Who is Going to Win the First NBA In-Season Tournament?

  • The in-season tournament begins on Nov. 3 shortly after opening day
  • Players on the winning team will receive $500,000 in prize money
  • Betting odds for the in-season tournament are much longer than the Finals
  • The Kings and Cavaliers are smart picks to win the competition
NBA logo in 3D
The NBA in-season tournament is a few weeks away from making its first-ever appearance. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

It’s almost time

One of the biggest topics of discussion about the upcoming NBA season is the debut of the in-season tournament in November.

betting and predicting the winner will look very different from how they will for the NBA Finals

Fans of European soccer will be familiar with the concept, but this is the first time it will make its way into major American sports. And call us crazy, but we believe that betting and predicting the winner will look very different from how they will for the NBA Finals.

So which teams do we believe can win the first NBA In-Season Tournament? And how can the league improve the product for next year? Let’s dive in.

NBA In-Season Tournament thoughts

The in-season tournament begins on November 3. The league will be separated into six five-team groups, and four teams per conference will advance to a knockout-style bracket on December 4-5.

Eventually, a winner will be determined, and players on the winning team will receive $500,000 each. For more information on the inner workings of the new competition and how to bet on it, check out our full breakdown.

We must preface our next statement by saying that we have no idea how the product will actually look since, well, it hasn’t been seen yet. But we have an idea for the league to adopt if any NBA officials happen to be reading this.

increase the importance of early-season games

The idea: the winning team automatically qualifies for the playoffs. If the league really wants to increase the importance of early-season games and incentivize teams to be at their best earlier in addition to later, then this seems like an obvious answer.

Going back to the European soccer example, a team that starts in round one and wins the FA Cup (a multi-league in-season tournament in England) will accumulate £4.03m ($4.9m) in prizes. 

That money can completely transform teams’ budgets, especially the smaller clubs. Look at Wigan Athletic, who won the FA Cup in 2012-13 and would have finished about £1m ($1.21m) in debt without the competition’s revenue. And keep in mind, there is no postseason in these leagues.

The average NBA salary in 2022-23 was $9.37m. The $500,000 payout is a nice chunk of change, but it’s not transformative in the way the money from the FA Cup (or other soccer competitions) is. 

Qualifying for the playoffs is transformative. Losing teams could automatically qualify for the play-in tournament to avoid potentially missing the postseason if their record falls apart later in the year.

Teams to watch

Before we pick teams that we think could win the NBA in-season tournament, let’s establish criteria.

First, they should have continuity and chemistry with one another and/or played well at the end of last season. That’s because the tournament starts early, and teams don’t have time to stumble and adjust to one another.

bring energy and desire to every game

Second, they should mostly be filled with younger players and/or those on lower-paying contracts. That will ensure they bring energy and desire to every game more than the older, established pros who are making $60m annually and looking ahead to the Finals.

Third, they should be teams that are, well, good. Or streaky, if nothing else.

So which teams line up?

The Sacramento Kings (+1700 at FanDuel Sportsbook) are a top choice. They had the third-best record in the Western Conference last year and an average age of 26. They also took the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs and are returning all five starters and their top two bench players.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (+1400) are another team to watch. They were the four seed in the Eastern Conference last year and were one of the best defensive teams in the league. They also have a starting five with an average age of 24.8 and brought back their top seven leaders in minutes per game.

The Boston Celtics don’t quite fit the youth standard but also aren’t old and are plugging and playing two guys—Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis—who are upgrades on similar-style players (Marcus Smart and Al Horford) who in the starting five last year. They’re co-favorites to win both the in-season tournament (+950) and NBA Finals (+380).

There are arguments for plenty of other teams as well, but these three stand out from a likelihood and value perspective.

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