by Justin Cherot
As many of you know, a few months ago I started my official paid foray into the sports industry, accepting a copywriting position with a company that touts high-powered sports “consultants” to help “clients” with difficult sports “decisions”. I love quotation marks.
Obviously, the big moneymaker in the industry I speak of is football, and ever since the season started I’ve been in full-on gridiron mode. But this past week, I was given the task of loading basketball services, and that could only mean one thing:
IT’S TIME FOR NBA HOOPS!!!
It seems like ages since LeBron James lost his headband and willed his team to victory, since Stephen Curry vaulted himself into one of the NBA’s best ten players, since J.R. Smith asked that girl if she was “tryna get the pipe.”
And look, I realize there’s quite a few people out there who feel as though the NBA season is a waste of time and like college basketball more. Hey, if you like gritty, hard-fought, over-coached, turnover-plagued (I like hyphens almost as much as quotation marks and parenthesis) 50-48 Big Ten basketball, power to you. It’s not a knock on college ball: in fact, with this crazy talent pool (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s entire eight-man rotation), this could be one of the more interesting season’s in recent memory. Except for the fact that we’ll all feel sleazy afterwards when they inevitably one-night us and head to the League.
It’s a preference, but give me the best players and athletes in the world… even if they are playing at 85% most of the time.
Everybody does something a little different for their previews. I toyed with doing a Breaking Bad tribute and ending it with the Miami Heat being “The One That Knocks” with the Boston Celtics being in something called the “Huell Division” (“How Long You Guys Gonna Be?”) But then I realized I post with almost no semblance of regularity, and you guys probably forgot how the series ended (spoiler alert: Bryan Cranston plays a guy that cooks meth).
I thought about exchanging e-mails with my buddy Colin for a preview, but he’s left me for hockey. I guess we forgive him.
So I said to myself, “What makes sense?”
And then it hit me!
My entire life–for better or worse–is now engrossed in this “consultation” business. So why not go ahead and blast you with various NBA futures?
For those not in the know, a “future” bet is based upon action that–you guessed it–takes place IN THE FUTURE.
Here’s the thing: the brain-trusts at Vegas sportsbooks calculate a number that they believe will influence equal action on both sides. Therefore, it’s important to hop on some of these numbers now (and fade others until they become more favorable).
Here are some teams that I really like one way or another:
Boston Celtics UNDER 28.5- The Celtics are definitely gearing up for the future, and especially with Rajon Rondo missing significant time recovering from that torn ACL, no shot this rag-tag group gets this high. But keep an eye on Brad Stevens and how he gets acclimated to the NBA game.
Utah Jazz OVER 25- Yeah, with the losses of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, I don’t think the Jazz will be particularly good this season, but they have a tradition of overachieving, and if the bar is 25, then they should eclipse that. Keep an eye out for Gordon Hayward as a sleeper for Most Improved Player after he turned a lot of heads at the Team USA mini-camp.
Denver Nuggets UNDER 46.5- Linesmakers are slow with this one. On scoresandodds.com, 98% of the action is on the “under”. 98%! Someone has to be asleep at the switch there. I wouldn’t be shocked if they missed the playoffs all together in a much deeper Western Conference.
Detroit Pistons OVER 40- I had a friend ask me recently, “Why is the media all over Detroit’s [male genitalia]?” Simple: they’re the perfect NBA 2K team and–if you’re good on the sticks–their real life deficiencies get over-shadowed with sheer athleticism (Andre Drummond, Josh Smith… lest we forget that Brandon Jennings is kind of illegal in the virtual world, too since he can dunk in the game. I’m not a huge fan with how this team is constructed, but there’s too much talent for them to float under that number.
Portland Trailblazers OVER 38.5- If the Blazers had any semblance of a bench last season, you could make the case that they might have made a run at that last playoff spot, but Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum had to carry way too much of the burden last season. A better bench (rookie C.J. McCollum, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, , Allen Crabbe) and the acquisition of Robin Lopez to shore up the middle should be worth an extra six wins, no?
Minnesota Timberwolves UNDER 41- On paper, no question this is a playoff team. But, wake me up when Kevin Love has an injury free season.
Indiana Pacers UNDER 55.5- I have no doubt that the Pacers will be right in the thick of things and definitely have a say in how the Eastern Conference shapes up. But if you think these guys will be seven games better than they were last season, then you think it’s 2009 and Danny Granger is a real difference-maker.
