This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
As the return of the NBA season inches closer, it's time to examine the latest odds for the postseason and individual awards.
Based on futures from our friends at the FanDuel Sportsbook, Alex Barutha and Nick Whalen each toss out four of their favorite bets currently available.
76ers vs. Clippers Finals matchup: +2800
This bet being 28-to-1 implies that FanDuel believes the matchup is very unlikely, which I disagree with. No one is questioning the Clippers' ability to make the NBA Finals – the Clippers are +175 to win the West, while the Lakers are +165.
But the 76ers are catching disrespect from fans and oddsmakers as the sixth seed in the East. Their place in the standings is obviously a disappointment relative to preseason expectations. Much of that comes from terrible performances on the road, which is worth some concern. But it's also important to remember that Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson have missed a combined 49 games. With that being the case, posting a 39-26 record is understandable, if not actually expected.
Philly isn't a very deep team, but their top-end talent is among the best in the league, and it would be surprising if they weren't able to make the Eastern Conference Finals as a result. Presumably facing Milwaukee once there will be tough, but the Sixers have a ton of bodies to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo, like Embiid, Simmons and Al Horford. Defeating the Bucks would be an upset, but is certainly within the realm of possibility.
The +2800 number is especially generous when you compare surrounding options. Bucks vs. Jazz is +2100; Heat vs. Lakers is +2500; Bucks vs. Mavericks is +2600; Heat vs. Clippers is +2800. - Barutha
Milwaukee to win the Finals: +240
Picking the favorite isn't exciting, but there's value in the Bucks at this number. The gap between Milwaukee and the East team with the next-best odds (Boston, +2000) is massive, so while the Bucks may be a toss-up against the Clippers or Lakers in the Finals, they remain the near-consensus pick to at least get to that series. The Los Angeles teams will have to contend with each other just to reach that point, and even Houston (+1300) has better title odds than any non-Milwaukee team in the East.
Losing out on what likely would've been homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs is huge. Milwaukee was one of the best home teams in the league this season. But unlike teams like Miami and Philadelphia, the Bucks were also a juggernaut on the road, going 25-9 before the shutdown, with four of those losses coming in their final five games.
Betting the Bucks might not bump you up a tax bracket, but its the best combination of safety and value on the board. - Whalen
Brandon Ingram to win Most Improved Player: +260
Bam Adebayo (-140) is the favorite to win MIP, and Luka Doncic (+550) also has a puncher's chance. This is actually one of the most stacked MIP classes in recent memory – one that includes Jayson Tatum, Devonte Graham, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Trae Young, Davis Bertans, Domantas Sabonis and a handful of others. In a typical year, any of those players could raise the award.
While Adebayo has made huge strides (16.2 PPG on 11.1 FGA, 10.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.3 BLK, 1.2 STL) and has helped vault the Heat up the standings farther than Ingram has, I think it's much more difficult and meaningful to improve as an on-ball, high-usage player. We had seen flashes of Ingram's option as a driver of offense, but he hadn't been given a full opportunity until this season. In Ingram's 34.3 minutes per game, he's averaging 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 combined steals-plus-blocks. He also made a big stride in his scoring efficiency, posting a 59.0 true shooting percentage compared to last year's mark of 55.5 percent.
It's understandable that Adebayo is the favorite given his two-way ability and Miami's position in the standings, but I still think Ingram has a very real chance to win and that +260 is good value in what appears to be a two-man race. - Barutha
Clippers-Bucks Finals matchup: +370
Fanduel offers a large array of Exact Finals Matchup options, and this is the one I like best. The Clippers have been my pick to come out of the West all season, and Lakers losing homecourt – and Avery Bradley – only increases my confidence. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are a better duo than Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but the Clippers have a significant depth advantage – both on the wing and in the backcourt.
On the other side, Milwaukee is included in five of the six matchups with the lowest odds for a reason. Betting the Bucks won't bring the most value, but they're the safest play on the board, especially considering that there has not been a consensus second-best team in the East. If you're picking against Milwaukee, good luck predicting whether it's Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, or even Miami, that pulls the upset.
If you're looking at longshots, I like Raptors-Clippers (26/1) and 76ers-Clippers (28/1). - Whalen
Montrezl Harrell to win Sixth Man of the Year: +210
Like Most Improved Player, the Sixth Man of the Year award has a relatively big field. Dennis Schroder (-190), Montrezl Harrell (+210) and Lou Williams (+420) have the three shortest odds, while Derrick Rose (+3300), Davis Bertans (+10000), Goran Dragic (+10000), Marcus Smart (+10000) and Norman Powell (+10000) are all longshots but still had campaigns that could probably win in other years.
