Three value bets to make on the Boston Celtics

Why Jayson Tatum is a legitimate contender for MVP this season (1:39)

Brian Windhorst and Tim Legler break down where Jayson Tatum stands in the NBA MVP race. (1:39)

The Boston Celtics have been the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and co-favorites with the Denver Nuggets to win the championship since the season began. But despite such short odds, the Celtics could still have betting value in multiple futures markets. Boston's high level of play has also propelled one of its superstars to make a run at an individual award as a long shot.

Here are three bets worth considering at ESPN BET.

Boston Celtics to win the Eastern Conference (+110)

The Celtics are almost even money to win the East, but based on their level of play they should actually be the odds-on favorite. Boston has the best record in the NBA and a seven-game lead over the second-place Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed in the conference. If this was a regular-season bet, they would be astronomical favorites to win. But this is a postseason award, meaning the Celtics will have to maintain their high level of play throughout the playoffs ... but they seem poised to do just that.

When the season began, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers were deemed the teams most likely to compete with the Celtics in the playoffs. The Bucks had made a big offseason splash, trading for Damian Lillard, and the 76ers were led by reigning MVP Joel Embiid. But Milwaukee has had difficulty fully integrating Lillard, is still dealing with lingering injuries and changed coaches midseason. Now the Bucks are playing subpar basketball under new coach Doc Rivers. The 76ers also have struggled since losing Embiid indefinitely to a knee injury.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have had much more success building synergy with their big offseason acquisitions, adding Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday to their playoff-tested core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Al Horford. Porzingis gives them the best interior scoring option they've had during the Tatum/Brown era, while Holiday is an All-Star point guard who has elite defense and is a strong floor general. According to basketball-reference, the five-man lineup of Tatum, Brown, Porzingis, Holiday and White has outscored opponents by a whopping 12.1 points per 100 possessions.

That dominance has carried over in the Celtics' games against the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They are a combined 6-1 against the Cavaliers, Bucks and New York Knicks and a combined 16-5 against the seven other teams currently in the top 8 of the Eastern Conference standings, with an average scoring margin of +7.2 PPG. All five of those losses were road games. Boston is a perfect 11-0 at home with an average scoring margin of +13.5 PPG against the seven other teams. The Celtics will likely have the No. 1 seed in the East and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, so their dominance at home solidifies their case to win the conference.

Celtics to win NBA championship (+250)

The Celtics currently have the shortest championship odds at ESPN BET and those odds might shorten even more as the season enters the stretch run. Boston has the highest Basketball Power Index (BPI) score in the league at 9.2, almost two full points ahead of the second place Cavaliers (7.3). The next seven-highest BPI scores all reside in the Western Conference, ranging from the Minnesota Timberwolves (6.4 BPI) down to the Dallas Mavericks (2.9 BPI).

This means that the vast majority of the top-rated teams are out West, but only one of those teams will get through to the Finals. So, in four potential playoffs rounds the Celtics could face no more than two of the top-nine teams according to BPI. Plus, the Celtics are better equipped this season the handle the physical, half-court grind of playoffs action with the additions of Porzingis and Holiday. Both help alleviate the biggest weakness the Celtics had: offensive efficiency in crucial matchups and crunch time. Tatum was typically required to be the primary playmaker in the past, which led to turnover issues in key moments (82 turnovers in 20 games (4.1 TO/game) over the past two seasons). Those turnovers have corresponded with Boston's difficulty scoring efficiently on offense as the Celtics had offensive ratings of 105.3 points per 100 possessions and 106.6 PP100 in two of those three series they lost.

Holiday has never averaged more than 2.8 TO/game in any postseason in his career and averaged only 2.7 TO/G over the last two rounds of the Bucks championship run in 2021 (ECF and NBA Finals). Porzingis has a 63.6 True Shooting Percentage (TS%, factoring in field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages) over the past two seasons, making him one of the most efficient volume scorers in the NBA. He has been similarly efficient in his 10 career playoffs games, notching a 62.5 TS%.

This season, the Celtics have the top-rated offense in the NBA (121.9 points per 100 possessions), and third-stingiest defense (111.6 points per 100 possessions). No other team in the NBA ranks in even the top 5 in both categories. The Celtics also play at the 20th-slowest pace in the NBA, indicating most of their scoring efficiency is generated in the half court. Team defense and half-court execution are both exceedingly valuable in playoff basketball.

Jayson Tatum to win MVP (+2500)

Tatum was 100-1 to win MVP as recently as last week but has surged to 25-1 as the public has become more aware of his MVP case. He is the best player on the best team in the NBA, often a strong indicator for MVP consideration. Tatum leads the Celtics in points (27.1 PPG), rebounds (8.5 RPG) and assists (4.8 APG) and has taken on a leadership role in integrating the new star players with the rest of the team, willingly taking fewer shots (19.4 FGA, his lowest since the 2019-20 season) to get everyone touches. He has responded by shooting a career-best 47.5 FG%, with the second-best TS% of his career (60.5).

Tatum's spectacular play has even caught the attention of Stephen A. Smith, who listed him as his top MVP candidate right now. As the public continues to discuss the validity of Tatum's MVP candidacy, the better his case will be to win the award. The Celtics are also on a seven-game winning streak, tied for the longest active streak in the NBA. Their dominance bodes well for Tatum's MVP hopes, and at +2500, his odds are still long enough to qualify as a long shot. Nikola Jokic (-115) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+200) are the top two favorites to win MVP, for good reason, but both the Nuggets and Thunder are still battling for playoff seeding in the West. If either/both teams were to have a setback in the West, it could further strengthen Tatum's MVP case as the best player on the best team.

Again, it's important to note that you can cash out a long shot bet early if the odds change later in the season. A bet on Tatum now at 25-1 offers more value, if the Celtics were to continue to dominate and Tatum's MVP odds shorten to +1000 or less by the end of the season.