Best bets for the Tokyo OlympicsESPN PLUS ($ Material)
The Summer Games are a year late and will look different with no fans in attendance in Tokyo, but there are still plenty of opportunities to bet.
Andre Snellings, Tyler Fulghum and Doug Kezirian offer their best bets for the Olympics.
USA to win gold (-400)Snellings: In the Dream Team era, there was only one span in which Team USA men's basketball struggled against international competition and that was in the early 2000s. Team USA finished sixth at the 2002 FIBA World Championships, then was held to the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics. This led to a revamping of the way that the team was chosen and how it prepped for international play, and Team USA has won gold in every Olympics since. Fast forward to this iteration of Team USA, which lost its first two exhibition games and went 1-3 ATS overall during exhibition season. This has led to some worry that this team will struggle at the Olympics as well, and I'd expect that worry to translate on some level into the odds (USA was -900). But I believe this Team USA is still poised to win Olympics gold this time around, for several reasons.
International basketball is different than the NBA, stylistically, in a way that wasn't fully respected before those 2004 Olympics. There is a much larger emphasis on shooting and teamwork, with a deemphasis on ISO ball. The early 2000s U.S. teams were full of NBA superstars who thrived in the ISO, could break down defenses off the dribble and finish in the paint ... skills that weren't as valuable in the international game. The current Team USA is led by pure shooters, including Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard, who can maximize value in the international game. The new additions to the team are either more shooters (Devin Booker and Khris Middleton) or glue/defense/teamwork guys (Jrue Holiday, Keldon Johnson, JaVale McGee). The exhibition season, though ugly, allowed the core of the team to learn to play together, and players such as Durant are motivated to show they can lead the team to gold as well as previous legends LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. I expect Team USA to play above expectation and bring home gold again.
France (+12) vs. USA on SundayFulghum: I'll be fading Team USA basketball throughout these Olympic Games. They were 1-3 ATS during the exhibition games, and I think that trend will continue. Chemistry issues are a concern. How tired will Booker, Holiday and Middleton be? I just think there will be value ATS on the opponents, given Team USA's reputation. And this is not an American squad that features its best core of players (James, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, etc). I'd play Australia, Spain or Slovenia (Luka Doncic!) to win the gold over Team USA.
Australia (-7) vs. Nigeria on SundayKezirian: Australia is the biggest threat to the United States in its quest for a gold medal. Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Patty Mills start, while Matisse Thybulle is a defensive stalwart off the bench. Most importantly, the Australian team has continuity and excellent shooting, which are so critical when facing teams that lack experience playing together. Nigeria is a great example of that. While Nigeria does have eight NBA players, the team, along with well-traveled NBA head coach Mike Brown, was sort of slapped together. These two squads squared off in an exhibition in Las Vegas earlier this month, and Australia dominated by 42 points, even with Baynes, Ingles and Mills all sitting out. The Boomers are so solid and should win by double digits.
Novak Djokovic to win gold (-165)Snellings: On the men's side, I'm going chalk with Djokovic to take the gold. Djokovic is very clearly the best men's player in the world right now, but more than that he's motivated by history. He has been chasing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in GOAT discussions his entire career, and in the recently concluded Wimbledon event he finally caught them with a record 20 individual Grand Slam titles each. However, Djokovic has won the first three majors of this year and has a legitimate chance to turn in the unique feat of winning the calendar Grand Slam and Olympic gold in the same year. The only person to ever do that was Steffi Graf in 1988, and this type of feather in his cap would be a huge argument for his GOAT bid. I look for him to bring it home.
Naomi Osaka to win gold (+275)Snellings: On the women's side, I'm looking for Osaka to win it all. She has been in the news all summer for her advocacy of player mental health and the subsequent clashes over her media availability that led to her withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon. However, this obscures a few pertinent facts. First, Osaka is the best female player in the world on hard courts. Neither the French Open (clay) nor Wimbledon (grass) were on her best surfaces anyway, but Osaka has won the past two hard-court slams (2021 Australian Open, 2020 US Open) in dominant fashion. The 2021 Olympics will be played on hard courts. Also, Osaka was born in Japan and is representing the country in these games, giving her a home-court advantage. If she is in a good place mentally and emotionally, Osaka should be the clear favorite to win.
Men's water polo
South Africa (+18.5) vs. Italy on SaturdayKezirian: This is a play based solely on principle -- 18.5 goals is the equivalent of about 50 points in a football game. It is really hard to lose by that margin. I understand that Italy is a medal contender and South Africa is not, but you have to figure the Italian reserves will see a lot of playing time. I expect a double-digit win, but 18.5 is pretty excessive. I have to play the underdog and just hope it does not get too out of hand.
USA (-4.5) vs. Japan on Sunday; 100-1 or longer to win goldKezirian: Opening against the host country is always a tough spot, but the Americans faced a similar situation in 2008 against China and got the victory. Team USA is a giant wild card for these Summer Games. The team was extremely young in 2016, and since then some top players have gained incredible experience with elite European leagues, so there's an outside chance they peak this summer and make a legitimate run. It will be an incredibly tough path, but it needs to start off well with a win over an inferior Japan squad. The Americans should take care of business, and laying 4.5 is not all that daunting with the sport's new rules, which are expected to allow for more scoring.
As for the futures market, any medal will be considered a huge success. However, I have seen some 200-1 gold-medal odds out there, and that's just way too high; 75-1 feels right, so anything significantly higher is worth a small wager. After all, Team USA lost by one goal in the final to Montenegro of the 2020 World Super League Final. If the stars align -- and they would obviously need to -- it's conceivable the U.S. team win its first men's water polo gold medal. This sport's margin of error is so small, with extremely subjective officiating, so that's why long odds make sense.