How Zion Williamson Return From Injury Impacts Your NBA Bets
The wait is over. Three months after he had knee surgery, rookie phenom Zion Williamson will make his regular-season debut for the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs.
It has been a long time coming for the most prized NBA prospect since LeBron James and Williamson will get plenty of exposure with the Pelicans having nine national TV games left on their schedule. Here's what Zion's return to the Pelicans means for the team and a few end-of-the-year awards races and odds.
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Zion Big Addition For High-Scoring Pelicans
Williamson joins the red-hot Pelicans, who have won 11 of their past 16 games, surging after a 13-game losing streak spanning nearly a month. More impressively (and notably for NBA betting enthusiasts), they have gone 13-2-1 against the spread in that span. What's more, they're hitting the over at a remarkable rate: Beginning Dec. 29 with a 127-112 victory over the Rockets, Pelicans games have hit the over 11 consecutive times.
It should come as no surprise that they are scoring a ton of points (122.3, second most) and giving up a ton (120.7, the most) in that span. Even better, they're playing at the league's fourth fastest pace.
Oddsmakers will certainly begin shifting totals because of it, but with Williamson now in the lineup there's no telling how good the New Orleans offense can get. Also, Williamson might take some time to get acclimated, but the Pelicans are far and away a better team with him in the lineup. With him in the lineup, New Orleans is going to be an attractive bet.
Let's not go overboard, though. The Pelicans are 17-27 and 12th in the Western Conference. Even if they somehow made a run to get into the playoffs, they're not worth betting in NBA Finals odds (+21000) or even to win the West (+13000). Maybe one day, but not in 2020. Don't get too aggressive with the Zion hype.
Zion Williamson Player Props for Debut
General manager David Griffin said Williamson will not have a minutes restriction in his debut. That's good news for bettors, who should expect an impactful night from 2019's top overall pick.
The Spurs are ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency -- a bit worse since Christmas -- and allow the fifth most points per game. The Pelicans, remember, are the top scoring team since Christmas and are playing at a top-5 pace. There will be scoring opportunities aplenty for Williamson, who played his last preseason game against San Antonio and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
With the way New Orleans is scoring, we think Williamson will add a few assists, too, so bet the over on the DraftKings props of over/under 12.5 points and 19.5 as the number of points, rebounds, and assists combined. He's going to put on a show tonight.
Williamson Not Good Rookie Of The Year Bet
Williamson was the prohibitive favorite to win Rookie of the Year shortly after draft night, with odds as high as -286 at some sportsbooks. But with his debut coming more than halfway into the regular season, Williamson's odds have plummeted to +1800. No player has won Rookie of the Year in a non-lockout season playing fewer than 70 games. Williamson will play at most 38 games.
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More important than his games played is his competition. It has been a weak rookie class, with one exception. Memphis point guard Ja Morant has exploded in January and is averaging 17.9 points per game on 49% shooting and 7.0 assists. He has the Grizzlies sitting at 20-23, good for eighth in the West, one season after they won just 33 games.
Morant is the runaway ROY favorite with -500 odds. Williamson would need to post MVP numbers to even have a shot. It won't happen, especially considering he'll likely sit out games down the stretch or in back-to-back situations.
Zion Could Impact Ingram's Most Improved Player Odds
Let's make this clear: Zion Williamson is good for the Pelicans and each of the teammates he'll play with this season and beyond. But if we're considering season-long awards, Williamson might negatively affect teammate Brandon Ingram's chances of winning Most Improved Player.
Ingram's award odds have shortened over the past month from +800 to +350 as he has averaged 26.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists since Christmas. Simply put, he has been outstanding. He now trails just Luka Doncic (+125) and Devonte’ Graham (+200) for the MIP lead.
Williamson will take some attention off Ingram and find him some more open looks, but the No. 1 pick also will take his fair share of shots. Williamson should quickly become the focal point of the Pelicans offense, which means fewer counting stats for Ingram. Plus, this has been Doncic's award to lose since about early November.
There was once a belief that MVP consideration would mean voters overlooked Ingram for MIP. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore with Giannis Antetokounmpo running away with the award and a huge favorite in NBA MVP odds in his bid to win the award for a second straight year. We like Doncic's +125 odds much better given how Williamson will impact Ingram's counting stats.
About the Author
Mark Strotman is a veteran sports journalist who has covered the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for NBC Sports Chicago since 2012. His work has also appeared on ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, The Chicago Tribune, Yahoo Sports and NBC Sports. He covered the NBA Playoffs in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 as well as Team USA Basketball in 2014 and 2016. He has also covered high school football and was nominated for a Midwest Emmy in 2016 for his work on a documentary featuring local Chicago product and NFL prospect Miles Boykin. Strotman graduated from Marquette University in 2012 and during his time there reported on the men’s basketball team, covering both the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament in 2011 and 2012.