Shooting Your Shot: Futures Bets Entering the NBA Playoffs

The NBA Playoffs are about to tip off in earnest. Which team might make for a good futures bet?

April 19, 2024

Now that we have the bracket for the NBA Playoffs — with the final seeds to be determined tonight — it’s a lot easier to find value in futures prices in the market. When teams are still locking in their seeds, there are a ton of variables that could ultimately set a team up for success, or lead them to their demise.

You’re still susceptible to some surprises, by way of injury or upsets, but for the most part you know what each team should expect on their respective journeys to the NBA Finals. So, who got lucky and who has a tough road ahead?

The Layups

For the Eastern Conference, it’s hard to pick anyone but the Celtics. They put together one of the best regular seasons in NBA history and clinched the 1 seed in the East before any other team even clinched a playoff spot. A lot of the teams, like the Knicks and the 76ers, who were expected to challenge them in the postseason have dealt with a multitude of injuries throughout the season.

The one thing that Boston lacks, however, is a single player who can elevate himself to be the best player in the league. If they match up with a team like the Nuggets, 76ers, or even the Mavericks, they won’t have the best player on the floor.

Jayson Tatum has had a great season, but he has yet to play himself into the echelon of Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo. With current odds of +160 (Tipico Sportsbook) to win the NBA Finals, it’s hard to take a team that has never done it before, but I simply don’t have an easier answer for this question.

In the West, it’s the Denver Nuggets or bust for me. They brought back nearly everyone from their dominating run last season, giving them the most Finals experience of anyone left in the postseason race. Nikola Jokic is also the best basketball player on planet Earth and is likely going to win his third MVP award.

You’re getting a little bit of a break on the price (+300) because the Celtics had their unbelievable regular season, but I think if the two teams meet in the Finals, the Nuggets will win in a rout. 

The only drawback that the Nuggets have is their projected schedule is a little tougher than the average draw. Their first round matchup is the Lakers (+2500) and you’re likely to get a better effort from LeBron James and Anthony Davis early in the tournament before fatigue and age set in.

After that, the Nuggets are likely drawing Kevin Durant and the Suns, who have the second most Finals experience in the West — or a top defense in the Timberwolves. 

The Mid-Range Shot

Looking to glean a little more value out of your Eastern Conference futures? I don’t hate the idea of Philadelphia (+1700) making a run here.

They have the reigning MVP Joel Embiid who seems to have recovered from the injury that sidelined him down the stretch of the regular season. He’s someone who can take a game over if need be. On top of that, they made several moves at the deadline that gave them a much-needed veteran presence, which you saw pay off with Nic Batum’s massive performance in the play-in game vs. Miami.

Health will always be an issue for the 76ers, but they’re in good shape right now. They have a tough draw with the Knicks (+3500) in the first round, but they’re actually favored to win that series.

After that, the bracket breaks really well for them, where they would avoid Boston until the Conference Finals. Should they beat New York, they would face an inexperienced Pacers team (+8000) or the Bucks (+1500) — who currently don’t know when they’ll have Giannis Antetokounmpo back in the lineup. 

A middle of the pack contender for the West may just be the 1 seed. The Oklahoma City Thunder (+1400) have a player who many will vote for as the season MVP in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, in addition to a top three offense, and a top four defense.

Their bracket is also pretty favorable, where they will face the winner of Kings-Pelicans in the first round, and then the winner of the Clippers (+1300) and the Mavericks (+1400). Neither of those teams featured strong big men or top rebounding which is important because….

The Thunder’s biggest bugaboo this season has been getting rebounds. They were lucky to avoid the Lakers and the Timberwolves with their draw, but it’s an issue that will eventually come back to bite them. They’re also the youngest team in the NBA, and in the postseason, experience means so much. But these two factors are also why you get a 1 seed at higher odds.


From the Logo

Winning the NBA Finals is something that is mostly accomplished by the best team in that season. Sure, teams can have crazy runs and anything can happen in any given game, but this sport provides less parity than others.

But if you really want to bet a long shot in the East, I would roll the dice on the Knicks (+3500). You can make the same case for them as I did for the Sixers. They’d get the same draw, and if the injury bug comes back to bite Philly, the Knicks would benefit greatly.

However, they’re going to be without one of their best players in Julius Randle, and OG Anunoby has been in and out of the lineup. You also have to wonder if Jalen Brunson has a little bit of the Jayson Tatum situation where you don’t know how many teams you’ll face where he’ll be the number one guy on the court at any point. If everything falls perfectly for the Knicks, they have a legitimate shot to make some noise.

The longest shot I’d be comfortable taking in the West is Phoenix (+2000). In 2021, Devin Booker had the Suns up 2-0 in the NBA Finals over the Bucks. Granted, their path to the Finals involved a lot of big names going down to injury, but now this team has Kevin Durant. Bradley Beal also closed the season playing some of his best basketball and is one of the players who elevates his play in the postseason.

Their biggest issue can also have a positive spin to it — the big three of Durant, Booker, and Beal have hardly played together all season, but that could also mean this team hasn’t reached its highest potential yet. Of course, it could also mean that the issues keeping those players out throughout the year could come back.

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