Knicks--yes, those Knicks--favored to win NBA Summer League

July 4, 2019 09:56 PM

LAS VEGAS--The offseason for the Knicks has not gone as planned. They missed out on the top pick in the draft lottery, and struck out with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in free agency. However, not all is lost.

The Las Vegas Summer League tips off on Friday, and despite the challenging future that could be in front of New York come the regular season, the next 10 days could bring some good news for the Knicks, who are favored to win the NBA Summer League Championship at sportsbooks here in Nevada and in New Jersey.

“We have the Knicks as 10/1 favorites, and we have been taking a little bit of money on them,” said Jeff Sherman, manager of the sportsbook at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino. “It’s a good collection of young talent, and if these guys are on the court together, and get into a game [at the same time] they would be favored every any team out here.”

Mitchell Robinson, R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox and Allonzo Trier are all expected to play for the Knicks’ squad in Las Vegas. The question is: How much will they participate? One of the biggest hurdles handicappers face when betting the Summer League is figuring out the playing time for members of the roster.

“Don’t expect these guys to go through and play every game,” Sherman said. “If they have back-to-back sets, or even if they get to the playoffs, sometimes these teams have seen enough of their top draft picks that they can just send them home. They don’t want to risk some kind of injury.”

Handicappers know this, but homework can only go so far. Just ask ESPN sports betting analyst and VSiN guest Preston Johnson.

“Knowing who is playing, or not, in a specific matchup [is the biggest challenge],” Johnson said. “Even when you are certain and have done your research, you need to be constantly checking.”

When it comes to betting futures, handicappers must make sure to account for all of those factors. Sometimes recreational bettors will see names, like Zion Williamson in this year’s Summer League, and be drawn to that team. It is why, over at the Westgate, New Orleans was moved from 18/1 to 16/1, as a majority of future bets have come in support of the former Duke superstar. 

“The one general concept that is overvalued is the stars playing,” Johnson said. “You can’t really fall in love with those guys. Look for [teams] with a plethora of veterans and experience.”

One such example is the 76ers’ Vegas team, originally hung at 12/1 to win the Summer League Championship Game. The roster is loaded with athletic wings and bigs that have NBA and G-League experience.

Shake Milton played in 20 games last season, averaged 4.4 points per game for Philly and spent time in Delaware on the 76ers developmental squad. Zhaire Smith missed most of last season recovering from an injury, but played in the Summer League last year. Matisse Thybulle, the team’s top draft selection two weeks ago, is a phenomenal defender and will form an intriguing defensive tandem with G-League All-Defensive Team member Norvel Pelle.

Portland is another example, a team that caught Sherman’s eye once its Summer League roster was finalized. Originally hung at 25/1, the Trail Blazers are now just 12/1 because of the makeup of their roster. 

The Trail Blazers have included Anfernee Simons on their squad. He is a guard who did not play college ball after the fallout from the Louisville scandal. However, Simons has a high ceiling and started one game for Portland in the regular season. He dropped 37 points on 13-of-21 shooting and showed his potential -- enough that Portland has reportedly declined multiple offers for him. 

Alongside Simons is Gary Trent Jr., a 40 percent shooter in college. Gian Clavell comes in fresh off of a season in Spain, Demetrius Jackson contributed for the 76ers in the regular season and Keith Hornsby averaged 12 points and shot over 45 percent from deep in the G-League. Oh, and just one of the most electric scorers in college basketball over the last four seasons is a Blazer as well: Mike “The Dauminator” Daum out of South Dakota State.

The Trail Blazers have become a very sexy pick to win the Summer League, while the news-making Nets, at 50/1, are not -- only ahead of Team China at 100/1.

Meantime, the Summer League continues to grow in popularity among bettors.

“The handle is up each year, and the betting has been well received,” Sherman said. “[So much so] that we are going to offer first-quarter and first-half wagers for every game. We usually did that for just the tournament games in the past. Each game being broadcast on television really helps as well.”

When asked about the addition of in-game wagering to the title game, Sherman pumped the brakes, noting that while the handle did increase each year, it still was not enough to warrant adding it to the menu.

But there is no reason to pump the brakes on the immediate future of the Knicks. While the regular season might be long, the next 10 days could provide new hope.

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