We’ll start with playoff props, where the Golden State Warriors are amusingly -1000000 at Westgate’s SuperBook to make the playoffs. Fading the defending champs getting to the postseason pays +10000, but probably isn’t a good idea. My eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are, in order, Boston, Cleveland, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia and Charlotte. There’s no money to be made on any of those since the 76ers (-200) are the one team out of the eight worth the investment since the odds on them aren’t astronomical. Orlando at +300, New York (+450) and Indiana (+400) are potentially worth nibbling on if the 76ers stumble or injuries derail the Hornets or Heat.
In the Western Conference, Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Minnesota, Memphis, Portland and New Orleans are my top eight, which leaves out the Nuggets, Clippers, Jazz, Mavs and Lakers. The Grizzlies are +250 to make the playoffs and my favorite play on these “will they or won’t they” futures, while fading Denver (+250) and the L.A. Clips (+170) also pays handsomely.
The Grizzlies may have moved on from Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Vince Carter, but are still built to win now with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol now each in their 30s. If Chandler Parsons can stay healthy, there’s potential for improvement on the wing with Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans on board. Mario Chalmers has returned from an Achilles tear 19 months ago and looks like he can be a factor after a strong preseason. With David Fizdale coaching and winners leading the way at key positions, it’s strange to see them being written off. I’m all over the ‘over’ 37.5 wins prop.
New Orleans is at 39.5 and pays out +150 if it reaches the postseason. Rajon Rondo is out 4-to-6 weeks after surgery to repair a core muscle injury, so the plan to have him and Jrue Holiday work together to ensure the Pelicans get the most out of their Anthony Davis/DeMarcus Cousins tandem. Grindfather Tony Allen and ex-Warriors sniper Ian Clark were brought in to add depth, so this team has the ingredients to challenge for only their second postseason appearance since drafting Davis No. 1 in 2012.
Denver’s win total is way up at 45.5, which is a little steep considering they haven’t been over .500 in any of the last four seasons. Nikola Jokic is great, but the Nuggets guards are still young and prone to mistakes. The Clippers’ number has been set at 45 despite the fact they haven’t won fewer than 51 in any of the last five years, but losing Chris Paul makes it likely that they take a step back with Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic taking over point guard duties for Doc Rivers.
Despite its loss on opening night, you’re very likely to see Golden State win its third championship in four years. The Warriors already overcame getting everyone back on the same page after Kevin Durant’s arrival, not to mention a season-threatening knee injury to the eventual NBA Finals MVP. Head coach Steve Kerr overcame complications following back surgery to make it back on to the bench and is feeling much better these days, so his influence on a stacked roster that appears to be even deeper means the Dubs should make a run at 70 wins and are rightfully a heavy favorite to win it all again.
Westgate has installed Golden State as a 5-to-12 (-240) favorite to win a championship if you want to get in to start the season. I would counsel that you wait in case there is an injury that knocks the odds back in your favor since even an injury to Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson would be unlikely to remove the favorite tag off the defending champs. There’s more than enough firepower remaining on the roster to overcome one significant injury and hang another banner.
The Thunder (16/1) have already won big thanks to the stealthy work from GM Sam Presti, who came through on keeping Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma in jaw-dropping fashion. In acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in packages surrounding Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter as the main pieces, OKC significantly upgraded its roster. Westbrook signed his extension, confident that he’ll always have a chance to compete for titles despite its small-market status. With Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Patrick Patterson, Ray Felton, Nick Collison and Kyle Singler providing a veteran supporting cast, this roster is built to win now.
Anthony is the x-factor since he’ll have to deal with not being the first option on offense for the first time since playing with Allen Iverson, which was an issue for both. That experiment lasted less than two full seasons and produced a 1-8 playoff record. A decade later, it’s on Melo to make the best of this situation in order to reach a conference finals for only the second time in his career. On paper, this team should be among the NBA’s final four. George’s ability to combat the Warriors’ versatility is viewed as a game-changer. Hopefully we’ll get to see it in a series. Back the over 53.5 wins.
Houston (16/1) adding Paul to the mix is a monumental move for the team best-equipped to match the Warriors’ preferred tempo. It will keep James Harden fresher, giving him a better opportunity to improve as a shooter, a weakness that ultimately derailed the Rockets when the postseason came and he’d used up most of his legs racking up triple-doubles and chasing a scoring title. Mike D’Antoni has a lot of talent at his disposal, while the addition of PJ Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gives them additional options beyond Trevor Ariza to try and defend opposing wings. Shooters Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are also back, so this roster is loaded with pieces. It’s up to Paul to add the missing ingredients and push this team over the top. The 55.5 leaves little room for error, so I’d stay away there.
In the East, the Cavs (13/4) are favored to reach a fourth straight NBA Finals despite granting Kyrie Irving’s trade request, shipping him to Boston. Isaiah Thomas won’t be ready to be a significant factor until around the All-Star break considering he’s got to get healthy first, then get acclimated to a new system where the ball won’t be in his hands all the time. Dwyane Wade came on board, showing up in fantastic shape and claiming J.R. Smith’s spot in the starting lineup. Kevin Love moves up a spot in becoming LeBron’s No. 2, which should keep him happy and productive. Tristan Thompson needs to recover from his NBA Finals no-show and emerge as more of a factor, while Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon were brought in to split Irving’s minutes. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this group slip to second or even third in the Eastern Conference given all the moving parts, but you can expect them to be the team to beat come April and May so long as LeBron remains healthy. He’s demonstrated that his on-court IQ masks any physical regression, and there hasn’t been much of that anyway. He’s becoming more efficient as he ages, a testament to his brilliance.
The Celtics (20/1) added Irving and Gordon Hayward away from Utah on July 4, piling on to a nucleus that includes Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum. Fellow newcomers Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes will add frontcourt depth, which makes this the deepest team in the East from a talent standpoint. Hayward’s gruesome ankle fracture on Tuesday night forced Westgate to move them from 10/1 to win a title.
It’s going to be up to the very capable Brad Stevens to manage young egos and keep this group straight through rough patches, especially when the playoffs arrive and they’re tested by veterans. Irving coveted this challenge, and this will end up being his team since the more reserved Hayward and Horford are likely to let him lead. He’s the one with the championship. If Irving gets Boston past Cleveland, he’ll have ideas on how to take down Golden State too. He’s done it before.
Washington won 49 games last season, its highest win total since 1978-79. Books have set the Wizards’ number at 49, which should be attainable if everyone stays healthy. Scott Brooks got his team to play at a high level after a slow start and returns virtually the entire roster. Trey Burke and midseason acquisitions Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings aren’t back, but Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott should be capable replacements in the rotation. Expect them to win 50-plus.
The Bucks also have the look of a 50-win team and should come in over the total set at 46.5. Reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon came into his own late last season and should continue taking some pressure off Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jabari Parker should return by the All-Star break to provide a boost for the stretch run, and with the Pistons, Pacers and Bulls all likely to be below .500, there will be plenty of opportunities for Milwaukee to pad its win total against its Central Division foes.
Antetokounmpo is an interesting MVP choice at 8/1, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see James (4/1) rise up for one last award at the age of 33. He hasn’t won since 2013, but could get his fifth in what might end up being his final season in Cleveland. My favorite longshot is Karl-Anthony Towns (40/1), who will be involved in significantly more victories this season with Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague on board, increasing his profile and making those eye-popping numbers he’s capable of moving up very meaningful.
Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons (2/1) is my choice to win Rookie of the Year over teammate Markelle Fultz (15/1), L.A.’s Lonzo Ball (3/1), Dallas’ Dennis Smith, Jr. (4/1), Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox (10/1) and Phoenix’s Josh Jackson (12/1)