Updated NBA Championship Odds: True Title Contenders
We’re finally just 10 days away from the end of the regular season, and our models have identified three teams that actually have a decent shot at winning the title.
While we’ve discussed the middle-class and wild-card contenders in recent weeks, only three teams have a championship likelihood of at least 10% percent, per our numbers: Golden State, Milwaukee, and Toronto. Another team that we’ve covered previously could win the title, but it’s most likely going to come down to one of the aforementioned true contenders.
Each of these teams has a unique profile going into the playoffs. The Warriors are looking to extend their modern dynasty as two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant is in the last year of his contract. Toronto was one of the prospective contenders in the East for the last three seasons, only to lose in disappointing fashion against Cleveland each time. They’ve reloaded with Kawhi Leonard, who has quietly had a stellar season despite playing only 55 games. Milwaukee has catapulted into the title picture as Giannis Antetokounmpo has made a strong case to be the MVP; in fact, Giannis ranks first in our nERD-based player rankings.
Now, as the season winds down, let's examine where the championship betting odds currently stand for each of these three teams (in order of our rankings) and see whether there is betting value. As always, odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
FanDuel Title Odds: +850
numberFire Title Probability: 28.1%
By now, we know the drill. Bettors looking to invest in NBA futures should really look to only one team -- the Milwaukee Bucks. Malcolm Brogdon’s injury is a concern, but he could come back in May if Milwaukee can make a deep playoff run.
The Bucks are the best defensive team in the NBA. The old adage “defense wins championships” can be misleading at times, but it might just stick this year, especially if the Bucks upset the offensively elite Warriors or Rockets in the Finals. However, Milwaukee’s offense deserves credit, as well, since the Bucks are fourth in offensive efficiency.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the leading scorer, averaging 27.4 points per game, but the catalyst for the Bucks' offense is often point guard Eric Bledsoe. According to NBA.com, the Bucks’ offensive rating is 7.5 points better when Bledsoe is on the court, and he and Giannis are the primary reasons Milwaukee ranks third in points in transition.
Overall, Milwaukee is the total package. They’ll have the best player on the court in every series they play in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and they’ll also have the deepest bench. They’re elite on both offense and defense, but most importantly, they have the highest probability to win the NBA Finals, according to our models, so they remain the best option for bettors looking to make a last-minute title pick.
Golden State Warriors
FanDuel Title Odds: -210
numberFire Title Probability: 13.9%
The implied probability for the Warriors’ current title odds is just over 67%, which is a great deal higher that what our numbers say. Golden State is the most public team, meaning they typically receive the most bets, creating the largest liability for sportsbooks, so bettors will have to pay a premium to back the Warriors.
Stephen Curry and company have taken the 2014 Spurs’ model of pace-and-space on offense, and they've raised it to the next level with historic offensive performances over the last four seasons, three of which ended with the Warriors hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It’s no different this season -- Golden State ranks first in offensive efficiency and both Curry and Kevin Durant rank amongst the top-five players in offensive real plus-minus (RPM).
The key factor for a third straight championship run might be Golden State’s bench; outside of the typical starters (Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and DeMarcus Cousins), the only player who averages at least 20 minutes per game is 35-year-old Andre Iguodala. Then again, Curry, Durant, and Thompson each have an astounding effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of slightly greater than 55%. Golden State might not have much depth, but their stars can carry the team and not all of them have to play well.
Golden State is probably going to win the West and could be the final test for the upstart Bucks, but at below even odds, there’s just no betting value with the Dubs.
FanDuel Title Odds: +1100
numberFire Title Probability: 14.2%
Even though Toronto is the third-ranked team by our numbers, they have a slightly better likelihood to win the Finals than the Warriors do. All of the Raptors’ offseason changes -- namely coach Dwane Casey fired in favor of Nick Nurse, DeMar DeRozan traded to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard -- have worked out well so far.
Toronto is one of the most balanced teams in the league as they’re sixth in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency. Leonard has been an outstanding scorer for the Raptors; he’s averaging 27.0 points per game and ranks in the top-10 players in both points in transition and isolations points, per NBA.com.
Leonard is surrounded by a supporting cast that can score proficiently in a variety of ways; for example, Serge Ibaka is third in scoring as the screener in a pick-and-roll play, and Danny Green is 13th in points from catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Defensively, the Raptors are ninth in turnover percentage in part because they rank highly in NBA.com’s hustle stats: second in deflections and first in loose balls recovered on defense. Toronto also defends the three-point arc as well as any team in the league, holding opponents to 33.1% shooting from between 25 and 29 feet.
All signs point to Milwaukee and Toronto meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals, so there is definitely betting value on the Raptors. They’re good in every facet of the game, but buyers should beware as getting past the Bucks will be no easy task.