Milwaukee Bucks center Bobby Portis
Milwaukee Bucks center Bobby Portis, left, defends Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) during the second half of Game 5 of basketball's NBA Finals, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)


Mike Shara

As the NBA season approaches, it is a fun time for bettors to prognosticate about NBA futures. A well-placed bet on a futures winner can prove very lucrative and can also create plenty of opportunities for bragging rights at the bar. As any sports fan knows, nothing is more satisfying than being able to say “I told you so” to the other know-it-alls when things happen exactly as you had boldly predicted months earlier. It’s especially satisfying when your wallet is thicker as a result.

Being a sharp bettor about the NBA Awards season is a uniquely ripe chance to reap some serious financial rewards. Using a little common sense, looking at the awards’ recent histories and using a bit of amateur psychology with the writers who vote for the awards is all part of sorting out who you’ll place your bets on. Strike the right balance and things could turn out very well for you when the awards are announced in June.

I’ve already profiled some dark horse possibilities for NBA MVP and NBA Defensive Player of the Year on this site. Today we’ll take a look at four more dark horse players for the league’s annual Sixth Man of the Year Award. I’ve also given you the best odds I could find on that player winning so that you can make your longshot win even more memorable.

BOBBY PORTIS – Milwaukee (+3000 on FanDuel)
Last year was Portis’ first in Milwaukee and he quickly became a fan favorite, proving himself to be a huge contributor down the stretch who was willing to fight for every possession and dive for every loose ball. During last year’s championship run, he actually led the Bucks in plus/minus rating per 48 minutes (9.0). With P.J. Tucker gone to Miami, Portis’ minutes will likely increase to the 25 per game range and he will likely emerge as the leader of the team’s second unit. He is a strong shooter from long distance, a fierce rebounder and a good enough defender to stay with anyone from another team’s second unit. If Milwaukee is in the thick of the title picture again this year, the loud cheering of Bucks fans will ensure that Portis’ contributions are recognized when the eyes of the nation (and its sportswriters) are all watching.

PATTY MILLS – Brooklyn (+1900 on FanDuel)
During his 10 years in San Antonio, Mills was rightly known as a consummate pro. Never an All-Star or a guy whose jersey your kids want for Christmas, he was nevertheless constantly lauded by Head Coach Greg Popovich for his willingness to do all of the ‘little things’ that help teams win games. He has appeared over 800 career games and has started less than 70 of them and there’s a strong likelihood of that ratio continuing this season. If Mills’ first season in Brooklyn is a championship one – and he certainly appears to have the team to do it – it’s very likely he will get major consideration for this award. Right now, Brooklyn is seen as a hugely talented but potentially volatile group of players with a second year Head Coach that could collapse under the weight of the collective egos of their three superstar players. If they coalesce to win the Nets’ first-ever NBA title, there will be plenty of writers who will be all too keen to give Mills his flowers as a classic ‘glue’ guy on a team full of future Hall of Famers. It would be the NBA equivalent of Al Pacino winning the Oscar for “Scent of a Woman” – kind of a lifetime achievement award when maybe he should have won it earlier.

KELLY OLYNYK – Detroit (+6500 on BetMGM)
Don’t snicker – after over a decade in the NBA wastelands, the Pistons are beginning to build back better. Second year GM Troy Weaver is improving the culture in Motown, shedding the bad contracts for mediocre players that have been handcuffing Detroit for years and instilling a tougher mindset. With that culture shift in mind, Olynyk was signed this offseason to a reasonable three-year, $37 million contract and will split time with the first and second teams as a stretch five. Head Coach Dwayne Casey is already saying that the offence will roll through him frequently, allowing him to shoot from behind the arc or roll to the basket, which might increase his scoring. If Detroit makes a leap this season (an eighth seed in the East is not as unlikely as you think) and young players like Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham make some strides along the way, Olynyk’s role as a mentor who helped guide them and create floor space for them could get him some recognition.

DERRICK ROSE – New York (+1800 on DraftKings)
I almost didn’t include this one because frankly it’s not much of a dark horse, but I have to be practical and admit how easily this could happen, especially when it is available at +1800. I’m here to help you win, so I can’t ignore it. Like most NBA fans, I can only sit and wonder how great Rose might have become if it weren’t for his past injuries. I find myself rooting for him because I know how hard he has had to work to get his body healthy again. More importantly for this article, the media cheers for him, too. Combine that with the fact that the Knicks get way more attention than they deserve simply because they play in the media Mecca that is Manhattan. Remember how absolutely crazy people went about the Knicks last season and all they did was lose a first round playoff series in five games…to Atlanta!! Rose clearly improved their half-court offence after arriving in a midseason trade last year and if he could push New York into the Final Four of the Eastern Conference this season, it would get a disproportionate amount of buzz. Additionally, it would make him just the third player ever to win a Sixth Man Award and a league MVP Award. Writers love that kind of story and many of those writers live in NYC and watch the Knicks. It makes a lot of sense.

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