Sometimes the first pick in the NBA draft is easy and becomes clear early in the process. This year everyone from sportsbooks to insiders has been reminded that this is not always the case.
Jabari Smith Jr. had been favored as the first overall pick ahead of the draft. Then, suddenly late Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before the draft, Paolo Banchero had great momentum in the betting markets. What was once considered a safe bet that Smith would take the overall win was suddenly a volatile market akin to Gamestop stock.
The odds went back and forth between Smith and Banchero several times. A series of tweets from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski caused some massive odds shifts before Banchero finally took first place overall after Orlando.
When the odds for the first pick in the draft opened, Smith was -105 at BetMGM before the draft lottery took place on May 17th. These odds implied that the probability that Smith would be the first choice was just over 50 percent.
Over time, Smith became a more significant favorite. Smith moved from -125 to -200 on Tuesday and was between -350 and -500 on Wednesday afternoon. Many great mock designs including one by the athlete‘s Sam Vencenie, had Smith in first place, further instilling confidence among bettors.
“I think it’s mostly a reaction to the fact that the NBA’s front offices are really divided about who they see as the #1 pick overall, even though people who do mock drafts like me, John Givony, Jeremy Woo, folks, they have real sources and people who have done that well in the past … we all had a consensus unfortunately where we had all three Jabari, Chet (Holmgren) and then Paolo,” Vecenie said of the ratings movement on an episode of The Game Theory Podcast late on Tuesday.
Vencenie stressed that despite the odds and the fact that he also had Smith as his first pick, he thought the top 3 prospects were very close. There was no reason to believe that Orlando had made up his mind in the last few days before the draft.
“I have some real questions as to why people were as safe as they were with Jabari,” Vecenie said. “Where did the information come from?”
As insiders and draft pundits seemed to see a growing consensus about Smith, the betting market began to support Banchero. With less than 24 hours to go before the draft, just when it looked like Smith was about to establish himself as the clear favorite, things got weird. Suddenly, Banchero’s chances plummeted. The Duke product was 20 to 1 the week before draft and was still 15 to 1 on Monday, but as of Wednesday morning its odds were +240 (29.4% implied probability), meaning a $100 bet would be $240 $ would win. Late Wednesday night, the two prospects were about before Banchero eventually became the favorite.
What happened? did anyone know anything Why was there a money rush on Banchero?
“I think the key to these sharp moves for drafts, whether it’s NFL or NBA, is that it’s all based on who gets the shovel,” Austin Mock, a betting modeler and collaborator at the athlete, said. “From my point of view, the books didn’t want to cede Jabari as a #1 favorite because some big-name media said he would be the Magic choice.
“Paolo started steaming up a few days before the draft and I’m not sure if people were lucky or if anyone had information, but the market didn’t respect it too much.”
There were no reports saying Banchero was going to be number 1, just a series of sportsbooks that gave him better chances of suddenly and unexpectedly being number one. Some sportsbooks pulled the odds because things were moving too fast and they risked taking big losses.
I’ve never seen anything like the odds movement for the NBA No. 1 draft in 2022 in my life. This is absolutely insane.
– Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) June 23, 2022
Draft pick betting odds are different than a typical game. It’s all information based. Sharp bettors may know that a given spread is off by a certain amount, but in drafts there are people who know exactly what a team is thinking. News and rumors play a bigger role in draft odds. In this case, some bettors got a glimpse of Orlando in front of NBA insiders.
“It’s pretty rare to see, but this isn’t like a game market where snipers know what they’re doing,” Mock said. “They might have the smartest NBA bettor in the world betting on a draft prop, but if Woj or Shams or any NBA insiders say the opposite, it puts the bookies in a difficult position.”
Because of the more reactionary market, things happened quickly. Unlike a game where an injury or strange weather could change the odds, in the draft market the odds shifted back and forth.
“The trading team will adjust odds on a match just as quickly as they do on the draft,” said Michael Ranftle, sports dealer at BetMGM. “The difference is that when an injury is announced and impacts a game, the odds don’t usually change after the adjustment. For the draft, the bookmakers will change the odds and then might move them again as new information becomes available.”
New information emerged early Thursday. A Woj bomb returned things to the status quo and increased confidence in Smith.
With today’s team boards finalized, the NBA draft’s 1-2-3 is getting tighter, according to sources: Jabari Smith to Orlando, Chet Holmgren to Oklahoma City, and Paolo Banchero to Houston.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2022
Smith was re-established as a favorite at some sportsbooks, but the odds were still unusual. BetMGM had Smith at -550 on the day of the draft at 10am ET. That means Smith had an 84.6 percent chance of being the first choice. Meanwhile, Banchero was only +200, meaning he had a 33.3 percent chance of being first. Apparently these numbers add up to more than 100 percent, which is normal. However, those odds showed a reluctance to trust Woj’s report.
Paulo Banchero was -200 favorite this morning to become No. 1 overall.
Sports betting conquered the #1 market after Woj-Tweet.@FDSportsbook Reopened Quotas:
Jabari Smith -10000
— Ben Fawkes (@BFawkes22) June 23, 2022
As Thursday progressed, Banchero’s odds were once again approaching Smith’s. Another Woj bombshell, this time saying Banchero was a serious contender for Orlando, swayed the momentum for the final time.
As I just reported on our NBA Draft Show on ESPN, Duke’s Paolo Banchero has joined Auburn’s Jabari Smith in serious contemplation for becoming the No. 1 franchise, sources said. There is a real chance that the draft boards at the top of the lottery will be blown up.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2022
Why is that happend? A surprise draft pick is nothing new, but why the roller coaster ride? Why were the tipsters so far ahead of the NBA insiders, who are rarely absent?
“The NBA draft is a difficult event to handicap,” said Christian Cipollini, sports dealer at BetMGM. “Rumors and leaks can lead to wild line movements.”
A major reason for the uncertainty is that the Orlando front office has been very secretive throughout the process. Some teams are more secretive than others, and the Magic left everyone guessing except, apparently, for a few savvy professional bettors.
“For keeping this under wraps in today’s NBA with teams licking left and right and agencies licking left and right, they deserve immense credit for fooling everyone,” Vecenie said in his live draft -Show. At the end of the day, let’s be very, very clear: you fooled everyone.”
(Photo by Adam Silver and Paolo Banchero: Brad Penner – USA TODAY Sports)