The 2018-19 NBA season is about one week from starting. Teams are going through their preseason schedules in hopes of establishing chemistry, getting back into game shape and avoiding injuries.
Many prop bets heading into the season are projecting which players will win key awards, like MVP or Rookie of the Year. However, Bookmaker, one of the big American-focused offshore sportsbooks, has made odds available for which players are most likely to win the NBA’s points, rebound and assist titles. A year ago, those designations went to James Harden, Andre Drummond and Russell Westbrook, respectively.
Who will those winners be in 2018-19? We have scoured all your potential bets on the three aforementioned statistical categories and come up with several players who are worth an investment. Those NBA predictions are as follows:
Damian Lillard to lead league in points per game (+2100 with Bookmaker)
Besides James Harden, Lillard is the only player to place in the league’s top six in per-game scoring for the last three years. Yet somehow, he is all the way back tied at seventh in terms of most likely players to win the scoring title.
Lillard has put up 25.1, 27.0 and 26.9 points per contest in the last three seasons, with his true shooting percentage increasing in each year. He is in an ideal situation with the Portland Trail Blazers to get a bunch of buckets again this year. He has a solid second option (C.J. McCollum) but not much other quality help on offense. Portland runs its offense primarily through Lillard’s ability to score at all three levels: three-point range, the midrange and at the rim.
The 28-year-old point guard is squarely in his prime and should be a stone cold lock to average between 25 and 30 points per game in 2018-19. If it is a year where it only takes 27 or 28 points per game to win the title (which is a very distinct possibility), Lillard could take it.
Karl-Anthony Towns to lead league in points per game (+5245 with Bookmaker) & rebounds per game (+1558 with Bookmaker)
Towns is a really solid bet in both the points and rebounds per game categories. With the serious trade rumors around co-star Jimmy Butler, it is very likely the Minnesota Timberwolves center will play at least a huge portion of the season without another All-Star-caliber player next to him.
What does that mean for the improving 22-year-old big man? Stats and lots of them. Towns’ usage rate went from 23 percent when Butler was on the floor last year to 26.3 percent when he was on the sidelines. Overall, he averaged 24.3 points and 12.9 rebounds per game after the All-Star break last year. He is only getting better.
If the Timberwolves get a predictably lackluster return for Butler, they will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs in a deep Western Conference. That means Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau will have no choice but to play his stud seven-footer big minutes (which will happen anyway with Thibs’ tendency to overwork his starters).
Having no Butler also could mean a faster pace for the Timberwolves. Butler frequently isolates with the ball on offense and slows down opponents on defense with his stingy perimeter defense. Losing both of those attributes could mean more up-and-down play in Minnesota games, which translates to inflated stats.
Enes Kanter to lead the league in rebounds (+5550 with Bookmaker)
Kanter is averaging 13.3 rebounds per game for the New York Knicks in three preseason games. That is an excellent number, but not necessarily mind-blowing. But wait, the 26-year-old center has only been on the floor for 22.3 minutes per contest. So that means he is averaging 21.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, which actually is mind-blowing.
Simply put, Kanter is in an excellent position to grab a bunch of boards. The Knicks have a roster full of young guys who aren’t known for their rebounding. Thus the team uses Kanter near the basket as the designated rebounder in most situations. Most of New York’s “power” forwards are smaller, outside shooting types who don’t like to bump bodies in the paint.
We are never going to see Kanter get huge minutes as the Knicks’ starting center. He is a bad defensive player who can be vulnerable if he’s out there too long. However, New York lost his backup, Kyle O’Quinn, in free agency. O’Quinn was a fantastic reserve and it’s unreasonable to expect his replacement to get the 18 minutes per game he got last year.
Therefore, Kanter should get a bit of a minutes bump from 25.8 last year. So 28 minutes per game is a realistic estimate for him. If his per-minute rebounding numbers from last year stay consistent, we are looking at an average of 11.9 rebounds per game. Keep in mind that that is a pretty conservative estimate given how things have looked in the preseason.
If some other top contenders, like Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan, aren’t at their usual marks, Kanter should make a strong push for the rebounding title.
LeBron James to lead league in assists per game (+1325 with Bookmaker)
Consider James’ assist numbers the past three seasons. He has increased his dimes per game from 6.8 to 8.7 to 9.1 as he has gone from 31 to 33 years of age. That is not a coincidence. James is not only continuing to develop his passing ability, but he is focusing more on getting his teammates involved. It’s only so long before James’ powerful athleticism will start to fade, so I think that trend will continue.
James is now with a young Los Angeles Lakers team with some nice offensive prospects to develop. The 33-year-old superstar’s scoring numbers will almost assuredly decrease to accommodate his teammates’ development, but the assists could actually go up. Players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Josh Hart will enjoy scoring on cuts and spot-up jumpers thanks to LeBron. Veteran center JaVale McGee will catch a bunch of alley-oop lobs from James.
The one main drawback of LeBron’s new situation is that he doesn’t have as many quality spot-up shooters as he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, the Lakers’ fast pace, LeBron’s amazing passing ability and his emphasis on helping develop his young teammates create a situation that could see him average close to 10 assists per game.