This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
We're nearly a full month into the 2020-21 NBA season, so it's time to revisit some futures odds via the DraftKings Sportsbook. Naturally, it's a bit more difficult to find advantageous numbers as the season progresses, but that doesn't mean there isn't value to be had.
Let's take a look at some of my favorite bets as Week 5 of the NBA season progresses.
Brooklyn Nets to win the Eastern Conference (+140)
I'm not ready to write off Milwaukee, or even some of the secondary contenders, but Monday's matchup was a look into just how potent the Nets are with arguably the two best pure scorers in the league. Granted, Milwaukee didn't play its best game and was still in it until the final possession, but it's easy to forget the Nets were without their other other superstar in Kyrie Irving.
The Durant-Harden-Irving trio is easily the best top-three in a league that's shifted toward star duos surrounded by role players. The Nets lack the depth of teams like the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks, but their top-end talent is so overwhelming that they have to be favored to win the East. Milwaukee won't go down without a fight – the Bucks are worth a sprinkle at +320 – but it's difficult to see anything other than injuries derailing this Nets team. I understand the potential chemistry concerns with three of the highest-usage players in NBA history on the same team, but even if it's not a seamless fit, at the end of the day talent tends to win out.
LeBron James to win the MVP (+1000)
I'll preface this by saying Durant is still my favorite to win the award, but his number is all the way down to 6/1, so he's no longer the best value. That title now belongs to James, who may have a chance to back his way into his fifth MVP. Statistically, James' numbers are slightly worse relative to last season, but that's due in part to the fact that he's playing a career-low 32.2 minutes per game – down from 34.6 per game last season.
But James is still averaging 23.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.5 assists, while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three. Those numbers may not have been good enough to win him the award in years past, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo unlikely to win it for the third straight year, the door is open for James to make more of a narrative-based play.
He's been the best player on the league's best team thus far, and some voters will give him a boost for continuing to dominate at age 36. If his numbers creep closer to last season's, the Lakers finish with the league's best record, and he misses minimal time, James will once again be near the top of the conversation. James has finished third or higher in MVP voting in 10 of the last 12 seasons.
Chris Boucher to win Sixth Man of the Year (+1000)
Both the Sixth Man and Most Improved Player races are shaping up to be significantly more interesting than in years past. Jordan Clarkson is the current favorite at DraftKings (2/1), but Boucher has been even more impactful. Over the Raptors' last six games, Boucher is averaging 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks (!!!) while maintaining a 66/54/82 shooting line. The three-point shooting (he's at 47% on the season) will eventually regress, but the rest of Boucher's production should be mostly sustainable.
My hunch is that the Raptors' lack of other options at center is baked into Boucher's odds. Aron Baynes has been a complete disaster thus far, and Alex Len was so bad the Raptors waived him on Tuesday. But Baynes' ineffectiveness hasn't stopped Nick Nurse from continuing to start him, even if he only ends up playing a handful of minutes. So long as that remains the case, Boucher will be a top contender for the Sixth Man award, but eventually Nurse may have no choice but to cave and finally move him into the starting five, which would put his candidacy in jeopardy.
Myles Turner to win Defensive Player of the Year (+300)
Defensive Player of the Year isn't just about blocking shots, but historically the award has favored rim-protecting big men. Right now, it's shaping up to be a four-man race between Turner, Anthony Davis (2/1), Rudy Gobert (3/1) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (6/1), with Ben Simmons (10/1) and Joel Embiid (12/1) on the outside looking in.
Davis being the slight favorite is understandable, but Turner is off to a historically great start as a rim-protector. His 4.2 blocks per game have him on pace to become the first player since Dikembe Mutombo in 1995-96 to average at least 4.0 blocks. He's also on pace to shatter Manute Bol's single-season block percentage record, which has stood for more than 30 years. In terms of advanced numbers, Turner ranks fifth in defensive win shares (0.8) – slightly behind Gobert (1.0) and Davis (0.9) – and fourth in defensive box plus/minus.
Turner has never averaged more than 2.7 blocks per game, so history suggests his numbers will regress at some point. Right now, though, Turner is lapping the field in blocks – he leads the league by 1.5 BPG – so he has a sizable cushion to work with. Staying above 4.0 per game is probably unrealistic, but if Turner can hover around 3.5 BPG over the course of the season, he'll have a strong case to take home the DPOY award for the first time.