The dominance of the Golden State Warriors in this year’s NBA playoffs has many wondering how any other team will be able to even challenge them in the foreseeable future.
It’s possible the foundation to the next NBA dynasty might be laid in this month’s draft. The quality and depth of talent in this year’s draft class (especially at point guard) is already generating conversation about whether it may be the best crop of prospects since the Draft Lottery began in 1985.
That’s sweet music to the ears of Celtics fans, whose team was already the best regular-season team in the Eastern Conference this year (thanks in part to the Cavaliers sandbagging) and now gets the first overall pick thanks to its fleecing of the Brooklyn Nets in the Garnett/Pierce deal of 2013.
While the Celtics get richer at #1 (unless they trade the picks, of course), their weaker sisters in the NBA will also get their chance to improve as the next 14 picks belong to teams that didn’t make the playoffs this spring.
We may not get a chance to bet on an NBA game until next fall, but at least we can still bet on the draft. Here’s a breakdown of the most likely first-round picks at each position, followed by a suggested prop bet involving each spot on the floor (all referenced props are available at BetOnline.)
Floor generals are expected to dominate the early selections of this draft, with point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr. accounting for 5 of the top 9 prospects according to CBS Sports.
Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball are the top 2 picks in virtually every mock draft you’ll find on the Internet right now, and Fultz is the projected first pick at most of them. Scouts love the Washington product for his shooting skills (he shot 47.6% from the field last year) as well as his ability to play either backcourt position. The Celtics already have two star guards in Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, but both are scheduled to become free agents at the end of next season. Fultz could get a year of NBA experience under his belt next season and then slide into a starting role in 2018-19.
Ball is also highly hyped, and not just because of his loudmouth dad or his Big Baller Brand shoes. He’s not likely to dominate a game with his scoring (his highest single-game point total last year at UCLA was 24 points) but his passing and court vision make him a perfect fit for a Lakers team that is picking second and needs someone to distribute the ball to the rest of their talented young weapons.
Suggested bet: Unless the Celtics trade away the first overall pick to a team like Sacramento, Fultz is almost certainly headed to Boston. That leaves the Lakers with the first crack at Ball, and I just don’t see them passing up a big-name UCLA product with skills that fit their team. I like “Lakers as the team to draft Lonzo Ball” at -250 odds.
While point guards are expected to quickly fly off the NBA draft shelves, their shooting guard brethren probably won’t have their names called for a while – especially if you consider hybrid players like Monk and France’s Frank Ntilikina to be point guards, not shooting guards.
Duke’s Luke Kennard is the highest-ranked 2-guard according to CBS, which lists him 15th on its pre-draft board. International player Terrance Ferguson (he was a 5-star recruit last year but passed up an offer from Arizona to play overseas in Australia) and Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell are the only other shooting guards in CBS’ top 30, with Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey and Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon rounding out the top 5 prospects at the position.
Suggested bet: I’m going to go off the board a little bit here and take Villanova shooting guard Josh Hart as the first senior to be drafted (+500). Hart has championship pedigree, is a good shooter and can play pretty strong defense, plus he’s got 4 years of college experience under his belt. There aren’t many senior players ranked ahead of him and I love the value here.
Small forward is the other position in this draft that features a ton of elite talent. Duke’s Jayson Tatum, Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac are all projected to go off the board early, with NBADraft.net even suggesting Jackson might go second overall and Tatum being picked third.
Jackson has already met with the Lakers twice and scouts love him for his explosiveness and athleticism. That’s believed to give him the edge on Tatum, a skilled shooter from the post and perimeter but not known as a great ball handler or passer. Isaac is tall and long, is a strong defender and showed an ability to both rebound and block shots in college, but is considered more of a longterm project than a turnkey NBA player.
Other small forwards projected to go in the first round include North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Indiana’s OG Anunoby, with Syracuse sophomore Tyler Lydon also given a chance by some draft experts.
Suggested bet: There’s already a lot of point guard talent in the NBA, while quality players at the wing are worth their weight in gold. Josh Jackson, Tatum and Isaac are virtual locks to go in the top 10, and I think Justin Jackson or Anunoby may join them. If 4 small forwards are in the top 10, that leaves just 6 picks for other positions. So, I’ll take a shot at the +300 odds on the Under 4.5 point guards being picked in the top 10, and hope guys like Fox, Monk or Smith fall into a double-digit slot.
There aren’t many power forwards (if any) expected to go in the first 10 picks of the draft, but the back half of the first round could be full of them.
Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, Wake Forest’s John Collins, Duke’s Harry Giles, UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan are all popular choices to have their names called in the opening round, with Markkanen widely considered the most likely to go first.
German prospect Isaiah Hartenstein, UCLA’s TJ Leaf, Oregon’s Jordan Bell and North Carolina’s Tony Bradley are other potential first-round picks at power forward, and there’s a long list of power forward/center hybrids who are projected to go early in the second round as well.
Suggested bet: Bell going in the first round was a longshot going into the NCAA tournament, but he had a very strong showing at March Madness and then raised some eyebrows with his performance at the NBA combine as well. Though he’s undersized for the position, he’s known as an excellent defensive player due to his 7-foot wingspan and terrific foot speed. His stock has risen dramatically in the last few months and I think it translates into being a first-round selection, which pays -135 odds.
The increasing priority on perimeter shooting and transition play has decreased the value of centers who camp out in the paint, but there’s still a place in the game for big men who can rebound and bring a shot-blocking presence.
Gonzaga’s Zach Collins, Texas’ Jarrett Allen, Creighton’s Justin Patton and Kentucky’s Edrice Adebayo are all possible first-round selections at the center position, with Collins the highest-touted of the bunch. He’s a more modern center because of his ability to shoot the 3, and he still blocked a lot of shots for the Bulldogs as well.
Suggested bet: There really aren’t that many props at BetOnline that are affected by centers. But one that does is the number of Kentucky products who will be drafted in the first round. The Over/Under on that prop is 2.5 players, and Fox and Monk will certainly be 2 Wildcats that go in Round 1. Adebayo would be the third, and he’s hardly a lock to go in the first round. I’ll play the Under 2.5 Kentucky players drafted in Round 1 for the value of the +275 odds and hope that Adebayo doesn’t get selected until Round 2.
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