The NBA is here is less than a week and while most of the news cycle has revolved around the always annoying “is he or is he not vaccinated” we can use this time to evaluate teams and future plays. We will start in the East with contenders and pretenders and see if there is any value anywhere to be placed.
Nets, Bucks, Heat
Those are the only three teams I have in the Eastern Conference that have a chance, in my opinion, as currently constructed to win an NBA championship. The Nets have more drama around them than a Bravo TV show. Kyrie Irving is officially not playing this season, at least until he gets vaccinated, and it doesn’t appear he is going to do that soon. Giannis is somewhat injured right now and I expect the Bucks to be cautious with him this season. That leads me to the first play I’d recommend. Bucks to have less than 54.5 wins at -115. They already won a championship, so there is that hangover. There is the aforementioned injury.
The Heat are one of two of the two teams I expect to make a leap from last season. The Heat added Kyle Lowry, but if Victor Oladipo comes back healthy, he might be the biggest boost to their team overall. They should have one of the best defensive teams in basketball. Couple that with two players (Jimmy Butler and Lowry) who play hard each night, I think the Heat are legitimate contenders. At +1000, the Heat are worth a small play on them coming out of the East.
Bulls, Celtics, 76ers, Hawks, Knicks
All of these teams, with the exception of the Bulls, made the playoffs last year. The Celtics have a new coach and I think that reinvigorates the team. The 76ers are also in a point guard turmoil – Ben Simmons is reportedly coming back though. I still believe they are a good regular season team, but right now don’t have anyone that takes over a game. Even if Simmons is back, his offensive shortcomings are likely with him. The Knicks will likely be the exact same team they were last year, only this year they MIGHT get a few games that Kemba Walker takes over and wins that they wouldn’t have last year. The difference this year is no one will be surprised by their success.
The Hawks are one of the best young teams in basketball. I still contend that if they had Luka Doncic instead of Trae Young, the Hawks would be a top-five team in basketball. As constructed, the Hawks are still good, but what is Young? A great point guard? A good one? He was presented as a shooter, but he hasn’t been a great NBA 3-point shooter. They are another team that won’t surprise people after their Eastern Conference Finals appearance. The Bulls are the other most improved team in the East. Adding Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozen and Alex Caruso provide the Bulls with more depth and talent than they’ve had in years. They should return to the playoffs.
Play-In Game Candidates
Pacers, Hornets, Wizards, Raptors
One of my favorite bets out there is that you can bet on one of four teams to be in the “Play-In Game” for the playoffs. Two of those teams would be in the previous section. The Pacers are still a solid team, and likely to make a playoff push. At +125 the Pacers are a good bet to make it. Keep in mind, if they get the 6th or higher seed (something I don’t see happening) the bet loses. Basically, they need to fall 7-10 for this to hit.
The Hornets are another team that should be in this range. They currently sit at +105. Gordon Hayward looked as good as he has since he was in Utah. Despite his late-season injuries, last year, the Hornets made it to the tournament. Along with Lamelo Ball and Terry Rozier, the Hornets have a good team. The Raptors and Wizards are outside shots in my opinion. Bradley Beal has kept this team afloat before and they have good pieces. The question really comes down to who can get a stop for them when they need one. As for the Raptors, they are somewhat rebuilding, but also trying to figure out what they have. Is Pascal Siakam healthy and ready for an even bigger role? I don’t think they make the playoffs and at +110 to make the tournament, it isn’t juicy enough for me.
Cavaliers, Pistons, Magic
I won’t spend a lot of time on this. Evan Mobley is arguably the best rookie on these teams. I’ve seen him listed at +800 to win Rookie of the Year. Currently, he is coming off the bench so he might not have the best opportunity, but he absolutely has the skillset. If he performs, there is no doubt this is going to be your best price. Cade Cunningham is the favorite around +250, he should have the best opportunity to play, but he has an ankle injury that is keeping him out. I think he wins it, but maybe wait to see how his numbers are after the first week or so because it might increase.