By Justin "Smoove" / Sleepy J
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Some high profile players like Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Draymond Green have come out and said they weren’t in favor of the play-in tournament, but we believe the NBA came up with a genius idea (this is especially true for sports bettors). As we all know, the play-in tournament has helped with some issues the NBA was having with its regular season being deemed irrelevant, too many teams tanking, etc. With this tournament, however, it gives those teams that are in that 7th-12th seeding range a legit shot to make the playoffs. If you’re the team that wants to avoid this situation, you just simply have to finish with a top 6 seed or better. From reducing the number of tank mode teams to engaging fan bases more year-round, the play-in will also bring with it a semi-March Madness type of appeal and atmosphere.
A couple of teams that are probably big fans of the play-in tournament this year are Washington and Memphis. The Wizards have dealt with obstacles all season long, from injuries to both Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, COVID-19 outbreaks and more - they had been a team that was consistently in the 13th/14th range but once they were able to get healthy, developed a consistent rotation and picked up a couple new players to fill some much-needed holes, they were able to play some great basketball.
The Wizards went 12-5 in the month of April and made a run at the 7th seed before ultimately finishing as the 10th. This play-in game is extremely important for them in the long run, as they are also trying to show Bradley Beal that they can indeed build a competitive NBA franchise out in Washington D.C.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, played much of the year without their second best player, Jaren Jackson Jr.
Although these are the two teams who will clearly benefit from the new play-in format and schedule, it's important to not blindly bet them, even based on their current circumstances (although we do believe there is some value on the Wizards, which we'll get to shortly). Our goal for this article below will be to talk about some of the general do's - and dont's - of betting the NBA futures market come playoff time.
As the playoffs begin and sportsbooks increase their offerings, it's imperative to simply identify the positive EV wagers and avoid the negative ones. One of the worst bets to make, due to the hidden vigorish, are the 'needle-in-the-haystack' wagers. For example, wagering on the exact outcome of a series is a poor play because the return is not anywhere near what it should be. It may be a fun bet to make, but if you are looking to remain profitable in the long term, it is good practice to avoid these types of wagers.
Due to the aforementioned new format, the play-in game indeed complicates matters, but it also provides opportunity. For context, the 7-8 matchup winner will receive the #7 seed and the loser will play the winner of the 9-10 match-up for the #8 seed. In a typical basketball scenario, it is not uncommon for a game total to move down 4-6 points because two teams will play closer to the vest with the refs typically letting them "play." With less expected points in a game, we can also expect a correlated decrease in a player's points production. Despite this, many sportsbooks out there are still often slow to adjust and will overlook the player prop betting market altogether, as they tend to focus on the spread and total instead.
This can - and often does - create opportunity for a +EV wager, especially during the NBA Playoffs.
Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is how a coach handles important games and games off of rest. Does a player receive his season average of minutes played, or does the coach maximize his minutes? Playoff games are always played with at least one day of rest, which is very different than the condensed regular season. This will often afford players an opportunity to play extended minutes, and for coaches to create a specific game plan to adjust to the other team. We expect the rotations to be shortened and for the best players to receive even more minutes than they have throughout the season.
Of the 8 play-in teams, only the Lakers have odds greater than the top 6 seeds in either conference.
Common thought, and the odds themselves, make a clear delineation that these play-in games make the road to the championship all the more difficult, if not downright impossible. Although the Lakers appear to be an apparent exception to the rule, we should also be concerned that they are the 2nd overall favorites to win the title. It is not an indictment of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and company either. Rather, it is about the difficulty of the situation they find themselves in - the Lakers' road to the championship is significantly harder than the other favorites. With an extra game or two, plus a potentially more difficult series matchup, LeBron now finds himself in the most arduous pathway to the finals since his early Cleveland years. There is no value betting on the Lakers to win the championship at the current number.
So which play-in team has the best chance/value to win the title? The Warriors at 160-1 and the Wizards at 250-1 would be our answer, and the sole reason is because they have to lose twice in order to be out of the playoffs. Period. All of the 9-10 teams have to win twice, making it so much harder to even make the playoffs, let alone win the title. Therefore, we should avoid the Spurs at 250-1, Hornets 250-1, Pacers 250-1 or the Grizzlies at 190-1. The best value out of all the play-in teams to win it all? Without a doubt, it's the Washington Wizards. Currently a +2.5/+2 underdog in Boston, the Wizards make the playoff field with one win. From that point on, their odds to win it all will dramatically decrease down from 250-1.
If you are looking for value in the futures market from the play-in teams, we would only suggest WAS.