What Nets-Kyrie Irving arrangement means for NBA bettors

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I do not know if the betting public is ready to admit the Nets are doing just fine, and it’s about to get better. By beating the Clippers on Monday, the Nets completed a seven-game stretch at 6-1 SU/5-2 ATS games, with a +7.0 net rating, the team’s best run this season.

James Harden dropped 75 points in two games in Los Angeles to lead the short-handed Nets to back-to-back wins over the Lakers and Clippers. Kevin Durant came back Thursday after missing three games while in COVID-19 protocol, and Kyrie Irving cleared protocol as well, which will allow him to play for the Nets on the road. The return of a highly skilled offensive player makes for an interesting betting opportunity.

One of the most underrated aspects of the Nets’ season has been their defense. The Nets are sixth in defensive efficiency, giving up just 107.2 points every 100 possessions. In fact, their opponent effective field-goal percentage of 49.3 percent leads the league, according to Cleaning The Glass. That has led to the Nets playing to the Under until a recent 5-1 run to the Over.

With Irving back, these games could start to look more like the ones that took place last season, when the Nets went 44-39-1 to the Over, postseason included. Irving is a subpar defender who has never improved his team’s defensive rating in his career.

Cavaliers guard Darius Garland
Cavaliers guard Darius Garland
AP

Last season, the Nets gave up 115.3 points per 100 possessions during his time on the floor, a defensive rating that would be dead last this season by 1.1 points. When he and Harden shared the floor, that defensive rating was 116.3. Irving is an incredible offensive player, however, and in his minutes with Harden the Nets still had a +5.0 net rating due to an offense that put up 121.3 points per 100 possessions.

That leads to the Nets potentially being an Over team on the road with Irving in the lineup, but an Under team at home with more defensive-minded role players on the floor.

A live MIP long shot

Arguably the most subjective award of them all, Most Improved Player is tough to handicap. As of Wednesday, the Hornets’ Miles Bridges is the favorite to win the award at 2/1 at DraftKings, but should he be? He is averaging 7.0 more points per game, but his field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, 2-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage are all down. His base stats are better, with 1.5 more assists and 1.2 more rebounds per game, but if Jerami Grant’s loss to Julius Randle taught us anything last season, it was that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to improvement.

What about Darius Garland, who is one of the many reasons Cleveland is in playoff contention? He is averaging only 2.1 more points, 1.2 more assists and 0.6 more rebounds per game, but his efficiency has skyrocketed.

Garland has improved his 2-point percentage by 7.6 percent and his effective field-goal percentage by 4.7 percent. His points per shot attempt have jumped from 109.6 last season to an insane 120.9 this season.

You might not think he deserves to be the favorite, but should he really be 16/1? The difference in implied probability of the prices is a staggering 27.4 percent, which to me is too much. Winning base stats is not enough for this award. There has to be tangible improvement, and Garland is showing that.

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