Prop bet #1: Big game Bron’
When I made LeBron James’ points and assists prop my best bet for Thursday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans, I was reassured by how much James clearly wants to win this tournament. My reasoning was that even at this stage of his career when LeBron is fully engaged, he can be the best player on the planet again for any single game.
But even I could not have anticipated how much force he would bring to the In-Season Tournament semifinal. Not only did he score 30 points and rack up eight assists, he did so in just 23 minutes of action. He took on the challenge of guarding Zion Williamson himself and was blowing up Pelicans plays left and right.
He took three charges in the first half. Prior to that game, he had taken just three charges the rest of the season combined. LeBron was everywhere.
His hot shooting got most of the headlines, as he went 4-4 from downtown including an absolute bomb from near halfcourt. But James showed the full package as a scorer, but most intriguingly, by working as an off-ball weapon.
LeBron transformed into whatever type of player the player demanded. James would play like a big and seal his man near the rim for a quick turnaround or post-up. He would play like a wing, curling off an Iverson cut and catching on the move, and taking his man into the paint with him. Or he was splashing threes off the dribble like the best of NBA guards.
He and Austin Reaves made music in the pick and roll, with LeBron mostly working as the roller. When he wants to be, LeBron is one of the best pick-and-roll finishers there is, and Reaves is a talented conductor.
Having had my faith in LeBron rewarded against the Pels, a team who in theory had more defensive options to try on him than the Indiana Pacers do, I’m going back to the well on this one and backing James Over 28.5 points for my first NBA player prop pick for Saturday’s Final.
If there’s one thing that gives me confidence in these LeBron James odds, it’s his play in elimination games through the years. LeBron has played in 26 win-or-go-home games and his scoring average in those contests is 33.7 points.
James has no intention of leaving Vegas without the NBA Cup, so I expect him to come through again on Saturday.
LeBron James prop: Over 28.5 points (-113 at FanDuel)
Prop bet #2: Haliburton at the wheel
The secret is officially out. Tyrese Haliburton isn’t just an All-Star guard or even an All-NBA one, he’s a legit MVP candidate now and for years to come.
It’s his passing and pace of play that define his game, but what makes him unique among guards of his ilk is that he manages to be a pass-first guard who rarely turns the ball over.
One of the general rules about NBA offense is that the more you pass, the more likely you are to turn it over. That’s one of the reasons that isolation offense is so popular, particularly at the end of games. The downside of course is that without passing, offenses can become predictable and stagnant, and other players will feel less engaged in the play.
But Haliburton has somehow managed to have his cake and eat it too. Not only is he averaging a staggering 12.4 assists over his last 10 games, but he’s also averaging just 1.9 turnovers.
What’s more, on the biggest stage, when the defenses have been the most keyed into what he’s been trying to do, he has had zero turnovers in back-to-back games. Tyrese now has three 25-point, 15+ assist games with zero turnovers this season. No other player has had more than one such game in their entire career per the NBA.
And he hasn’t changed his style of play one bit. He’s still getting off the ball early, trusting his teammates, and infecting them with his joyous style. The other team knows he wants to pass and yet he’s so surgical that he’s still not coughing it up.
The Los Angeles Lakers are also a conservative defense by nature. They have some solid wing defenders now with the emergence of Cam Reddish, but their guards are still a weak point that Tyrese can pressure. L.A.’s 13.9% opponent turnover rate is just 17th in the NBA per Cleaning the Glass
While his scoring and assist prop prices have continued to climb, Tyrese Haliburton’s odds for turnovers have remained static, allowing good value on this prop.
Tyrese Haliburton prop: Under 2.5 turnovers (+100 at DraftKings)
Prop bet #3: Turning in a clunker
For my last player prop pick, I’m taking Myles Turner Under 17.5 points. But this bet is less an indictment of Turner than it is an endorsement of Anthony Davis. While Rudy Gobert is leading the field for Defensive Player of the Year, AD is nipping at his heels.
What makes AD so special is his ability to navigate pick-and-roll defense. He has an uncanny ability to read the ball handler. He’s a master of timing his counterattack to deny the rim and the roller while buying time for the ball handler’s man to get back into the play and challenge the shot. He does all this while barely fouling, and he’s so good at it that he outright intimidates most players from even attempting shots in the paint against him.
Turner is a great player, but he’s a dependent offensive player. And the way he generates his shots is primarily off the back of Haliburton’s playmaking. That can be as a roller, a quick post-up, or a catch-and-shoot three.
AD is the ideal player to disrupt all of those. He’s nails denying the roll man, he’s simply too strong and smart to get posted up by Turner, and he’s agile enough to contest a three and retreat to the paint to gather the rebound.
Turner is coming off a 26-point game against the Bucks, but their defense in the pick-and-roll is orders of magnitude worse than the Lakers. They were also a tire fire in transition. The Lakers won’t make it nearly as easy for the Pacers to avoid their half-court defense.
Turner is only averaging 16.2 points over his last 10 despite that scoring burst and has had 17 or fewer in eight of his last 10 games. I’m pricing Myles Turner’s odds to be more in line with that stretch of 10 games rather than Thursday’s standout performance.
Myles Turner prop: Under 17.5 points (-104 at FanDuel)