The NBA train keeps on rolling, folks. After dominating twitter throughout the long summer, professional basketball finally kicked off its actual season last Tuesday with the champs getting upset on their home floor and Gordon Hayward suffering what was perhaps the most deflating injury I’ve ever seen on live television. It’s a real shame his tibia was pointing towards China because I (and anyone watching that game) could tell you that the Celtics were ready and armed to go at the Cavaliers this season.
The Celtics looked great; that injury destroyed them, and their on-court reactions told the whole story. Kyrie has done a lot of annoying shit this offseason to estrange himself from fans but his reaction after throwing the pass for which Hayward elevated was the rawest show of emotion I’ve seen in some time. It’ll be interesting to see how Irving recovers as his play to start the season has been shaky at best. Settling into a now-unsettled situation is not going to be easy, because surely the role he becomes comfortable with this season will be rattled a bit whenever Hayward returns. Another part of opening night that struck me was the incredible job by Brad Stevens of rallying that team at halftime to come out and keep competing. I was so impressed by their effort in the second-half that it made me forget, just for a moment, the Hayward thing.
Outside of a slew of tough injuries suffered in Week 1 (RIP Dreadlock Jeremy Lin and Jamychal Green), the season is off to a hot start and some season-long storylines are already coming into formation.
1. Basic trends are yet to reveal themselves, so pick your spots carefully.
We’re seeing a rare perfect 50/50 split between home and road teams, with both going 26-26-2 ATS thus far. Home Favorites are 19-20-2, and Home Dogs are 7-6. With an absence of playable trends, don’t be afraid to lay a little bit of juice on MoneyLine plays that might otherwise scare you away. We’ve already seen a few backdoors and other weird covers so if you want to avoid the unpredictability of these early season spreads, get on some MoneyLine plays where Favorites are winning straight up at close to a 70% clip. Favorites are 37-17 straight up, and Home Favorites are 28-13 straight up.
Even the handful of teams that we know are going to to be great as the season progresses aren’t anywhere close to mid-season form yet, which is hurting their ability to cover. One downside of all the preseason NBA hype is that we came into the season thinking we had a good handle on who was good and who wasn’t. Additionally, with the shortened pre-season, no one seems to be fully in game-shape or playing their best ball yet, so I’m wary of laying more than 6 or so points on any spread unless it’s a bounce-back spot similar to the Warriors in Dallas on Monday night.
2. Giannis for MVP
I absolutely hated Russell Westbrook’s campaign for MVP last season, because I think it really distracted from both the team concept and the winning ideal. Unfortunately, it seems that the “we’re decent, we’re not gonna win a championship, let’s sell a shitload of seats and get relevant by pushing our best player for MVP” strategy is here to stay in the NBA, with this year’s culprit being the Milwaukee Bucks and their Greek Freak.
Giannis has already become the odds-on favorite at 3:1 on most books, but shockingly I still believe there’s great value there. Let alone the PR machine that’s already feeding “Giannis MVP” down the throat of the NBA universe, the kid has been an absolute monster to start the season. Averaging 37 points, 10 boards, and 5 assists, he’s still shooting a staggering 66% from the field while taking 7 more shots a game than he did last season.
It’s such a similar spot to Russ last season, where a middling playoff team has a truly transcendent player who resonates with all three aspects of today’s NBA: he’s a really good player, he’s perfect for nightly NBA twitter, and beloved by fans and media alike. I’d jump on the Giannis train while there’s still time, even if the 3:1 seems too narrow for an MVP play. Westbrook’s win from last season proved that “best team’s best player” is NOT the only path to receiving the award.
3. Golden State’s dominance is skewing our perception of good teams who aren’t “contenders”
Golden State and Cleveland don’t play everyone every night. Though it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the seeming predictability of their fourth straight finals matchup, perhaps my biggest takeaway from the beginning of this season is that having two conference frontrunners like these, and especially the Warriors, has skewed our perception of other teams in the league. In a championship-or-bust culture, it’s easy to write off a team like Portland or the Clippers because, yes, obviously the aren’t as good as the Warriors. But they are still good teams who can go out and cover against any other matchup across the league.
The four best teams ATS this year are Portland, the Clippers, Memphis, and Toronto — all teams whose recent success has been made invisible due to their perpetual existence in comparison to the teams at the top of their conference. To disagree with the GOAT for a second (who argued that superteams make every other team awful), there are GOOD teams in this league. Golden State and Cleveland are both historically good, yes, but the sense that they’ve sucked the life out of the rest of the league landscape is false.
Of course it’s fun to bet Golden State every night, but the smart play might be to look at teams like Portland or Memphis who are being evaluated more for their futility compared to Golden State than their relative stature compared to other teams across the league.