Believe it or not, a new NBA season begins today. Adjustments to the schedule in an effort to ease the physical burden on the players included moving up the season’s start date to mid-October… meaning while you’re just starting to lock in and get a handle on the NFL and college football, its time to take 30 seconds to remember that the Warriors are gonna win the championship again and then continue going about your day. If only it were so simple… we both know you’re gonna find yourself betting a Mavericks-Bucks 3Q total before you know it. And Warriors or not, the NBA always manages to put together a highly entertaining season.
This season gives us a lot to look forward to, both in the short-term and the long-term. The quality of the league’s talent pool is at an all-time high. I am constantly mystified by how many “guys” there are in the league. Almost every team’s roster has multiple guys that most invested NBA fans give a shit about. I’m more than happy to spend 10 minutes talking about how Buddy Hield has developed as a scorer. Jamal Murray? Extremely curious to see what he does this year.
By the way, how’s Mo Bamba gonna shoot the rock this season? And of course, there are so many stars and superstars who bring something unique to the table and will make the NBA an undeniably watchable and compelling product every night for the next 9 months. My point is that for every guy out there, there’s a reason to care and a reason to follow on a night in-night out basis, even if you (think you) know what’s going to happen in the end. The Warriors will probably win. But until they do, who cares?
We have a litter of immensely talented and youthful teams out East, all chomping at the bit to assert dominance in a Lebron-less East. And we have a Western Conference that now welcomes a King to its presence that already includes the champions and about 12 other good teams. It’s going to be a bloodbath every night in that conference.
And, on the eve of the season, there’s no better way to kill an hour or two than to throw down a bunch of future bets. We have a wide-open MVP race, a bunch of intriguing rookies, and a wild, wild East. There are surely a ton of futures on the board no matter where you bet; here are some of my favorites. Let’s make some cash.
(all lines courtesy of mybookie.ag)
Of course, we have the standard Warriors to win the title bet. If you’re not betting this at -180, I don’t know what else to tell you. Would you rather lay -220 on the Eagles to beat the Panthers this week or lay -180 on this Warriors team, which added Boogie Cousins, to win their 4th title in 5 years? There’s some perspective for you. I sure as hell would rather spend that on the Warriors.
I must admit, if you read my stuff during the playoffs last year, you’ll remember that I tried to get way too cute and spent a couple of weird weeks talking about the Jazz and Rockets. They were available at enticing prices and, in the interest of mixing things up, I got away from the SGP bread and butter — to take what the bookmakers are giving you. As Kramer had said all year long every time I went on the podcast to talk hoops, this really doesn’t have to be so hard.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t take all my money and put it on Warriors-Cavs to meet in the finals, and Warriors to win it all.” Well, I’m a year older and a year wiser. And, while the Eastern Conference is far less predictable than it has ever been since Lebron James became the world’s greatest player, the title race is still as easy to handicap as ever. The Warriors will win again, and -180 is a more than fair price to get down.
HAMMER: Warriors to win the NBA Title at -180.
If you’re bored of playing the Warriors and want a financial foundation upon which to root against them all year, I think you can safely take the Raptors and/or Sixers to win the title and maintain the right to hedge once they get to the finals against Golden State. Both are available on mybookie at +1500 to win it all… I’m not a huge numbers guy, but I think it’s safe to assume that, in the event of such a finals matchup, you would be able to get a better series price than that and hedge to come out with a win-win scenario. Just a thought.
I still don’t think an Eastern Conference team can touch Golden State but their prices are pretty short to merely win the East. The +1500-and-hedge route seems more appealing to me than does the straight up Raptors (+350) or Sixers (+370) to win the East. I am intentionally leaving out Boston because their prices look a little inflated to me — they are definitely an elite team but I have them in the same tier as Toronto and Philly. Yet Boston’s prices — -115 to win the East and +550 — aren’t nearly juicy enough for me.
Longshot: Toronto to win the NBA Title at +1500.
Again, I think the Warriors are the clear play here. I’d just rather trust them to win the Finals as well at -180 than lay -260 to just win the West. The scenario in which they don’t win the Finals is one in which they also don’t win the West (unforeseen injuries, chemistry issues, Lebron goes nuts, etc.). So, I’d rather just take them to win it all at the better price.
Speaking of the King, however, I’d be remiss not to have some stake on Lebron to do something special this season. I’m a Lebron hater. But his success in the playoffs is undeniable. The dude was flat-out able to REFUSE to lose 7-game series to anyone in the East over the last decade or so. And while the West will surely present more of a challenge than he’s ever faced before, I’m not entirely sure that Lebron’s playoff dominance over everyone except the Warriors won’t continue. Like, do you see the Jazz or Thunder beating Lebron in a playoff series? I guess so, and probably, but honestly not really.
