This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
With the NBA regular season just around the corner, it's time for the RotoWire NBA Podcast crew to hand out their official picks for a number of 2020-21 futures.
Nick Whalen, James Anderson and Alex Barutha make their preseason predictions, and name a few best bets, for each of the stat-category-leader futures available on the DraftKings Sportsbook. The guys also dig into team futures and list their favorite Playoffs Yes/No bets.
Note: All statistical categories refer to per-game leaders (must meet NBA's minimum qualifications).
NBA Leading Scorer
James Anderson: Giannis Antetokounmpo (+1100)
James Harden is the obvious pick based on how dominant he has been in this category for three straight years. However, this is an all-time franchise disaster season for the Rockets. I'm not sure exactly how it will play out, but it won't be harmonious. It will end poorly and it will end this year.
Giannis has gotten better every year of his career. He has led the league in PER for two straight seasons but averaged just 30.4 minutes per game last year. There's no excuse for coach Bud not to play Giannis at least 33 minutes per game this year. It could be his last year with the team, he wants to play more, and he needs to be stretched out to be able to log big minutes in the playoffs. He led the league in points per 36 minutes last year (34.9) and could be better and more efficient this year while Harden is a tad worse. As long as Giannis gets the logical minutes bump, he should steal the scoring title.
Alex Barutha: Luka Doncic (+650)
With all the questions surrounding James Harden (+125), it's tough for me to confidently believe he'll lead the league in scoring for a fourth straight season. I still can't blame anyone for betting on him, however, as he's finished in the top 2 every season from 2014-15 onward. Doncic averaged 28.8 points on 20.6 shots per game last season, and with Kristaps Porzingis set to miss the start of this season – I'm expecting him to miss plenty of time during the year as well due to rest – Doncic will have to carry an even bigger scoring burden. With Porzingis off the court last season, Doncic averaged 32.5 points per 36 minutes, and I think he has an opportunity to exceed that with some development over the offseason.
Nick Whalen: Luka Doncic (+650)
I get why Harden is still the favorite, but at that number (+125) you're not getting nearly enough value to justify the risk in such a combustible situation. Doncic is coming off of as season in which he averaged 28.8 points per game – a spike of more than 7 PPG compared to his rookie year. He's not going to make another leap of that size in Year 3, but Doncic has some room to improve. He took nearly 9.0 threes per game last season but hit less than 32 percent of them. If he can become even a 35 percent shooter from deep, Doncic will have a great chance to cross the 30-point-per-game threshold with relative ease. Also working in Doncic's favor is the fact that Dallas needs him to be a one-man show, offensively. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined to begin the year, Doncic will have a great chance to put up some huge scoring games early on.
James Anderson: Bradley Beal (+2000)
Giannis is the best bet at +1100, but I also like Beal. He finished second in this category last season, yet he has the eighth best odds this season. Paul George finished second in the league in points per game in 2018-19 while playing with Russell Westbrook, and I'd argue this version of Beal is on par with that version of Paul George. Beal won't beat a peak Harden season or the Giannis season I describe above, but he's as good of a bet as anyone to swoop in and steal this title if something goes wrong in Houston or Milwaukee.
Alex Barutha: Jayson Tatum (+5000)
Tatum only had two 40-point games last season, but, this season, he'll be entrusted with more of the offense than ever before with Gordon Hayward gone and Kemba Walker set to miss at least the first month of the season. With that pair off the court last season, Tatum averaged 29.7 points per 36 minutes.
Getting a two-time reigning MVP who just averaged 35 points per 36 minutes at 11-to-1 is outstanding value. For Antetokounmpo, playing time is the biggest inhibitor, but at this number it's worth a stab in hopes that Mike Budenholzer extends his minutes closer to the norm for an NBA superstar.
Winning the scoring title this season will likely require averaging over 30 points per game. I wouldn't feel great about Tatum reaching that level, but he has to be considered at 50-to-1. From Feb. 1 onward (23 games), Tatum averaged 27.1 points on 47/46/78 shooting.
NBA Steals Leader
James Anderson: Ben Simmons (+250)
I'd pick Simmons to lead the league in steals, but I don't advise betting it at this number.
Alex Barutha: Ben Simmons (+225)
Steals are tough to predict because almost every player has significant fluctuations throughout their career, so I'm just going to keep things simple and take Simmons because he was so great on that side of the ball last season. I wish I had more to say.
Nick Whalen: Ben Simmons (+225)
Leading the league in steals requires both a high steal rate and a heavy workload, and Simmons checks both boxes. He barely held off Kris Dunn a year ago, but Dunn probably takes a step back with a deeper roster in Atlanta.
