Bet or Bail: 3 actionable trends happening around the NBA
Bet or Bail is back, as the NBA has almost completed a quarter of the regular season. The In-Season Tournament created playoff-like atmospheres this past week, setting up quarterfinal matchups between some of the top teams in the league.
Certain squads are surging, and others are flailing as we get a sense of who the true contenders and pretenders are. Casual NBA fans claim the season doesn't truly start until Christmas. The holiday is approaching, but we've still learned a lot through the first month-and-a-half of the season.
Let's look at some trends to either bet or bail on.
Bet on Maxey's playmaking
Tyrese Maxey's arrival in Philadelphia signals a new era of hope for the 76ers. Yes, he technically arrived in Philadelphia in 2020, but this arrival is different. Maxey's first 18 games this season have been a coronation as one of the NBA's premier guards.
Maxey is the runaway favorite to win the Most Improved Player award at -125.
It doesn't take long to see why he's special. His sprinter-like burst, fluid shotmaking, and elite finishing ability have catapulted him into star status. There's a reasonable expectation that Maxey can be the second-best player on a championship-caliber team.
Philadelphia knew it had something special. It just needed the James Harden-clogged runway to clear before it gave Maxey the green light to take off as a shot-creator.
Last season, 45% of Maxey's field goals were unassisted. That number's jumped to 57% this season, per NBA Advanced Stats.
However, the smile-happy star's greatest improvement has been in his decision-making and ability to read defenses.
Maxey's assists have almost doubled from last season, while his turnover numbers and usage percentage are roughly the same, meaning he's been efficient as a scorer and passer.
Part of what makes Maxey a great playmaker is his chemistry with Joel Embiid. The Sixers' primary offense is two-man action with Maxey and Embiid, including dribble handoffs and pick-and-rolls. Although handoffs are being utilized more than last year, Maxey's most frequent play type is the pick-and-roll.
His decision-making coming off screens in a read-and-react role continues to improve with every game. He can step back for a triple, turn the corner to explode to the rim, and, most importantly, react to the next layer of defense to make the right play.
Earlier this season, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said on the "Rights to Ricky Sanchez" podcast that Maxey "still has trouble living in a read-and-react mode." He also said that passing out of attack mode has "not been natural" for Maxey but that he sees it "progressing." That was a month ago. Maxey's playmaking isn't completely there, but it has dramatically improved.
This looks like a simple play but shows Maxey's growth as a playmaker. The Celtics switch the screen, forcing a smaller defender onto Embiid. Maxey probes, knowing Al Horford will slide down to help with Embiid, leaving Tobias Harris open for a three.
These are textbook examples of Maxey's aggressiveness and explosiveness leading to open looks for his teammates:
Maxey often finds Embiid in the short roll, where the league's scoring leader can attack or create. Embiid's also grown as a passer, averaging a career-high 6.6 assists. Part of Maxey's responsibilities as a point guard is knowing where Embiid likes the ball.
Almost 40% of Maxey's assists have been to Embiid. They're the only duo who each rank in the top 15 in both points and assists.
Maxey's scoring is plentiful, but his playmaking may be the key to unlocking an elusive conference finals appearance.
Bail on Mavs' supporting cast
There's an old proverb that states nothing great is ever accomplished alone. It's fairly obvious basketball is a true team sport, but Luka Doncic - more than any other superstar - has learned that the hard way in his journey from European prospect to NBA superstar.
Doncic's supporting cast is the primary reason he and the Mavericks have yet to reach the NBA Finals, and he's never been an MVP finalist despite entering the last few seasons as a favorite.
Doncic's heroics and remarkable stat lines are well-documented - as are his teammates' shortcomings. The Mavs have won over 50 games just once since drafting Doncic in 2018. Doncic, however, has ranked in the top three in scoring the last three seasons (including this one). He's also consistently at the top of assist charts.
With Doncic yet to have a teammate make an All-Star appearance, the Mavericks have undoubtedly let him down thus far. Kyrie Irving is the best teammate Doncic has ever had. Dallas has the second-best offensive rating in the NBA, and 70% of their games go over the total.
However, after an 8-2 start to the season, the Mavs are 3-4 in their last seven games and slipping in the West standings.
In the Mavs' last five games - three of which have been losses - Doncic and Irving have scored 80.3% of Dallas' total starters points. The duo's getting virtually no help from their starting counterparts. That'll have to change if the Mavs hope to earn home-court advantage in a playoff series next spring.
Grant Williams was the Mavs' biggest offseason addition. He made a name for himself as a knockdown shooter in Boston, and the Mavs hoped his elevated role would lead to greater production. That hasn't been the case.
He's averaging 6.4 points in the last five contests and only scoring 9.8 points per game this season. He's gone under his betting point total in seven of his last 10 games.
Other than Doncic and Irving, part of the reason the Mavs' offense is so prolific is because of its bench production. The Mavericks have the league's fourth-most bench points. Tim Hardaway Jr. leads all bench players in points per game with 17 on 38% shooting from deep.
No one other than Doncic, Irving, and Hardaway averages double-digit points. Doncic finally has a co-star, but if the supporting cast doesn't step up, the Mavs are looking at another wasted year of Doncic's prime. Dallas currently has the sixth-best odds to win the West at +1100.
Bet on Toppin's perfect fit
Obi Toppin and the Pacers' top-rated offense are a match made in heaven. Indiana plays fast, loves to get out in transition, and has a phenomenal passing point guard who excels at finding spot-up shooters. Oh, and the Pacers play virtually no defense.
That sounds like an ideal landing spot for an athletic forward who likes to run, shoots 32% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, and is a defensive liability.
The Knicks did Toppin a favor by sending him to the Pacers. Toppin's averaging eight more minutes and four more points per game than last season.
The former eighth overall pick in 2020 struggled to find minutes in New York because of suspect defense with a coach who prioritized that end of the floor.
The Pacers, however, are an offensive juggernaut that barely plays defense. They have the best offensive rating in the league and the third-worst defensive rating.
They allow the most points in the NBA, and the game total has gone over in 14 of their 16 games. Indiana's entire team - starting with its inadequate perimeter defense - plays a role in its horrid defense.
None of that erases Toppin's flourishing offense. Toppin's gone over his point total in seven of his last 11 games. In all seven of those games, he also went over his combined points and rebounds total.
More than 90% of Toppin's shot attempts are catch-and-shoot jumpers or shots at the rim. Toppin's most frequent scoring play is in transition. He scores a commendable 1.52 points per shot at the rim, per Synergy.
There's a reason he gets so many transition opportunities. Toppin's rebounding numbers are pretty lackluster for a guy his size - just 3.2 per game - but that's by design. Toppin's rarely involved in defensive rebounding. The Pacers want him leaking out for transition opportunities when a shot goes up.
Here, Toppin took off from the right wing as the shot was released. He sprinted down the floor past the red jerseys before Tyrese Haliburton delivered a Patrick Mahomes-esque feed.
In another example, Toppin leaked out to set himself up for a one-on-one break against Pascal Siakam. It certainly helps that Haliburton has tremendous passing instincts and vision.
There's a reason Toppin's three highest-scoring outputs this season are against three of the NBA's worst transition defenses: the Sixers, Hawks, and Spurs. If the Pacers play against a poor transition defense, Toppin's likely poised for a big outing.
Indiana's pace is one of the reasons its offense is special, partly because of how fast it plays. Toppin is one of the motors that allows the Ferrari to shine as it spins the block.
Sam Oshtry is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @soshtry for more betting coverage.