as two interesting options for a stretch-four spot.
Jabari Smith would be a clunky fit next to Bamba or Carter, and Chet Holmgren directly overlaps them as a project that's a huge roll of the dice for a franchise that continually is unable to develop its top prospects.
Banchero is the top prospect on Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer's big board. He's a 6'10" wing that can score from that spot, or he can even man the five in a small-ball lineup.
He averaged 17.2 points at Duke on an efficient 47.8% from the field, and he resembles a hybrid of Julius Randle and Jayson Tatum that can score at all levels at the next level with some level of efficiency.
2nd Pick: Jabari Smith, Oklahoma City Thunder (+130)
The Oklahoma City Thunder would sprint to the podium in this spot.
Just like Banchero fits Orlando's roster construction better, Smith would be an organic fit as the stretch five in OKC.
Personally, Smith is the top prospect in the draft. O'Connor has him listed second. He's got the length to shoot over defenders like a Kevin Durant or Michael Porter Jr., but he's not quite the ballhandler. Perhaps, I think his best composition might be how Anthony Davis views himself as an offensive player despite being an inefficient outside shooter (18.6% from three in 2021-22).
The Auburn product shot 43.6% from outside last season. He'll be able to contribute there in the NBA right away. Though perhaps not on A.D.'s level, scouts believe his defensive upside gives him three-and-D upside at a frontcourt spot at the very worst.
If you fall behind on Banchero's odds movement, this might still be a way to access it that won't move. I can't see OKC locking in Chet Holmgren if both he and Smith fell to the second pick -- especially since they're already developing the skinny, long Aleksej Pokusevski to contribute off the bench as is.
3rd Pick: Chet Holmgren, Houston Rockets (+500)
It's possible the Rockets caught wind of the Banchero movement before oddsmakers did.
They shipped versatile center Christian Wood to Dallas, leaving a glaring hole in the middle. Youngster Alperen Sengun filled in admirably as a fantasy sparkplug (1.12 FanDuel points per minute), but his defense ultimately has a ceiling. If both Sengun and Holmgren hit their apex, this could be a dynamic frontcourt.
Transparently, I'm not a huge Holmgren guy. His 195-pound frame is an undraftable red flag to me reminiscent of Nerlens Noel in 2013. Noel weighed just 206 pounds and ultimately was never the top-shelf defender he was billed to be. They had protein shakes and weight rooms at Gonzaga, so call me skeptical to expect a Giannis Antetokounmpo-like transformation in the NBA at a pick this high.
Holmgren, though, still has great defensive skills for his weight. That's what is so enticing. He averaged 3.6 blocks per game last season, and his ballhandling and shooting ability are both above-average for his frame.
At his floor, he could be pushed out of the league lacking the physicality to stay on the floor in key situations. At his apex, he'll have a Giannis-like impact handling the ball, blocking shots, and scoring from different spots on the floor.
The Rockets will almost certainly take whichever top-three player is left here; all others are given no better than a 5.6% implied chance.
4th Pick: Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings (+170)
The Kings' reputation has spoiled their chances of the clear fourth-best player in the draft.
That's Jaden Ivey, who reportedly ghosted Sacramento during the pre-draft process. Now, would it be on par for this franchise to draft someone who has hinted he doesn't want to be there? Absolutely. However, other reports outline the Kings' larger plan.
They're reportedly high on Keegan Murray of Iowa. In that report, Murray dined with De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis -- the two key stars of the franchise. It makes sense the pair would like to add a wing scorer like Murray. He averaged 23.5 points per game (fourth in NCAA men's basketball) on 55.4% shooting and led the Hawkeyes to a Big 10 title in one of the country's toughest conferences.
Plus, Sacramento is rumored to be interested in John Collins from Atlanta. At this point, Collins couldn't possibly command a top-five pick coming off a down year of just 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He would also fit organically next to Murray at the four.
This might be the first bet I don't place because this organization is a loose cannon, but there's still plus-money on the prospect getting the most love from the Kings in this spot.
5th Pick: Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons (+210)
The odds here aren't a representation of Ivey's fit with the Pistons. It's a high chance he'd be gone if Sacramento knew how to maximize the value of that pick.
Jaden Ivey would be a dynamite fit next to Cade Cunningham in the Detroit backcourt. Cade was a perimeter scorer at Oklahoma State that still averaged 17.4 points per game in his rookie season despite an off year from deep (31.4%) that was mired by injuries.
Ivey is much more of a multi-level scorer. He averaged 17.6 points but just 3.2 assists per game at Purdue despite being the lead guard, which profiles as more of a Donovan Mitchell type of NBA profile.
Cunningham and Ivey would both give Detroit plenty of roster flexibility moving forward. Either would be comfortable next to two other guards, and Cunningham's size allows him to hang in there defensively against forwards.
The one threat to bouncing Ivey out of the top-five, personally, could be Shaedon Sharpe (+750), but Sharpe didn't play college basketball last season, so that's a massive risk for a top-five selection with such a translatable athlete in Ivey also available.
Draft Position Props to Target
Bennedict Mathurin Over 6.5 (+124)
There's really just one bullet to dodge here assuming the Kings are indeed enamored with Keegan Murray -- the Indiana Pacers.
It's a sizable bullet because Tyrese Haliburton fits so organically well with everyone, including Bennedict Mathurin. Mathurin's higher-volume, less-efficient sophomore season at Arizona still resulted in 36.8% from deep, so he'll be a sharpshooter in the NBA.
However, these odds imply a 44.6% chance Mathurin is the pick at six. The top-five spots are pretty set in stone, and the unknown of a Sharpe or A.J. Griffin emerging as a super sleeper only helps the odds Mathurin slides.
The Indianapolis Star aggregated mock drafts to evaluate the Pacers' potential pick. Only two of the eight mocks went with Mathurin. That's enough for me to take plus money here.
Jalen Duren Over 10.5 (-114)
Given the depth of talent this lottery has, I have a hard time believing Jalen Duren will be a top-10 pick.
Duren didn't take a three-point attempt in his one season at Memphis. That's a crucial spacing skill that saw even an elite defender like Robert Williams benched in key situations for the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics.
"Time Lord" isn't a bad comparison for Duren, but The Ringer's O'Connor states Duren struggles with off-ball defensive awareness. You know, the thing that makes Williams elite as a shot-blocker.
There are so many two-way wings like Griffin, Ousmane Dieng, and Jeremy Sochan in this prospect range. There are also three-point specialists like Johnny Davis, Ochai Agbaji, and Malaki Branham. That's much more the direction of the NBA than the seven-foot putback savant Duren and his developing basketball IQ.
That list doesn't even include a slightly better shooter in this same package, Duke's Mark Williams. The myriad of alternatives makes it feel like the old-school big slides later into the lotto.