Five NBA futures that go through Dallas

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Andre Snellings, ESPNFeb 22, 2024, 03:30 PM ET

The Dallas Mavericks are major players in five different futures races, with legitimate chances to win one or more at plus money. Let's examine those five, in order of their likelihood to win and relative values.

Dallas Mavericks to win Southwest Division (+135 at ESPN BET)

The Southwest Division is a two-team race, with the New Orleans Pelicans holding a one-game lead over the Mavericks and at least an 8.5-game gap on the other three teams in the division. Both the Pelicans and the Mavericks have won seven of their past 10 games and have reasons for optimism over the final 27 games of the season. The Pelicans are the odds-on favorite to win the division at -185, but the Mavericks have more achievable upside based on their health and roster moves.

Through the first 55 games of the season, all five Pelicans starters were available for at least 41 games and had continuity within their roles. The Mavericks, on the other hand, only had two players start more than 35 games (Luka Doncic and Derrick Jones Jr. with 47 starts each). Kyrie Irving, the second All Star on the team, missed 22 games with various injuries. And Jones, listed at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, played many of his minutes at power forward instead his typical wing position.

The Mavericks exit the All-Star Break with their starting five healthy and based upon their moves at the trade deadline, it is a new and improved starting unit from the one they had in the first half of the season. The Mavericks traded for two big men at the deadline in Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington. Gafford and Washington will be the starters for Dallas at center and power forward moving forward. The previous starting center, rookie Dereck Lively II, missed 18 games prior to the All-Star break, including seven of the past eight games because of various injuries, but is also available to play a major role moving forward.

Put it together and the Mavericks have been able to keep pace with the Pelicans despite more injuries and a personnel-based need to play small ball the majority of the time. Coming out of the break, the Mavericks are healthy with a more balanced roster that solidifies their defense and rebounding to support Doncic, Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. on offense. The Mavericks are currently on a six-game win streak, tied for the longest win streak in the NBA, and have a strong chance to win the division. In my view they should be the favorites, but you can still get them at plus-money, making them excellent value in this slot.

Tim Hardaway Jr. to win Sixth Man of the Year (+200)

Hardaway has the second-shortest odds to win 6th Man of the Year, behind the odds-on favorite Malik Monk (-115) with some separation ahead of Norman Powell (+600) and Caris LeVert (+2200). Hardaway was the favorite to win this award when I did my most recent awards check-in about a month ago, but Monk has overtaken him with a hot-scoring February (20.4 PPG, 52.1 FG% in eight February games) while Hardaway was in a slump (10.6 PPG, 34.2 FG% in seven February games).

Despite the pre-All-Star-Break cold shooting, Hardaway still has the higher scoring average at 17.3 PPG than Monk (15.1 PPG). Hardaway also plays more minutes at 29.8 MPG (Monk plays 25.8 MPG) and has been the clear-cut third offensive cog on the Mavericks with no player outside of Doncic and Irving averaging double-digits in more than three games. Monk, on the other hand, is one of six Kings players averaging double-digits, and is only 0.3 PPG ahead of Keegan Murray for the third scoring slot on the team. If the Mavericks end up winning the division that would be another boon in Hardaway's case. Monk's Kings are third in their division and 5.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers. In a race as close as this one, the betting value is in the player with the longer odds and more juice.

Luka Doncic to win MVP (700)

Last month, before Joel Embiid's unfortunate injury, I argued that Doncic had a strong MVP case based on his one-of-a-kind statistical footprint and the chance that the Mavericks might catch up to the Pelicans and win their division. Today, Doncic's case is even stronger. He now leads the NBA in scoring at 34.3 PPG, has increased his career-high assists pace to 9.5 APG and has averaged 8.8 RPG as well. No player in NBA history has ever averaged 34 points, nine assists and eight rebounds over a full season, making Doncic's current campaign extraordinary.

The MVP race is wide open, with no one candidate separating themselves from the field. Nikola Jokic is the odds-on favorite at -120, but the Denver Nuggets have fallen to fourth place in the West and third in their division, which would weaken the team success component that is his main advantage over Doncic. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+225) is the only other player with shorter odds than Doncic and the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder (second in the West) boosts his case. However, Doncic's statistical impact is larger with advantages in scoring, rebounds and assists. If the Mavericks were to finish strong, Doncic still has a very legitimate chance to win the MVP with more juice than Jokic or Gilgeous-Alexander.

Mavericks to win Western Conference (+1600)

The Mavericks missed the playoffs last season, but made the Western Conference Finals the previous season after defeating Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz and Devin Booker and the top-seeded Phoenix Suns over the first two rounds. Gobert now anchors the defense of West-leading Minnesota Timberwolves while Booker's Suns are only a game ahead of the Mavericks for the fifth playoff spot. If the season ended today, the Mavericks would be the top-seeded team in the play-in tournament that, if they won that matchup. would result in them facing the Thunder ... who they just beat by 35 points less than two weeks ago. Dallas also has wins against the third-seeded Clippers and fourth-seeded Nuggets this season.

The Western Conference is a gauntlet. All of the current top-10 teams have cases to make at least the second round of the playoffs. While team quality and home court advantage could help tilt some matchups, I don't see much justification for the Mavericks' odds to be seven-times longer than the Clippers (+215) and Nuggets (+245) or more than twice as long as the Timberwolves (+750), Suns (+775) or Thunder (+800). While I wouldn't consider the Mavs as favorites, they do have value as a relative long shot.

Mavericks to win NBA Championship (+3500)

The Mavericks are also a long shot to win the NBA Finals but are one of the teams with a chance. The playoffs are often about creating mismatches, half-court execution, clutch scoring and defense. Doncic is one of the biggest one-on-one mismatches in the NBA. He and Kyrie are both excellent half-court offense-creators and clutch-shot makers and with the trade deadline moves, Dallas has the size to be much stronger on defense and on the glass.

The Mavericks have some interesting long-shot value at 35-1. In addition, sportsbooks often offer early cash-out options. If you place a bet on the Mavericks at 35-1 now, and Dallas makes the Western Conference Finals, by that point, their odds to win the championship would be significantly shorter. This makes them a potentially viable early cash-out option for those who may not believe the Mavericks will hoist the Larry O' Brien trophy at the end of the season.

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