Not just a cop out for time and space constraints, but I don’t know if I’d touch anything else. Miami at 61.5? They’ll obviously be good, but the top of the East is tougher. The 76ers at 16.5? New coach Brett Brown is already on record saying they have maybe six NBA players, but either way you slice it I hate that number. The Mavericks? The fan in me wants to go waaaay over the 43.5, but I’m just not sure they can stop anybody. And for my Washington Wizards’ fans, I was tempted by the number 40 and the over. But without exception for the past five years, anytime I’ve given them credit they disappoint. Thus, consider me not using them as a plus.
Fine… take the Wizards over 40. John Wall is a basketball god. But when I jinx you guys for the sixth straight year, I don’t want to hear it.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR ODDS
Before summer league started, Trey Burke was a 9-2 favorite to take down the ROY, but a broken finger is going to make that a long shot to happen. Actually, had he even been completely healthy, 9-2 is somewhat laughable after struggling in Summer League and looking like his ceiling was a smaller Jarrett Jack.
So, to successfully navigate this, you look at opportunity. Victor Oladipo (currently the favorite at 3-2), Ben McLemore (a bargain to me at 6-1 that hasn’t moved since July) and Michael Carter-Williams (15-1, but on a squad projected to be horrendous) will probably get the most touches and have the highest usage rates. I actually like top overall pick Anthony Bennett‘s game way more than I did on draft night and throughout the college basketball season, but with frontcourt depth, the Cleveland Cavaliers have the luxury of bringing him along slowly.
ODDS TO WIN THE MVP
LeBron James should be way higher than 5-4 in my mind. Even if you don’t believe in him from a talent standpoint (and you’re straight up dumb if you don’t), he seems to have re-captured the adulation of the writers who actually vote on this thing, and someone will have to produce at an undeniably higher level. It seems like it’s him or Kevin Durant (7-2) vs. the field. I like Chris Paul as a value bet at 10-1. And if you’re an action junkie, take Kemba Walker at 100-1.
TOP 10 ODDS TO WIN IT ALL
10. New York Knicks 35-1
The Knicks have actually put a pretty good team aroundCarmelo Anthony. I can’t think of a roster from 1-12 that’s more talented. The problem is the Knicks are inefficient offensively and can’t get stops when it matters… mystifying because ‘Melo may be the best offensive player in the league and Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert are probably top five defenders at their positions. Regardless, I still trust the Pacers and Bulls to give the Heat a run more than the Knicks at this point.
9. Golden St. Warriors 25-1
Definitely this year’s “Will They Make the Leap” team. I actually thought during their playoff run that the Dubs were more effective without David Lee… until playoff superhero/Justin Cherot’s favorite player Curry hurt himself, too. I think the Andre Iguodala signing makes them stronger at what they do best, and I can see them trotting line-ups with Harrison Barnes as a stretch four. A lot would have to go right for them to win a chip, but this isn’t a team you want to see in the playoffs… and you better protect home court, because winning in Oracle is no easy task.
8. Indiana Pacers 14-1
LOVE this spot for them as I think they’re undervalued. This team was one win short of an NBA Finals appearance, and I’m getting 14-1!? Funny how they’re UNDERVALUED in title odds but OVERVALUED in overall wins. I just don’t know how much closer this team can get. Paul George is really good, but he strikes me as more of a Robin than a Batman. He’s flanked by solid role players like Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill, but unless Granger comes back like gangbusters, their ceiling is probably still a Conference Finals appearance.
7. Houston Rockets 12-1
In case you missed it, Dwight Howard signed with Houston this off-season, making them immediate players in the West (not in the promiscuous way, you know what I’m talking about). Or will it? It definitely changes the dynamic of the team from a perimeter-oriented attack to an offense where Howard should probably touch it once a possession. How will that affect James Harden following a break-out year that propelled him to the top of the two-guard charts (sorry Kobe Bryant and Kobe fans: talk to me when the ACL heals)? Can Howard and Omer Asik co-exist, and if not can they flip Asik for a stretch four? Can the Rockets somehow re-capture Jeremy Lin’s “Linsanity”
hoaxmagic? A lot of questions, but they’re definitely contenders in the West.
