Bookmakers are scared to offer gold-medal futures odds on the Tokyo Olympics. For instance, Bovada Sportsbook – still considered the fundamental go-to source for online odds on everything (sorry, FanDuel) from college hoops to hula-hooping – has posted odds on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, scheduled to take place at least 6-7 months after the Summer Olympic Games in Japan, but doesn’t even have a section on the site map for this year’s Games.
It’s not hard to understand why. Mainstream media consensus is that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad will not take place this year. Proving a popular right-wing theory wrong while reaffirming that liberal hand-wringing knows no bounds, the state-side press continues to “press” for COVID-19 sports cancellations as if they’re just waiting to be announced, even though power has changed hands in Washington D.C. and there’s no longer any reason for a partisan media to try to depress the global economy (if it ever did) to discourage further conservative gains in government.
No, the so-called “sports” reporters at NBC, BBC, CBS et al (I think of them as “anti-sports” reporters a lot of the time) have a fetish that goes well beyond attachment to any political party or cause. If the Tokyo Olympics aren’t cancelled, then by-Jove, Dan Wetzel can make everyone think they are. Maybe nobody will tune in to watch the Olympics in 2021 or 2022 because we’ll all believe the Games are cancelled even if they’re not. That way, Jeremy Roenick and other lucky loiterers at Comcast will get their wish and not have to cover the Olympics at all.
The MSM is good at making us forget how wrong it always is. Especially when it comes to the sports world. To wit, we can recall a time when the entire 2020-21 college football season was “cancelled.” It wasn’t really, but the season was pronounced dead by pundits as early as July. Trevor Lawrence, Nick Saban, and a bunch of other people who normally wouldn’t be caught dead working together joined forces to save the FBS season, while the NFL quietly planned and executed a delayed campaign of games played with restricted attendance.
People are joining up to save the Tokyo Olympics too, and I’m skeptical that 80% of the Japanese public is really afraid of Olympians themselves bringing a new rash of COVID-19 cases to the mainland. Economics dictate that Japan still at least consider hosting substantial numbers of fans (i.e. customers) at the Summer Olympics, but the entire Olympiad can be broadcast from a sparse, sanitized, disinfected Olympic Village if necessary. Simone Biles will not be the cause of a deadly outbreak that ravages the Rising Sun, though a typical cast of 100,000 world-hopping Olympic tourists, bloggers, and hangers-on just might exacerbate a health crisis.
Las Vegas has a more realistic view of whether the Tokyo Olympics will happen, offering up at least 1-to-2 proposition odds that the Summer Olympics will occur with live spectators. There are no reported proposition markets asking whether the Olympics won’t take place at all in any form, showing what grizzled world-sports handicappers – who don’t take public political stances but are well tuned-into events in the Far East – think of the likelihood of a total cancellation.
There’s often silver linings when COVID interferes with sports. If nobody’s willing to handicap the Summer Olympics yet, WagerBop is happy to line-forecast the odds on summer IOC competition, and use the forecast to find value when gambling odds come out later.
We’ll start with the #1 marquee sport of the Summer Olympics – Men’s Basketball.
Men’s Basketball at the Summer Olympics: Very Few Odds, Very Badly Priced Odds
The only futures odds to have appeared on Men’s Basketball in Tokyo are puzzling. In fact, online bookmakers like Bovada are probably skeptical of the futures odds at MGM, which offer Team USA as a prohibitive 1-to-10 favorite vs the entire Olympic field. That’s despite an NBA schedule that will allow some, but not all, of the National Basketball Association’s superstars to take part.
Odds of 1/10 on Team USA against stalwarts like Serbia, Australia, and Canada imply that Las Vegas bookies think 1 of 2 scenarios are bound to occur. Either that a Team USA “fantasy roster” filled with names like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden will materialize for the Olympics, or that only a handful of North American pro players will be able to compete in Men’s Basketball in Tokyo, leaving many other nations just as crippled on the court as the United States and potentially allowing a squad of NCAA All-Americans and D-League mercenaries to win gold.
Yet neither “extreme” prediction is likely to bear out. Instead, the NBA will conclude its conference playoffs in mid-July, just enough time for athletes to arrive in Japan and change uniforms before the opening ceremonies (perhaps a somber, hushed affair this time) on July 23rd. As a result, a scenario not unlike the annual IIHF World Championships conundrum should occur.
