The draft is in our rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking forward to next year with some futures. Before we get into it, I wanted to lay out my philosophy on futures.
I don’t like them.
It’s fun to talk about them, and analyzing futures odds can be useful and informative toward actual bets you make in the future, but betting on a team to win the NBA Finals now, before free agency and before we see what these teams are actually going to look like in 2022-23, is essentially making a donation to the books.
If there’s a team that catches your eye before the season, just bet them game by game and you’ll make a lot more money than betting them just to win the title. Because chances are they won’t.
All that said, let’s get into the teams I have my eyes on for next year, and a few teams I’ll be looking to fade every chance I get, plus some awards picks.
2022-23 NBA Champions
There’s minimal value in betting on the Golden State Warriors to repeat (+500) at the moment, nor is there much in taking the Boston Celtics to avenge their loss (+650). If you’re looking for a smart pick among the top five teams in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks (+750) is the move. You could make a strong case Milwaukee was the best team in the playoffs when healthy, and the overwhelming physicality of Giannis Antetokounmpo has proven successful in the playoffs.
Where I’m finding real value is a bit lower down the odds list in two teams that I expect to make significant leaps next season. The Dallas Mavericks (+1600) were Western Conference finalists and they’ve already improved this off-season with the acquisition of centre Christian Wood from Houston. At the minimum, he’ll be a lob threat and a floor spacer for a Mavericks team that desperately needed one of those things.
Where I find true value in the Mavs is in the continued development of superduper star Luka Doncic. He was the best player on the floor in three consecutive playoff series — yes, even the Warriors series — and he’s a moderate developmental leap away from being firmly in the conversation of the best player in the league.
With reports that Doncic is finally taking his conditioning seriously, I’m loving Dallas’ chances to make the NBA Finals next season. And once you’re there, it’s like Kevin Garnett said: Anything is possible.
The Memphis Grizzlies (+1600) are the other team I have my eyes on. This is almost a homer pick … or whatever the opposite of a home pick is. As a Warriors fan, the Grizzlies were the team that scared me the most this season. Given how tough they played the Dubs in the playoffs, you could argue they were the second-best team in the post-season, with or without Ja Morant.
They’re long, they’re athletic, and they’re all young. If everything breaks right, and everyone continues on their current development trajectories — or if Morant takes the next leap — Memphis is going to be a problem. They have a budding star and one of the scariest defences in the league. That’s a recipe for success.
2022-23 NBA MVP
You’re going to notice a pattern here. My altogether-too-early pick for MVP is Luka Doncic (+500), but his odds aren’t particularly juicy. He’s the odds-on favourite at the moment, along with Joel Embiid. I like Doncic for the same reasons I like his team to win it all. He’s already one of the top guys in the league, and I think he’ll be better next year.
It’s a little more fun to jump on longer odds, so two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic (+900) is worth a look. The case against him: Voter fatigue. It’s nearly impossible to win three straight. No one’s done it since Larry Bird (1984-86) and only one person did it before that (Bill Russell). That’s rarified air, but it’s not crazy to expect the Denver Nuggets to be significantly better next season.
Jokic won an MVP on a six-seed, and he’s getting Michael Porter Jr. and Canadian star Jamal Murray back from injury. If Jokic puts up similar numbers, and the Nuggets end up a top-three seed in the West, I could see the big man from Sombor, Serbia, taking another trophy home.
And finally, if Ja Morant (+1200) makes the leap I’m expecting him to, he’ll easily be in the MVP conversation. If his team makes a similar leap, we could be talking about the best player on the West’s top seed. With odds like that, why not jump on it?