This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
We're in the middle of the NBA Finals, but that doesn't mean we can't look ahead to next season. DraftKings Sportsbook has released a variety of futures options for 2021-22, including NBA Title, Most Valuable Player, and Scoring Leader.
The RotoWire NBA crew is given a fictional $1,000 to spend however they see fit. Find out how they spent it:
$550 – Nets to win the title (+210)
It's not a sexy pick. Nobody likes a frontrunner. But I believe this is good value. The Nets, with a largely absent Kyrie Irving and a hobbled James Harden, still managed to take the Bucks to seven games, and it came down to the absolute wire (the Nets actually scored 20 more points than the Bucks during the series). Pessimists will point to Irving's rampant injury history and might still be concerned about Durant's long-term health coming off an Achilles tear, but I don't think that's enough reason to handicap them as less than the favorite. Plus, my confidence level is relatively low in most other teams regarding a Finals run. They all seem to have fatal flaws – whether it be a lack of elite talent, insufficient depth, or poor fit – which are issues that Brooklyn does not have. At this point, before the offseason, I have to go with the Nets, even at a less-than-lucrative +210.
$150 – Joel Embiid to win MVP (+700)
Embiid has a chance to win this even if Ben Simmons doesn't get traded. He's unquestionably the best two-way center in the NBA, and he was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2020-21. That said, the hope here is that Simmons get dealt, leading to a more cohesive offense surrounding Embiid. This is not a perfect stat, but with Simmons off the court last season, Embiid averaged 40.3 points (not a typo), 13.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes. Obviously, the Sixers will be getting something back – probably an All-Star caliber player – when trading for Simmons, but that demonstrates the kind of numbers Embiid can put up when surrounded by shooters. Embiid to win the scoring title is +700, so that's an option as well.
$150 on Nikola Jokic to win MVP (+1500) and $75 on him to win the scoring title (+10,000)
The argument for Jokic to win MVP is straightforward. He won it in 2020-21, and with Jamal Murray out with an ACL tear, Jokic will have to do even more. With Murray off the floor in 2020-21, Jokic averaged 29.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes. After researching those stats, I was stunned to discover that Jokic is 100-to-1 to win the 2021-22 scoring title. 100-to-1 for someone that could easily average 30 points per game next season is absurd value. I don't get it. It might be the best value on the board.
$75 – Paul George scoring leader (+5000)
This value isn't nearly as good as Jokic to lead the NBA in scoring, but like Jokic, George will have a great teammate missing for most, if not all, of next season. Kawhi Leonard recently underwent surgery for a partially torn ACL, leaving George as the Clippers' clear No. 1 scoring option. In his famous 2018-19 season in OKC, George, even with Russell Westbrook playing alongside him, averaged 28.0 points per game. He also averaged 28.7 points with Leonard off the court this season. If the offense is built around him from Day 1, it seems realistic that he averages 30, which would clearly put him in contention for the scoring title.
$200: Kevin Durant to win MVP (+700)
Injuries have unfortunately become a major narrative during the third act of Durant's career. When healthy this season, he looked like the most dominant player in the league. While Durant's hamstring issues are a concern, he's completely moved past his torn Achilles, which was a greater concern entering 2020-21. If he can avoid bad luck with a more player-friendly schedule next season, Durant could chart a course for his second MVP award.
$100: Nikola Jokic to win MVP (+1500)
We're doubling up on MVP bets right out of the gate. I'm not sure where I'd rank Jokic in terms of my most likely winners (probably third or fourth), but getting the defending, near-unanimous MVP at this price feels like a steal. Sure, the Nuggets were bounced in Round 2, and sure they won't have Jamal Murray for most of next season, but that means Jokic will have to take on even more offensive responsibility. A repeat will be difficult – especially if more of the field stays healthy – but Jokic's durability and stat floor make him a relatively safe play.
