With one of the craziest and most memorable offseasons in NBA history officially in the rearview, it’s time to look ahead to the 2019-20 campaign. This is your NBA Season Preview.
3 BIG STORYLINES
1. Power Vacuum
After years of being dominated by the Golden State Warriors, the NBA appears wide open. Los Angeles is now Hoops Central, with the Clippers (+300) and Lakers (+500) both among the odds-on title favorites. The Bucks (+500) are the class of the East, while the 76ers (+650) are squarely in the mix after nearly taking down the eventual champion Raptors last year. Houston (+900) and Golden State (+1200) are far from done. And don’t forget about the Raps, who are already an afterthought on the futures board at 40/1. This open race creates incredible value for bettors across the major futures markets.
2. Perception Is Not Reality
#NBATwitter is very much a thing. No league is driven by narrative more than the NBA. It is a personality-led, story-centric, theory-obsessed league. This can lead to inefficiencies in the market, exploitable by bettors who zig when the story zags. Perception is not always reality. The Celtics (season win total: 48.5) may be a better team without the talented-yet-disruptive Kyrie Irving. Chris Paul and Steven Adams may be enough to cover the loss of Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City (season win total: 31.5). LeBron may not be the player he was two years back. Distinguishing hype from reality can prove very profitable.
3. Handicapping Chemistry
Player movement has created plenty of new teams, and assessing chemistry is going to be critical. How Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play together will be essential to how the Clippers handle life as the hunted. Can LeBron actually defer to Anthony Davis? Will there be enough ball for Westbrook and James Harden to operate together? The key to handicapping chemistry is to understand roles and if the incoming players complement each other. Leonard and George figure to work well, as neither has a history of selfishness while both have flexible games. The opposite could be true of the Lakers. LeBron may be able to play any position from point to center, but he has never been able to truly hand the reins to a teammate, even a highly talented one. Personality and style are critical. Early-season games can be great indicators on that front, so bettors should keep a close watch and pivot their handicapping accordingly.
5 FUTURES TO TARGET
1. To Make Playoffs
Safe Bet — Miami (-220): Jimmy Butler lifts the upside of the Heat, who boast solid depth and no longer need to placate a center who didn’t mesh well. Only five teams in the East have higher season win totals than Miami’s 43.5.
Value Bet — Dallas (+275): Featuring an outstanding core of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavs have the potential to upset the balance in the West if those two can gel. Dallas also undershot its expected win rate by four wins last year.
2. To Miss Playoffs
Safe Bet — Orlando (+125): The Magic don’t have enough veteran leadership or overall roster talent to justify their current plus-money price for missing the playoffs.
Value Bet — Portland (+275): The West is absolutely loaded and the addition of Hassan Whiteside could really upset the rhythm of this team. Depth is also a major concern for the Blazers.
3. Scoring Title
Safe Bet — Steph Curry (+250): Curry has won the title once before and will assume much more of Golden State’s scoring load with Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson injured. The fact that Westbrook and Harden are now teammates only strengthens Curry’s grasp on this market.
Value Bet — Anthony Davis (+900): LeBron has always wanted to play more of a distributor role and if he lives up to his word then Davis will have an all-time wing man to boost his scoring.
Safe Bet — Giannis Antetokounmpo (+275): The league has a long history of back-to-back winners and Giannis is the reigning star on the team that’s expected to top the East.
Value Bet — Nikola Jokic (+1200): Jokic, who amassed incredible numbers last year before enjoying a true coming-out party in the playoffs, can go toe-to-toe with any player in the league.
5. Rookie of the Year
Safe Bet — Zion Williamson (-190): No rookie has come into the league with as much hype in years, and Zion is already the centerpiece of the Pelicans.
Value Bet — Darius Garland (+3000): The point guard was taken fifth overall in the NBA draft and will be the featured piece in Cleveland. Also in Garland’s favor: Guards have won nine of the past 14 Rookie of the Year awards.