If you think the NBA Rookie of the Year race is wide open, you may be right — but looking at where the money is going, it’s currently a three-man contest.
If you believe the sportsbooks and the people who are spending record-setting sums of money with them, the NBA Rookie of the Year race is going to be won by Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, or Scottie Barnes.
Here and now, they’re the three debutantes who are drawing both the most money and the largest percentage of tickets across the legalized US sports betting market for the first third of the season.
The fact of the matter, however, is that the race may be more wide-open than the books would have you believe as the sports gambling industry continues to rake in record-breaking revenue numbers. The American Gaming Association (AGA) revealed Dec. 9 that commercial casinos have generated record gaming revenue in 2021. In January through October, gross gaming revenue (GGR) from traditional casino gaming, sports betting, and iGaming totaled approximately $43.43 billion, just shy of the all-time record of $43.65 billion set in 2019.
In addition, Illinois took in $840 million in bets in October, a record, Virginia sportsbooks reached $2 billion in revenue in record time, Ohio’s legislature has passed a sports gambling bill that now heads to the governor’s desk, and the first legal wager has been placed in Maryland, with Gov. Larry Hogan picking the Washington Football Team and the Baltimore Ravens to meet in the Super Bowl.
Clearly, this growth industry is going to continue to grow despite the huge losses suffered by sports gaming stocks over the past several weeks.
Detroit’s Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, is averaging 15.8 points per game. Toronto’s Barnes is at 15.1, followed by Houston’s Jalen Green and Cleveland’s Mobley at 14.0 points per game each. Barnes is playing nearly 36 minutes per game for the Raptors and leads all rookies in rebounds with 8.3 per game, followed by Josh Giddey of Oklahoma City at 6.7 per game. Giddey also leads all rookies in assists with 5.8 per contest. Ayo Dusonmu of the Chicago Bulls (50.4%) and Omer Yurtseven of the Miami Heat (52.6) are converting field goals at the highest rate, but are not getting the amount of playing time that would merit consideration from voters for the award — at least at this point.
Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, and Coach of the Year appear to be the most wide-open races overall, with Steph Curry a prohibitive MVP favorite as he closes in on Ray Allen’s record for career 3-pointers, and Tyler Herro of Miami likewise a prohibitive favorite for Sixth Man.
Defensive Player of the Year could go a number of ways. If one player in particular had a vote, however, it wouldn’t go to Rudy Gobert (+240 at FanDuel) after he repeatedly switched onto smaller opponents in a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves:
On-the-ball-defenders typically do not usually get a lot of love from writers and broadcasters who cover the league on a regular basis, but this year may ultimately be different; at FanDuel Sportsbook, Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors is the +150 favorite for DPOY just ahead of Gobert, while NBA blocks leader Myles Turner sits well behind at +3500.
But back to the rookies.
Mobley is a worthy favorite, and if you had to pick one player who could catch him, it might be Cunningham. The former Oklahoma State superstar has recovered from a slow start to the season to put up a series of six double-figure scoring games that were preceded by a triple-double against the Lakers — something that had to resonate with the voters in the LA market who witnessed it.
FanDuel lists Franz Wagner of Orlando and Giddey as the +2900 fourth choices, and 24-year-old Chris Duarte of Indiana, who has been starting since the beginning of the season and is now hoping to not be included in the Pacers’ rebuilding trade purge, is sixth at +2900.
With two thirds of the season left and a number of teams already deep into rebuilding mode — the Rockets were one of them before reeling off seven consecutive victories through the end of last week — it is safe to say that much remains to be determined despite the fact that Mobley is a very worthy favorite right now.
He is one of the main reasons why the Cleveland Cavaliers are sitting in a surprising No. 6 spot in the East. The presence of himself, Jarrett Allen, and Lauri Markannen allows coach JB Bickerstaff to field a tall-ball lineup that a lot of opponents have trouble matching up against.
BetMGM.com has taken in 16.5% of tickets and 24.7% of handle for Mobley thus far this season, second only to Cunningham’s 21% of tickets and 29.9% of handle, according to spokesman John Ewing. Third at Bet MGM is Duarte at 14.6% of tickets and 8.3% of handle. Duarte’s odds have remained steady at +3500 all season, while Cunningham’s have improved from +290 to +250; Mobley’s have dropped from +800 to +225.
At PointsBet, Cunningham is taking 26.9% of handle and 17.4% of tickets, followed by Duarte at 13.2% of handle and 11.2% of tickets, spokesman Wyatt Yearout said. Curiously, Ny’Shon “Bones” Hyland” of the Denver Nuggets has taken 8.6% of bets at PointsBet and 9.4% of tickets at BetMGM, which is likely a product of 25 different companies operating legal sports betting operations in the state of Colorado.
At DraftKings, Cunningham has a whopping 49% of handle but just 9% of bets, while Mobley has 29% of handle and 9% of bets, spokesman Parker Winslow said.
With November numbers still being counted, and December remaining, the US gaming industry will set a new all-time GGR high in 2021. That money is divided between sportsbooks and traditional casinos — and it is fair to expect that, say, the US Savings Bond market is taking a hit as a result.
Such is life in 2021, where instant gratification is so often king amind the madness of the coronavirus pandemic.