Now that the calendar has flipped to 2015, we should have a grasp of what this NBA season is all about. Let's take our first '15 look at updated NBA player prop odds and see where betting value may lie.
Rookie of the Year
This prop has undergone a significant change at the top. Milwaukee's Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick out of Duke, was the preseason betting favorite at sportsbooks and was still there entering December. However, on Dec. 15 against Phoenix, Parker went down with a left knee injury. The team hoped it was minor but an MRI showed a tear of the ACL, meaning Parker may not be 100 percent by the start of next season, either. Parker was averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 25 games, and he finally underwent surgery this week when the swelling subsided.
Now Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland before being shipped to the Wolves in the Kevin Love deal, is the -400 favorite on NBA odds. Wiggins is averaging 13.9 points and 4.2 rebounds for arguably the NBA's worst team. Because of so many injuries on the Wolves, Wiggins is getting many more minutes now than the start of the season. He's averaging 16.6 points in 35.3 minutes in the past 10 games overall and 22.3 points in 39.3 minutes in there January games. Even with starters Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic likely to return from injury in a few weeks, Wiggins should stay in the mid-30s minutes-wise because the Wolves are obviously hopeful of getting as many ping-pong balls as possible to draft No. 1 in the 2015 draft. Let Wiggins have his growing pains on the court, not the bench.
While this was a highly-touted rookie class at one point, the best betting value might be a guy who didn't play a second of college basketball. That would be Chicago's Nikola Mirotic, a 2011 first-round pick who came over from Europe this season and who is +350 at sportsbooks. Normally Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't like to play rookies, but Mirotic has forced his hand. He is averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds. Not stellar numbers, but Mirotic isn't getting empty statistics -- he's a major contributor on a NBA championship contender. That will carry some weight with voters. Mirotic also was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December.
NBA Free Pick: Still on Wiggins, but I'm starting to ponder Mirotic more and more.
Kevin Durant was your preseason betting favorite to win a fifth scoring title but that all changed when Durant broke his foot and missed the first month of the season Durant also has missed a handful of games with a sprained ankle so he's not going to play enough overall games to qualify for the scoring title. Carmelo Anthony was among the favorites as well, but he's struggling in the triangle offense this season and likely to be shut down for the year sooner or later with the Knicks in full tank mode.
This now looks like a three-man race between Houston's James Harden, the new favorite at sportsbooks, the Cavaliers' LeBron James and Thunder's Russell Westbrook. Harden, who has become the NBA MVP betting favorite at some sportsbooks, leads the NBA in scoring at 27.0 points per game, a career high. James is No. 2 at 25.2 points per game but now has his own injury concerns.
The wild card is Westbrook, who is averaging a career-high 27.0 points per game. He hasn't qualified for the scoring race yet because Westbrook has played in only 21 of the Thunder's 35 games. Assuming no major injury, Westbrook should get enough games in by the end of the season unlike Durant. However, it's hard to picture Westbrook getting enough shots with Durant around. Plus the Thunder have two other offense-first guys in guards Reggie Jackson and the newly-acquired Dion Waiters.
NBA Free Pick: Stick with Harden, who was my early-season choice.
Rajon Rondo was the -500 favorite at sportsbooks in the most recent odds for this prop, and I believe he remains as our NBA pick and as the guy to beat, despite currently ranking No. 3 in assists at 10.0 per game. Rondo's case for winning this award improved greatly when he was traded from a bad Boston team to a very good Dallas team that's among the league's highest-scoring teams. True, Rondo's assist totals have gone down a bit in Dallas (8.2 per game), but he needs a bit of time to adjust. He just had a 14-assist game Monday in a win in Brooklyn. The Mavericks don't much care if Rondo scores -- he had only two points against the Nets.
Washington's John Wall leads the NBA in assists at a career-high 10.4 per game, and he was even-money at sportsbooks in the most recent posting. Wall has sacrificed a bit of scoring this year to be more of a facilitator, and the Wizards are one of the East's best teams. Denver's Ty Lawson is No. 2 in assists at a career-high 10.2, and you could see him traded by the late February deadline because the Nuggets aren't going anywhere.
NBA Free Pick: Rondo.