While the NBA audience is consumed with load management and the China affair, the league moves on with its embrace of sports betting.
This week, the NBA agreed to a deal with DraftKings to become the league’s authorized betting operator. Beginning this season, DraftKings will have access to NBA information for mobile sports betting. Colorado just became the 19th state to authorize sports betting and commissioner Adam Silver began his administration in 2014 with the plan to fully embrace sports betting.
What’s more, William Hill online betting, a competitor of DraftKings, just agreed to a deal with the Washington Wizards that will eventually result in the company opening a sports book at the arena.
The future is now for the sports bettor and the NBA, and Ezra Kucharz, the chief business officer at DraftKings, explained how this is all going to work and how sports betting will affect the average NBA fan.
What is the benefit for the NBA?
“People watch games longer when they’re betting on them,” Kucharz said. “They engage in more games when they are involved. That’s in a nutshell. You’ll see the continued growth of sports betting in this country outside the few states that have online sports betting right now.”
Fans won’t be able to just go to a sports book inside an NBA arena and bet. Only where mobile betting is legal and DraftKings has authorization — New Jersey, West Virginia, and Indiana — could fans use their phones to bet on games. There are other states where mobile betting is allowed, but DraftKings does not yet have live betting.
Eventually fans will be able to bet on NBA results, propositions, individual scoring, etc. from their phones. For example, fans could now go to a Pacers game, download the app, and place bets from the arena. But we appear to be years away from an actual sportsbook inside an arena.
“What’s best for the fans is for people to be able to use their mobile devices to wager on different sports,” Kucharz said. “I think what you’ll end up seeing the growth of this. You’ll see places like Indiana and New Jersey have much more engaged sports betting because people are wagering on these events. The idea is in states where you can legally wager, put some money into an account and bet on the game beforehand or bet on in-game activities.”
Kucharz said about 70 percent of DraftKings basketball betting involves in-game propositions, such as individual scoring, quarter-by-quarter scoring, and over-under totals.
“This is part of our strategy and we love collaborating with the leagues,” he said.
The key in Kucharz’s statements is that increased sports betting means increased interest in the sport, similar to fantasy football. Over the past three decades, football fans have become enamored with some backup running back because the starter has been injured. The NFL has done nothing but benefit off the influx of fantasy football, and Silver decided the NBA should also create another revenue stream.
“Because when you’re using mobile app, we know exactly who you are, exactly where you’re standing when you place your bet, you have to load up an account on the mobile device, we’re able to track every wager on every game,” Kucharz said. “If there is irregularities, which there haven’t been, it’s actually easier to track. If it were to stay on the black market or offshore, like it has been for a very long time, there’s no system tracking it all. This actually makes it much safer and protects the integrity of the game.”
DraftKings has become wildly popular over the years because of the popularity of daily fantasy sports and the sports public’s consumption with individual performances. Gone are the days when bettors simply wagered on point spreads or winners and losers. They can now bet on whether James Harden scores 20 or more points in the second half or whether the Celtics will score 57 in the final two periods, bets that have nothing to do with the game’s outcome.
“We’ve built a relationship with over 11 million people that have registered with us, and most of that data base is built through fantasy sports,” Kucharz said. “We see the highest level of in-game wagering from the NBA. I think people are watching the game and want a little action. As they’re watching the game, and a team is up by 20 points in the fourth quarter, if they have in-game betting, they are going to keep watching. The NBA is an 82-game season, there’s a lot of teams that are out of it by the time you hit game 60, in that case, if you have this kind of engagement, you keep fans interested.”
LOAD MANAGEMENT AGAIN
Rivers, Clippers won’t rest on this
Clippers coach Doc Rivers told the Globe in August that he had planned to give Paul George and Kawhi Leonard rest, but he had no idea of his method. He suggested he could reduce their minutes in games or even give the pair some games off, hoping his supporting cast could keep the Clippers competitive.
