5 Best Players to Bet On for the 2017 NBA Draft
With the amount of headlines this year’s NBA Draft has already generated, it’s hard to believe that we’re still a few days away from the actual event.
The latest and biggest bombshell came over the weekend, with the announcement that the Celtics have traded away the top pick in the draft (basically the rights to Markelle Fultz) to the Sixers, who continue to stockpile high pick after high pick. I guess we should Trust the Process, because they’ll eventually have to get it right in Philadelphia.
There also continues to be plenty of debate over whether Lonzo Ball will end up in Los Angeles or if Josh Jackson will overtake Lavar’s son as the second-most coveted player in the draft.
As much fun as it is to obsess over the top lottery prospects and project where they’ll end up, I’m more interested in trying to make some money. As I write this, BetOnline’s got 14 Over/Under draft props up, where you simply predict whether a player will go Over (later than) or Under (before) that pick in the draft.
While 7 of those props feature potential top-10 picks, I’m more interested in the Over/Under props that involve players who are projected to go in the second round. I think there’s great value in the latter round of this draft, plus it will keep you interested in the proceedings far after the lottery picks are off the board.
With that said, here’s my 5 favorite Over/Under NBA Draft prop bets.
1. Josh Hart Under 40.5 -125
The Villanova senior has long been projected to be a second-round pick, but I think there’s too much to like about Hart for teams not to consider taking him late in Round 1, if not early in the second round.
On the court, Hart brings a lot to the table. The guard averaged nearly 19 points and 3 assists per game last year with the Wildcats, shot better than 40% from behind the 3-point line, contributed on the glass (6.4 rebounds per outing) and was usually the first player Nova coach Jay Wright would turn to when needing someone to defend the opposition’s best player with the game on the line.
So why is a versatile four-year product of a program that won the 2016 national championship (Hart led the team in scoring that season) expected by many to be a mid-to-late second-round pick? Simple: he doesn’t have the size, raw athleticism and explosivity that scouts crave in an elite prospect.
Here’s where Hart’s intangibles come in. Basically, he’s had to earn everything he’s got. His family’s home burned down when he was in high school, his grades suffered, and he worked hard to get back into private school. Going into Villanova, he was the 80th-ranked high school prospect. 4 years later, he’s one of the top seniors available in the NBA draft.
If you draft Hart, you’re not getting a turn-key NBA stud, but you are getting a guy who has proven time and time again that he’ll get the most out of his considerable abilities. I’m betting that a team (maybe the Spurs at #29) will realize and appreciate that before the draft is 41 picks old.
2. Luke Kennard Over 12.5 +115
Kennard has been skyrocketing up a lot of mock drafts ever since he put on an impressive performance at pro day, draining shot after shot from virtually anywhere on the court.
I’m not so sure teams will base an early first-round pick on one day of H-O-R-S-E. Look at it this way: if Kennard had shot poorly at pro day, would scouts have suddenly decided to ignore his collegiate career at Duke and passed on him until the second round? Of course not. So I don’t feel that sinking a bunch of long-distance shots at pro day is going to suddenly vault Kennard past a bunch of players with much higher ceilings and into the top dozen of the draft.
Kennard can shoot, but we already knew that. He shot nearly 44% from behind the arc and averaged close to 20 points per game this past season for Duke. He’s also a smart player, no surprise for a guy coming out of Mike Krzyzewski’s system.
But there are a lot of concerns about how Kennard’s game will translate in the NBA, especially at the defensive end. He’s got short arms and average quickness, which will probably make him a defensive liability and limit him to coming off the bench in the pros. Even with the recent emphasis on smaller sharpshooters in the NBA, I don’t see a team spending an early first-round pick on someone who may not even be able to start for them.
3. Sindarius Thornwell Over 38.5 -125
There are legitimate doubts about whether Thornwell will get selected at all in this draft. I expect that he will, if only because of how well he played in the NCAA Tournament, but I certainly don’t see him going before the midway point of the second round. If that’s the case, we have a lot of breathing room with this Over/Under prop at 38.5.
The shooting guard enjoyed his coming-out party at March Madness, averaging almost 24 points per game as South Carolina surprised us all with a run to the Final Four. If the draft were immediately after that performance, perhaps Thornwell’s performance would still be fresh enough in our minds that it would have earned him a much earlier selection than he warranted.
While Thornwell saw his points per game increase dramatically this past season at South Carolina (he averaged 21.4 points per outing, up from 13.4 the previous year, and was named SEC player of the year), a lot of that may have had to do with his usage rating with the Gamecocks. He won’t get the ball at anywhere close to a 29.5% usage rate in the pros, where he won’t be able to physically overwhelm opponents in the paint the way he did in college.
Thornwell himself believes he’s more of a “glue guy” and describes himself as one of the best defenders available in this draft. Defense on the perimeter is obviously something that NBA teams value, but I expect them to look for players with more offensive upside until we’re past the midway point of the second round.
4. Jayson Tatum Under 4.5 -120
If you’re betting on Tatum Over/Under 4.5, you’re basically betting on whether the small forward will get picked 4th or lower. The overwhelming consensus is that the top 3 picks in the draft will be Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson, quite possibly in that order. (In fact, BetOnline has a prop on that, with the Fultz-Ball-Jackson trifecta paying -120 odds.)
That means we need to look at the team that holds the fourth pick and try to predict whether or not Tatum is a good fit for them at #4. That team is the Phoenix Suns, and I do think Tatum has the type of game that generally appeals to the Suns’ style.
Phoenix loves playing that fast-paced, up-tempo attack, and Tatum is known for his ability to dribble exceptionally well for a player of his size. There aren’t many 6-foot-8 guys out there who can rebound the ball, lead the fast break and then possess a nice range of finishing abilities around the basket.
There are safer picks out there than Tatum, who isn’t known as a great defensive player and won’t be that valuable in the NBA if he isn’t an above-average scorer. But I think the Suns will be too tempted by the offensive potential to pass him up at #4, with hopes that he eventually cashes in that athleticism at the defensive end of the floor.
5. Frank Mason III Under 49.5 +110
Mason has had more than his share of detractors in advance of the NBA Draft, with the most common criticism being his lack of size. At 5-foot-11 and with a short wingspan, Mason will obviously be a disadvantage in the NBA, even at the point guard position.
However, you can’t discount the fact that Mason has shown repeatedly that he can overcome that size deficiency with his crazy athleticism, quickness and intensity. He was the NCAA National Player of the Year in 2016, and is coming off a senior season in Kansas where he averaged 20.9 points and 5.2 assists for a Jayhawks squad that went 31-5 overall.
6 years ago, a diminutive point guard with raw scoring abilities went 60th overall in the draft. That player happens to be Isiah Thomas, who threw himself into NBA MVP consideration this past season after averaging 28.9 points per game for the Eastern Conference regular-season champion Celtics. Everyone seems willing to ignore Thomas’ obvious defensive liabilities because of his ability to score the ball and lead an offense, and I think NBA teams will be reminded of Thomas when they look at Mason.
At worst, he’s a backup point guard with a high motor that can lead an effective second unit. With some professional coaching and a bit more development (even though he’s one of the older players available in the draft), he could turn into more than that. Mason’s an excellent long-range shooter and has a winning pedigree from 4 years in Kansas, and I see an NBA team rolling the dice a bit on him before the 50th pick in the draft.