By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
The NBA Draft betting market isn’t your average bear.
It’s way different from wagering on a point spread, total or player prop on a random Tuesday night in mid-January. Those markets are mostly predicated on power ratings and algorithms, and the sportsbooks have a fighting chance, especially considering that you’re laying -110 or higher in a fair fight.
Draft markets, though, are beatable.
“They’re driven solely by information and narrative,” draft bettor Mike Helfgot told FOX Sports. “There’s no algorithm and no advantage for the sportsbooks. Bad numbers get blasted, and some of those markets never stop running. That’s why we’re seeing fewer opportunities across the board.
“If you figure out the reliable sources that cover the draft and trust that information, you can definitely make some money. That said, it’s challenging for the professional bettors I know to get down good money.”
Helfgot, a former sports reporter, has built a portfolio full of NBA Draft bets over the past couple of months, thanks to studying endless draft material and mining information from respected sources via mock drafts, podcasts and Twitter.
And rather than wait, he’ll fire as soon as he finds an edge or an opportunity to beat the market around a player whose stock he thinks will rise or fall.
Helfgot has bets such as Bennedict Mathurin “Under” 8.5 and Mark Williams “Over” 12.5, draft positions that haven’t been available in some time. There are rumors that the Detroit Pistons are strongly considering Mathurin at No. 5 and others say Williams could easily fall out of the lottery.
Last year, Helfgot bet Chris Duarte “Under” 21.5 weeks before the draft, and that draft position market closed at O/U 14.5. The Indiana Pacers selected Duarte with the 13th pick.
“If you beat the market on 10 draft bets, you’ll win seven of them,” he said.
The most interesting market for this year’s NBA Draft is the first overall pick. Jabari Smith Jr. was favored to go No. 1 after the NCAA Tournament, and he got extremely expensive in early June as a $5 favorite or higher at multiple shops.
However, there’s been a recent avalanche of money on Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren due to rumors that the Orlando Magic front office hasn’t yet decided on which player to draft.
The Magic are keeping their information close to the vest, but it’s impossible to ignore the betting movement. Banchero was as high as 18-1 early this week in the American market, and those odds are long gone.
First overall pick odds via FOX Bet:
“The No. 1 pick market is a great microcosm for how narrative drives everything,” Helfgot explained. “Everybody knew Jabari, Chet and Paolo were the three top guys all season.
“I was so impressed with Paolo throughout the NCAA Tournament. To me, he’s the best player, but that’s not how the NBA Draft world looks at it. (ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski) said that Orlando was focused on Jabari and Chet after the lottery, and most of the respected sources believed Jabari was going first.
“After a few weeks, the price rose all the way out to Jabari -600 to go first at one sportsbook. Then last week, a picture surfaced of him getting picked up at the airport by Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti — coupled with a report that Orlando hadn’t decided yet — and Jabari’s odds plummeted. But nothing really changed.
“It’s truly fascinating how little happened for those numbers to move.”
So… what’s the play with around 48 hours to go?
“Smith is a solid bet at the current price,” Helfgot admitted. “It’s very cheap given where the market was and is. And none of the plugged-in draft media believe the Paolo-to-Orlando hype.
“I don’t think the Magic pass on Smith.”
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He’ll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.
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