BettorIQ’s NBA Atlantic Division Betting Preview
With the start of the NBA season now just two weeks away, we are going to start breaking down the league division-by-division, in order to help find some possible value in the future market before the games come fast and furious. Let’s begin with the Atlantic Division.
The Favorite: Philadelphia 76ers (-160 to win Atlantic Division)
When the Sixers acquired Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in a win-now move, The Process was declared dead and gone. The season ended at the large hands of Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, a defeat that was both unsurprising and disappointing. Whatever happens this year, it won’t be because Philadelphia was unwilling to change it up. Most substantially, Butler is out and All-Star big Al Horford has come across from the divisional rival Boston Celtics.
While questions about floor spacing remain (sharpshooter J.J. Redick has also left town), the potential here is pretty awesome. Horford, teamed up with MVP candidate Joel Embiid and point forward Ben Simmons, is a frightening prospect for opponents. Adding quality wing Josh Richardson only further helps. Depth remains an issue, but assuming coach Brett Brown can make the pieces work, this will be the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. The main concerns here are fit and expectation. Simmons and Embiid struggle to work together at times, and one wonders if there will be enough touches to go around. Luckily for Philly, Big Al is the exact sort of star player who doesn’t seem to need his shots to influence play. Brett Brown seems to still have the confidence of the Sixers front office, but if the team gets off to a bad start, the pressure could ramp up quickly.
With a win total of 54.5, Vegas gives the Sixers a five-game cushion over their closest divisional opponent, a new-look Boston team from which they took Horford. This is their Atlantic Division for the taking and, if they take care of business, it’ll be another sign that The Process is a thing of the past.
Change for Stability’s Sake: Boston Celtics (+400 to win Atlantic Division)
For a couple of years now, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has attempted to build a team on two separate timelines. He wanted to win now and build for the future. But things got sort of caught in between, and now the prospects for the present and the future are a little murkier. The biggest risk, the acquisition of Kyrie Irving, failed spectacularly. Losing Irving for nothing this summer was icing on the cake. In a way, Horford is a more crushing loss. Big Al was the man who was meant to be the on-court glue between the win-now grouping of Kyrie and Gordon Hayward, and potential future All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. His ability on both ends of the floor was especially critical for a team that has long lacked impressive size.
With Horford gone, it’s the big man rotation that is most troubling. It might just be the worst in the league. Robert Williams is intriguing, but there’s little to suggest he’s ready for a real role as a starter in this league. Enes Kanter is basically unplayable on the defensive end. Frenchman Vincent Poirier is an unknown quantity. Rim protection will likely be a huge problem all season for Boston, and there will be nights where quality bigs (see Philly) can run them over.
On the plus side, coach Brad Stevens has a lot of versatile pieces to work with, and that’s often when he’s at his best. Players like Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart, rookie Grant Williams, and Gordon Hayward offer the length and switch ability from which Stevens may be able to cobble together a reasonably competitive defense. On offense, this team should have no issue putting the ball in the basket. Replacing Kyrie Irving with former Charlotte Bobcat Kemba Walker is a slight downgrade, but Walker is still an All-Star caliber player. Early indications suggest the team is already in a much better place.
There’s reason to be optimistic in Boston, but the amount of roster turnover makes it difficult to be too confident in a big win total play at 49.5. The price of +400 seems about right for a division title, but much of the value in that number may come from simply fading Philly as opposed to really believing in this Celtics club.
The Champs are not Quite Here: Toronto Raptors (+600 to win Atlantic Division)
Not since Michael Jordan retired after his sixth NBA title, has a defending champion lost their kingpin before their title defense even began. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was simply spectacular throughout last season’s playoffs, but despite putting him in the place to win a championship, the Raptors organization was unable to keep hold of Leonard, who joined the ascendant Clippers. There’s no way to sugarcoat the loss of Kawhi Leonard.
But, if anyone can lean on continuity and culture in today’s topsy-turvy NBA landscape, it might be Masai Ujiri and the rest of the Raptors organization. The roster lacks that top-billing superstar, but depth remains a huge asset. Game 7 hero Fred Van Vleet should be ready for a larger role, which should help keep All-Star Kyle Lowry fresh off a long championship campaign. There are interesting athletes like OG Anunoby and Norman Powell on the wing, and Anunoby in particular has a chance to take a step forward.
Most fascinating, however, is the outlook for Pascal Siakam. Siakam deservedly won the NBA’s most improved Player. His combination of size, athleticism, and skill give him a real chance to reach franchise player status. His almost insane work ethic gives reason to suggest that another leap is still possible. For Toronto, their success both this year and in the future could largely come down to how far Siakam can go.
The Raptors win total future of 46.5 is a full eight games lower than where it was this time last year. This should give us a real indication as to just how much Leonard’s departure could affect the defending champions. However, both the over and the +600 division odds remain intriguing. This is a team that has won five of the last six Atlantic Division titles. They are built with a group of players who work well together. Last season, they were 17-5 without Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. Public perception of the Raptors has never been strong, and Kawhi making for the coast will not help fix that. You might be betting on a diminished roster, but you’d also be backing one of the league’s best organizations, and a front office who tends to get things right.
Wait Til Next Year?: Brooklyn Nets (+600)
The revolution in Brooklyn has been an unprecedented one. Out of the ashes of one of the worst trades of all-time, the Nets have risen from a laughing stock to a poster child for roster building, player development, and progressive style of play. Coach Kenny Atkinson’s system thrives in today’s NBA, as evidenced by the team beating their closing win total of 32.5 by nine games last season. These improvements led to one of the single greatest summers in NBA history, in which the Nets added NBA champions Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The Nets have arrived.
Of course, there’s a catch. Durant will likely miss this season. We will instead get to see Kyrie Irving as the first option on a team built on young talent, hard work, and selflessness, who massively over-performed expectations against last season. Sound familiar? What could go wrong?
Indeed, a bet on the Nets on the win total over (44.5) is almost completely a bet on Irving. Not because the likes of Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen won’t bring a lot to the table. Rather, it’s built on the belief that Irving will work himself into the system, and not require the system be worked around him. If Irving comes to play, and not just to keep things on cruise control until Durant returns, this is a team that could surprise. If Irving turns cold and standoffish, there’s too much quality in this division for them to overcome.
Tanks for the Memories: New York Knicks (+15000)
The less said about the Knicks, the better. It’s hard to imagine things getting worse for New York, but even for them, this summer was a debacle. First, their eggs fell out of their draft basket on lottery night, costing them the chance at generational talent Zion Williamson. Then, from first believing they were getting a healthy Kevin Durant to make them relevant again, with a solid chance to see Durant bring Irving along with him, it all turned against them so fantastically. Durant went down, Brooklyn emerged as the stronger option for the Big Apple’s new dynamic duo, and the Knicks were left with R.J. Barrett and a lot of broken dreams. The discrepancy in division title odds between them and their Atlantic counterparts tells you all you need to know about the state of affairs at MSG. A win total of 27.5 means things could still be plenty ugly and you may cash anyway. There. That’s the most positive thing we can tell you about this situation.