These five are all good value bets. VanVleet and Butler should be closer to +750 based on track record and minutes. The Spurs are going to be playing faster this year, so that could allow Murray to see a bump. Holiday will be playing with other good defenders rather than having to do all the heavy lifting, so he could be more of a defensive playmaker. Bridges as a 100:1 long shot is an awesome bet. He averaged 1.4 per game last year and could really take a leap in terms of minutes (32 per game is possible) and confidence.
Alex Barutha: Anyone on the board who was among the leaders in deflections per game last season and should see 30 minutes per game this season. Possible longshots include Robert Covington (+5000), Jrue Holiday (+5000), Chris Paul (+10000). Can't say I disagree with Dejounte Murray (+2500) or Marcus Smart (+2500), either. It's really a toss-up.
If the Spurs finally set Murray free for 30-plus minutes per night, I really like his chances at 25-to-1. He ranked third in the league in steal rate last season, behind only Dunn and Thybulle. As a role player, Thybulle's case is a little more complicated. He probably won't play quite enough to lead the league this season, but he should finish near the top of the leaderboard every year for the foreseeable future.
NBA Blocks Leader
James Anderson: Anthony Davis (+350)
He's the best defender in the game and the only one of the top candidates who is still getting better. Hassan Whiteside and Richaun Holmes are going to be in a 50/50 timeshare to start the season and Holmes is the better player, so Whiteside could fall below 25 minutes per game. Rudy Gobert's block rate has fallen in each of the last two years. Brook Lopez is the second strongest candidate, but since he and Davis have the same odds, I'll go with the younger, more athletic player.
Alex Barutha: Rudy Gobert (+300)
Gobert's claimed this title once before and has averaged no fewer than 2.0 blocks per game since his rookie season. His role is also extremely secure. That's good enough for me. Like steals, this is a borderline toss-up every season.
Nick Whalen: Anthony Davis (+350)
It's tough to feel too strongly about this one, but as long as Davis stays healthy he's a virtual lock to finish near the top. This race should be wide open assuming last year's leader, Hassan Whiteside, takes on a reduced role in Sacramento.
James Anderson: Mitchell Robinson (+800)
Robinson regressed last season, but he is still just 22 and has a new coach. He has the best shot blocking tools in the game, but he needs to cut down on his fouling in order to play enough minutes to lead this category.
Turner has led the league in blocks before (2018-19; 2.7 BLK) and has averaged over 2.0 swats three times in his five-year career. Robinson was second in the league in block percentage last season and is averaging 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes for his career – the main issue for him will be getting enough minutes. Drummond's number is just too low for a guy in a contract year who has averaged over 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes twice in his career and was eighth in contested two-pointers per game last year. He's also a lock to see 30 minutes per game. It does complicate things if he gets traded, however.
Lopez isn't an exciting name, but he quietly finished second in blocks per game last season. So if Whiteside does take a step back, Lopez could be next in line.
Boucher is a longshot for a reason. He'll begin the season in a bench role, but if Aron Baynes gets hurt – or if Boucher simply outplays him – he'll have an opportunity to rack up a ton of blocks. Boucher's block rate (7.3%) last season ranked sixth in the league among players who saw at least 800 minutes.
NBA Assists Leader
James Anderson: Trae Young (+300)
The overall quality of the players who will be converting Young's assists this season is drastically improved from a year ago, when he averaged 9.3 assists per game. This is one of my favorite bets on the board. Young should average more than the 10.2 assists LeBron James averaged to lead the league last season, and Dennis Schroder could cut slightly into LeBron's point guard duties.
Alex Barutha: Trae Young (+300)
Young ranked both second in assists (9.3) and potential assists (17.3) last season behind LeBron James (10.2; 18.4), and I think Young can take another step forward as a passer with the new weapons around him who are more capable shot-makers. The team bringing in Rajon Rondo also makes me believe the organization wants Rondo to teach Young how to become a true floor general, and that knowledge certainly shouldn't hurt Young's passing.
Nick Whalen: LeBron James (+275)
James led the league in assists for the first time last season and should be fully capable of repeating in 2020-21. The acquisition of Dennis Schroder is a concern – as is the potential for a reduced workload – but at this point in his career, James is more than happy to spend the regular season facilitating for others. He may have more playmaking help this season, but James also has better shooters and rim-runners around him.
James Anderson: Ben Simmons (+1200)
I'd rather bet Young, but if you want a long shot, I see the case for Simmons. Everyone agrees that the Sixers had a miserably underwhelming season last year, and Simmons still averaged eight dimes. Danny Green and Seth Curry are dramatically better catch-and-shoot options than Josh Richardson and Al Horford were a year ago, so there is similar logic here to the case for Young.
All three of these guys ranked top-12 in potential assists last season and will remain the point of attack for their respective teams.
