The NBA season is almost upon us. This means that it’s the perfect time for me to announce to the world my NBA bets for this year. This follows on from my NFL picks post, which I think we can all agree is going superbly (I’m hopeful that the Bills will fall apart). I’ll pick each division winner and go through a few other bets, including some more excellent over/under opportunities.
I’m going to start things off with the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic division (Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors). This is probably the worst division in the NBA. The Sixers aren’t even trying to win and could be historically bad. The Celtics are hoarding draft picks and have the Rajon Rondo trade question looming over them. They are in a similar rebuilding spot to the Cavs last year with a decent young core but no star players. The Nets and the Knicks are both in salary cap/no draft pick hell. The Knicks at least have around $40million (Stoudermire, Bargnani, Dalembert) coming off the books at the end of this season and they have the Zen Master, but until then they are stuck with an aging roster that don’t seem to mesh together. The Nets are incredibly old and are paying extortionate salaries. Their “big 3” of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez have all disappointed since they came together (D-Will with his form/injury/out of shape-ness, Johnson will never live up to that contract, Lopez is constantly injured) and their supporting pieces aren’t good enough. That leaves the Raptors, who surprised many with their 48-34 record and the 3 seed. They managed to keep together the same team (Lowry at $12million per year is a steal, Masai Ujiri is a wizard) and should be just as good if not better. Valanciunas and Ross should continue to improve and if DeRozan and Lowry play like they did last year then Toronto could make the East Finals.
ATLANTIC: TORONTO RAPTORS
Next up I’ll take a look at the Central division (Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks). It almost seems pointless to discuss 3 of these teams in relation to winning the division but I will anyway. The Pacers will struggle hugely to make the playoffs. Without Paul George and Lance Stephenson they really don’t have any offensive spark, their only saving grace could be the horrendous depth of the East. The Pistons still haven’t figured out their frontcourt rotation. SVG is a big coaching upgrade but for as long as Josh Smith is jacking threes from Small Forward and Brandon Jennings is jacking threes from everywhere they won’t be a .500 team. The Bucks have a very interesting young roster (Greek Freak, Jabari, Sanders, Henson) and have mismatch opportunities all over their team. But they aren’t ready to make a run at the playoffs just yet. Now the real stuff begins, the Cavs and the Bulls, widely regarded as the top 2 teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls have some question marks over their frontcourt rotation (how do you get enough minutes for Noah, Gasol, Gibson and Mirotic) and the Derrick Rose ticking injury time bomb is always a worry. The Cavaliers will take some time to figure things out much like the Heat did. They do however have an incredible array of offensive talent (LeBron, Love, Kyrie, Waiters) and an interesting, progressive coach in David Blatt. They will struggle to defend the rim but I would still back them to just beat out Chicago for the 1 seed in the East.
CENTRAL: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
The Southeast division (Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards) probably has the most depth in the Eastern Conference. The Magic should continue to get better with their impressive young core, however the addition of Ben Gordon is somewhat baffling. The Hawks always seem to make the playoffs regardless of how much they want to (see: last year after Horford injury) and should once again (at 7 or 8). Miami went through some serious roster surgery in the summer. The King has left town, can Bosh be a 22/10 guy again? How many minutes/games can D-Wade play? How many Chicago miles are on Luol Deng? There are too many questions for the Heat, I think they will struggle before eventually sneaking into the playoffs. The Hornets have an exciting group having added Vonleh and Lance to Jefferson, Kemba, Zeller and MKG (who can now shoot apparently). I expect them to comfortably make the playoffs but I don’t see them topping the Wizards in this division. Washington have one of the best backcourts in the game with Wall and Beal, they have a good 1-2 punch in the paint with Nene and Gortat and just added the Truth, Paul Pierce. This team is a serious contender to make the Eastern Finals.
