It’s common to find pro-USA (and pro-commercial marketing) bias in Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics betting odds in the modern era. It’s not a bad thing. From an investment POV, a set of badly-priced markets on the Olympics is a rich opportunity.
For instance, curling speculators – lucky folks who can kick-back with a beer and soak in a relaxing (and roaring) game of ice-chess at 3 AM – had a merry time sorting through the media’s hype prior to the PyeongChang Games in 2018. NBC and Sports Illustrated, fascinated by Becca and Matt Hamilton as photogenic stars in an unorthodox sport, made the U.S. Mixed Doubles curling team sound like the love-child of Mary Lou Retton and Michael Phelps, a sure contender for gold medals in Korea. Futures odds shortened on the Hamiltons while lengthening for the U.S. Men’s Curling team, which was panned as a weak underdog. The Men’s Curling team won gold, the “cute” Hamiltons were soundly trounced in the round-robin, and the only gamblers who won bigly were those who ignored the media’s narrative.
Speaking of PyeongChang, the “Olympic Athletes From Russia” Men’s Ice Hockey team was the bargain wager of a decade at the 2018 Winter Olympics, as headlines from NBC, BBC, and the Associated Press implied that the Kontinental Hockey League was joining the NHL in barring its players from the event, prompting high-rollers to pass up 2/1 and 3/1 lines on OAR. Anyone with any common sense understood that Vladimir Putin wasn’t about to ban his KHL superstars from the Olympics, but you can’t put AP reporters in the category of rational-thinking humans anymore. Russia won gold with an all-KHL lineup despite a miraculous rally from Germany – with futures bets on OAR paying off handsomely on a true 1/2 favorite thanks to the MSM’s fake stories.
How do those frigid tales relate to a Summer Olympics in Tokyo? Just look at the gold medal futures odds on Men’s Basketball.
USA Basketball has not had a great summer, at least not on the men’s side of things. The United States Men’s Basketball Team was beaten not once, but twice in exhibitions leading up to next week’s Summer Olympics, and the news broke this week that Kevin Love and Bradley Beal have withdrawn from Team USA’s roster. Greece (and the Greek Freak) are missing from the event altogether, giving Cinderella squads a potentially easier path to a showdown with Stars & Stripes in the medal round. Nigeria is among several NBA-level rosters in the Tokyo tournament who work well as units, which presents a dangerous scenario for USA Basketball, especially considering that the American roster is weakening instead of getting stronger with cherry-picked reinforcements.
Yet in spite of all that, gold medal odds on Team USA to win the Men’s Basketball event have actually thinned since WagerBop last reported on them.
Why on God’s green Earth would a team’s futures line shrink following so many doses of bad news, even a squad as beloved as Team USA? Is the field that weak? Is the analysis weaker?
Let’s look at the current gold medal odds in Men’s Basketball at the Summer Olympics, and examine several of the possible reasons – good or bad – why the Yanks have become such a prohibitive favorite to win a Tokyo tournament that’s bound to create surprises and problems for top-ranked FIBA nations.
2020 Tokyo Olympics: Men’s Basketball Gold Medal Odds
It’s a little bit of a misnomer to call Team USA’s (-500) line the odds for Tokyo hardwood. FanDuel, for instance, is only giving the Americans (-310) for the gold medals, but an awful lot of speculators (in offshore-only gambling states and otherwise) are seeing the numbers below at Bovada Sportsbook:
Czech Republic +15000
Here are likely reasons why the United States line has thinned to (-500) in order of validity:
-Olympic history is on Team USA’s side. This is the strongest argument in favor of a prohibitive betting line on the United States basketball team in Tokyo. USA Basketball has won 6 out of 7 sets of Men’s gold medals at the Olympics since NBA players began representing the U.S. in 1992. The 2016 gold medal squad in Rio beat Serbia by 30 points in the gold medal tip-off, a margin of victory that rivals the original Dream Team’s 117-85 gold medal romp over Tony Kukoc and Team Croatia.
-An NBA MVP’s team has been eliminated. Greece will not appear in Men’s Basketball at the Olympics this year, and neither will Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Far from analyzing the Greek Freak’s absence as a reason why a Cinderella might ease through the medal round and meet the USA at 100%, speculators are surmising that 1 of the biggest potential obstacles to another Stars & Stripes victory is now out of the way.
-There is only a single tough opponent in Team USA’s group. United States cagers will take on highly-rated France in a Group A round-robin game on Sunday. But if the Yanks get past that contest without a loss, they’ll have an easy ride to a top medal round seed with tip-offs against the Czech Republic and Iran, each game presenting a chance for the U.S. to rack-up a handy point differential gap in order to rank above other 3-0 teams.
