Which bets to make for In-Season Tournament champion, MVP

ByESPN Betting Experts ESPN logo
Monday, December 4, 2023

It's going to be a fun week.

The NBA's inaugural in-season tournament has reached the knockout rounds (to be played Monday and Tuesday), with four teams from each conference vying for the right to advance to the semifinals on Thursday, Dec. 7 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The winners of those semifinals games then advance to the championship game on Saturday, Dec. 9.

Here's a look at the complete bracket.

From a betting standpoint, there is lots to consider, so we've gathered our experts together to highlight the teams and players to bet on during this special week on the NBA calendar.

Odds aside, which team do you think has the clearest path to the championship?

Boston Celtics: The Celtics are likely the most popular answer for this given there is a very real chance that they face the league's second-worst defense (Pacers) and the 21st-ranked defense (Bucks) en route to Saturday's title game. Boston might not have Kristaps Porzingis for this week of competition, but as we discussed in our fantasy preview for the week of the tourney, Al Horford is built for big games. -- Jim McCormick

Boston Celtics: By virtue of what appears to be the Celtics having the easiest path to winning their first game, since the Pacers don't pretend to defend and the Celtics certainly do, I have to agree that the answer is Boston. Frankly, I could see the Bucks, Kings and Lakers each losing their opener, but after the Celtics blew out the Pacers by 51 points in their first meeting, it seems likely the Celtics will win again. -- Eric Karabell

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers get to face a banged-up Suns team in Round 1 and won't have to see the Celtics or Bucks until the Finals. A second-round matchup against the Kings or Pelicans is still better than facing Boston or Milwaukee. Devin Booker is back for Phoenix but the fact remains that Bradley Beal (back) is still out indefinitely, Eric Gordon (knee) missed their last game and the Lakers are 2-0 against the Suns. I like the Lakers chances to win it all. -- Steve Alexander

Phoenix Suns: There are only four teams in this field with a win percentage over 60%, and three of them play in the East. The Suns are the only Western team in this stage winning more than 60% of their games, and all three other Western teams would be battling for the play-in tournament as seeds 6 - 8 if the season were to end today. If the Suns take care of business, they would be in the finals before having to face one of the elite teams in the NBA by record. -- André Snellings

Which team is the best value at the current odds to win the championship?

Phoenix Suns: The Western field isn't so stacked, which also speaks to Boston's overall title equity. If I had to choose a Western team, it's the Suns given their superior offensive ceiling compared to that conference's field. The Lakers, Kings and Suns are found in a tight bandwidth of odds, speaking to the up-for-grabs nature of that side of the bracket. Over the past 10 games, the Suns rank second in the NBA in offensive efficiency and fifth in net rating. In a knockout tournament, having two elite buckets on your side is an advantage. -- McCormick

New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans recently got CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III back from injuries and while the weekend loss to the Bulls was a bit confounding, this team does have a thriving Zion Williamson and plenty of shooters and defenders surrounding him. They also have the lowest odds of the West teams. The West is wide open. Throw a few on the Pelicans to win it. -- Karabell

New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans are suddenly one of the deeper teams in the league and have a full lineup for the first time this season. McCollum and Murphy are healthy and look great, Williamson and Ingram have managed to stay healthy thus far, Herbert Jones is one of this season's most pleasant fantasy surprises and Jonas Valanciunas is holding it down in the middle. Add in the juicy +1200 odds and I think they have the right mixture of offense and defense to get this done. -- Alexander

New York Knicks: I find myself drawn to the Knicks (+1600). The Knicks rank 11th in points scored per 100 possessions. New York boasts a strong lineup with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle at its core, supported by key bench players Immanuel Quickley and Josh Hart. The Knicks' defense makes them particularly attractive as a value to win the championship. New York ranks fifth in points allowed per 100 possessions. As a well-rounded team, the Knicks can hang with the Celtics and Bucks. -- Eric Moody

New Orleans Pelicans: I agree with those saying the Pelicans. They have the longest odds in the West at +1200, but are already 2-0 this season against their opening round opponents the Kings. The Pelicans controlled both of those matchups for the majority of the game, in large part because Williamson and Ingram are both mismatches for the Kings' forward defenders. Add in McCollum and Murphy in the backcourt, and the Pelicans have the talent to come out of the West bracket despite their longshot odds. -- Snellings

If you can only bet on one player as tournament MVP at the current odds, who would it be?

Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns: KD averaged basically 36/7/8 for the team's tournament games leading up to their place in the field. That's pretty, pretty good. His odds sit at +1200 for the MVP crown. I was tempted to select Giannis Antetokounmpo (+850), but it's hard to bank on that team's defensive regression. Give me one of the best elite scorers and clutch performers of our era. -- McCormick

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans: The Celtics look like the best team in the league to me but the odds for stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown aren't so attractive. I guess I will stick with the Pelicans and the upside bet of Williamson cashing in at +2500. -- Karabell

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers: If the Lakers are going to win it all, Davis will be the man to lead them to the promised land, assuming he can stay healthy. The odds aren't magnificent but +1200 means that Davis has a chance to make it happen. The tournament will offer a lot of one-game excitement and pressure, and I like the experience of Davis to possibly lead the Lakers to glory. -- Alexander

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: For me, it's Booker (+1400). The Suns are an offensive juggernaut when he's on the floor. With Booker in various lineups, Phoenix has averaged 127.3 points per 100 possessions so far this season which ranks in the 98th percentile. Also, Booker has stepped up as the Suns' point guard without Chris Paul. This season, he has averaged 28 points, 8.4 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game. When Booker and Durant are both playing, the Suns are 7-2 this season. -- Moody

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: I'll take Antetokounmpo at +850. I think he and Tatum are the two best players remaining in the tournament, and play on the two best teams. But while Tatum has the shortest MVP odds at +550, Giannis is actually fifth, behind teammate Damian Lillard. If the Bucks win, which is a reasonable bet, I think it will be because GIannis carried them there. In his last eight games, Giannis has averaged 32.3 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG and 1.6 BPG. -- Snellings