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Wild Movement In Betting Markets Leading Up To The NBA Draft

James Murphy
by in NBA on
  • The Orlando Magic selected Duke’s Paolo Banchero with the first overall selection in the 2022 NBA Draft.
  • Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren was taken second by Oklahoma City with Auburn forward Jabari Smith, Jr. going third overall to Houston.
  • There were some wild swings in the NBA Draft betting markets in the 48 hours leading up to the event.

The 2022 NBA Draft is underway at this hour with Lex Luthor-esque commissioner Adam Silver presiding over the festivities. At this writing, the first few picks are in the books with Duke’s Paolo Banchero going to the Orlando Magic with the first overall selection. The second pick was Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren going to the Oklahoma City Thunder with Auburn forward Jabari Smith going to the Houston Rockets with the third overall selection.

Some life wisdom I learned early on in my sports betting career: ‘never trust a poor mouthing bookmaker’. That came to mind earlier this year when the Las Vegas bookmaking community was grousing about NFL Draft betting. More specifically, they were complaining about how they lose money every year due to heavy sharp action. That has more to do with insipid Nevada gaming regulations governing draft bettingbetting on the draft stops 24 hours before the first selection is made–than it does with lack of public interest or the acumen of Silver State wise guys.

The stupidity of this was evident this year when tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands by some accounts) of NFL Draft enthusiasts descended upon Las Vegas. While the smart money came in early and often on the draft, sportsbooks were never able to balance out the handle despite a ton of public interest. Recreational bettors expect to be able to bet until ‘post time’ and there were plenty of tourists shocked that they couldn’t place a NFL Draft bet on the afternoon of the event. It dooms the Nevada sportsbooks to losing money on an event where they should easily be in the black. It’s also a bad look for the state’s sports betting industry–not that they’ve really cared about how they’re perceived for a number of years now.

The somewhat complex narrative surrounding betting on the NFL Draft was distilled by the media to an oversimplified message that ‘only sharps bet the draft’. The movements in the NBA Draft markets over the past 48 hours indicate a) that there’s plenty of interest in betting the draft from all over the marketplace and b) the self proclaimed ‘sharps’ aren’t always right.

Here’s how it went down–I’m relying on the reporting from the always essential VSIN for much of this. For months now, most of the pre-draft speculation had Auburn forward Jabari Smith, Jr. as the likely first overall selection. Banchero was expected to go near the top of the field, but few had him pegged at first overall. Smith had been the betting favorite to go first overall but overnight heavy action on Banchero became the top choice among bettors. Here’s how VSIN explained it in their daily email newsletter:

The NBA Draft is tonight (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but the action started around 1:15 a.m. this morning when Paolo Banchero became the favorite to be selected No. 1.

With Orlando having the top pick, Jabari Smith had been a heavy favorite and was at -500 as of Wednesday evening. The huge shift happened within an hour as Banchero, the Duke power forward who was 20-1 on Saturday and 250 earlier Wednesday, steamed toward -200 (at DK Sportsbook) by 2:15 a.m. ET.

Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga remained the favorite to go No. 2 at -115 to Oklahoma City.

Auburn’s Smith now is the favorite to go No. 3 (currently held by Houston) at +120.

What caused the dramatic movement? Did someone spring a leak or is it an early smoke screen from Orlando looking to trade down?

On Thursday morning, VSIN’s Josh Applebaum–who is right at the top of my ‘must read’ list every day–updated the situation and gave the current market prices from DraftKings:

Late Banchero Steam: We’ve seen some fascinating back-and-forth movement on who will be selected with the top pick. For nearly the entire pre-draft process, Jabari Smith was the favorite. The Auburn big man opened at -105 and reached as high as -500 throughout the week. At BetMGM, Smith is receiving 33% of bets and 65% of money, the top smart money discrepancy of any player. 

But then late Wednesday night we saw massive unexpected steam hit Paolo Banchero, with the Duke forward leapfrogging Smith to become a -190 favorite to be selected first overall at DraftKings. Banchero was roughly +2000 to go first overall just a week ago. He entered Wednesday as high as +300.

Here are the updated prices for the first five picks at DraftKings:

1st Pick (Magic): Banchero (-190), Smith (+145), Chet Holmgren (+850)

2nd Pick (Thunder): Holmgren (-150), Smith (+120), Banchero (+650)

3rd Pick (Rockets): Smith (+125), Holmgren (+150), Banchero (+170)

4th Pick (Kings): Jaden Ivey (-175), Keegan Murray (+145), Dyson Daniels (+1000)

5th Pick (Pistons): Murray (+130), Bennedict Mathurin (+200), Ivey (+225)

At this point, the updated prices for the first three picks is just how it went down. As it turned out, the Kings would take Murray #4 and Ivey would go #5.

The plot thickened later in the day–VSIN credits a tweet from ESPN Insider Adrian Wojnarowski for putting the draft market back into turmoil. I’d hate to think that ersatz ‘wise guys’ were pounding their bookmakers based on a Tweet from the mainstream sports media but it sure looks like that’s how it happened:

On Thursday morning, ESPN Insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the first three picks were looking “increasingly firm,” with Smith at No. 1, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren at No. 2 and Banchero at No. 3. The tweet caused sportsbooks to take the odds for the No. 1 market completely off the board.

“The first pick market has been the biggest market of all the NBA draft markets we put up, same as the NFL draft,” DraftKings Sportsbook director Johnny Avello said on VSiN on Thursday afternoon. “It’s 30-35% of the NFL draft in terms of handle, but still significant money coming in.”

FanDuel re-opened Smith as the massive favorite to go No. 1 at -10000 odds, with Banchero at +900. Over the next few hours, Smith’s odds shrunk all the way to -135, with Banchero at + 100, before reversing as more money came in on Smith. Smith is currently a -390 favorite at DraftKings, with Banchero at + 250.

I looked at the odds from BetOnline.ag a few hours before the draft began and Smith was a significant favorite of -500 or thereabouts by that point. DraftKings wasn’t able to get anyone to ‘bite’ on Smith at -10000, but it did give the ‘sharps’ another crack at getting Banchero at a price. No ‘sharp’ that was betting ‘inside information’ on this market would have been dissuaded by a Tweet from an ESPN personality and I’d imagine that there were any number of bettors who had taken a position on Banchero overnight that gladly got back in line to get another piece of him at a bigger price.

At some point, however, the public lumbers in–or more appropriately, the sports betting equivalent of what are known as ‘smarks’ in pro wrestling lingo. These are bettors who like to *think* they’re sharp but are invariably a few steps behind the actual wise guys. Twitter is full of them, which would advance the narrative that the ‘inside info’ from ESPN’s Wojnarowski was the difference maker. Worth noting that the Tweet also happened to be completely wrong. This is an important piece of wisdom to file away–the ‘mainstream sports media’ is called that for a reason. Unless you’re a contrarian bettor using outlets like ESPN as a barometer of the ‘public’ mindset in order to bet against it you’re better off ignoring sources like this altogether.

In the following article, we’ll talk about the fool’s game of mining the Internet for ‘inside information’. As for Paolo Banchero’s fashion choices at the NBA Draft–unless you’re a legit legend like Prince it’s tough to carry a purple suit.

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