Based on the betting odds, the new NBA season is the most wide open the league has ever seen. Sportsbooks have numerous legitimate contenders and no clear-cut favorite.
The Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and LA Clippers are either favorites or co-favorites across the betting market with consensus odds of +600, which is the longest recorded odds for any opening-night favorite. Additionally, the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have consensus odds of 10-1 or shorter.
"You used to have loaded teams but now you have a bunch of teams that are semi-loaded," DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello told ESPN, reflecting on the league's evolution since he started working in Las Vegas in 1979. "The favorites are really good, but they're not insurmountable."
Due to its best-of-seven playoff format, the NBA typically sees favorites win the title, and oddsmakers have been able to forecast the main contenders by virtue of their superstars. Only four times in league history has a long shot of 15-1 or longer won the championship, according to SportsOddsHistory.com. That is easily the fewest of the four major pro sports.
"The parity is not random. It's the direction of where the NBA has been going. They changed free agency. There's a lot less movement now, and that's clear with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] staying in a market like Milwaukee," SuperBook VP of risk management Jeff Sherman told ESPN, stressing how the new supermax contract clause incentivizes a player to re-sign, since only his current team can offer the most money.
"A lot of it has to do with [LeBron James'] dominance not being what it once was," Avello said. Until now, James or Kevin Durant had starred on the preseason betting favorite every year since 2010.
James and the Lakers enter this year as a consensus ninth title favorite in the neighborhood of 18-1 odds, after entering last year at +450. In fact, a LeBron-led team had not had odds longer than 10-1 since his third season in 2005 (18-1 odds).
The championship futures market is about talent but also about how much money has already been wagered on particular teams. The defending champion Warriors have been a very popular wager at most sportsbooks. However, on a neutral court, Sherman's highest-rated team is the Clippers, which feature Paul George and Kawhi Leonard returning from injury.
"They're healthy now and these guys have had extensive time off to recover. They're so deep and the pieces fit," Sherman said. "I opened [their title odds] excessively low. I wanted to make sure anyone who wanted to bet the Clippers was going to bet them elsewhere."
The Celtics have the highest win total with 53.5, which is the lowest total for the top team in any season. That obviously points to competitive balance, as does having 15 teams with a win total of at least 46.5, separating the top half of the league's teams by just seven games.