-Losses in friendlies don’t matter. An angle with a grain of truth to it. After all, the Dream Team of 1992 was led by Michael Jordan, who was said to be a shaky cager in practices and preseason. (The Dream Team lost its 1st rehearsal against a college All-Star team in an outcome that may or may not have been rigged by Chuck Daly and Coach K, to remind Larry Bird’s squad that it could actually lose with a lousy-enough performance.) 1980’s gold medal U.S. ice hockey team famously lost to the USSR by 9 goals in a pre-tournament friendly. There’s no need to panic because Team USA lost friendly basketball games to Nigeria and Australia, but you can refrain from panicking over a team and still not choose to gamble on 1/5 odds. Bovada Sportsbook almost seems panicked in a different way, worried that Team USA will win in easy fashion and that clients will take advantage to drive-up their stakes.
There’s also a logic fallacy in considering pre-Olympics friendly matches “like the NFL/NBA/NHL preseason.” Preseason outcomes are known to be all but meaningless in many professional sports leagues, but pro leagues are designed to pit similar athletes and styles against each other. Dominant teams win by dominant scores, in exhibitions and when it counts.
In fact, in most of the United States’ gold-medal years of Men’s Basketball, the team’s margins-of-victory in exhibitions have tended to equal or surpass the live-fire winning margins. It’s been since 2004 since an NBA-based U.S. team clearly wasn’t good enough prior to the Olympics and needed to get better in a hurry in order to secure the gold. It didn’t happen in Athens.
-The top tier of NBA players reigns far superior to average cogs of average teams in the National Basketball Association. This is the weakest of all arguments for (-500) gold medal odds on Team USA. Because while the angle is certainly true vis-a-vis the very top tier of the NBA’s talent, i.e. those superstars who are expected to make a difference every time they step on the floor, those types of athletes are in short supply on the 2021 American roster.
LeBron James isn’t in Tokyo. Neither is Stephen Curry. Or James Harden. Or Russell Westbrook. 3 of the NBA’s top 10 scorers are on the active USA roster, but Beal, the most prolific shooting guard, has to sit out after a positive COVID-19 test.
There is also no obvious candidate to replace Paul George as the squad’s theft artist in midcourt, making Durant’s job harder as the name-brand leader of a U.S. team that might not gobble-up as many easy buckets in Japan as in Brazil 5 years ago.
Furthermore, an increased presence of NBA talent – established NBA talent – on several other national teams is another red flag for high-risk futures bets on USA Basketball this time around. Yes, a team of NBAers like Nigeria would be overwhelmed against the Dream Team, or even a modern incarnation of the Dream Team led by James, Curry, and Harden. But the 2021 U.S. roster is not such a squad, and that’s apparent in the 2 exhibition losses.
It’s simple enough to advise readers to avoid the 1/5 Team USA market. There are plenty of other chances to bet on solid favorites who will probably win their events – and chances to bet against much more generous odds in many such cases. But if not the USA, which teams’ gold medal odds are sufficiently disparate from the squad’s real chances to make wagers worth making?
Here’s a closer peek at 7 of the contenders.
Let’s face it – this is a Team USA “B” squad. It’s a very, very good “B” squad, but the wound-be leaders of the “A” squad are alternately mourning the decline of the Golden State Warriors and playing basketball with cartoons as the summer progresses.
The media has done a pretty good job of hiding that fact in its glowing reports, tempered only by the 2 troubling exhibition defeats. Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, and Jayson Tatum are just a few of the names dotting the U.S. roster that make bookmakers hesitate to lengthen the team’s gold medal odds, and Draymond Green is probably the best interior defender at the Olympics. However, Green still must prove to be the game-changing force in the open court that George was in 2016.
The USA struggled to adjust to FIBA officiating prior to getting in the win column and finishing the friendly schedule 2-2. But the final 83-75 exhibition victory over Spain is as worrisome as either of the pratfalls from last week. Spain shot poorly from the field and still bothered the Americans for 2 halves. Once again, these are the kind of exhibition results you’d expect to see out of a gold medal contender, not a prohibitive 1-to-5 favorite.
Bovada’s oddsmakers believe Australia has the 2nd-best chance to wear the gold bling in Tokyo. The Aussies have the 3rd-most active NBA players of any 2021 national team, and top-level experience is the foundational block around which the squad is built.
