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Setting The Pick – Three takeaways from the early days of this NBA season

Victor Wembanyama San Antonio Spurs Victor Wembanyama - The Canadian Press

It’s only two weeks into the regular season, but the NBA has already given us plenty of drama to enjoy.

The James Harden situation has finally been resolved, with the disgruntled star joining the Clippers.

Luka Doncic chucked up a one-handed three-point dagger for the stat line of the year so far.

Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama delivered an eye-popping performance to officially announce his arrival to the NBA.

With roughly five games per team in the books, oddsmakers are appropriately adjusting lines based on players over and underachieving.

Here are three notable observations to be mindful of going forward.

Wembanyama arrival game

The French phenom had his first landmark stat line, dropping 38 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and three three-pointers in a second consecutive victory over the Phoenix Suns, a championship contender.

Wembanyama was averaging 16.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks over his first four games, which is already on par with the production of past Rookie of the Year winners. 

But this performance on Thursday night showcased how much higher his ceiling is compared to the other ROTY candidates.

The Suns had a top-five defence going into this game, but they simply had no solution for Wembanyama’s God-given advantages.

From a betting perspective, this is the type of statement performance that moves markets.

Wembanyama has shortened to -350 for ROTY on FanDuel after being available at -145 for most of the season.

For now, it appears the window has closed to back him. Injury is likely the only thing preventing him from hoisting the Wilt Chamberlain Trophy.  His breakout performance is a good example of how a single outcome can cause seismic shifts in the futures market.

After Doncic’s 49-point barrage, he jumped up into a tie with Nikola Jokic for MVP frontrunner.

Cam Thomas opened the season dropping 36 points off the bench and saw his Sixth Man of the Year odds shorten from +5000 to its current +750.

If there’s any award where this might happen next, I’d keep my eye on Most Improved Player.

Tyrese Maxey is in a tier of his own priced at +200 on FanDuel but it’s way too early for that type of certainty.

Several players on the list are capable of breakout performances and could shoot up the board with one good stat line.

Boston Celtics, East Group C Winner (-150)

Moving from individuals to teams, Boston’s 155-104 shellacking of the Pacers should put bettors on notice.

It was their second-highest scoring game in franchise history, only trumped by the 1959 Celtics when they dropped 173 versus the Minneapolis Lakers.

The feat in itself is already an achievement, but what makes it more impressive was how fast it happened.

The Celtics overhauled their roster by bringing in two critical pieces in Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. Traditionally you’d expect new teammates to require several game reps before flashing their true potential.

It took Boston four games.

As of today, the Celtics are the No.1-ranked offence and defence in the NBA.

Head coach Joe Mazzulla has a roster that aligns perfectly with his offensive philosophy – maximum floor spacing with five three-point threats on at all times.

Defensively, Boston is a nightmare for any opposing player.  Holiday and Derrick White might be the league’s toughest defensive backcourt. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have the athleticism to stand up to any opposing wing.  Porzingis is holding down the paint with Al Horford still operating as a defensive anchor in his age-37 season.

One way I’d capitalize on their accelerated success is via the new In-Season Tournament.

Boston is grouped with Brooklyn, Chicago, Orlando, and Toronto – all teams clearly in a tier below.

Even if the Celtics lose one of those group-play games, I still think they’d get away with advancing to the knockout rounds via point differential.

The other four teams are comparable enough in skill that I’d bet against any of them finishing 4-0 in the group stage.

If you don’t want the variance of betting Boston game by game, taking them -150 to win their group is a solid pivot to capitalize on their early form.

Passing of the torch

On the Raptors front, the biggest takeaway is the evolution of Scottie Barnes and his role with this team.

Through six games, his jump in usage rate looks permanent – he’s up to 24.4 per cent versus 20.0 last year. He currently leads the team, whereas last season he was third behind Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.

Dennis Schroder has seamlessly absorbed VanVleet’s role as Toronto’s facilitator, but he doesn’t look for his own shot at the same rate as FVV.

Siakam has experienced a steep drop-off and expectations need to be adjusted accordingly.  His scoring has dropped by more than seven points per game, he’s averaging two minutes less per game, and has the ball less frequently.

Last week I flagged Toronto’s improvement in assist rate, which has carried over into the second week.

This actually comes at Siakam’s loss. He’s operating in less isolation actions and experiencing an 18 per cent drop off in pass volume.

When betting on the Raptors, a mental note must be made: Schroder and Barnes are carrying the load.

Their props are being elevated by the oddsmakers, but it aligns with what we’re seeing on court.

I mentioned MIP being an award to capitalize on, with Maxey being so far ahead of the pack. Barnes is currently the second choice on FanDuel at +1000 and has a legitimate case considering his growth on both ends of the floor.