$300: Brooklyn Nets to win the NBA title (+210)
The Nets were the best team in 2020-21, and they project to be the best team again 2021-22. Injuries took their toll at the worst time, but as long as James Harden and Kyrie Irving can stay healthy in the postseason, Brooklyn's talent is simply too overwhelming. The upcoming Damian Lillard sweepstakes could reshape a contender, but for now, I'm all in on the Nets.
$100: Anthony Davis to win MVP (+2500)
Considering the Lakers are less than a calendar year removed from winning the title, Davis' stock feels lower than it should be. Even when healthy last season, he struggled to look like the same player who dominated the Finals, and injuries will always be a significant concern for one of the league's most delicate superstars. WITH THAT SAID: at 25/1, Davis is worth the risk under the belief that after a down 2020-21, he's motivated to improve his effort on both ends.
$100: Stephen Curry to lead the league in scoring (+500)
The Warriors should have better talent around Curry this season, but there's an argument to be made that the return of Klay Thompson will lead to easier opportunities for the defending scoring champ. The Warriors should be much more competitive this season, so I expect Curry to be even more locked in on a night-to-night basis as Golden State looks to re-open its title window.
$100: Luka Doncic to lead the league in scoring (+500)
Doncic got off to a dreadful start from three last season but eventually rounded into form, and by the playoffs, he looked like perhaps the most dangerous scorer in the league not named Kevin Durant. While Durant has an outstanding supporting cast around him, the Mavs have essentially built a team that requires Doncic to do everything. When it comes to winning the title, that's not ideal. But if we're talking scoring title, this is exactly the team build you're looking for.
$100: Zion Williamson to lead the league in scoring (+950)
Williamson finished last season ranked eighth in scoring (27.0 PPG), but the ease with which he routinely reached 25-to-30 points almost every night was alarming. Around mid-season, Williamson seemed to unlock something and started to look much more like the all-around threat he was at Duke. The three-point shooting may never come, but Williamson is easily the league's best scorer in the paint, and he began to show some improvement at the free-throw line after the All-Star break (70% FT over final 26 games). If he were to win the scoring title, he'd be the first true big man (not counting Kevin Durant) to do so since Shaquille O'Neal in 1999-00.
$600 – Suns to win the 2021-21 NBA Finals (+1300)
The Lakers are getting older and probably losing Dennis Schroder. The Jazz are losing Mike Conley. Kawhi might leave the Clippers. Why NOT the Suns? CP3 would be crazy to leave this young, talented club this off-season. All the pieces are in place and, in general, the Western Conference is getting worse.
$300 – Anthony Davis to win MVP (+2500)
Maybe 2021-22 is the year LeBron, who's 36 years old, gets hurt and Davis carries the load? We already know Dennis Schroder is probably gone, so more scoring load will fall to Davis. At +2500, I can't resist the storyline of Davis overcoming Sir Charles' "Street Clothes" nickname and having the season of his career. I GUUUAAARRR-AAANNN-TTTEE it (press the button)!
$100 – Joel Embiid to be the 2021-22 Scoring Leader (+750)
Seems like a safe bet that Ben Simmons gets moved this offseason. One has got to assume his replacement will be a better outside shooter, opening the paint for Embiid. And without Simmons, this will be Embiid's team. He was only 3.5 points per game behind Curry this season. Who says Curry even stays healthy enough to qualify again?
$500 – Warriors to win the NBA Finals (+1200)
The Warriors are set to have a better season next year, as they'll see the return of Klay Thompson along with two lottery draft picks (#7 and #14). While there's plenty of uncertainty with betting on a team that's been without their injured star, I'm confident that Thompson's return will provide a major upgrade to the Warriors roster. Even without Thompson this past season, the Warriors looked significantly better with a healthy Steph Curry, as they just barely missed the playoffs. There have also been rumors floating around that the Warriors GM is willing to package Andrew Wiggins or James Wiseman and one of their first-round picks for a star like Pascal Siakam. If the Warriors can bring a third star into the bay area and Curry can continue playing at an MVP-caliber level, the Warriors will be in for a deep playoff run in the 2021-22 season.