For what it’s worth, I was prepared to take the Cavs over the Rockets in last year’s finals solely based on the Lebron effect. I want a piece of that same action this year, as I think Lebron and his young Lakers are the team most poised to jump into the hypothetical vacuum left by a hypothetical disaster of a Warriors season.
Warriors to win the West at -260.
LONGSHOT: Lakers to win the West at +1200.
For me, it’s really take-your-pick between Philly, Boston, and Toronto. Indiana is cute but doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with the truly elite teams in this conference. They are a quintessential 4- or 5-seed that looks dangerous in the regular season but can’t hold on to win a 7-game series against a more talented team. They fizzled out last year in the postseason and I expect the same thing to happen this season.
I feel the same way about Milwaukee. Budenholzer has this team playing faster and more unselfishly — they are shooting an incredible amount of three-pointers and have embraced “the beautiful game.” They are sure to be an analytics darling this season and a fan favorite for those who want to see the status quo upended. Giannis should have an epic season (and deserves to be discussed in the MVP race), but do you honestly want to back a team whose 2nd-best player is Khris Middleton (no disrespect at all to the man) to win this conference? The East is NOT bad this year, even without Lebron. There are three really good teams… I’d rather bet on one of them winning it than try to look for a diamond in the rough.
So, that being said, Kawhi Leonard, if he returns to full health and state of mind, is the best player in this conference. Toronto is a team that has gone over their win total in each of the last 5 seasons and, even under a new head coach, I expect them to exceed expectations and be as dominant in the regular season as they’ve been in recent years.
Boston has the best lineup on paper and, by far, the best coach in the East. They also, however, have the highest expectations and the most to manage. They did not share the ball effectively at all during the preseason, dipping heavily in assist numbers from a year ago and turning the ball over far too frequently.
Philly is in a similar boat as Boston — extremely talented on paper but coming off a year in which they grossly exceeded expectations. They also got an unprecedentedly healthy season from Joel Embiid and, as all sports fans know too well, injury luck can turn on the drop of a dime. There are reasons to foresee improvement however, especially in the playoffs. This team will come back more experienced and far hungrier. It’s no longer about building something, it’s now time to put your nuts on the table and compete. I can’t wait to see it happen. If Markelle Fultz plays like a #1 pick or Ben Simmons is an MVP candidate this year, then this is my favorite team in the East. I think this season for Philly will be somewhere in between boom and bust, with elements of both.
In the end, this just comes down to pricing for me. Boston is a bit overpriced as an odds-on favorite to win the conference at -115. And Philly is a little overpriced too at +370; a lot has to right for them to accomplish this and we’re still not sure that Joel Embiid, arguably their best player, can stay on the floor against non-traditional lineups that emphasize spacing and guard play. Boston and Toronto can both put lineups on the floor that will really make life difficult for JoJo. For me, Toronto’s price at +350 is far and away the best value. I could reasonably see all three of these teams winning the conference and, for that reason, I’m gonna look for value instead of a “dog to ride.” That value lies in the north.
Toronto to win the East at +350.
Favorite Divison Bets
Miami to win the Southeast Division at +165.
This is more of a fade of the Wizards than a bet on the Heat. Washington is running back the same situation with the same coach for as many years as I can remember… they are flat-out sprinting on the treadmill of mediocrity and have added Dwight Howard to an already explosive locker room. An overweight and just-having-been-paid John Wall on an average team that is sick and tired of each other and decided to add Austin Rivers and Dwight Howard? No thank you. Washington is one of the strongest candidates to implode this season. I’ll stick with the consistent success of Miami and/or the off-chance they snag Jimmy Butler here.
Like I said… no thank you. I will happily fade this Washington team.
Toronto Raptors to win the Atlantic Division at +250.
For all the same reasons that I think they’ll win the Eastern Conference (all three are in the same division), I like Toronto to win the Atlantic, whose winner should likely be the #1 seed in the Conference.
And, if you’re afraid of the potential coaching matchup between rookie Nick Nurse and Brad Stevens in an ECF matchup, you can just take this regular season prop to avoid the postseason altogether, albeit with a lower payout. I’ll rock with both.
Portland Trail Blazers to win the Northwest Division at +550. And over 42 Wins at -110.
