Welcome to another edition of the NBA Notebook!
This week I’ll be looking at a few players who are struggling, a spot bet on a notable All-Star snub, and I’ll be taking stock of the injury news for Joel Embiid.
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Let's dive in!
The Toronto Raptors are bad. That was to be expected after they traded away Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, but it’s reaching the level where you become concerned about the development of their young core. Scottie Barnes’ recent play, in particular, has been concerning.
Barnes hasn’t necessarily thrived playing with RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley and sometimes seems to lose his edge and desire for the ball for crucial stretches.
But the most consequential development for Barnes has been the decline in his shooting. Barnes started off the season very encouragingly from downtown, averaging career highs in percentage (39%) and attempts (5.7) through December.
Since then though Barnes is shooting just 30.8% from deep and his attempts have declined as well. If Barnes doesn’t develop as a plus shooter, the kinds of teams that the Raptors can build around him become much more limited. Plays shorting his shooting props are solid value until something changes.
Another player struggling with his shot is Klay Thompson. He’s taken zero free throws in four straight games, and his true shooting over the last eight games is 46.5%.
While that isn’t new for Thompson this season, what is new is his declining role. Klay has been benched down the stretch in two of the Warriors' last three games, and signs are growing that his role with Golden State may be permanently shifting.
Steve Kerr has stuck with the core that got them to four championships through thick and thin, but as Thompson has continued to struggle, he’s finally begun to minimize his role.
This will make props for Jonathan Kuminga and Brandin Podziemski increasingly valuable as they soak up usage that once went to Klay.
Lastly, the Dallas Mavericks have begun to unravel after a hot start that catapulted them into a strong position in the Western Conference standings.
Dallas is just 3-7 against the spread in its last 10 games. The Mavs rely so heavily on Luka Doncic to do everything, and the wear and tear of his usage load seems to impact him the further we get into the season. Kyrie Irving was supposed to be able to shoulder some of the load for Doncic, but injuries have seen him sidelined for much of the year as well.
Dallas is 27-23, in the eighth seed, and just three games from falling out of the play-in tournament entirely. While Luka remains a solid bet in terms of raw production, there may be value in shorting the Mavs’ projected win total of 46.5.
The Washington Wizards host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. The Wizards are the NBA’s worst rebounding team on both sides of the ball, with few players on their listless roster willing and able to consistently make the effort plays that rebounding requires.
Poor rebounding was what cost the Cavaliers in their playoff flop against the New York Knicks, but since then Cleveland has made huge strides. Since their playoff mishap, they’re flirting with top-10 rankings in both offensive and defensive glass due to a renewed commitment on the boards. I’ll be keeping an eye on both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley’s rebounding props to see if either player has value in this incredibly favorable matchup.
Thursday sees the Denver Nuggets visit the Los Angeles Lakers for their second game since the Western Conference Finals. Notably, the Lakers will potentially be missing personnel as Thursday is the trade deadline, and it’s rare for deals this week to get done before the day in question. Anyone traded that day is highly unlikely to suit up later that night.
The Nuggets are also going to be at a massive rest advantage. Denver hasn’t played since Sunday, meaning they’ll have three full off days prior to the game. I’ll be trying to get the Nuggets spread on this game as soon as the line opens as I expect it to climb steadily ahead of tip-off.
Finally, I’m locked in on Domantas Sabonis against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Sabonis was one of the few genuine All-Star snubs, with outrageous averages of 19.7 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists on nearly 66% true shooting.
On Sunday, the NBA’s leading rebounder will be at a massive advantage as he takes on the team that drafted him. The Thunder are going to be on a back-to-back and they are consistently one of the Association's worst squads on the glass. I’ll be backing a Sabonis rebounding prop if it comes in at 14.5 or below.
Joel Embiid’s chances of winning MVP have seen a precipitous fall following his latest injury. Two weeks ago, he finished as high as +100, last week dropping to +900, and now he’s off the board entirely. So, what remains of the MVP race now that Embiid has dropped out?
Nikola Jokic continues to strengthen his hold on the lead at -160 and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a close second at +240. I don’t think there’s much value to betting on Jokic at this point of the contest, but there remains some value in a play on Gilgeous-Alexander.
Jokic is the deserving favorite but his desire to win the award is limited, and if the Nuggets finish this season the same way as last year the Thunder could be the higher seed and SGA could pull ahead.
Kawhi Leonard has been getting some buzz this week, and at +4000 and there’s some value to backing him. The issue is that Kawhi’s raw production is far below that of Jokic and SGA. Still, I think a play on Kawhi has much more value than +1200 on Doncic, whose team is flat-out not good enough.
Sadly, this week’s update is dominated by the injury to Joel Embiid, who underwent surgery to repair a meniscal tear Tuesday morning. He’ll be reevaluated in four weeks.
The timeline suggests that Embiid didn’t opt for the meniscus repair, which would have functionally ended his season. Typically, the alternate surgery sees a player miss between six to eight weeks.
Still, the ambiguity on his timeline suggests it’s not a lock that Embiid will play again this season. Even if he does, the NBA playoffs begin in about 10 weeks. Is it realistic to expect Embiid to ramp up to something approaching MVP form in time? And can the 76ers avoid falling into the play-in tournament part of the standings in the meantime? If Embiid is out or even limited, the 76ers playoff hopes are dead on arrival.
Lastly, in a surprising announcement, Zach LaVine had season-ending surgery this week. LaVine has been battling issues with his right foot most of the year and will now be out several months.
It doesn’t change the Bulls' fortunes or rotation as they have already been playing without him most of the year, but it seems to make any trade involving LaVine this week unlikely.
“That is ridiculously bad. It really is. Well, Adrian’s going to get some money, that’s for sure, and a ring. It’s one of these quirky things. I think there should be a rule somehow that someone else does it other than me.” - Doc Rivers when asked how it felt to be named the All-Star head coach despite having just recently taken over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.