2018 NBA Finals Odds: Why the Oklahoma City Thunder Offer the Most Value
When looking at the 2018 NBA Finals odds, it’s pretty easy to focus on the obvious candidates.
The favored Warriors are trying to cement their place as potentially the greatest team of all time. The Cavaliers have LeBron James, who is gunning for his eighth straight appearance in the NBA Finals. The Celtics have added a pair of superstars, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, to a team that already finished atop the East last season. The Rockets could be lethal offensively with the tandem of James Harden and Chris Paul, and the Spurs are… the Spurs.
The problem with betting on any of those teams? There isn’t much value. You actually have to lay -160 juice at Bovada to take the Warriors to beat out the rest of the field, while the Cavs, Celts and Rockets all pay less than +900. Even the Spurs at +1200 odds don’t look that appealing, considering they’re an aging outfit that may have to beat Golden State and Houston just to get through the West.
Want some value? Let’s stay in the West, where 50-win seasons don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. We’ve seen the Oklahoma City Thunder fly under the radar before, and at +2500 odds to win the 2017-18 NBA title, they’re doing it again.
Here are 5 reasons I believe Oklahoma City may be the best value bet on the NBA futures board.
1. They have Russell Westbrook
Even when Kevin Durant was still in Oklahoma City, it still felt at times like the Thunder was Russell Westbrook’s team. That wasn’t always a good thing, with Westbrook sometimes wanting to play Hero Ball instead of making the most of having arguably the best pure scorer in the NBA as his teammate, but there was never any questioning of Westbrook’s desire to win.
Last year, in his first without KD at his side, Westbrook took his game to an entirely new level. Not only did he post a triple double in more than half his games, he became for an entire season. We got a chance to see what ‘Beastbrook’ was actually capable of without having to defer to another superstar, and he played with an unmatched rage and intensity throughout the season.
Basically, as long as the Thunder has Russell Westbrook, it has a chance against anybody. There are only so many guys in the NBA who are capable of winning a game by themselves, and OKC has one of them.
2. Westbrook has a Wing Man Again
Westbrook may not have to carry the entire team on his back this year again, however. Not after the Thunder pulled off one of the biggest stunners during the off-season, acquiring Paul George from the Pacers in return for Victor Oladipo.
George, who averaged a career-high 23.7 points per game last season, is the wing man that Westbrook so desperately needed. His presence will allow Westbrook to sit on the bench a bit more this year without the fear that his team will get dominated without him (OKC’s net rating was 12.5 points less per 100 possessions last year when Westbrook wasn’t on the floor), and George can take over the tougher defensive assignments to help Westbrook conserve his energy even more.
Best of all, their games complement each other nicely. George doesn’t dominate the ball the way Durant did in OKC. He’s happy to be a spot-up shooter and rely on his point guard to get him the ball. And with George famously awful in clutch time throughout his career ( in the final 15 seconds of games), there’s no doubt about who will be handling the rock with the game on the line.
3. They’ve made other Great Offseason Moves
The acquisition of George and the yet-to-be-accepted extension offer to Westbrook dominated OKC’s offseason headlines. But that’s not the only work Thunder GM Sam Presti got up to this summer.
One of the more underrated moves of the offseason was Oklahoma City’s signing of Patrick Patterson. The former Raptor is an excellent perimeter shooter, especially on corner 3s, which can open up the floor even more for Westbrook and George. The Thunder also got younger with the acquisition of the 28-year-old Patterson, who essentially replaces 32-year-old Taj Gibson.
Raymond Felton was another nice grab for OKC. Even with George in the fold, the Thunder didn’t have a true replacement for Westbrook when he had to go to the bench. Felton provides that. He won’t light up the scoreboard on his own, but he’s an old-school point guard who excels at running the pick and roll as well as driving the lane, then kicking the ball out to open shooters.
The budget-conscious signings of Patterson and Felton also enabled OKC to hang onto one of its own impending free agents, defensive stud Andre Roberson. And Roberson’s limited offensive game won’t be nearly the liability it used to be now that the Thunder has added a few more legitimate scoring threats.
4. They were Already Good
With how much the Warriors and Spurs have dominated the Western Conference in recent years, it’s pretty easy to overlook just how good the Thunder has been for the better part of a decade.
OKC hasn’t had a losing season since 2009, making the playoffs in 7 of its last 8 seasons. The Thunder nearly upset Golden State in the Western Conference final 2 years ago after the Warriors had set the regular-season wins record, and that was Oklahoma City’s 4th trip to the West final (or beyond) in a 6-year span.
Sure, a lot of that was accomplished while Durant was still in town. But even last year without him, the Thunder was 47-35. While some up-and-coming franchises struggle to develop a winning culture and high expectations, OKC has managed to maintain both for a long time.
5. They’ll Probably Win the Northwest Division
OKC nearly won the Northwest last year as basically a 1-man team, finishing 4 games behind the 51-31 Utah Jazz for first place.
But while the Thunder has reloaded over the offseason, the Jazz looks significantly weaker following the loss of Gordon Hayward. Hayward’s 21.9 points per game led Utah last year, and he was 1 of just 2 players to average more than 14 points per outing. He was also second on the Jazz in assists and steals, and third in rebounds.
While Utah still has a decent returning cast and could still very well contend for the Northwest title, OKC’s stiffest competition within the division is likely the Minnesota Timberwolves. On paper, the Wolves look pretty good after acquiring Jimmy Butler to go with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. But don’t we expect the Wolves to be better every year? Until they are, especially with such a young duo at the top as Towns and Wiggins, I’ll need to see it from Minnesota before I believe it.
So why does winning the Northwest matter so much? Well, apart from the obvious guaranteed playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, it also means a higher seeding and, even more importantly for OKC, home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Oklahoma City has enjoyed one of the larger home court advantages in the NBA over the past decade, including a 28-13 mark last season. If the Thunder can get an extra game on their home floor in Round 1, you’ve got to like their chances of advancing to the conference semis.