Look, I really like Utah, Denver, and even OKC. Nikola Jokic is my favorite player in the NBA and there was a time last season when I (foolishly) thought Utah was beating Golden State. But why the hell has everyone gone so sour on Portland? They were the 3-seed in the West last year and no one in this division made substantial roster or coaching changes. They won 49 games a year ago and, sure, they got smacked by the Pelicans in the playoffs, but why is their win total only 42 this year?
Why are they all of the sudden the worst team in the division? The answer is I don’t know. I’m not in love with this Portland team (and clearly the bookmakers/public aren’t either), but this is an under-rating until proven otherwise. To me, this team should be a favorite that I would love to fade by riding the more fun Utah and Denver teams. But they’re being offered as an overwhelming long-shot, so I must swallow my pride. Value as fuck.
Favorite Win Total Bets
Toronto Raptors over 55 Wins.
They go over every year. They won 59 a year ago and replaced DeMar DeRozan with a better player in Kawhi Leonard. They should be faster, more athletic, and nastier. I like this team lot and don’t see them being 5 games worse than they were a year ago.
Denver Nuggets over 46.5 Wins.
They won 46 a year ago and really didn’t hit their stride until the last few weeks of the season. They get a healthy Paul Millsap back and should see another year of improvement from a really fascinating young core of Murray, Harris, and Jokic. They will be better than they were a year ago, and all we need them to do is win 1 more game. I like this play a lot.
Cleveland Cavaliers over 31 Wins.
It’s going to be a tough season dealing with the loss of Lebron. Still, though, this is a veteran team full of guys who have played in multiple NBA finals. Their roster is better than you’d expect when you look at it outside the Lebron-just-left context (I still think Lebron makes people worse around him). They should be good enough to beat up on the bad teams in the East and be competitive against the good ones. Kevin Love’s extension gives me confidence that they won’t tank away this win total, and I expect them to compete for the back half of the playoff seedings. Easy over.
Also like Memphis over, Lakers over, Phoenix over, and Pelicans under.
Winning the MVP in the NBA is all about narratives. If you want to win the MVP, you’d better have a damn good narrative to your campaign. Last year it was Harden being so good that his team could maybe beat Golden State. The prior year it was all about Russ’ triple doubles. This reason excludes both guys on bad teams or in depressing situations and guys who have won it recently. Even if Harden and Russ each average the 30-10-10 that they’ve been hovering around the past couple of years, I really don’t see either of them getting enough love from the voters to win it. KD and Steph cannibalize each other’s narratives. So, in my mind, it comes down to the following guys:
Lebron (+300) will win the MVP if…
the Lakers are the 3-seed and they get a ton of positive press all year long. The young guys are good enough to help him win but young enough to rely on Lebron to be the greatest player in the world for 82 games. Lebron is dominant as fuck and looks like a real threat to challenge Golden State in the playoffs.
Giannis (+450) will win the MVP if…
he goes absolutely nut on a Milwaukee team that ends the season on equal footing with the Philly, Boston, and Toronto. He puts up insane numbers and “makes the leap” to a top-5 guy in the league.
AD (+400) will win the MVP if…
the Pelicans are really good and it’s a very tough question whether he or Lebron is the best player in the world.
Kawhi (+700) will win the MVP if…
he is the best two-way player in the game and the Raptors in the East. He has very positive vibes, takes some photos with Drake, and becomes the prince that was promised in Toronto. He shows the self-awareness to laugh a couple more times and then laugh at those laughs. Local media falls in love with him.
I’m gonna go with Kawhi here. I also like Ben Simmons (+4000) and Victor Oladipo (+8000 and basically the lite-narrative of Giannis here) as potential longshots.
I like Luka Doncic A LOT, but +250 is kind of a hefty price to lay for such an unpredictable award. There are a few long shots who I’d rather mess around with than put all my trust in one dude. Doncic is the safe play, but I’m not sure 2.5:1 is great when all of these guys are so damn talented and no one really knows how much anyone is going to play. For that reason, I’ll ride a couple of longshots. SGA has looked great in the preseason and has the build of a modern NBA guard. If the minutes are there, he could be a 15-5-5 type guy this season. Wendell Carter will play immediately (especially given Markkanen injury) and has been praised by his peers constantly as a top-5 guy in the class despite being slept on by the general public. And Harry Giles could have a Ben Simmons-type season this year that few seem to expect. I like that narrative.
Giles to win ROTY at +3300.
SGA to win ROTY at +2800.
As always, tune into sportsgamblingpodcast.com for NBA content. And follow me on twitter @NBAZachB for both content and nightly NBA plays from the SGP staff. Looking forward to a great season, let’s make some cash!