Very good players who are eliminated from NBA title contention will agree to represent Team USA, but we shouldn’t assume – especially given the global pandemic – that an A-list of NBA talent will be ready and raring to wave the flag for America this time. Given that a long, brutal NBA Finals series could climax just as the Olympic torch is lit, King James and other exceptional players who reach the Finals in 2021 might be happy to hit the hot tub and call it a season.
That would benefit other national hoops teams, not Team USA.
Hockey Canada and USA Hockey sent talented-but-incomplete rosters to play at the World Championships in 2019, and Finland wound up winning gold without a single NHL player skating for Suomi. The NBA has a greater monopoly on premier basketball talent than the NHL has in ice hockey, and it would be miraculous if a nation won gold in Men’s Basketball without any NBA players to help. But the NBA’s ledger of athletes is more international than ever before.
If a motivated Team Canada were to gather all of its best-available NBAers for the Tokyo Olympics while Team USA’s biggest stars begged-off of the event and gave way to B and C-list Yankee cagers, then those “1-to-10” odds on United States gold wouldn’t be accurate prior to a gold medal game against the Canadians, let alone prior to the Men’s Basketball round-robin tipping off.
In short, our advice is to jump at a chance to bet the Men’s Basketball field vs Team USA at anything near 10-to-1 odds, unless and until James, Curry, James Harden, and other household names formally accept invitations to play in Tokyo.
Team USA “Dream Team” incarnations are almost impossible to beat on hardcourt, but any other collection of NBA starters can be beaten by less-heralded NBA players, just like dynastic Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers teams have been defeated on given nights. That’s all the upset-mojo it would take to see a FIBA Worlds-level United States team get tripped in the medal round.
Scroll onward for a look at 6 potential Men’s Basketball rosters at the Summer Olympics, and a forecast of the sportsbook odds we’ll begin to see when the event is set in stone.
USA Basketball’s task is straightforward. Personnel managers must begin by courting superstars like James, Curry, Harden, Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Kyrie Irving. If just 1 or 2 MVP-level NBA veterans are available to lead Team USA’s camp in early July, the squad will have taken a major step toward winning gold for a 4th consecutive time.
Then it’s up to national-team loyalists to man the rank-and-file. Returners like Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Draymond Green, and Kyle Lowry could be of use, though as with any batch of big names thrown around as potential Team USA representatives, it’s safest to imagine only a couple of them joining up with the team. USA Basketball has sent-out 60 invitations to players to discuss trying out for the 2021 squad, a sign that the organization doesn’t expect 100% participation.
Finally, as in ages past, the team will fill cracks with talented youngsters. Trae Young, Zion Williamson, and Ja Morant are not considered A-list selections for Men’s Basketball at the Olympics at this early date in their careers, but each has the skill set to dominate an international field. Williamson has stayed healthy for the most part while continuing to improve for the New Orleans Pelicans, racking up 23.4 points and 7.9 boards per game in his sophomore campaign.
Gregg Popovich will steer Team USA in Tokyo after replacing Coach K in 2017.
Team Canada poses the biggest threat to Team USA gold medal hopes, due to the team’s NBA experience. In 2016, well-traveled NBA players like Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph carried Canada to a 3-2 record at the Summer Olympics. This year, additions like R.J. Barrett, Andrew Wiggins, Dillon Brooks, Jamal Murray, Kelly Olynyk, and Brandon Clarke could potentially form a roster made up of 100% NBA talent.
Canadian phenom Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is scoring 21.6 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Barrett is averaging 18 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for the New York Knicks.
Bookies who priced the Team USA “1-to-10” line must imagine a Team Canada filled with tag-along NBA players and not the actual talent pool that’s there.
Team USA embarrassed Serbia 96-66 in the 2016 GMG, giving the Balkan nation a reason to be out for blood if it runs into the Yanks this summer.
In particular, NBA MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokić could have an opportunity to prove that he’s one of the best in the world by leading his national team to the medal stand. Jokić is putting up an absurd 25.8 points, 12 rebounds, and 9.6 assists per game for the Denver Nuggets.
