Dropping dimes is a skill typically reserved most for point guards, but in this new era, teams have gone further away from traditional positions, embracing a new style of three-chucking, high-tempo offense, like the NBA has never seen before. Even duly noting that, it is more likely than not that a ‘1’ will lead the NBA in assists.
Defining which player actually is playing the 1-spot on a team like the Houston Rockets can be far trickier, as the Rockets employed James Harden as a point guard and primary ball handler last season despite using the now-departed Patrick Beverley to handle the opposition’s floor general on defense.
That all changes with Chris Paul joining the fold, and now betting on the NBA’s assist leader becomes that much trickier. But let us not get ahead of ourselves, and instead fully dissect the top-six choices to lead the NBA in assists in the 2017-18 season.
All betting odds c/o Bovada
John Wall (+240)
John Wall has quietly, or at least relatively quietly, been destroying the NBA while playing for a Washington Wizards team that just cannot manage to get over the hump.
He is the favorite to lead the NBA in assists this year according to Bovada’s odds, and the fact that was already alluded to with the Houston Rockets essentially starting two point guards, has to lead one to believe that Wall has an edge in the area of statistical production over either of Houston’s vaunted guards.
What stops us from necessarily shoving all-in on Wall, is that the Wiz can be an inconsistent group of players, and though Wall is among the league leaders in minutes played every season, Washington’s bench lacks the quality of what is going on in Houston, and that alone gives us a long pause before considering Wall the ultimate favorite to lead the NBA in dimes.
That said, Wall has now posted three-consecutive seasons of 10-plus assists or better, with last year representing a career high at 10.7. He also has a usage rate over 30 percent. Because Washington is so uniquely structured around his dominance, we are fairly confident that he can take this award, as favored to. Even so, let us take a look at the other five options, by which we can possibly hedge a bet on Wall.
Russell Westbrook (+260)
Russell Westbrook’s role on the Oklahoma City Thunder is going to change this year. The team added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
For all the hype and excitement this generates, there is no mistaking the fact that this is still Russ’ team. Westbrook is unlikely to turn in another triple-double average this season, but he is still the floor general of a team that now has a couple of offensive weapons far more volatile than what he had at his disposal last year, even if Enes Kanter was a bit of a machine in short stretches for the Thunder.
What gives us hesitation on Westbrook is the fact that George, if not Anthony at times, will take on the role of playmaker, particularly in half court sets. Due to the uncertainty in OKC with all three due to embrace different, lesser roles, than seen as the sole stars in previous years, we do not mind leaving Westbrook on the shelf in this prop bet.
Sure, he could turn OKC into an offensive powerhouse and manage to stack up even more assists, but George in particular is known to function as a point-forward quite often. There are just too many variables that have yet to be determined, as this talented team begins to attempt to find its mojo and chemistry throughout the season.
Chris Paul (+300)
Chris Paul is the value bet that Westbrook is not. Paul has consistently been one of the league’s best passers, and now he is finally again playing with enough shooters to make sure those passes are rewarded with actual assists. What makes this dicey, however, is that James Harden was a point guard last season, and with the Rockets’ overall success, it is doubtful they turn The Beard into some sort of spot up shooter. He is just too good for that.
Because Harden will handle the ball plenty, this could be a career-low for Paul in assists, even as the Rockets thrive and possibly finish as high as No. 2 in the Western Conference. There are plenty of assists to go around, but Harden and Paul are going to have to sort out who the one dropping them will be. Or perhaps that role goes to head coach Mike D’Antoni.
Whatsoever the case, the fact that Houston and OKC both made major roster changes this offseason is making this prop bet ever so dicey.
James Harden (+500)
Harden is the reigning leader in assists, but the Rockets just added arguably the best point guard in the NBA to its roster. Where does that leave Harden’s assist figures? Can it remain roughly the same as the 11.2 per game he dropped last year? Doubtful.
While Harden may have been snubbed for the league’s MVP award (in the minds of many, anyway), he did take home the assists trophy. It is just that with CP3 now bringing the ball up the court at least half the time, it is tough to envision Harden averaging more than nine assists per game, which will hardly be enough to best Wall, or even Paul.
Lonzo Ball (+1100)
Lonzo Ball is a teaser.
The Los Angeles Lakers may be fueling up the hype train with over 40 national television appearances, but their rotation is not firmly sorted out, nor has the team really built the chemistry yet that fans are just expecting to magically occur with Ball leading the show.
Moreover, rookies tend to disappoint those who set the bar too high based on the incredulity of the hype that accompanies their NBA debuts. Sure, some will wager on Ball considering +1100 to be a major value bet, but the last time an NBA rookie averaged over 10 assists per game was 1987-88, when Mark Jackson tallied 10.6 per game as a member of the New York Knicks. It just does not happen often, and Jackson did not lead the league that year, for whatever it is worth.
Ricky Rubio (+1100)
Ricky Rubio is the value bet at +1100, but that value is somewhat overstated. The Utah Jazz play the league’s slowest pace, and subtracting Gordon Hayward removes a major offensive threat, while Rubio is going to find his best passing targets to now be Rodney Hood and Rudy Gobert.
Hood can sure score the rock, but Gobert is only a threat when he catches the ball in the paint. Even if Derrick Favors returns to the form he displayed two seasons ago, it is just tough to see the Spaniard having enough passing options around him to rack up more than 10 assists per game. Rubio is a truly gifted passer, but Utah is about the worst franchise to play for from a stat-building perspective.
Conclusion: We like the favorite, John Wall. Hedging that bet is so tricky as to hardly be worth it. Balls to the wall bets dropped on: John Wall.