Handicapping the NBA: Analyzing the Best (and Worst) Futures Bets
Handicapping the NBA: Analyzing the Best (and Worst) Futures Bets

This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.

Fanduel has opened a sportsbook, which means you can now place NBA bets from your phone (if you are in New Jersey). Even if you're outside of those 8,723 square miles, getting used to looking at and discussing lines is important, as your state will almost inevitably implement sports betting in the near future.

Let's take a look at some bets to consider and some to avoid, including some worthwhile longshots.

Sixth Man of the Year

Consider: Tyreke Evans (+650)
Evans has an recent injury history that shouldn't be ignored. He played 25 games in 2015-16, 40 games the year after and 52 games last season. However, the legitimacy of Evans' late-season injury in 2017-18 can be questioned considering the Grizzlies' clear effort to tank (Memphis lost to Charlotte – the Charlotte Hornets – 140-79 in late March). Prior to 2015-16, Evans was relatively healthy, missing just 68 of 476 possible appearances (14.2 percent).

Injury talk aside, anyone who plays fantasy basketball knows the impact Evans had last season. He was the primary ballhandler for the Grizzlies following Mike Conley's Achilles injury, and Evans averaged 19.4 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 30.9 minutes. While his numbers won't trend that high this season considering the presence of Victor Oladipo, the narrative surrounding both Evans and the Pacers gives him a strong chance to win Sixth Man of the Year.

Indiana was a surprise 5th seed in the Eastern Conference last season and will be looking to secure home court advantage this time around. Evans was undoubtedly the Pacers' biggest offseason acquisition, meaning the argument can be made that any significant improvement in record could be attributed to his presence. Evans is also on a one-year deal, so he'll be motivated to play at a high level to earn another, longer-term contract.

Avoid: Lou Williams (+300)
Williams is an understandable favorite for this award. He's won it twice, after all, including last season. However, last season was anomalous. Due to an unprecedented amount of injuries, only two players on the Clippers' roster started more than 40 games (DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers). Williams was one of the only consistently healthy and talented players on the team, and the offense ran entirely through him for a majority of the season, as a result. There were people clamoring for Williams to make the All-Star team. This year, the Clippers have no shortage of backcourt talent – Patrick Beverley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Milos Teodosic – so as long as they stay even marginally healthier, Williams will slip back into a smaller role. He'll also be competing against his own "All-Star" numbers from 2017-18, which give him an inherent disadvantage. And for what it's worth, no one has won back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year awards since Detlef Schrempf in the early 90s.

Worthwhile longshot: Julius Randle (+2200)
This one is risky mainly because Randle is disqualified if he starts more than half of the games he plays – and he's a strong candidate to do just that. But maybe coach Alvin Gentry will choose to start E'Twaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic next to Anthony Davis for extra floor spacing. That's entirely possible, and it only needs to happen 41 times. Randle coming off the pine in a high-energy reserve role and still seeing close to 30 minutes per night is feasible. When seeing between 20 and 29 minutes last season, Randle averaged 14.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 53.9 percent from the field. Those numbers are good enough to secure the award if the Pelicans are successful as a team. Randle's odds would be significantly more favorable if he were locked into a reserve role.

Most Valuable Player

Consider: Giannis Antetokounmpo (+410)
Anthony Davis and LeBron James are also +410, and I can't say that I'd place it any differently if I was in charge. As a bettor, however, I have my concerns about the Lakers or Pelicans seeding higher than the Bucks. There's no question each player will have MVP-worthy numbers, so I believe the overall record will be the deciding factor.

Keeping in mind how shallow the Eastern Conference is, Milwaukee seems more likely to secure home court advantage for the playoffs than New Orleans or Los Angeles, which could both legitimately miss the playoffs altogether. It's unlikely, but it's possible. I have little doubt about Antetokounmpo's numbers stacking up against Davis' or LeBron's. A faster-paced, better-spaced Bucks offense under coach Mike Budenholzer should allow Giannis to use his physical advantages in transition and near the rim more often, plus provide more assist opportunities to players on the wing.

