How a 'stock market' approach can help you profit off NBA Futures

ByAndre Snellings ESPN logo
Monday, January 8, 2024

You don't always have to win your bet to make a profit.

When you've made a bet, particularly a bet on a futures market, the odds will typically change over time before the winner is ultimately decided. If the odds of your pick shorten, sometimes the sportsbook will offer a cash-out option on a portion of the bet in advance as a compromise. When this happens, you have the option to either accept the guaranteed profit and cash out early or pass and ride it out in hopes that your bet does eventually win.

A few years ago, early in the NBA season, I wrote that the Toronto Raptors seemed to be built to take advantage of the NBA's new "no flopping" rule and thus might continue their hot start to the season and challenge to win the Atlantic Division, even though their odds to do so fluctuated between +4000 and +10,000. In the article, I also mentioned the Cleveland Cavaliers as a long shot team that could challenge for their division (+5000).

So, I took my own advice and made several small bets on combos of the Raptors and Cavs to win their divisions, and parlayed the two at astronomically high odds. I then sat back and watched, and by the All-Star break in February, both the Raptors and the Cavaliers were either leading or within a game or two of first in their respective divisions. I started seeing cash-out offers for 1,000 times or more the size of my original bet, and since I had multiple entries, I cashed out early for several and was able to effectively "win" even though neither the Raptors nor the Cavaliers ultimately ended up winning their respective divisions that season.

While examples that dramatic are relatively rare, particularly this far into the season, there are still opportunities for a savvy bettor to play futures like the stock market this year. One opportunity might be the odds to win the Western Conference.

The Denver Nuggets (+210), Phoenix Suns (+450), LA Clippers (+650), Minnesota Timberwolves (+800) and Oklahoma City Thunder (+800) are currently the top five teams with the shortest odds to win the Western Conference at ESPN BET.

Meanwhile, the Western Conference standings are entering Monday night look much different with the Timberwolves on top, followed by the Nuggets, Thunder, Clippers and Kings.

The ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI) also projects a different order, with the Clippers (5.0) ranking as the best in the West, followed by the Thunder (4.9), Pelicans (3.7), Nuggets (3.4) and Timberwolves (2.4).

First, let's focus on the Clippers. I wrote about this teama month ago, and pointed out then that the team was an "extremely live" futures option to win the Western Conference and Pacific Division (at that point their odds were +1100 for the West and +380 for the Pacific). Hopefully you got in then, because the Clippers' odds in both markets have since gotten shorter (they are currently the odds-on favorite to win the Pacific at -185).

But, even if you didn't, there is still value in taking them to win the West at +650 since they appear to be the best team in the conference, according to the eye test and BPI Analytics. The Clippers have won 12 of the past 13 games when Kawhi Leonard has played, including a nine-point victory over the Nuggets. And, unlike the other non-Nuggets teams in the top five of the BPI rankings, the Clippers have years of postseason experience that have them prepared them to contend this season.

The biggest risk with the Clippers is their history with health issues among their best players. This is where cashing out early could potentially work to your advantage. If the Clippers keep on winning and shorten their odds to win the West, you could get a better cash out option later in the season and decide to take the money at that time, rather than having to sweat out potential health issues on the team all the way until June.

Aside from the Clippers, there are several other teams that also offer good value to win the West at their current odds:

The Timberwolves and Thunder are tied for the fourth-shortest odds at +800, despite having had the best records in the conference for much of the season. If you believe in either of these teams to continue at their current pace, at some point oddsmakers will start to take notice and shorten their odds.

The Pelicans have the third-best BPI score in the West and are tied for first place in the Southwest division, but currently sit 10th with +2200 odds to win the Conference. New Orleans is a legitimate long shot, but if it wins its division and earns a high seed in the playoffs, its odds to win the West would get much shorter.

Lastly, the Grizzlies could be worth a flier. Prior to Ja Morant's return, I pointed out that Memphis has the same team that finished last season as the second seed in the West and the Grizzlies could make it to the postseason as a play-in team with conference finals upside. At the time, the Grizzlies were 6-19 and 7.5 games out of the 10th seed in the West. Since then, they have gone 7-4 and closed to within 4.5 games of 10th place. Their odds to win the West have gone from +10,000 to +7500, but there is still value there as a long shot. In fact, the Grizzlies potentially have the best chance to offer a huge return on cash-out options because if they do make the postseason, their odds to win the West will shorten dramatically.