In the past, Rivers has chosen rest over playoff seed. He had no issue with his 2009-10 Celtics slipping to the fourth seed because he was able to get Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen some rest. Rivers has sparked controversy already this season by resting Leonard in two of the Clippers’ first nine games, including a nationally televised matchup against the Bucks.
Leonard is not the type of player who is going to sacrifice his health for 82 games. It seems many of the league’s millennials have learned from the plight of former Celtic Isaiah Thomas, who played two months on a hip that needed surgery and eventually cost himself a maximum contract after the Celtics shipped him to Cleveland.
When Rivers acquired Leonard, he realized the two-time NBA Finals MVP is more of a luxury sedan than a steady transportation car. Leonard is going to give the Clippers a smooth, comfortable ride but can’t be driven every day. The NBA doesn’t like to see marquee players miss nationally televised games, especially when ratings are declining, and it fined the Clippers for mixed messages regarding Leonard’s health.
The league discovered that he has a sore left patella tendon and would benefit from occasional rest. But Rivers blurted out to reporters that Leonard was healthy and the “load management” breaks he takes will keep him that way.
What does that say to the fans who bought tickets just to see Leonard face Giannis Antetokounmpo? The NBA does not like the perception that so early in the season players are already taking breaks. Rivers was fined $50,000 for his confusing comments, but that will do little to alter his plan to keep Leonard fresh for the long run.
Also, Leonard also agreed to only a two-year contract with an option for a third year, so if he doesn’t feel the Clippers are properly maintaining his health, he could consider other options after the 2020-21 season.
The Clippers want to keep Leonard and George together for several years, so if that means taking the occasional $50,000 fine — owner Steve Ballmer bought the team for $2 billion in 2014 — Rivers will continue to keep the health and happiness of his superstar first.
How much will this cost the Clippers in wins and playoff seeding? It could be significant considering the Lakers, Jazz, and Nuggets are all vying for the No. 1 seed.
Because of load management, fans could see a Lakers-Clippers Western Conference semifinal matchup if the Clippers drop to fourth.
The Clippers have lost both games Leonard has rested so far.
RACE FOR EIGHT
Opportunity arises in West
Entering Friday’s play, the bottom three teams are the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and New Orleans Pelicans, three picked to make a run for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Warriors and Pelicans have been beset by injuries. Golden State has lost Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to injuries. The Pelicans were loaded after the Anthony Davis trade, but then lost No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson to injury and then had trouble defending.
The Kings, although they have been mostly healthy, have been one of the league’s most disappointing teams in getting off to a 2-6 start. They lost former second overall pick Marvin Bagley in the opening game, the Kings have had trouble playing sound defense, and new coach Luke Walton is having his problems. And while there is plenty of opportunity to get the Kings back into playoff contention, it will be an arduous task in the difficult Western Conference.
But as these three teams have struggled, it has essentially opened three potential playoff spots.
Let’s look at three teams which have emerged as contenders for those slots:
■ Suns — Well what do you know? The Suns are actually relevant for the right reasons; off to a 5-3 start under new coach Monty Williams. And one of the primary players responsible for their success is a familiar name in Boston: Aron Baynes. The Suns lost former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton to a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s drug and PED policy and Baynes, acquired from the Celtics on draft night, has filled in admirably in that starting role. He has averaged a career-high 16 points per game (6.6 was his previous high) and is shooting 47.1 percent from the 3-point line (a career best) on 4.3 attempts per game. Ricky Rubio has blended in nicely at point guard, while Frank Kaminsky has escaped Siberia (also known as the Charlotte Hornets) and has been productive off the bench. Devin Booker has been criticized for his lack of efficiency, but he’s averaging 25.6 points on 52.9 percent shooting and 50 percent from the 3-point line.