James has won the award four times, and while he hasn't won it since 2013, we've seen residual voter fatigue impact the race in recent years. From that perspective, Davis and Antetokounmpo are in the same boat, and a combination of health and team success would ultimately break a tie if both players produce at peak levels, as has become the expectation. While Davis' injury concerns have waned a bit in recent years, Antetokounmpo gets the nod in both of those areas.

Avoid: Kevin Durant (+1200) and Stephen Curry (+1500)
Unless the Bucks and Pelicans woefully underperform, the only way either Durant or Curry win the MVP is if one of them gets hurt and the other steps up in a massive way. If they're both healthy, they will absorb each others' votes. If you're betting KD or Steph for MVP, you may as well slap some money down on them to win the scoring title as well (Durant +2300, Curry +2300) because it's going to be tough for one of them to win MVP if they don't average 30 points per game.

Worthwhile longshot: Joel Embiid (+2200)
This has shades of the Warriors' situation, as Ben Simmons may eat some of Embiid's votes and vice versa. That said, Embiid is a much tougher matchup than Simmons for opposing teams and should be able to feast on a more consistent basis. This summer also marked the first time in Embiid's NBA career that he's been healthy in the offseason, giving him the ability to truly work on his game for the first time. Really consider that he averaged 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks in his second NBA season while never having a dedicated summer to work on his game. He also finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Rudy Gobert and overAnthony Davis. People love Joel Embiid. He's the present and future of the 76ers' franchise. At +2200, I do not care about the injury risk. Embiid was going to play 71 games before Markelle Fultz ran into him and broke his face. All things considered, should Embiid's odds really be worse than KD or Steph's? I'm not saying he'll win it, but there's some value here.

Other Bets to Consider

Scoring Title: Russell Westbrook (+1600)
Westbrook has led the league in scoring twice over the past four years. The Thunder are barren offensively when it comes to dynamic scorers outside of Westbrook and Paul George. I know there are injury concerns surrounding Westbrook's knee, but the line feels like good value when considering James Harden (+195), Anthony Davis (+240), Giannis (+600) and LeBron (+950) are all in the same scoring tier as Westbrook and offer far less reward.

East All-Star Selection: Hassan Whiteside (+1000)
The final spots on the Eastern Conference All-Star team are essentially reserved for players who can be summed up as "that guy is pretty solid" or "I suppose he does deserve some national recognition." Adam Silver had to turn the actual game into a fantasy draft. That's how bad it is. Enter Hassan Whiteside, who is pretty solid and may deserve some national recognition this season.

This line is what is is because Erik Spoelstra and Whiteside weren't on the same page last season, causing a statistical regression as the league continues to chew up and spit out "traditional" big men. Still, Whiteside is two years removed from averaging 17.0 PPG, a league-high 14.1 RPG and 2.1 BPG while shooting 55.7 percent from the field.

I would be surprised if he gets back to that level, but can we bank on Blake Griffin (-370) and Kevin Love (-320) staying healthy and the fans voting in Al Horford (-140) when he averages 10 PPG this year? Whiteside's mission statement to shoot threes this year might actually help him a bit here. Fans lose their minds when big men launch from deep. Watch any NBA game where a 7-footer takes a three and the whole crowd is ready to explode. With that said, fan votes only count for the starters in each conference, while the reserves are picked by coaches. Whiteside hasn't exactly been a coach's dream, but at +1000, he's worth some consideration.

MVP: Kawhi Leonard (+900)
Leonard placed top-four in MVP voting in 2015-16 and 2016-17 before last season's mysterious injury situation. Until we see otherwise, Leonard has to be considered a top-five player when healthy. He's in the final year of his deal in Toronto and will be playing for a max extension, while the Raptors will be feeding him the ball in an effort to convince him to stay. It's a perfect situation for him to thrive. One potential issue is that the Raptors were already the No. 1 seed and won 59 games last season. It's tough to win an MVP if your team technically declines from one year to the next, but given the unique circumstances in Toronto, voters would likely be willing to look past it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Barutha
Alex is RotoWire's NBA Assistant Editor. He writes articles about daily fantasy, year-long fantasy and sports betting. You can hear him on the RotoWire NBA Podcast, Sirius XM, DraftKings Live and other platforms. Vince Carter and Alex both first dunked during their respective sophomore years of high school.
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