BettorIQ’s NBA Southeast Division Betting Preview
On the heels of our Atlantic and Central division previews, we wrap up the Eastern Conference with a look at the NBA’s worst division, the Southeast. Just how bad is this afterthought of a grouping? Using win total futures as a guide, we can see that Vegas has the entire division projected at 170 wins. When contrasted with the Atlantic Division’s total of 222, the gap is made plain. However, it’s often in the muck where bettors can find value. Below is a breakdown of each team’s prospects.
Miami Heat (-125 to win Southeast Division)
Last season was a swan song for franchise icon Dwayne Wade, and for the most part it was a happy trip down memory lane. The era ended somewhat disappointingly however, as the Heat missed out on the playoffs by two games. There were positives to draw on though, particularly the improvement of former 10th overall draft pick Justice Winslow, and the emergence of Bam Adebayo.
Leading Miami into their next chapter is All-Star wing Jimmy Butler, who signed as a free agent in the summer. The addition of this excellent two-way player did come at a cost, as the Heat had to jettison Josh Richardson just as he enters his prime years. It would be hard to question this move, however. Butler struggled to mesh with Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, and his stay in Philadelphia, while mostly positive, presented ball-sharing issues with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Now in Miami, Butler finally gets what he wanted; a team in which he is the unquestioned Alpha dog. For all of Butler’s flaws, it is in this role where he can most flourish. He’ll be buoyed by a strangely deep Heat roster, filled with quality role players like Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, Winslow, a potential star in Adebayo, and young prospects Tyler Herro and Derrick Jones Jr. While the names hardly jump off the page, the roster is plenty good enough to win a division as weak as the Southeast.
The Heat’s win total comes in at 43.5, and going over that number would represent at least a five-game improvement on last year’s record. Butler is one obvious reason to believe the Heat should be better, but the total would also be a play against the rest of the division. The Wizards and Hornets are squarely in rebuild mode, and the Hawks are likely a year away from being truly competitive. Indeed, Miami’s division record is a place where we might see the jump required to get over the line. Last season, they went a pedestrian 7-9 against division foes. This time round it’s difficult to fathom they won’t win at least 10 of these encounters. The division title odds of -125 may be the safer play though, as a .500 record really could be enough in this monstrosity of a contest.
Orlando Magic (+150 to win Southeast Division)
On the whole, it’s difficult to know what to make of this Orlando Magic team. Last season was certainly a step forward, and a substantially improved defense that ranked eighth in defensive rating helped the Magic earn the East’s last playoff seed. In particular, an impressive 22-8 run to end the regular season is good reason to be optimistic about the direction of the organization.
Orlando’s summer was a bit of a head-scratcher. For a team seemingly intent on returning to the playoffs, using their first-round draft pick on injured Auburn forward Chuma Okeke was a bizarre move. Okeke does possess a fairly high ceiling, but players like Grant Williams, Brendan Clarke, and summer league standout Nickeil Alexander-Walker could well have provided the Magic with useful production right away. It’s also difficult to figure out why Orlando used a large chunk of its cap space to sign Al-Farouq Aminu. Three years and $29 million dollars for a player who doesn’t even project to start, and who does not fill a real need, suggests the Magic themselves aren’t quite sure what they are. If Okeke makes sense because the team needs more time, then how do you justify paying someone who is bound to take minutes away from some of the younger players you feel need to develop?
If last year is any indication, however, this is a roster that looks confusing on paper, but is fairly effective on the court. The win total of 41.5 is rather appealing, as is the plus money bet for Orlando to take the division. Coach Steve Clifford proved all his doubters wrong last season, and another year with a roster that returns almost completely intact, will only help. Clifford’s defensive acumen is the one thing that makes complete sense for a Magic team with utterly absurd length. Familiarity with his scheme could well see Orlando become a top-five defense this season.
Atlanta Hawks (+700 to win Southeast Division)
The Atlanta Hawks rebuild is unquestionably one of the most exciting in the league. It started with something of a surprise, when the organization traded away Luka Doncic during the 2018 draft for virtuoso point guard Trae Young and a 2019 first. The team lost plenty, but showed glimpses of brilliance, particularly when featuring the two-man game of Young and 2017 draft steal John Collins. Both the trade of Young and the mid-first round selection of sharpshooter Kevin Huerter raised some eyebrows at the time, but the Hawks’ front office looks pretty smart about now. This is clearly an organization with a vision as to how they want to play, and the 2019 draft selections of De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish go to show that the Hawks clearly think they know how to get where they want to go. In addition to purposeful roster building, identifying Lloyd Pierce as the head coach to take the Hawks forward was also a prescient move. His uptempo offensive style is a perfect fit for his guys, and he’s shown great patience and trust in the youth movement. His job appears secure, and he seems happy to take time with this exciting group.
While the talent is there to hang with just about anyone on a given night, there’s simply too many minutes slotted for too many young players. Young, Collins, and Huerter will certainly get their fill, while Hunter could well start on opening night. Reddish will push for quality time off the bench. All of this is in keeping with the Hawks’ long-term goals, but a win total of 34.5 will be difficult to breech. The defense was atrocious last season, and while Hunter should be solid from the get-go, Trae Young will still struggle mightily on that end. The offense will be a wonder to behold at times, but ultimately the Hawks are still in the early stages of a much longer process.
Washington Wizards (+5000 to win Southeast Division)
What a disaster. A mere three playoffs ago, Washington lost a hard-fought seven-game Conference Semifinal series to the Boston Celtics. John Wall and Bradley Beal were both burgeoning superstars, and for the first time in years, the city and fan base had really bought in. Despite the rather silly annual proclamations that the Wizards’ believed themselves to be the best team in the East, it did look like they were an ascendant club. Last season, the wheels completely came off. John Wall, an electric guard overtly dependent on his quickness, managed to blow out his Achilles at his home. As Bradley Beal put up a fantastic year, the team hurtled down the standings. Then the organization fell three slots in the draft lottery. With John Wall’s fantastically bloated contract looming over the entire project, Bradley Beal may be best served as a trade piece, and their most valuable asset is unquestionably their 2021 draft pick.
Accordingly, the win total of 27 suggests real trouble ahead. Even at such a paltry figure, there’s just no certainty in Washington. Beal’s future will be a huge distraction, which may actually be a good thing considering what some of the basketball is going to look like. Luckily, if you simply choose to avoid getting involved, you too can look away from this train wreck. If anything, hopping on the under and dancing in the rubble may be the best option.
Charlotte Hornets (+15000 to win Southeast Division)
In a division where the favorite is projected to end up with a win total in the low-to-mid forties, it is truly a feat of failure to be 150/1 to win the thing. But the Charlotte Hornets have managed to do just that. After embarrassingly botching the free agency of Kemba Walker, a franchise stalwart who seemed to want to return, they somehow doubled down on the debacle. By facilitating a sign-and-trade that sent Walker to get to Boston, the Hornets ended up signing Terry Rozier to the worst deal of the summer; three years, $56.7 million for a player who single-handedly destroyed many Celtics’ lineup configurations. Inefficient to say the least, Rozier’s effective field goal percentage of 47.7% was dead last on the Celtics, and his true shooting percentage was fourteenth-worst in the entire NBA. Now, he gets the keys to this broken kingdom, and it could get very ugly. While the roster features some decent NBA vets, there doesn’t appear to be the sort of personalities on this team to prevent Rozier from asserting himself, likely to the detriment of proceedings. The win total is 23.5. If you’re interested in a Sisyphean, season-long grind, this is your spot.