6. Brooklyn Nets 12-1
Yes, I know the Rockets and the Nets have identical odds, but whatever… I think the Nets have less question marks. After all, we KNOW Deron Williams is a top five point guard. We KNOW Brook Lopez is now the most dynamic offensive center in basketball. We KNOW Kevin Garnett will defend and is willing to defer. We KNOW that between Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson there’s a clutch gene that gives them a decided edge at crunch time. That said, we also know they’re older and that I have more coaching experience than Jason Kidd (I was an assistant coach for my daughter’s soccer team last year). They’ll probably take it slow at times during the season, but they’ll be a dangerous out in the playoffs (although I don’t like them better than the Pacers right now).
5. San Antonio Spurs 10-1
Slight disrespect for the Spurs after a Finals’ run, but 1) The West did get deeper, and 2) Vegas is waiting for them to get old. That said, they wear that former champion swagger well, and no doubt they’ll go down fighting. Tony Parker might have had his best year as a pro last year, and Tim Duncan still has some gas left in the tank apparently. I just think that OKC and the Clippers are far more talented, and to a degree I think that matters more in the NBA than any other sport.
4. Chicago Bulls
Chicago was a fine, overachieving team without him, butDerrick Rose takes this team to another level. To be frank, the Pacers and Bulls are the only two teams in the East that can give the Miami Heat a run in a seven-game series. As a matter of fact, I legitimately think if the Bulls can steal homecourt advantage and the No.1 seed that they will beat the Heat. That’s a big “if” though. Tough to call, but with a gun to my head… the Bulls lose to the Heat in seven in the Eastern Finals.
3.Los Angeles Clippers 8-1
Chris Paul is straight up out of excuses. True, the Knicks may sport a sexier roster 1-12, but the Clippers have just about every piece on paper to win a title. A prove coach in Doc Rivers. Athleticism (doesn’t get much more athletic than Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan). Efficient wing shooters (J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. An inefficient but timely shot creator (Jamal Crawford). Glue guys (Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins and Antawn Jamison). Oh yeah, and Paul, the best point guard in the league hands-down. And yet, name the last great point guard to win a title. If you said Isiah Thomas, you won. That’s irrelevant, though: the talent is here for the Clippers to win a title. I’d take a shot at 8-1.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder 6-1
See, I would say this is too high for them… except, despite trading Harden last year and going through some slight growing pains before Russell Westbrook got hurt, they were the odds-on favorite to emerge from the West. This season… true, Westbrook will miss some time (and in the meantime pad Durant’s MVP candidacy if the Thunder play well without him), and they’ll have to somehow replace the departed Kevin Martin‘s production, but I’d at least give the Thunder better than a puncher’s chance to emerge from the West. I personally don’t think they’re better than the Clippers RIGHT NOW, but come May when Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb get used to producing in big spots, I might take the Thunder.
But yeah… they’re two spots too high right now.
1. Miami Heat 13-5
It’s not a horrible investment to bet money on the Heat to win a title. In fact, this may be the surest bet in pro sports, and you’d still be getting 2½-1 on your investment. That’s not bad. By now I hope we know that James is the best player in the league. I mean, I don’t particularly love him, but you can’t argue with the sheer efficiency of his numbers. He shot 56% from the field (and I rounded down, by the way), and not all of those shots were video game dunks. He’s taken his game to the next level, and it has been fun to watch.
I’m a little leery of the other guys. Coach Erik Spoelstra has been campaigning about how “hurt” and “tough” Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were in the playoffs. No doubt they were hurt, but were these early signs of them really breaking down? The role players–mainly Ray Allen(shot of the decade maybe) Shane Battier and the departed Mike Miller all had out-of-body experiences at one point during the Finals, and the chances of roles players playing at that level on a huge stage again for the Heat are slim (I cringe at the thought of Michael Beasley in a big spot).
For value, I think plunking the money on the Clippers to win the ‘chip at 8-1 is a better play. But, as much as non-Heat fans probably want to vomit, the Heat are probably your winning play here.
And since you made it this far, a pick for tomorrow night!
Clippers (-8.5) over Lakers
The Lakers are listed as the home team in this affair, but this is a neutral site game. The might actually be as neutral site as it gets since these two teams share Staples.
But look for the Clippers to make a statement as they try to avoid the Justin Cherot Kiss of Death.