SOUTHEAST: WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Now we move onto the Western Conference, starting with the Northwest division (Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz). The Jazz and the T-Wolves don’t really stand much chance of winning games, but they have acquired some good young players to build around and could be a factor within a few years. Denver seem to just have a horribly built roster. The frontcourt rotation is clogged (McGee, Hickson, Mozgov, Arthur, Faried, Nurkic) and they seem to have accumulated a host of overpaid, under-performing, average players. Not a recipe for success. Rip City surprised everyone last season with just how successful they were, particularly early in the season. Having kept together their starting 5 they should once again make the playoffs and could very easily win the division, depending on how the Oklahoma City Westbrook’s do in KD’s absence. So Durant could be out until January, so they once again failed to invest in free agency, so what? Russell Westbrook is going to run this team for the first time in his career and it should be glorious. OKC is probably the most intriguing team of the early season to see just how successful they can be without last year’s MVP. I think Westbrook and Ibaka are good enough to carry the load up until his return. Adams, Lamb and Jones should feature more and Anthony Morrow is a solid addition as an elite 3 shooter.
NORTHWEST: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Pacific division (Golden State Warriors, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings) is tricky to predict. The less said about the Lakers the better. They are going to be awful (more on them later). For Sacramento the big question is whether Boogie Cousins has matured like his World Cup performances suggest he has. A dominant big man is an excellent starting point, however the supporting cast is not great. Sacramento will beat some big teams but they will end up under .500 and with an angry, weird owner. The Suns were last year’s surprise team, they played fast, they have an excellent backcourt but they lost Channing Frye. A 7 footer who can shoot 3’s at an elite level is hard to come by. He opened up driving lanes for Dragic and Bledsoe, they will take a drop off from last year and once again miss the playoffs in the loaded West. Talking of good backcourts, the splash brothers are back in Golden State! Klay wasn’t traded! I love watching the Warriors play, Steph Curry is the ultimate heat-check player. The feeling seems to be that Steve Kerr is going to be a great coach, however he is a rookie so there will be a learning curve (see: Jason Kidd, Nets). I predict them to make a relatively slow start before sparking into life after the All-Star break and comfortably making the playoffs. My pick to win this division and the Western Conference and the NBA Championship is the Los Angeles Clippers. They will have a feel-good factor after finally ridding themselves of the Donald Sterling disease and have a coach with Championship pedigree. I expect DeAndre Jordan to take another step forward and the addition of Spencer Hawes should help their shallow frontcourt rotation. I also predict Blake Griffin to improve on his incredible year by becoming NBA MVP. LeBron is figuring out a new offense/teammates, KD is out until December or January, the race is open. Blake is 10/1, I’m all over that. I’m all in on the Clippers, in case you couldn’t tell
PACIFIC: LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The final division is the Southwest (Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs). The strongest division in the NBA. All 5 teams have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. I’m probably lowest on the Grizzlies in this division. Z-Bo is getting older and they really don’t have enough outside shooters to challenge. After that the Pelicans have Anthony Davis, who everyone is predicting as the next big star of the league. If his World Cup performance is anything to go by, then the era of the Brow could be sooner rather than later, if this team is in the East then I think they could be a 6 seed but unfortunately for them, the West is much tougher. The Mavericks took the eventual champions to 7 games in the 1st round last year. They’ve added Chandler Parsons to their already potent offense and brought back Tyson Chandler to lock down the paint. Again, the sheer strength in depth of the West will see them end up at the back end of the playoff positions. Houston have had a poor offseason, losing Parsons, Lin and Asik will weaken their second unit considerably. But when you have 2 of the top 15 players in the NBA, you are always going to win games. However, I don’t see them winning quite as many games as the NBA Champion, San Antonio Spurs. Every year we speculate as to whether they are too old, whether they can continue to win, whether their roster is good enough. Well its time to stop speculating. The unique way they are coached and the system of playing numerous guys 20-30 minutes a night has proven hugely successful. They brought all their key players back and you can expect them to once again challenge for a place in the Finals.
SOUTHWEST: SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Now the couple of over/under picks I’ve gone for. The L.A. Lakers under 31.5 wins seems like a no brainer. Their ‘star’ player is 36 years old and coming off an Achilles injury. They don’t have a single good defender on the team and are in the loaded Western Conference. This is a 20 something win team. No doubt. Secondly I decided to bet on the Milwaukee Bucks over 22.5 wins. They have this interesting young core and a good young coach. They under-performed last season and because of this, they have been undervalued by the bookies in my opinion. Easy money.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS UNDER 31.5 WINS
MILWAUKEE BUCKS OVER 22.5 WINS