NBA

NBA Betting: The Bucks and Nuggets Offer Early Championship Value

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are early favorites to take home the championship next season. Is that a smart bet to make?

The Toronto Raptors are your 2019 NBA champions, and before the hangover has even cleared, FanDuel Sportsbook has already posted future lines for the 2020 NBA Finals champ.

The Raptors were a prime example of just how much betting lines can swing in the offseason. In early September they were +2000 to win it all, which were the fifth-best odds in the league. But before they acquired Kawhi Leonard, FanDuel Sportsbook had their odds as long as +4400.

There's obviously a ton of uncertainty all around the league right now. We're still a week out from the draft, and free agency is still on the horizon. We could see a ton of big names potentially landing in new homes. A possible Anthony Davis trade also still looms heavily over the league, and the NBA Finals MVP who moved the Raps from +4400 to +2000 isn't a guarantee to be back.

As we saw with Toronto last year, though, this uncertainty can create some massive value. That value doesn't come without the potential for downside, as anyone who backed the Spurs before the Kawhi trade can tell you, but the potential payouts can be well worth the risk.

Milwaukee Bucks +480

The Milwaukee Bucks are odds-on favorites to take home their first NBA Championship since 1971.

At the start of last season, our favorites were the Golden State Warriors at a whopping -190, and they spent the whole offseason in minus territory, implied with over a 50% championship of wining it all. A +480 line implies the Bucks at 17.2% to win, meaning oddsmakers are calling for a lot more parity in 2019-20.

Milwaukee isn't likely to have the cap space to make a real splash in free agency, but they don't really need to. Khris Middleton will likely decline his player option and could very well command a bigger offer than the Bucks can compete with, but he's the only key piece they're at risk of losing.

His absence could certainly hurt, but the Bucks also finished this season sitting atop numberFire's nERD Power Rankings by a pretty healthy margin. And more importantly, they'll still have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is unquestionably one of the top players in the league.

Giannis finished only barely behind James Harden for second in our nERD Player Rankings last year, and the .292 win shares per 48 minutes he generated were the fifth-most for any player in a season since 2010. Harden finished well behind in third place with .254.

The Greek Freak is still only 24 years old, and his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) has increased with each season he has spent in the NBA, hitting a league-leading 30.9 in the 2018-19 season. Since 2000, only four players with at least 1,000 minutes played have posted better marks.

The Bucks pushed the Raptors to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, and with both Kawhi and Marc Gasol's futures in Toronto being uncertain, they're fair picks as both the favorites in the East and in the entire NBA.

Denver Nuggets +1400

The Denver Nuggets have the opportunity to free up a bunch of cap space this off-season. They can opt out of paying Paul Millsap $30 million, and they could also get a lot more wiggle-room by dumping either Will Barton or Mason Plumlee's contracts in trades -- though they'd likely have to pay to do so.

At the core, though, this is still a team that came within one win of a Western Conference Finals berth in 2019. Nikola Jokic is another young superstar who seems to get better every year, generating a career-high 11.8 win shares and finishing with a 26.3 PER and being named to the All-NBA First Team at only 23 years old.

He's not the only promising youngster on the team either, and five of their top seven players in win shares generated last year were 23 or younger, including Monte Morris (2nd, 6.2), Jamal Murray (5th, 5.1), Malik Beasley (6th, 4.5), and Juan Hernangomez (7th, 3.0).

The West is wide open right now. With both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffering serious, long-term injuries and Anthony Davis still having plenty of potential non-Lakers landing spots, the already-impressive Nuggets look like a good bet to show improvement (and potentially add another key piece) heading into the 2019-20 season.

Utah Jazz +4200

The Utah Jazz quietly finished fourth in our nERD Power Rankings last year, finishing closer to the Warriors at the top of the West than to the Houston Rockets, who ranked third.

A quick playoff exit seems to have soured the market on the Jazz, but they truly did have an incredible regular season. They finished fourth in net rating (+5.2), with the sixth-toughest strength of schedule for any team that finished with a positive net rating on the year, per Basketball-Reference.

They were anchored by All-NBA Third Team center Rudy Gobert, who finished third in our player rankings and second in the league in win shares per 48 minutes, and he'll be back next year.

Donovan Mitchell also remains a very exciting prospect. Mitchell notched a 17.2 PER as a sophomore after posting a 16.7 as a rookie. That makes him one of only nine players since 2010 to play at least 2,000 minutes with a PER north of 15.0 in each of their first two seasons. If we raise the PER cutoff to 16.5 and minutes cutoff to 2,500, he becomes one of three players to do that. There are only an additional nine players to have hit those marks even once in their first two seasons.

Utah can also free up a ton of cap space if they elect to move on from Ricky Rubio and/or Derrick Favors, and while they both played large roles last season (fifth and sixth on the team in minutes played in the regular season), neither are key cogs that would prove irreplaceable in free agency, especially with over $30 million in cap space open.

The recency bias coming from a poor playoff series gets you some nice long odds on the Jazz here. Tied for only the 14th-best odds in the NBA, they are being treated as a team that is only borderline to make the playoffs. However, they were flat out one of the best teams in the league in the 2018-19 regular season. If Mitchell can take another step and if they handle free agency well, they're a real threat for a deep playoff run.