Everything runs through Doncic in Dallas, and he ranked third in the league in potential assists last season. Westbrook ranked sixth in potential assists but had one of the worst assist-conversion rates of any elite guard. Returning to a more traditional system should help Westbrook, who averaged 10.4 assists per game from 2015-19.
NBA Rebounds Leader
James Anderson: Andre Drummond (+125)
It's understandable why he's favored, especially in a contract year, but I wouldn't bet Drummond at +125.
Alex Barutha: Andre Drummond (+125)
Drummond has led the league in rebounding in four of the past five seasons, clearing 15 boards per game in each of the past three. I'm just going to keep banking on him doing it until he doesn't. He'll be competing for rebounds with Kevin Love this year, and a mid-season trade could hurt his numbers, but I still think he's the presumptive leader.
Nick Whalen: Andre Drummond (+125)
I have to go chalk here. Drummond is essentially the James Harden of rebounding. Even if it's a down year, he has a ton of leeway. Drummond won the rebounding crown last season by 1.6 per game. In 2018-19, he won it by 2.0 per game.
James Anderson: Giannis Antetokounmpo (+300)
As I said when making my case for Giannis as the scoring leader, he should play roughly three more minutes per game this season. The Bucks also have one fewer seven footer from a season ago, with Bobby Portis replacing Robin Lopez. Portis will be a floor spacer on offense and his deficiencies on defense could lead to more minutes for Giannis as the true center on defense.
Adebayo grabbed 10.2 boards per game last season and spends most of his time on offense and defense around the basket. Towns has averaged over 12 boards per game three times in his career.
Sabonis finished fifth in rebounding last season, despite both his offensive and defensive rebounding rates declining relative to 2018-19. Capela missed too many games to qualify for last year's leaderboard, but he grabbed a career-best 13.8 boards per game in Houston before the trade.
Team To Reach Playoffs
Which numbers stand out to you as the best value bets?
Trail Blazers YES (-200); Jazz YES (-560)
These are my two favorite affirmative team bets. The Blazers could miss if Dame or Nurkic has a big injury and the Jazz could miss if Gobert or Mitchell has a big injury, but with relatively normal injury luck, these two are very good bets to make the playoffs. I'd put these two teams in a tier of six that includes the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets and Mavericks. I think those six teams are near locks to make the playoffs in the West if they have normal injury/COVID luck, and the Blazers and Jazz have the two most friendly lines from that tier.
I also like: Grizzlies NO (-225) and Timberwolves NO (-360)
I feel pretty good about these two teams missing the playoffs. Betting against the Timberwolves to miss should be an annual tradition, and the Grizzlies are primed for major regression, given the injuries to Jaren Jackson and Justise Winslow and how improved several other Western Conference teams are.
Grizzlies NO (-225)
Jaren Jackson being out for an extended period of time hurts their chances. They might have the least overall talent in the conference aside from OKC.
Pacers YES (-167)
Indiana has made the playoffs each of the past five seasons – and nine of the past 10 – and didn't get any worse this season compared to last. If anything, Victor Oladipo will be closer to his All-Star self and they should be better. A new coach could help as well.
Trail Blazers YES (-200)
I believe they could finish as high as third in the conference. Lillard, Nurkic, McCollum and a deep bench is an awesome team.
Pelicans NO (-162)
The more I look at the Pelicans' depth chart, the more I dislike it. The spacing is awful and the bench is thin.
Magic NO (-186)
Orlando refuses to die but almost every team around them got better. Losing Jonathan Isaac for the year is also a big deal.
Grizzlies NO (-225)
I love Ja Morant and think he has a monster second year, but the Grizzlies simply didn't make any improvements this offseason. Meanwhile, almost every other team in the West got better.
Trail Blazers YES (-200)
You're not getting the greatest value here, but -200 is still a decent number for a team I view as a near-lock to make the playoffs, barring some catastrophic injury luck.
Spurs YES (+350)
Can I confidently say I think the Spurs will make the playoffs? No. Are they worth a shot at +350? Absolutely. After a couple down years, this feels like it could be one final overachievement for a Gregg Popovich team.
Pelicans NO (-162)
Zion Williamson is an exceedingly fun and marketable player, but I don't understand the Pelicans hype. Jrue Holiday may not have been their best player, but he was their most important player, and replacing him with Eric Bledsoe isn't a one-for-one swap. The Pels should be enjoyable to watch and competitive on most nights, but they're not a playoff team in this version of the Western Conference.
Warriors NO (+130)
I do think the Warriors make the playoffs if Stephen Curry stays healthy, but they'll be on extremely thin ice if/when Curry misses any time. On paper, there's a lot to like about Golden State's starting five, but James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green all have serious questions to answer. On top of that, the Warriors probably have a bottom-five bench in the entire league.
Note: "Reach Playoffs" means team advances past play-in tournament to field of 16 teams