Another NBA Trade Deadline has come and gone, and the league is now set to begin a collective sprint towards the season’s end. Some used the deadline to collect extra ammunition for a playoff run, while others fed said ammunition to said playoff teams to race towards the bottom of the standings and the top of the lottery odds. Contenders, pretenders, and flat-out bad teams are now all to be siphoned off into their respective tiers.
From a handicapping perspective, the biggest mistake you can make over the remaining 25-30 games of the NBA season is to handicap games without considering context. Sure, the Knicks or Bulls might be an attractive home dog when a playoff team comes into town. But from now on, don’t forget that these teams are actively doing everything in their power to lose as many games as possible.
Last year, we made good money down the stretch on our nightly NBA picks by strictly comparing motivation and situation. In the same way that a team who really needs a win might be worth betting on because of their relative motivation, there will be nights down the stretch where teams really need a loss. This year, especially, it’s not just about being “near the top of the draft”… the #1 pick and the #1 pick alone is where everyone wants to be.
Duke freshman star Zion Williamson will be the most coveted prospect to enter the league since Anthony Davis. His athleticism is unlike anything we’ve ever seen and his versatility on the floor is pretty much perfect for the modern NBA. We’re talking about a guy who can do this:
Now, I’m not the biggest Zion Williamson fan out there, but there’s no denying that this dude will give any franchise an instant jolt of energy. His on-the-court game is must-see TV, and every franchise has to be foaming at the mouth at the thought of marketing a kid named Zion with 2.3 million followers on Instagram. If you get Zion, fans will shut the fuck up and buy tickets. It’s that simple. He will have an unprecedented impact in the short-term.
Zion is a lock at #1 and a tanking team’s dream. Couple that fact with the reality that the rest of this draft is just not that deep, and the #1 pick is more important than ever. The other wild-card in the room is the potential to trade for Anthony Davis. Any team that gets the #1 pick will have to decide between Zion and AD — not the worst problem in the world to have, to say the least. Most of the teams around the top of the lottery have enough assets to couple with the rights to Zion to beat any offer outside of a Tatum-led Celtics mega-deal.
The Zion sweepstakes are on, and here are the teams firmly in the race:
Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Memphis, and Phoenix.
From now on, you’ve got to be extremely wary betting on any of these teams. All of them have a larger goal in mind, the achievement of which requires they be as bad as possible for the rest of the season. Now, I’m not saying that this batch of teams won’t cover any spreads down the stretch; nothing I’ve said here is news to bookmakers and they’re not gonna give you an attractive price to fade a team when said team is trying to lose.
But if you can stomach big MoneyLine favorites, I think there is profit to be had in juicy parlays or straight up. Perhaps not the sharpest thing to do, but those 5 teams are 9-41 combined in their last 10 games. That’s a lot of L’s, and they’re only gonna keep coming as we push towards the end of the season.