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The absurd and wild changes in Jabari Smith’s odds to go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, explained

Draft season—both in the NBA and NFL—remains a perplexing time for sportsbooks. Information flows in so many directions. Fans can find out news before the house can and whispers are sometimes meant to be overheard.

There isn’t an odds-making algorithm for smokescreens which is why its common to see sportsbooks take a loss on these events. Some states with legal sports betting, like New York, don’t even allow wagers on the draft because it’s not an actual sporting event.

The last 48 hours of NBA news speaks to that line of thinking, and it all has to do with Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren—the presumptive top three picks on Thursday.

Smith and Banchero, in particular, have seen wild fluctuations in their draft odds. We’ll get into the potential reasons for this in a moment. What you need to know first is that bettors everywhere are trying to gain even more of an edge than they already have.

Even after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Smith, Holmgren and Banchero are expected to be selected in that order, sportsbooks like FanDuel continue to see significant movement in odds for those players that would otherwise suggest Woj’s report isn’t rock solid (which seems like a bold strategy).

 

The line movement

Ok, deep breath, this is about to be a wild ride of numbers going up and down. After a surge in Banchero’s odds earlier this week, the Woj report about Smith going No. 1 dropped the Auburn star’s odds all the way down to -10000 at some books.

And then they started to bounce way, way back up. Fast.

What does this mean?

It might be too soon to say—even with the draft just hours from starting. But there are multiple possible explanations, and this could be an instance where more than one is at fault.

It may be a case of sharp bettors manipulating the market to score a better price on a sure thing. As the odds for Smith dropped, these big money bettors began backing Banchero in an effort to bring down the odds for Smith at No. 1. Once Smith got to a reasonable price, they would put even more money on him to cancel out their Banchero bets and end up turning a profit.

This would also make sense because the average bettor isn’t sitting around all day just watching the live lines and waiting to jump in. This movement appears deliberate.

Another explanation is that Woj is wrong and the oddsmakers know it before he does. Is that possible? Sure. Is it plausible? Absolutely not. Few reporters on any beat have more authority than Adrian Wojnarowski on the NBA. This would be an all-time miss for one of the most plugged-in people in the business.

The wild card here, however, is Chet Holmgren.

Long before Banchero and Smith were taking turns at the top of mock drafts, Holmgren was the consensus future No. 1 pick coming out of high school in Minnesota. FTW’s Bryan Kalbrosky still has him going No. 1 overall to Orlando in his final mock draft.

In this scenario sportsbooks may still be in trouble because of how long they listed his odds at No. 1 while Banchero and Smith were jockeying for position at the top of the board.

So what are sportsbooks supposed to do?

That’s the real question here, isn’t it?

Are they going to take down their available markets? BetMGM, WynnBet and the SuperBook already have. So has Tipico.

In Las Vegas, casinos are required to cease taking action on drafts 24 hours before they commence. That could be route some larger names like FanDuel and DraftKings consider in the future.

For now, some major books are still taking bets and adjusting odds. The whole situation continues to play out in real time and no one quite knows how this will end.

Even if Woj has already tried to warn both sides.

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