The best NBA sleeper picks for the 2023-2024 season, including longshot team futures and individual award selections.
It can be hard to make a good sleeper pick in the NBA.
Of the major professional sports, the NBA is the one where preseason favorites take care of business most frequently. To illustrate, here are the last 10 NBA champions and their preseason title odds:
|YEAR||TEAM||PRESEASON TITLE ODDS|
|2022||Golden State Warriors||+900|
|2020||Los Angeles Lakers||+450|
|2018||Golden State Warriors||-185|
|2017||Golden State Warriors||-125|
|2015||Golden State Warriors||+2800|
|2014||San Antonio Spurs||+1200|
About half of these teams (mostly the Warriors) were the outright favorites in the preseason. I tried to find some common similarities in those teams with the longest odds to win the title, and came up with the following:
- The team hasn’t won a title in this era, or even come particularly close.
- Modest win total in the previous season.
- The roster holds a superstar or emerging star player who could be the leading man on a championship team (Nikola Jokic for last year’s Nuggets, Kawhi Leonard for the 2019 Raptors, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for the 2015 Warriors).
Using those criteria, here are a few live sleepers for the 2023-2024 NBA season.
Cleveland Cavaliers (+2400 to win NBA title at FanDuel)
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The Cavs won 50 games last season (51, to be exact) but an uninspiring first-round exit against the Knicks has them down here for this year’s title.
And there are other factors – namely, the juggernauts in Boston and Milwaukee blocking their path through the Eastern Conference.
But a deeper look shows a Cavaliers team that was No. 1 in defensive efficiency in the NBA last season, their first year with a genuine superstar in Donovan Mitchell. They are a sound NBA sleeper option.
Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen give Cleveland two genuine rim protectors, a quality that could be invaluable in a series with the Celtics, whose lone weakness is frontcourt depth beyond Kristaps Porzingis.
That defense translated to the playoffs as well, where they held the Knicks to the second-lowest output in the entire NBA first round.
The problem, as you’ve probably guessed – who was the one team with the lower rating?
To shore up those offensive deficiencies, Max Strus is in from Miami to provide three-point shooting, along with Georges Niang, a versatile piece from the 76ers’ last few playoff seasons.
So why +2400? The Cavaliers have never had success without LeBron James on the roster, and playoff failures resonate. But it’s a new season, and Mitchell shows the potential to put the team on his back in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.
On that topic, remember the MVP is a regular-season award… but if you’re a Cavs believer, Mitchell at +3000 for Most Valuable Player is a solid price.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+5500 to win NBA title at BetMGM)
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Well, they certainly check the first two boxes. The T-Wolves won only 42 games last year and bowed out to eventual champion Denver in the first round, and they’ve never been especially close to an NBA title, let alone in the current era.
So what about that potential superstar? Well, Karl-Anthony Towns is still here, but it hasn’t happened yet at age 28, so let’s switch our focus to Anthony Edwards. The former top pick just turned 22 yet averaged 24.6 points per game last season and got valuable experience this summer as a go-to guy in the FIBA championships.
Here’s another factor that makes the T-Wolves interesting – for such a young roster, it’s pretty much now or never for this group.
Why? About a year ago, Minnesota dealt the promising Walker Kessler and FIVE future first-round picks to Utah for Rudy Gobert. Yes, 31-year-old Rudy Gobert, with a huge contract to go along with Towns’ own deal and maybe 1-2 more years left at his current level. Big men don’t typically age well, and at 7-foot-1, 260 lbs. they don’t come much bigger than Gobert.
Last Chance for Minnesota?
In addition, Edwards and Jaden McDaniels’ rookie contracts are expiring after this year. In 2024, salary cap issues loom.
If Minnesota can figure out the best way to fit Gobert and Towns together in the front court and put the scoring load on Edwards, there’s potential here to grab a top-4 seed in the West, win a first-round series, and see what happens from there. If not? See if you can find a taker for Towns at the trade deadline and recoup some of those valuable draft picks for the future.
Yes, there’s a reason these odds are +5500, which is that the Gobert/Towns combination is unproven together and Edwards’ role as a leading man is limited to the past 9-10 months. But if it clicks, it could be a nice ticket to hold come playoff time.
