Las Vegas Summer League betting preview: Plenty of value down the board

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Just because it's July and the league awaits decisions on the futures of stars Damian Lillard and James Harden, that doesn't mean there isn't basketball to be played.

The Las Vegas Summer League tips off Friday when young and unproven players from all 30 teams begin to showcase their talent over a 10-day stretch.

When the league gathers for its annual summer schmooze-fest in Sin City, players and coaches won't be evaluated on wins and losses. Individual performance is emphasized instead, which makes it hard to predict a team's performance.

Highly touted players oftentimes only play a few games. That will likely be the case with Spurs first overall pick and Rookie of the Year favorite Victor Wembanyama.

Rosters are comprised of at least 12 players. In a normal basketball setting, the best players play the majority of the game. This remains the case in Summer League to an extent, but because these games are used as an evaluation tool, bench players get more playing time than they otherwise would.

All of that is to say that the volatility and uncertain nature of the event makes it hard to bet on. Nevertheless, a champion will be crowned on July 17, so let's take a look at who the odds say it will be.

The favorites

Team Odds
Thunder +700
Pistons +900
Trail Blazers +950
Spurs +1200
Pacers +1200
Grizzlies +1400
Hornets +1500
Jazz +1600

Unsurprisingly, the Thunder are the favorites. Oklahoma City has the most talented roster, headlined by No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft Chet Holmgren, the third favorite to win Rookie of the Year this coming season. Holmgren is surrounded by various impact players on a Thunder team that won 40 games last year, including forwards Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams.

Jalen averaged the fourth-most minutes on the Thunder last season, while Jaylin averaged the ninth most. Point guard Tre Mann joins the Williams duo in Vegas after averaging 17.7 minutes per game last season, 11th most on the Thunder.

It's unusual for a team to carry so many impact players from the season before on its Summer League roster. It's a testament to the strength of the Thunder's young core. OKC has eight players who've been drafted in the last three years.

Another terrific young core belongs to the Blazers, who just drafted Scoot Henderson third overall and Kris Murray at No. 23, both of whom are playing in Vegas. Shaedon Sharpe is also suiting up after averaging just under 10 points in his rookie season. The Blazers' Summer League success in recent years is notable, winning two of the last four.

The Spurs might be the only team that will attract more attention than the casino floors on the Vegas Strip, as all eyes will be on Wembanyama. The team hasn't announced any formal plans for his workload, but it'd be a surprise if he plays every game given he finished his French league season less than a month ago. The Spurs are a favorite because of Wembanyama but went 2-0 in the Sacramento Summer League without him.

Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Ausur Thompson, and James Wiseman highlight the Pistons' group. Ivey and Duren were both lottery picks in the 2022 draft, while Thompson was the Pistons No. 5 selection in June.

A peek at the favorites is a glimpse into struggling franchises that have attained talented young pieces through the draft whom they hope can get them out of the gutter. The favorites have one thing in common: They all have one or two of the best players in the Summer League. However, that doesn't always lead to team success in the tournament.

The next tier

Team Odds
Kings +1800
Mavs +2000
Rockets +2000
Magic +2200
Heat +2200
Bucks +2500
Lakers +3000
Nets +3000
Timberwolves +3500
Celtics +3500
Pelicans +3500

Only one of the last five champions entered the competition as the favorites (Lakers in 2017). Over the last four years, no team with odds shorter than +1200 has won.

The unpredictability means there's value down the board. Two of the last three winners were 30-1 when the event tipped off. Compared to other future markets in the sport, the likelihood of nailing a longer-shot bet is much greater in the Summer League.

Dereck Lively II, Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Jabari Smith Jr., Jaime Jaquez Jr., and Jalen Hood-Schifino are some of the notable names from the next tier.

Three of them play for the Rockets. Thompson was drafted fourth overall last month, while Whitmore slid to No. 20 despite being a projected lottery pick. Smith Jr. was the third overall pick in 2022 and struggled with efficiency throughout the season while averaging 12.8 points. Houston doesn't have much depth, though, with only one other draftee.

The Kings are a sleeper to watch after an impressive showing in the Sacramento Summer League this week. Led by Keegan Murray's 70 combined points in two games, Sacramento knocked off the Warriors and Heat to gain some momentum heading to Vegas.

After Murray's 41-point showing Wednesday night, Sacramento announced he won't play in Vegas. Despite that, the Kings went from +2000 to +1800 on Thursday.

The long shots

Team Odds
Knicks +4000
Cavaliers +4500
Nuggets +4500
Clippers +5000
76ers +6000
Hawks +6000
Bulls +6000
Suns +6000
Wizards +7000
Raptors +7000
Warriors +8000

The Knicks, Cavaliers, Clippers, 76ers, and Nuggets have a combined three first-round picks on their teams - Jaden Springer (Philadelphia), Julian Strawther (Denver), and Kobe Brown (Los Angeles). Besides those three, few players, if any, rostered on those five teams will make NBA rosters in the fall.

The Hawks are a long shot to keep your eye on with seven players drafted in the last five years, including AJ Griffin, the No. 16 pick in 2022.

Teams with young, unproven cores prioritize Summer League rosters more than those in win-now mode. Many of the teams on this list fall into the latter - sans the Wizards - which is why their rosters are generally devoid of talent or big names.


Thunder +700

The favorites don't typically win the Vegas Summer League, but this team is too good to write off, and at +700, it's worth a bet. Aside from its core of Holmgren, Jaylin, Jalen, and Mann, the Thunder have a load of skilled complementary pieces. Ousmane Dieng, Jared Butler, Keyontae Johnson, and others can help this team be the final one standing in Vegas.

Pistons +900

A projected starting five of Ivey, Thompson, Sasser, Duren, and Wiseman or Isaiah Livers rivals every team except the Thunder. Even if some of those guys don't play the entire tournament, the Pistons' depth will prove stronger than other teams'. The Pistons were the fourth favorite at +1100 just 24 hours ago. Now, they've jumped to the second favorite at +900.

Rockets +2000

The Rockets have one of the most talented rosters but have the 10th-best odds to win at +2000. Houston's issue here is that it's top heavy. If one of its stars, like Smith Jr., bows out, it could be in trouble. Still, with a loaded core, it's worth sprinkling on the Rockets at odds this long.

Sam Oshtry is a sports betting writer at theScore. Follow him on Twitter @soshtry for more basketball betting coverage.