NBA draft lottery bets pouring in on the Knicks

LAS VEGAS — As we have reached the crux of the 2019 NBA playoffs, it seems premature to have too much of a focus on next season. But more than two-thirds of the league’s 30 teams and their respective fan bases are doing exactly that — and savvy bettors are doing the same.

The first piece of the offseason puzzle will be put into place Tuesday night at the draft lottery in Chicago. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns each have a 14 percent chance at procuring the first-overall pick. DraftKings Sportsbook in New Jersey currently has all three teams listed as 6/1 to have the golden pingpong ball.

PointsBet in New Jersey also currently offers the same prices on the top three lottery teams but to no one’s surprise, the Knicks are getting the plurality of the bets.

“This is the first year bettors in the tri-state area will be able to make legal wagers on the NBA draft lottery and the local team [is] accounting for nearly 45 percent of the total money wagered on the top-pick market. The Suns are a distant second at 12 percent,” said Matthew Chaprales, head of content at PointsBet USA.

Every mock draft shows Duke forward Zion Williamson selected No. 1 overall, and DraftKings has followed suit, pricing him at 1/25 (-2500). In fact, PointsBet is not even currently offering a prop on the top overall selection but is instead offering one on who will be the second player picked. According to Chaprales, they have seen a few bets on Zion at 12/1 to be the No. 2 pick. Murray State guard Ja Morant is the small favorite in this market at -143. Nonetheless, Duke guard RJ Barrett is seeing the most action at even money. The next two choices are Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver at 17/1 and Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland at 25/1.

While the draft will have some effect on the NBA futures market, the real movement will start in mid-June as both player options and team options are decided upon leading into the beginning of the league calendar year and the start of free agency on July 1. There is no shortage of max-contract players who will become free agents this summer, including Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson. The second group of five includes Kristaps Porzingis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris.

Nearly half the teams in the league have enough cap space to sign at least one max contract player. The team with the least amount of committed payroll for next season is the Knicks at only $34.5 million. This cap flexibility is the primary reason that the Westgate SuperBook installed them as only 16/1 to win next year’s title.

“When we handicapped these numbers for next year, we had to take into account any potential destination for all these top guys and the expectations of what people would be willing to bet on these teams,” said Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management for the Westgate.

Clearly, oddsmakers such as Sherman are being proactive in anticipating what events my transpire in free agency and do not want to get caught sleeping by bettors.

“If they don’t go to these teams, we can always raise [the odds] up to wherever we need to in order to attract money on these teams,” Sherman continued.

The Clippers, with only $49 million in committed money for next season, are another team whose odds have been chopped to 16/1 with a good, young core that was able to take the Warriors to six games in spite of lacking a proven star player. The Nets also have a great deal of cap breathing room. They have to make a decision on D’Angelo Russell first, but Brooklyn (30/1) also has potential as an attractive free-agent destination.

Conversely, the Raptors are slotted at 20/1 as both Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol can opt out, leaving them with $57 million tied up for next year with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. Should Kawhi elect to stay, then it would be a race between the oddsmakers and the bettors, which makes the futures market so fascinating to watch.

At the Westgate, the two-time defending-champion Warriors are the favorites at 7/4 for next season, but are a bit of a lukewarm one, considering Durant can opt out of his last contract year and both Thompson and Cousins are unrestricted free agents. The top five market favorites are rounded out by the Bucks (9/2), Celtics (7/1), 76ers (10/1) and Rockets (10/1).

In the meantime, there are still playoff games to enjoy and bet on. But we should definitely keep a keen eye on these other events that will help determine the teams that will still be playing this time next year.

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