■ Timberwolves — Karl-Anthony Towns told reporters before the season that the Timberwolves were going to be a factor in the West. Minnesota jumped out to a 4-1 record with wins over Brooklyn, Miami and Washington before suffering consecutive losses to Milwaukee and Memphis. Towns is averaging 26.8 points and 11.8 rebounds while the inconsistent Andrew Wiggins is adding 22.4 points per game. Minnesota has 10 players averaging at least 6 points per game and it is thriving from the offseason acquisition of Wrentham native Jake Layman, who has added athleticism. The ’Wolves are filled with solid two-way players in Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie. Of course, the fear is that Minnesota will eventually slip back to its underachieving ways. But very few prognosticators picked the ’Wolves to make any noise in the West.
■ Spurs — Pundits believed the Spurs’ glorious run of 22 consecutive playoff appearances had a strong chance of ending. But going into Saturday’s game, Gregg Popovich’s guys are off to a 5-3 start behind the steady duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. But don’t sleep on the Spurs’ depth. Seven San Antonio players are averaging at least 10 points, including point guard Dejounte Murray, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. What’s interesting about the Spurs is their recent additions haven’t made much of an impact. Former first-round pick Lonnie Walker is out of the rotation, while free agent signee Trey Lyles is averaging just 4.3 points per game. The Spurs wanted Marcus Morris in that role, but he spurned the Spurs to sign with the Knicks after they had traded Davis Bertans to the Wizards to clear salary-cap space. Lyles was added instead, but he’s playing backup center in Popovich’s small lineup. Jakob Poeltl, who came from the Raptors, along with DeRozan, for Kawhi Leonard, is out of the Spurs’ rotation.
■ Mavericks — Not many people knew what to expect from the Mavericks, who were adding a healthy Kristaps Porzingis to join reigning Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, along with essentially the same cast that has missed the playoffs the past few years. Doncic and Porzingis have been one of the league’s best duos, averaging a combined 46 points and 18 rebounds as the Mavericks raced to a 5-2 start. Dallas was believed to be interested in Kemba Walker before the Celtics nabbed him and instead settled for former Toronto first-round pick Delon Wright. The Mavericks are also using Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, and Seth Curry as complements. The ageless J.J. Barea, the Northeaster product, has returned from what was thought to be a career-ending Achilles’ rupture. Dallas has been seeking a playoff return for years, but was never able to sign that premium free agent. Instead, it capitalized on the Knicks’ quest to clear salary-cap space and added Porzingis and then took on the underrated Wright. The Mavericks should reach the postseason, if they can stay healthy.
Suspension of belief needed
Suspending rookie Kevin Porter Jr. one game for making contact with official Bill Spooner is assuming he ran into the official purposefully. At the end of the third quarter during the Cavaliers’ Nov. 3 loss to the Mavericks, Porter missed a shot at the buzzer and then turned around to run back to the bench, looking disappointed in missing the shot. He made contract with Spooner, who looked back at Porter in annoyance. Porter told coach John Beilein that he immediately apologized to Spooner but still received the one-game suspension. While intent was likely assumed, it’s interesting that the NBA took such a strong stance against Porter. Did it have an issue with Porter? Was the NBA trying to warn the rookie to respect officials? “He was very contrite and very disappointed,” Beilein said. “I had to watch it twice to see there was a bump and see that there was some incidental contact. He apologized to the official right way. You cannot do that, I think we all realize that, but it’s certainly another area of growth for him.” . . . The rash of Warriors injuries has thrust former BC guard Ky Bowman into a part-time starting role. Bowman has started three of the Warriors’ first eight games and he scored a career-high 19 points in the win over the Trail Blazers. Bowman went undrafted but quickly received a call from the Warriors following the draft with a two-way contract offer. Bowman can spend as many as 45 days with the NBA club while the rest of the season would be spent with G-League Santa Cruz. The only way Bowman could spend more than 45 days is being transferred to a standard NBA contract, but that could mean a bigger luxury tax for the club, unless it waives a contract.