Oddsmakers fall victim to smoke screen with No. 1 pick

As sports betting becomes legal in more and more places across the country, more and more markets are available for bettors. Over the past few years, betting on the draft for leagues like the NBA and NFL has become increasingly popular. It’s already an exciting time with a new batch of youngsters joining the league, but it becomes even more exciting if you have a few dollars on the line, predicting how things will unfold.

Betting on drafts is fascinating. In theory, there are people out there who know exactly what will happen. It’s one of the only markets where you can have sure-fire information and make a profit off it. You’ll never know exactly how a game will play out, but if your neighbor is the General Manager of the Orlando Magic, you could very well know who they will draft with their first pick.

Rumors on the internet and leaks from reputable sources can cause wild line movement that sends the market into a frenzy. That’s exactly what happened this week with the first pick of the NBA draft.

Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero

Jabari Smith opened as the betting favorite to be the first pick of the NBA draft. The forward out of Auburn was a one-and-done, winning SEC Freshman of the year, while being a second-team All American and first-team All-SEC standout. Smith opened as an odds-on -105 favorite to be the first player drafted, and he maintained the favorite role throughout almost the entire pre-draft process.

Behind Smith, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren were the only two other names in consideration for the first pick. Holmgren opened at +145 to be the first pick, while Banchero was +350 to be first off the board when the odds were initially released.

Throughout late May and early June, Banchero became a bigger and bigger long shot to go first overall. Last week at this time, Banchero was 23-to-1 to be the first pick at some places across the industry. Here’s how Banchero’s odds moved over the course of this past week:

Despite the consensus opinion being that Jabari Smith would go first overall, Banchero’s odds kept moving lower and lower. In fact, Banchero even became the betting favorite to go first overall at some point late Wednesday. It sure felt like some people knew something that wasn’t being widely reported. Sharp money and steam was definitely favoring Banchero over Smith.

One tweet caused more chaos

As mentioned above, the most fascinating part of betting on a draft is that there are people out there who know information. Reports, rumors and leaks could put oddsmakers in a precarious position.

One person who might be more dialed into the NBA than anyone on this planet is Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN’s Senior NBA insider. He’s constantly breaking NBA news, signings and trades. When Woj tweets something, it’s pretty safe to take it as a fact. Early Thursday morning, Wojnarowski tweeted this:

With one of the more respected insiders in the NBA reporting that the first overall pick was “increasingly firm,” oddsmakers understandably took the betting odds off the board. Late in the afternoon, the oddsmakers reopened the market with Smith as a -800 favorite to be the first player off the board. At those odds, they were inviting action on Banchero, who reopened as a +300 underdog to be drafted first.

With about half an hour to go before the draft was set to begin, Wojnarowski reported on the ESPN broadcast of the draft that Banchero was back in the mix for the first overall pick, and he had emerged as a “significant possibility” to be the Magic draft pick. The betting market reacted again, with Banchero and Smith closing with near identical odds before the market was taken off the board at the start of the draft.

The Magic did end up making Paolo Banchero out of Duke the first overall pick. One of the most respected people in sports was wrong, and the betting market was right. Wojnarowski was obviously a victim of bad information, and he might have fallen victim to a smoke screen. Oddsmakers decided to put their faith in the elite NBA insider, and they paid the price.

Paolo Banchero was the first pick of the NBA draft, much to the delight of bettors. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

It’ll be interesting to see what this means for our ability to bet on drafts in the future. This past NFL draft, the betting market was the first to view Travon Walker as a real possibility to go first overall. While NFL talking heads were talking about Aidan Hutchinson, bettors were throwing serious money at Walker. Now, NBA insiders were reporting Smith was going to be first off the board, but bettors were riding with Banchero.

In both scenarios, the bettors ended up being correct. Will this change how willing sportsbooks are to offer draft props in future years? It feels like it could cause them massive liabilities, and it must be tiresome to adjust odds after every minor report. All we know at this point, if you want to know who’s getting drafted early on, check out what the betting market thinks.

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