Handicapping sports is a tough gig. Even with the plethora of statistics and analytics available today the job of a handicapper can be maddening. Handicapping the NBA Summer League is a beast in and of itself.
Take Monday night’s California Classic nightcap between Sacramento and Golden State, for example. Multiple reports stated that Kings secondyear pro Marvin Bagley was set to play in the Summer League. Or at the very least, he would play in the Kings’ tune-ups in Sacramento before heading to Las Vegas. The Kings also have thirdyear guard Frank Mason available on the Summer League roster.
Yet, neither Bagley or Mason ended up playing a single minute Monday night, much to the chagrin of many bettors.
“Knowing who is playing, or not, in a specific matchup [is the biggest challenge],” said Preston Johnson, ESPN Sports Betting Analyst “I bet the Warriors [on Monday] over 164.5 because I saw Jimmer Fredette was playing, and Marvin Bagley was supposed to play as well. Bagley didn’t even end up playing a minute, and it closed at 172 before tip-off. Even when you are certain and have done your research, you need to be constantly checking that type of stuff.”
Things change. On Tuesday, it was reported by ABC 10 in Sacramento that Bagley would not play in the Summer League at all due to a sore Achilles. Mason, who was quoted as saying he “can’t wait to get out there” in regards to action in the California Classic, was held out of the first two games due to a sore hip.
Even when a bettor does as much research as possible, he could still end up in a poor position. When it comes to the Summer League, the same could be said of the guys behind the counter, like Jeff Sherman, manager of the SuperBook at the Westgate in Las Vegas.
“We’re just trying to make it like everyone else,” said Sherman “When [something] changes we will change.”
There are limits to what a bettor can do at the window for Summer League wagering anyway. The SuperBook will only take $1,000 on sides and $500 on totals, and those limit bets will be a small part of the overall handle. The Westgate might get limit bets on 20 to 25 percent of games, but those contests are popular additions to the end of parlays for recreational bettors.
Still, bettors both professional and recreational persevere, and attempt to find a way to conquer the 10-day event.
Recreational bettors can, at times with events like the Summer League, get enamored with names. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Ja Morant, the top three picks in this last draft, will likely be draws for ticket sales, but should not be for betting tickets. Especially in the futures market.
“The one general concept that is overvalued is the stars playing,” said Johnson “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 Philadelphia 76ers team, originally hung at 12/1 to win the Summer League Championship Game. The roster is loaded with athletic wings and bigs that have both 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 and is a former Philadelphia firstround pick. 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, and a team that caught Sherman’s eye once its Summer League roster was finalized. Originally hung at 25/1, the Trail Blazers are now 16/1 due to the makeup of their final roster.
The Trail Blazers have included Anfernee Simons on their team this summer, a guard that did not play college ball due to 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 really showed his potential. Enough that Portland has reportedly declined multiple offers for him from other teams.
Alongside Simons is Gary Trent Jr., a 40 percent shooter in college that started the same game next to Simons in the regular season. 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.
In short, there is a lot to like about Portland’s squad.
There is a lot to like about the Summer League as well, and it shows year in and year out, especially with the handle.
“The handle is up each year, and the betting has been well received,” said Sherman “[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.”
Yes, even more is being added to the menu for the Summer League. 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.
That’s probably a good thing. After all, handicapping this league is hard enough as it is.