In prop bets – I don’t think Minnesota will have a strong enough regular season record to get Edwards MVP consideration, but FanDuel is offering +5000 for Edwards to lead the league in points per game. That’s where I’d find my longshot.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+8500 to win NBA title at DraftKings)
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Now we’re out of the “longshot” range and onto plain old lottery tickets in our NBA team sleeper picks.
But in a Western Conference that’s more about depth than elite teams (analysts predict the top-10 teams to all finish between 40-53 wins) there are a couple players that could help the Thunder rise above in critical games.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s leap to 31.4 points per game last season puts him among the league’s elite scorers. Entering his age 25 season, Gilgeous-Alexander is poised to prove his first team All-NBA selection is about to become the norm rather than an exception.
Jalen Williams emerged late and may be the team’s second-best player this year. Josh Giddey was a stat-stuffing machine in 2022, but Williams’ emergence calls into questions where he fits on this roster.
But the biggest potential addition is rookie Chet Holmgren, who provides elite rim protection for a team that lacked any sort of interior presence on defense a year ago. At 7-foot-1, 195 lbs., Holmgren looks like a string bean and will have some growing pain against burly power forward, but 3-4 blocked shots per game and twice as many shots altered or discouraged are well within his range.
The Future is Bright…
No franchise has as bright a future as the Thunder. The franchise has a whopping 37 potential draft picks between now and the end of the decade, and while that word “potential” requires its own explanation, they’re guaranteed nine first-round selections over the next six years. All this is to say if things go well, they have more than enough future capital to deal for a player who can help them to win now.
For a prop bet? Gilgeous Alexander’s MVP odds are all the way down to +1700 – he’s the trendy pick this year – and that’s not enough upside for the best player on a team who will probably win 40-45 games and hope to sneak into the playoffs before doing their damage.
Coach Mark Daigneault is the favorite for Coach of the Year at +650, and Holmgren is the No. 3 choice for Rookie of the Year behind Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson at +375. You could get crazy with a Holmgren for Defensive Player of the Year bet at +4000. But I think that +8500 ticket on the Thunder for the title is sufficient.
Best Bets for the 2023-2024 NBA Season
A few more wagers worth placing before the season tips off on October 24, with much shorter explanations. You can never have to many NBA sleeper picks…
Jayson Tatum to win MVP (+850 at PointsBet)
PointsBet SECOND CHANCE
Boston’s the choice for the NBA’s best regular-season record. The ‘old guard’ of Lebron and Curry won’t likely thrive in the regular season, and Joel Embiid got his award last year.
The main threats here are Nikola Jokic and Luca Doncic, but give me Tatum, with the longest odds and the best team.
Charlotte Hornets OVER 31.5 regular season wins (-110 at Caesars)
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Most of these picks are higher payouts and longshots, but we need a good, old-fashioned win total.
I think Charlotte can clear this number in the NBA’s weakest division, with a healthy LaMelo Ball and what should be a motivated rookie Brandon Miller. Gordon Hayward’s enormous contract expires after this season and makes an interesting trade piece if the Hornets find themselves in contention.
Desmond Bane for Most Improved Player (+3000 at BetMGM)
Bane’s scoring averages over his first three years: 9.2 points per game, followed by 18.2 and 21.5 points per game.
There’s a clear trend here, and Memphis needs someone to carry the scoring load on a team built around defense that will be without Ja Morant for at least the first third of the season. If Bane proves himself early, he and Morant form a formidable 1-2 punch upon the latter’s return, able to focus on scoring with defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Jaren Jackson Jr. sharing the court.
Another 3.5-point improvement makes Bane a 25-point per game scorer, and combine that with Memphis’ 50+ win potential? He’ll be hard to deny for this award.
2023-2024 NBA Championship Odds (FanDuel)
Ok, so we’ve shared our best NBA sleeper picks for the 2023-2024 season. But what about the odds for each franchise to find success?
|TEAM||NBA CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+1300|
|Golden State Warriors||+1400|
|Los Angeles Clippers||+2700|
|New Orleans Pelicans||+4200|
|New York Knicks||+4600|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+8500|
|Portland Trail Blazers||+50000|
|San Antonio Spurs||+50000|