Joker won’t have to do it alone, however, as barring opt-outs or conflicts, he’ll have former NBA guard Miloš Teodosić running the point and Hawks sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanović raining-down jumpers from the wing.
Bogdanović has dealt with injury issues in his maiden year with the Atlanta Hawks, but still averaging 13.4 points per game in his young NBA career.
Spain has given the world’s best national teams fits at the Summer Olympics, and we know better than to expect an end that trend in Tokyo.
Pau Gasol, who recently retired from the NBA, may not anchor La Roja anymore, but his brother Marc should be able to take over that role seamlessly. Tokyo could be Marc’s final Olympics appearance, however, since he’s 35 years old and nearing the end of his NBA career.
Gasol should have wily veterans like Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez by his side. Though Rubio’s scoring has dropped to 6.3 points per game due to his bench role with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he’s still in his prime and distributes the ball well. In addition, Spain should have 2 talented, energetic young bigs in Willy and Juancho Hernangómez.
It will be fun to watch Spain push the tempo and lob 3-point attempts even if the team doesn’t have enough firepower to beat Team USA or Canada.
Australia is destined to be a popular dark-horse pick, at least as an underdog in individual games if not in gold-medal futures. The “Boomers” went 4-1 and lost a bronze medal match in 2016, but should be poised to bolster the roster this time around.
Long-time members Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, and Andrew Bogut should suit up again, and could be joined by the likes of Ben Simmons, Danté Exum, Thon Maker, Joe Ingles, and/or Aron Baynes. Bogut is 36 and has retired from the NBA, so the Toyko tourney will likely be a last hurrah for him. The same can be said for Mills, who’s 32 and in the midst of his 12th NBA season.
But if Simmons, currently contributing 12.9 points, 8.7 boards, and 8.1 assists per-game for the Philadelphia 76ers. opts to play, he could make the Aussies very competitive. Ingles, a wily veteran forward for the Utah Jazz who’s scoring 10.4 points per game, would provide another weapon.
Croatia will have to exceed expectations to make a deep run in Tokyo, but it’s not out of the question considering the roster that could convalesce.
NBA players Bojan Bogdanović, Dario Šarić, and Mario Hezonja make up a dangerous trio that could damage opponents with outside shooting. The 31-year-old Bogdanović struggled out of the gate for the Utah Jazz this season, but he’s still a career 39% 3-point shooter who could terrorize wing defenders in Tokyo. Šarić has been hamstrung by injuries in his 2nd season with the Phoenix Suns, but should play the “stretch-big” role perfectly for Team Croatia once he’s healthy again.
Croatia finished 3-2 in 2016 and topped Group B, but flagged in the medal round.
Forecasting the Futures Odds for Men’s Basketball in Tokyo
Line-forecasting is supposed to be about boldly asserting your own handicap before the noise out of Sin City begins to distort everyone’s thinking. This time, it’s a balancing act.
I know what I think the Tokyo futures odds should be, but bookmakers will take North American hoops gamblers’ habits into consideration too. Team USA will get a % of sentimental bets and another % of wagers from those who don’t realize how worldly the NBA has gotten. By the time you add those groups of casual bettors to the sharks going all-in on the United States, guessing that the national team’s pre-Coach K disappointments are a thing of the past, a bookmaker’s expectation will be that any reasonably-priced Team USA futures odds will sell like hotcakes and ruin the handle.
The question is, will the same happen with Team Canada’s odds this time? Even ordinary NBA fans are aware of amazing potential in the league’s growing number of Canuck ballers. Canada’s betting odds will promise a zillion-times bigger payoff per unit-wagered than the USA’s no matter what, and everyone will be looking for a “sexy” underdog to ride-out the tournament with.
So, not to make too many pond-shinny comparisons, but the same slight (or pronounced) bias toward North American teams that often shows up in IIHF Worlds betting (and in gambling odds on other Olympic sports) will definitely show up Men’s Basketball this time.
Regardless, the potential presence of an all-NBA cast (including an All-Star or 2) wearing the Maple Leaf in Japan makes Team Canada the best gold-medal futures bet other than the non-U.S. “field,” unless the actual odds are far different from what WagerBop is forecasting.
Men’s Basketball Futures Forecast:
United States (-600)
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.