NBA Futures at the All-Star Break: Finding Value in Awards Odds

Sometimes, the clear betting leaders for end-of-year awards don't always finish on top. Here's how to find value in those markets.

February 15, 2024

It’s time for the NBA’s All-Star Break — a time that many basketball bettors use to gauge the NBA futures market to see if they can glean any value for the season’s stretch run. The problem is that many of these markets have prohibitive favorites that prevent people from believing that a contender could come and win the award.

I’m here to tell you that it’s never over until it’s over, and that often we associate a heavy favorite’s price with the end of competing for an award. But there’s plenty of basketball left this season, and in two weeks we could view this league through a completely different lens. The key is to find a case for someone who could challenge a beatable favorite.

Explaining The Strategy

Nearly three quarters through the NFL season, Jalen Carter was -500 to win Defensive Rookie of the Year and it was the consensus opinion that there wasn’t really going to be someone who could close the gap in time. Fast forward to the NFL Awards, where Will Anderson won the award. Anderson was as high as +1200 this season after missing a few games with an injury.

Awards in any sport are voted on by a committee of human beings. They’re not always efficient, they can be very opinionated, and to no fault of their own, they can fall victim to recency bias. Winning an award is way more about how you end the season than how you start it.

If you need another example, look at the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. Everyone thought Damar Hamlin, who was a prohibitive favorite every week of the season, was just going to win. Except he didn’t. The reason he didn’t was that he was not playing and Joe Flacco went on a tear down the stretch of the season. And Joe Flacco bettors were paid handsomely for the gamble. So don’t be afraid to go against narratives in the moment. So where in the NBA futures markets should we be looking at the moment?

Most Improved Player

The favorite for this award all season has been 76ers point guard Tyrese Maxey (-210). The early narrative around him is that when Philly traded away James Harden, Maxey stepped up and started producing strong numbers that allowed the Sixers to challenge for the top spot in the West. But things have changed since the beginning of the season, making Maxey a little bit more vulnerable as the favorite.

As the casual fan knows, the reigning MVP Joel Embiid won’t be back in the lineup for Philly for a while after sustaining a knee injury. Without Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers have been dropping in the standings and now sit as the fifth seed in the East, falling behind surging teams like the Cavaliers and the Knicks.

To challenge a current favorite for an award, it helps if their team falters, so another candidate can come in and grab some of the headlines. So when you’re challenging Maxey, who can you find that is on a team that you expect to play well for the rest of the season? Well….

To challenge a current favorite for an award, it helps if their team falters, so another candidate can come in and grab some of the headlines.

It seems the Warriors have found something recently and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. As I write this, they’re coming off of a stretch where they just won 8 of their last 9 games and, of course, a team with Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and other stars is going to attract some attention. They’re now in the position to compete for a playoff spot, and a good portion of their success has come from the improved play of 21-year-old forward Jonathan Kuminga (+900). His price has been dropping accordingly — it’s currently +900, when last week you could find +1000 or +1200. But there’s still plenty of value left.

Defensive Player Of The Year

I don’t have as strong of a feeling in this market, but it can still be valuable to go through the exercise and decide there isn’t a good candidate to challenge the favorite. Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (-650) has been a heavy favorite in the Defensive Player of the Year market for the majority of the season, as he puts up strong numbers in every key statistic that gives a player a case for this award. So why might someone look for a reason to challenge him as the favorite for this award?

As I said before, voters are human beings, and human beings get bored. We’ve seen it happen many times in the awards markets where they get tired of giving it to the same person year after year. Gobert has already gotten three DPOYs in his career, but not since he joined the Timberwolves.

It’s a pretty lame case if you’re standing on voter fatigue alone…but it can be a crack in the earth that turns into a canyon. Voters hesitated to give Nuggets Center Nikola Jokic his third straight MVP, even though he probably deserved it. The same thing happened to the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo before him.

It’s a pretty lame case if you’re standing on voter fatigue alone…but it can be a crack in the earth that turns into a canyon.

So what if voters get tired of the lack of conversation around the DPOY race? Well, over the last 15 games, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 13-2 and sport the best defensive rating in that stretch. This has caused center Jarrett Allen’s odds to drop so that he is now second in the market behind Gobert. And Allen has the numbers to support his case and will get a majority of the credit for the Cavaliers’ defensive resurgence.

You can currently get Allen at +1000 to win the award because Gobert is such a heavy favorite, so if you think Gobert is worth a challenge, Allen may be someone to consider. 

It Doesn’t Always Work

It’s important to remember that these players are usually heavy favorites for a good reason. A lot of the time, these players might just win the award and nothing will get interesting. Just because you made a good bet doesn’t mean it has to win. But, what it does mean is that you bought some equity in the market.

Let’s say you lock in that +1000 Jarrett Allen DPOY price and hypothetically his price drops even further. If at the end of the year, it’s a race between -200 Rudy Gobert and +150 Jarrett Allen, but you’re holding a +1000 Allen ticket, it gives you the perfect opportunity to hedge. Take some of that equity you have on Allen and put it on Gobert so that no matter what happens you can profit. Being able to foresee a large price drop can help in a number of ways even if the original bet doesn’t get home. 

Sam Bloomquist
Sam Bloomquist is Tipico's Social Media Manager.