The top three candidates have similar counting stats, so I think most voters will lean on the team with the better record (Clippers) and who has the most favorable advanced stats (Harrell, by far). Also, what Harrell brings to the Clippers is also more key than what Williams brings or what Schroder brings to the Thunder. The Clippers and Thunder both have other playmakers that can take plays off because of Williams and Schroder, which is obviously valuable. But Harrell gives LA a much-needed high-energy inside scoring option, which they otherwise wouldn't have. His impact is much more difficult to replace. - Barutha
Philadelphia to win the East: +900
You can get the Sixers at 27/1 to win the Finals, but upsetting Milwaukee, then beating one of the Los Angeles teams might be too much to ask. Still, getting what may be the most talented team in the East at 9/1 is solid value. The Sixers never fully put it together during the regular season, but given where they were from a health perspective in March, they should benefit from the time off.
Like Milwaukee, Philly may be hurt by the lack of home games – the Sixers were a league-best 29-2 at home – but unlike the Bucks, the Sixers were horrific on the road. So there's a case to be made that meeting in the middle, with 21 other teams doing the same, could end up playing to the Sixers' favor. Head-to-head, the Sixers went 1-2 against Milwaukee during the regular season. But their Christmas Day victory was a resounding one, as they held Giannis Antetokounmpo to just 18 points on 27 shots, while leading by as much as 29 points early in the fourth quarter.
Those are the type of performances the Sixers have struggled to reproduce consistently, but if they're able to string a few together, they could be the team to topple the Bucks. - Whalen
Denver to win the Finals: +2500
The path through the Western Conference playoffs will be extremely challenging, but the Nuggets have a fringe MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic plus arguably the deepest roster in the NBA. It's an unfortunate reality, but deep benches may come in handy when dealing with the potential of positive COVID-19 tests.
Denver has the ninth-best Simple Rating (which factors strength of schedule and net rating) and has the sixth-best point differential (-0.3) against top-10 point differential teams. With both Jokic and Jamal Murray on the court, the Nuggets have a +8.0 net rating, which ranks in the 91st percentile. Paul Millsap (+12.5) and Will Barton (+8.4) both have great on/off court numbers, and Michael Porter Jr. is an intriguing wildcard as a microwave-scoring forward. It's tough to make an argument against Denver being one of the best teams in the NBA. Their lineup is deep, flexible and has nice top-end talent.
The Nuggets haven't been slowed down by the competitive Eastern Conference teams (Raptors, 76ers, Bucks, Heat, Pacers, Celtics), either, posting a 7-3 record against those opponents. It's possible that if Denver made it to the Finals, they'd be favored, unless it's Milwaukee waiting on the other side. Ultimately, I think if we played the season out 25 times, the Nuggets would probably emerge champions at least once. - Barutha
Portland (+460) or Sacramento (+850) to be eighth seed in the West
I don't necessarily disagree that the Pelicans (+380) are the team with the best chance to usurp Memphis, but I like the value a bit lower down the board. By percentage points, Portland is actually slightly ahead of New Orleans in the standings entering Orlando, while the Kings have an identical 28-36 record to that of the Pels.
New Orleans may have the name recognition, but of those three teams Portland has the best single player in Damian Lillard. The Blazers will also get a pair of frontcourt starters back from injury, though the loss of Trevor Ariza, who began the year in Sacramento, will hurt. The case for Portland – a team that made the West Finals last season – is fairly clear: ride the scoring and experience of Lillard and McCollum, and hope that Jusuf Nurkic looks like 80 percent of the guy he was before snapping his leg.
By virtue of playing more games before the shutdown, Portland also has a slight edge in winning percentage, so the Blazers would win a hypothetical tiebreak against any of the eighth-seed contenders, should they finish with the same record during the eight-game regular season.
For Sacramento, the path to the playoffs is much less clear and would likely involve something unforeseen. The Kings might need a break or two, but they could have both Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley back healthy, while De'Aaron Fox was starting to play at an All-Star level prior to the shutdown. Nothing Sacramento has done over the last 15 years should instill confidence, but the Kings are worth a dart at this price considering they're only 3.5 games back of Memphis. If they're able to force a playoff for the final spot, anything can happen. - Whalen