$200 – Domantas Sabonis to win MVP (+6500)
There are many reasons why I like this bet, but the main reasoning is that Sabonis is still very young and has been improving statistically each season. In my opinion, the only thing that held Sabonis out of the MVP race this season was because the Pacers weren't good enough. Sabonis ended the year with averages of 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists as the Pacers just barely missed out on the playoffs. Next season, with a fully healthy team and a proven new head coach in Rick Carlisle, the Pacers have the personnel to be a top-five team in the Eastern Conference. If Sabonis can finish next season with 25/12/8 and the Pacers have a top-five seed, I believe Sabonis will be the league's MVP.
$200 – Donovan Mitchell Scoring Leader (+3000)
After yet another dominant postseason run, averaging 32.3 points in 10 games, I feel that this next season is the year he becomes an even better scorer. Mitchell has increased his regular-season points per game average each season, and with teammate Mike Conley – the Jazz's fourth-highest scorer this past season – potentially leaving in free agency, it's possible Mitchell picks up the extra points left behind from Conley's departure. The Jazz's offense finished as the fourth highest-scoring team last season, so if they can continue to score a lot next season, I have no doubt Mitchell will be a consistent 30+ point scorer.
$100 – Evan Mobley to be 4th Overall Pick (+200)
The Raptors currently hold onto the 4th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and I have reason to believe Evan Mobley will be their guy. Last season, the Raptors struggled in a few different areas, but the center position was clearly their weak spot. After losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol in free agency prior to the start of the year, the Raptors signed Aron Baynes to fill in for the job. That turned out for the worse, as the Raptors finished third-worst in the league for rebounds per game. Mobley proved to be an effective rebounder in college, and I think he's a better fit for the Raptors compared to Jalen Suggs. The only way I see this bet losing is if a team tries to trade up for either Jalen Suggs or Jonathan Kuminga.
Warriors to win the title (+1200) – $250
The Warriors have suffered over the last couple of years, but I believe they are set to make their return to championship contention. This pick relies heavily on Klay Thompson being healthy and resembling the player he was before the injuries. His presence offensively will be crucial to relieving pressure from Steph Curry, but his defense will be equally as important, as the Warriors finished 18th in defensive rating last year. Not only does Golden State get Thompson back, but they will also be getting the 2020 No. 2 overall pick back and healthy. James Wiseman had a bumpy rookie season – ultimately ending with a meniscus tear – but I still have high expectations for him. I envision Wiseman having a similar impact in the playoffs for the Warriors next year as Deandre Ayton had for the Suns this year. Lastly, the Warriors have two lottery picks at their disposal that they can flip for a veteran bench presence to shore up their depth. The West will be incredibly competitive again next year, but I love the value at +1200 and believe that line will only drop as the Warriors begin to regain championship form.
Luka Doncic for MVP (+400) – $500
Luka Doncic is by far the best player on a perennial playoff team that has championship potential – oh, and he puts up ridiculous stat lines most nights. With Jason Kidd now leading the charge in Dallas, Doncic will likely have more say in how the offense is run, which should be a dangerous thought for opposing defenses. If the Slovenian star submits another season where he averages a near triple-double while finishing close to the top-five in scoring, and the Mavericks continue to see improvement, Doncic should be the favorite for his first MVP. The World is taking over the NBA, and I am counting on Doncic to extend the streak of three consecutive foreign-born MVPs to four.
Joel Embiid to win scoring title (+750) – $250
Ben Simmons appears to be on his way out of town, which means Darel Morey and the Sixers are going to build around Embiid for the future. When Morey built around Harden in Houston, he went on to average 30.4, 36.1 and 34.3 points in consecutive seasons, winning three scoring titles. Embiid has the potential to dominate the league, and with Simmons gone, I think next year will be his best opportunity to do so. Embiid scored a career-high 28.5 points this season, and I am expecting him to eclipse 30.0 points next year, as he narrowly beats out Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal.