Who Will Win The NBA Eastern Conference?
The start of the 2013/2014 NBA season is just days away. Today on the blog Adam Digby begins our NBA season betting preview taking a close look at the Eastern Conference.
The 'Big Three' are no more. Rookie coach Brad Stevens was handed a six year deal, a fact which highlights the long term nature of the reconstruction GM Danny Ainge is currently working towards. With Rajon Rondo sidelined as he recovers from ACL surgery, the Celtics are headed for the lottery for the first time since 2007, and may well be out of playoff contention even before their point guard returns.
The loss of leadership in the absence of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers is startling, while the interior defence is a major concern without Garnett to anchor it. Stevens will be far from surprised by all this however, as he arrived in Boston with his eyes wide open and having faith in Ainge and the organisation to make it work in the future.
The biggest story may well be what happens when Rondo does return. Doubts about how much those who have left contributed towards his 18.7 points and 11.1 assist averages linger, and it remains to be seen whether he too will be traded away before too long.
Boston Celtics NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
It has cost them a not-so-small fortune, but the Nets now have a roster capable of challenging the very best. The key for them will be if they can keep their ageing stars - seven of their regular roster are over thirty - healthy and rested enough to avoid a repeat of last years first round playoff exit.
The team is all about pairings, starting on the wing where Paul Pierce and Joe Jordan will need to ensure they both find space to make a contribution. Inside, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez will have to figure out who does what, but together they offer the size to matchup with the Bulls and Pacers, while they will create a serious problem for Miami. Indeed it could be Lopez who gives them an edge in a potential series with the Heat, thanks to his 19.4 points 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
Almost as important will be the mentor/apprentice relationship forged between rookie coach Jason Kidd and All Star Point Guard Deron Williams. While Kidd’s inexperience - somewhat offset by lead assistant Lawrence Frank - is cause for concern, his ability to get through to Williams will be essential. Last season he averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 assists a game but will need, at times, to put the team first rather than filling his own stats. If Kidd and he click, so too could the Nets.
Brooklyn Nets NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
New York Knicks
Like the Lakers, the Knicks will enter a season as their city's second best team for the first time. While the Nets go from strength to strength, it is hard to see things ending well for their crosstown rivals. So much depends on what they are able to do defensively as Raymond Felton, JR Smith, Andrea Bargnani and Carmelo Anthony are hardly renowned stoppers.
Questions continue at the other end. Where Amar'e Stoudemire's health will likely determine how strong the Knicks are from the bench, the ability of Bargnani and Anthony to balance the two forward positions is key to their hope of success. With Melo so central to everything they do, both on and off the court, the franchise will hope it pans out given that he becomes a free agent next summer.
Securing a top four seeding could be vital, as home court advantage remains huge for them, and may depend more on players like Metta World Peace and Iman Shumpert, than the likes of JR Smith. If they can play enough minutes to improve the defence, another season of Anthony leading the league in scoring might be enough for them to make a run.
New York Knicks NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
The disastrous move for Andrew Bynum proved to be too much and cost General Manager Tony DiLeo his job, while Doug Collins left of his own accord. Sam Hinkie, previously of the Houston Rockets, came in to oversee team affairs and has taken on a mammoth task. Before even appointing a new coach, Hinkie stunned observers by trading All-Star Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a top five protected pick in next year's draft.
With no money spent on free agents, it is not hard to argue that the 76ers have the worst roster in the league in terms of talent and are almost certain to be in the lottery next summer. Leading the team is Brett Brown, formerly an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, and he is under no illusions about what lies ahead, telling reporters at his introductory press conference:
"We all know the pain of the rebuild is real, there needs to be patience. I have not been a part of a rebuild since I was in the NBA. The rebuild has to be keeping the locker room together."
But if the future is the dream of the number one pick in the draft, the present may well see Brown go from being part of the best record in the NBA to its worst. It is set to be a brutal season for Philadelphia, who are clearly just hoping 2013-14 passes by quickly.
Philadelphia 76ers NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
It is hard to understand where the Raptors fit on the Eastern Conference landscape. Andrea Bargnani is gone, but even without the Italian, the starting five of Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas is above average. The bench is thin, but perhaps not too much so; however, even the team's new General Manager is not sure where they sit. Masai Ujiri, voted the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year after a stellar season with the Denver Nuggets, told the National Post:
"I really can't say this team is going to be fourth or seventh or 12th, I can't do that. I want us to have growth, big-time growth, and improvement so that we can actually know what we have on this team. And then we can move from there."
What they have in their favour is the fact that Gay and Lowry are entering their final year under contract. The former will need to have an incredible campaign to be offered anywhere near the money he has earned over his current deal contract year while, with the franchise at a crossroads, the Raptors will be looking for Lowry to lead them to the playoffs while redefining himself as a player who can be relied upon.
With five sure-fire playoff teams in the East, Toronto could easily earn one of those three remaining spots, but with Milwaukee, Atlanta, Washington and Detroit all improving, it is far from guaranteed.
Toronto Raptors NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
Like the 1995 press release announcing Michael Jordan's return, the Bulls 2013-14 outlook can be summed up in two words: He's back!
After missing an entire calendar year, Derrick Rose is finally good to go and has been in impressive pre-season form. As talk about what can be expected from him escalates, it must be remembered that even without their best player, this team pushed Miami hard.
They did so thanks to the obsessive coaching of Tom Thibodeau, and a vastly improved roster. Luol Deng is a far more potent offensive player than before Rose got hurt, and the emergence of Jimmy Butler gives them two incredible perimeter defenders. The latter seems to have done enough last term to secure the two-guard slot for the foreseeable future.
Add a healthy Joakim Noah - another formidable weapon on defence - alongside Carlos Boozer, and Chicago boasts a starting five that few can better. With Mike Dunleavy Jr, Taj Gibson and the ever-reliable Kirk Hinrich, they also have strong depth and a variety of lineup options that should comfortably see them in the top three seeds in the East.
How far they go will still depend on Rose. He will need to utilise his ability to lift the team as he has so often in the past. His explosive playing style will create opportunities for others and a averaging 25 points and just under 8 assists - as he did in his MVP season - is not unrealistic. With better teammates and Thibodeau's attention to detail, Rose and Chicago are most certainly a threat this year.
Chicago Bulls NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
Mike Brown is back on the bench, as hope has returned to the Cavs in the form of the explosive Kyrie Irving. The performances of their star point guard has fans believing the team is on the up for the first time since 'The Decision' tore their hearts out. An active off season has seen the roster improve immeasurably, adding Jarrett Jack, No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and forward Earl Clark to an already promising core.
At 29, Jack - a huge part of Golden State's breakout campaign - adds an important veteran presence to this exciting team, passing his experience on to the young backcourt of Irving and Dion Waiters. Even with Anderson Varejao on board, the biggest issue for the Cavs is the signing of Andrew Bynum. If he can ever get fit and set foot on court again, Bynum is among the top centers in the league, but that is a 7-foot if.
With Irving also missing 38 games over the past two seasons, fitness is going to be the biggest question mark over a team whose best and worst case scenarios have perhaps the widest spectrum of the entire league.
Cleveland Cavs NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
As they infamously tried in 2009, the Pistons have looked to improve by spending money. Joe Dumars ill-advised capture of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon at a cost of $100 million was always doomed to failure, but the GM will hope that history does not repeat itself with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.
Smith is one of just three players to boast career averages of over 15 points, 9 nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks, joining Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Tim Duncan. Alongside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, it appears three into two does not go, and one may yet be traded away to create space on the court as it is unlikely they can all feature enough.
The returning Chauncey Billups will look to exploit that as he 'comes home' to Detroit and he, along with new coach Maurice Cheeks, will seek to keep the Pistons competitive as Dumars continues to rebuild the ailing franchise.
Detroit Pistons NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
Outside of Chicago, the Pacers arguably played the Heat closer than anyone last season, especially taking them to a Game Seven in the Eastern Conference finals. Unlike many of their rivals, Indiana also spent the offseason addressing their weaknesses, notably reinforcing their weak bench with the by additions of Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. They will also welcome Danny Granger back after he recovered from a serious knee injury, which meant he played just five games in 2012-13, missed the playoffs entirely.
With David West - the second best post up player in the league (0.96 points per possession) after Kobe Bryant - and Roy Hibbert impressing inside, the ever-improving Paul George will need to show similar ability from the wing. Last year's 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, added to a league high 6.3 defensive win shares, show that the 23 year old has the all round game to become an elite NBA player.
Like the Bulls, their approach is based on a dedication to defence that few other teams can rival. They will rely on West, George and Hibbert to perform on the offensive end if they are to compete in a much more competitive Eastern Conference.
Indiana Pacers NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
Giving up on the shoot-first-ask-questions-later backcourt experiment of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings seemed like an intelligent move, until realising their replacements were O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight. By bringing in another two guards who also regularly seem to see passing as a sign of weakness, coach Larry Drew - who led the Hawks to the playoffs each of his three seasons in Atlanta - appears to be faced with a difficult season, particularly given the strength of the central division.
He must do so with no fewer than eleven new players, but can rely on Larry Sanders to defend the paint, essential to his system which relies heavily on trapping. With Mayo (0.407) and Carlos Delfino - who led the league in three pointers per minute in 2013 - the Bucks should boast an impressive outside threat as they build around a young core of Giannis Antetokounmpo (18 years old ) John Henson (22), Knight (21) and Sanders (24).
Milwaukee Bucks NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
South East Division
There may be no team in the league more under appreciated and underrated than the Hawks, who move into a new era as they begin a season without Josh Smith on the roster for the first time in a decade. The Georgia native leaves behind a team full of overlooked players such as Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.
In something of a breakout campaign, the 25-year-old Teague posted career highs in scoring (14.6), assists (7.2) and Player Efficiency Rating in 2013. The point guard is likely to be a key player once again as rookie coach Mike Budenholzer and his squad will be expected to make the playoffs, although that may depend on the fitness of two-time All-Star Horford. The forward averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds last season. He will carry a heavy load on both ends, forming the focal point of both the offence and defence. Without him, the Hawks would be in trouble.
Atlanta Hawks NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
Whisper it quietly but the Bobcats might not be the league's worst team this coming season. Their pick up of Al Jefferson should change them for the better, as his inside presence allows for a much more open floor than in recent years. The 28 year old averages around 16 points and nine rebounds over his career and could easily blossom into a legitimate 20/10 player in Charlotte.
He will be aided in that quest by the underrated Kemba Walker, who averaged 17.7 points, 5.7 assists and two steals last term, which is good for a player still learning to be an NBA point guard. His mid-range game is already excellent and he is clearly looking for the team to improve in his third year in the league, telling the Charlotte Observer
"We’re trying to change the culture around here, I’ve been losing for two years now and I’m sick of it. I’ve been winning my entire career and I want to get that feeling back!"
With Ben Gordon and Brendan Heywood also returning, new coach Steve Clifford should be able to improve their previously poor defence, ranked as the 29th worst in 2013. If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can begin to contribute as a wing scorer and the other pieces fall into place, their final year with the Bobcats moniker might finally see the franchise turn the corner.
Charlotte Bobcats NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
The Heat have made the Finals for three straight years and, as LeBron James continues to lift his game to all-time-great status, few would bet against them making it for a fourth time. Looking for question marks is difficult, other than perhaps wondering if Dwyane Wade will continue to be hampered by his ailing knees, and if the team as a whole still retains the necessary hunger.
Wade looked a shadow of himself, particularly as the postseason wore on. With players like Ray Allen, Chris Anderson and Norris Cole, the Heat do have more than enough to cover for the guard, should he require rest at times during the season. However, as Russell Westbrook's absence in OKC proved last year, it is hard to overcome the loss of your number two option for an extended period.
But even that might not be enough to prevent James as he strives for his place in history. Winning yet another MVP Award, the King raised his game as he averaged 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, seven assists and 2.3 steals in the Finals.
The forward can do everything, but while the Heat haven't changed, the competition certainly has. Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn are vastly improved and, should Miami fail to be at their best, one or more of them could usurp the Heat.
Miami Heat NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
The Magic could outdo the Bobcats as the worst of the worst as GM Rob Hennigan seems intent to feature prominently in the much-vaunted 2014 draft. He has provided second-year coach Jacque Vaughn with a roster filled out with veterans like Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson, none of whom are expected to be around too long.
Perhaps the only bright spot for Orlando, is this year's number two pick Victor Oladipo, who has become an early favourite in the Rookie of the Year race. Able to play both guard positions, the 21 year old is viewed as a mature two-way player who should have no problem supplanting Nelson or Afflalo for a starting berth.
As he joins Maurice Harkless as prospects for a brighter future, the best Orlando can hope for appears for that duo to enjoy some prominent playing time as the team lurches to yet another year in the lottery.
Orlando Magic NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
Where last season there was John Wall, this year read Emeka Okafor. Their record of just 29 wins in 2013 seems poor but, after a knee injury cost Wall almost half the season, the Wizards were impressive once he returned. The point guard averaged 18 points and 7.5 assists as he led them to a record of 24-25 in his 49 games.
It seemed his fitness would be key to their hopes but a serious neck injury to starting center Okafor appears to have wrecked any hope of a repeat. That fleeting success was built upon an impressive defensive unit which worked hard for one another, as they trapped, pressed and boxed out extremely well. Okafor was central to that; however, and the absence of his interior presence may hamper them once again.
Bradley Beal, the No. 3 pick in 2012 and Otto Porter, No. 3 this year will hope to help Wall carry the Wizards in the coming campaign as they hope to reach the playoffs.
Washington Wizards NBA Season Odds - Odds as at 22nd October 2013.
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