This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
As we move through Week 10 of the NBA season, we're now less than a week away from the All-Star break, which unofficially marks the halfway point. For a number of reasons, this season has been more unpredictable than most, but that's opened up some opportunities in the futures betting market.
Let's take a look at four intriguing numbers, via the DraftKings Sportsbook, to consider capitalizing on before it's too late.
Brooklyn Nets to win the NBA title (+325)
At the end of the day, I'll have a hard time picking against a fully healthy Lakers team, but the Nets are certainly trending in the right direction, while Los Angeles has looked completely lost without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder. The Nets' defensive concerns are real, but offense rules the NBA, and that's more true than ever this season.
To me, it sometimes feels like we've lost sight of the fact that Brooklyn has three of the five or six best pure scorers in the entire league – and there's a case to be made that Kevin Durant and James Harden are Nos. 1 and 2 in that category. This isn't just a really good offensive team; it's a collection of some of the greatest scorers in NBA history.
Factoring in the likelihood that the Nets make a couple of trade/buyout additions, the +325 number could end up looking like a bargain as the season wears on. The Bucks and Sixers won't be pushovers in the East, but if Durant, Haren and Kyrie Irving are all healthy, the Nets will be nearly impossible to slow down.
San Antonio Spurs to win the Southwest Division (+275)
Considering the Spurs have led the division for virtually the entire season, and continue to lead it, getting plus odds as we near the halfway point is a nice value. I understand why Dallas (-152) is the favorite, but the Mavs are yet to put together a consistent stretch of elite play, and the Mavs are currently dealing with yet another Kristaps Porzingis injury absence. Of the two teams, Dallas has the clear best player in Luka Doncic, but the rest of the Mavs' roster is fairly underwhelming.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are back to their old ways, getting valuable contributions from veterans and unheralded draft picks, while DeMar DeRozan is in the midst of another All-Star-caliber campaign. The one wild card for San Antonio is LaMarcus Aldridge, who recently missed time with a hip injury and hasn't looked like himself this season. If this is the year he finally drops off, then San Antonio may have a difficult time holding off Dallas – and perhaps even New Orleans – over the course of 72 games. Entering Friday, the Pels sit just 4.0 games behind San Antonio.
One more note: If you like the Spurs to win the division, consider parlaying that with Spurs to make the playoffs (YES: +120).
LeBron James to win Most Valuable Player (+175)
It's been a tough two-week stretch for LeBron and the Lakers, but there's a reason he's still the odds-on favorite to take home the award. Early on, the narrative emerged that this is LeBron's MVP award to lose, and for that to happen another star would have to pry it away from him. Given the Lakers' horrendous play of late and James' rapid decline as a shooter, the door is wide open.
The problem is there's not one clear challenger. Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and even Kawhi Leonard are all very much in the mix, but good luck finding a consensus No. 1 guy among that group. If that's still the case by the end of the regular season, I think the award ends up falling into LeBron's lap, as the non-LeBron votes could be scattered between three-to-five other candidates.
Julius Randle to win Most Improved Player (+1200)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is the most compelling Most Improved Player race in NBA history. At this stage, there's absolutely no reason Jerami Grant (-230) should be this heavy of a favorite, especially as his production continues to slide relative to his red-hot start to the season. Meanwhile, the player with the second-highest odds, Christian Wood (6/1), has already missed 13 games and is expected to remain out through the All-Star break. Jaylen Brown at 10/1 is firmly in the mix, but to me Randle is easily the best value.
Statistically, Randle's numbers stack up well against the other candidates, and he was just named to his first All-Star Game this past week, while Grant was left off the roster. To be fair, Grant has made more of a statistical leap from last season to this season, but as the Pistons continue to careen down the Eastern Conference standings, his numbers begin to look more and more hollow. Conversely, Randle currently has the Knicks tied for the No. 5 seed.
Another value play to consider: Zach LaVine at 25/1. Like Randle, LaVine has always been viewed as a good stats/bad team guy, but he's made a massive leap in terms of efficiency this season and is the primary reason the Bulls are a firm playoff contender. Chicago probably has to make the field of 16 for LaVine to truly contend for the award, but that will be a realistic possibility if the first-time-All-Star can continue to shoot 52.3 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from three.