NBA veterans like Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, and Aron Baynes will anchor Team Australia while younger, dynamic cagers like Dante Exum, Matisse Thybulle, and Josh Green will provide fresh legs and defense. Mills led the Australians with 22 points in last week’s upset win over the Stars & Stripes.
Australia has the misfortune of drawing into Group B alongside Nigeria, which is also the maiden opponent that the Aussies will face. A tip-off with the most-underrated squad in international hoops on Sunday will tell us a lot about Australia’s staying power as a medal contender in Summer Olympics events.
Team Spain has a relatively easy draw in Group C, alongside a weakened Argentina unit. Then again, you could put the Spanish roster in an NBA division and they’d do alright.
Spain can never be counted out in FIBA basketball, and any tournament that doesn’t include an A-list team from the United States has “FIBA World Cup” outcomes written all over it. Whenever the USA or another prodigious foe goes frigid from the field, Spain is the vulture that will circle and devour its prey.
Brothers Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol will headline the team’s frontcourt, providing a wealth of pro experience and talent. NBA veteran Ricky Rubio will serve as Spain’s floor general.
Other Spanish players with NBA experience include Alex Abrines, Rudy Fernandez, Victor Claver, and brothers Willy and Juancho Hernangómez. Rubio averaged 6.4 assists for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, and Spain will lean on the Greek Freak’s handyman to dish-out plenty of dimes in Tokyo.
Team France is considered a formidable dark horse for the Tokyo tournament. Not only will the French once again employ the services of NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, but Les Bleus roster (yes, it’s “The Blues” in basketball too) also includes the Boston Celtics’ Evan Fournier, Nic Batum of the L.A. Clippers, the New York Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina, and Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot from the Brooklyn Nets.
Prop bets could be extra fun if France gets going from downtown. The French will likely have one of the best 3-point shooting teams in this year’s competition, with Batum and Fournier posing the biggest threats from beyond the arc. Fournier averaged 13 points per game while shooting 46% from 3 for the Celtics this season.
If it wasn’t for Luka Doncic, the Slovenian team probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar for this year’s Olympics. But the mere presence of the Dallas Mavericks star marks the squad a potential medal contender.
Doncic, the only active NBA player on the Slovenian roster, averaged an incredible 27.7 points, 8 rebounds, and 8.6 assists in the NBA this season. But even though he’s 1 of the world’s best players, he’ll have his work cut out, given a pedestrian supporting cast and no obvious Ws in the Group Stage schedule.
Nigeria is another team that lacks a friendly draw on the 1st weekend, with the history-making African squad scheduled to play Australia at Saitama Super Arena on Sunday. No matter. Nigeria at 33/1 gold medal odds is too good of a price to pass up.
Nigeria can play with an all-NBA lineup when necessary, including contributions from the bench. Precious Achiuwa of the Miami Heat is a menacing defensive presence to rival Green of the USA, and his Magic City teammate Gabe Vincent is a sharpshooter who put up 21 points against the United States.
There’s a chance Nigeria will underwhelm its odds by losing early and finishing in 7th or 8th place. The squad’s floor is 20,000 leagues below its ceiling of performance, due to inexperience and the lack of a dominant go-to scorer. But that angle doesn’t make a 33/1 pick into a bad market by itself. “D’Tigers” have a “D’Ceiling” that is comparable to an upstart NBA team taking on a powerful rival, and contrary to what plus-odds gamblers on an unlucky streak might have to say, we see those teams win out more than 1 in 33 tries against NBA aristocrats.
The key angle no one is discussing is that without James, Harden, Curry et al, the Americans are not necessarily any more talented, deep, or driven to succeed than a typical NBA Finals opponent might be. That means Team USA can be beaten in a 1-off scenario by 2 members of the Miami Heat and some talented friends.
Argentina doesn’t look the same without Spurs star Manu Ginóbili on the Summer Olympics squad. The old workhorse spent many years propping up a lineup that’s now bereft of NBA-level ability, sans the offense of Luis Scola and Denver Nuggets point guard Facundo Campazzo.
El Alma Argentina is also the only team to have struggled against the United States in pre-tournament exhibitions, falling 108-80 in a game that was never in question. Scola led the Argentinians with 16 points and 5 rebounds, but he’ll have to put up bigger per-game numbers to keep a Group C underdog afloat in Tokyo.
WagerBop’s Recommended Men’s Basketball Gold Medal Picks
Australia (+1200) (2 unit maximum)
France (+1800) (1 unit maximum)
Nigeria (+3300) (1 unit maximum)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.