NBA training camps are right around the corner, meaning you’re running out of time for some future bets. I wrote yesterday on why Luka Doncic is worth an MVP flier at 70-1. Today, we’re checking out the win/loss totals for five teams that feel ripe with value, ranked 1-5 according to confidence.
*Over/under lines via Westgate Superbook
Denver Nuggets (Over 53 wins)
My favorite future bet on the board. Any time a team makes a huge one-year leap, as Denver did from not making the playoffs in 2017-18 to winning 54 games last season, there is going to be talk of regression. Don’t but into it. Denver’s upswing is just getting started.
For starters, the two best players, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, are in prime position to make individual leaps. Jokic is going to be a perennial MVP candidate for the next five years, at least, and Murray is ready to pop. The Jerami Grant addition was perhaps the best under-the-radar move of the offseason. Putting that kind of defensive athleticism next to Jokic is terrifying, and he can capably space the floor as well.
When you’re talking regular-season wins, depth is perhaps the biggest factor on the board. The Nuggets have depth everywhere you look, and they’re super young with no need to rest their best players. Also, the home-court factor. The Nuggets had the best home record in the league last season at 34-7. A trip to the altitude of Denver is a tough one for every team EXCEPT the Nuggets. It gets them a handful of wins every season.
The one area of concern is that Denver fared incredibly well in close games last season. That could be a mark of a good team with well-rounded pieces that can’t be easily exploited in magnified, high-leverage possessions or it could be the sign that a regression is coming with a few different bounces of the ball in those super-tight games. Denver went 13-3 in 3-point games last year and only had a four-point point differential — a good mark but not elite.
Still, almost every indication is that Denver is a really good team on the fast-track to becoming great. All they have to do is match last year’s mark and you win this bet, and to me, that is super high value.
Los Angeles Lakers (Over 50 wins)
The West dictates a brutal schedule and, yes, the Lakers are playing the long game with regard to keeping LeBron fresh during the regular season. Whether he gives any real, consistent defensive effort pre-All-Star break remains to be seen, even if Anthony Davis says they can both be All-Defense. Still, the Lakers aren’t going to completely slow play this. It might very well take 48 wins to just make the playoffs in the West. The Lakers aren’t going to flirt with the lottery.
But let’s say they do underachieve all year and are actually in need of a late run to secure a playoff spot/decent seed. Eight of their last 11 games, when we know they’ll turn it on if they have to, are against non-playoff teams from last season, and one of the three playoff teams from last year is OKC, which is projected by many to win less than 35 games this season.
In that span, the Lakers will face the Wizards, Bulls and Suns, plus the Timberwolves and Kings two times each. If the Lakers are in any danger of having to lock down a berth, the Kings could well be one of the teams trying to nudge their way in. If the Lakers have to take those games seriously, the Kings are toast.
Start doing the math, and even when you account for the normal Lakers line inflation, L.A. going over 50 wins, barring any kind of lengthy injury to LeBron or AD, is a solid bet. The injury factor is real, I grant you. But if you want to bet futures, you basically have to do so on the premise that the team is going to be relatively healthy. Almost no team hits their mark if their best players go down for a long chunk of time. Unless you want to go the other way and bet the under, which is WAY TOO RISKY. Take the Lakers over and feel pretty darn good about it.
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Philadelphia 76ers (Over 55 wins)
The Sixers are going to be really good and the East, well, is not. The Sixers now have Al Horford to account for the past defensive drop when Joel Embiid sits (or even if he misses time with injury, which has to be accounted for probably for the rest of Embiid’s career), and Josh Richardson, while not Jimmy Butler, can initiate pick-and-roll offense where Simmons’ lack of shooting still has to be accounted for.
On that note, can Simmons shoot a little bit this season? JJ Redick says he has shown in practice that he can make shots at a decent enough clip to warrant at least attempting them in games, and say what you want about the irrelevancy of summertime open gym, but jumpers are jumpers to a certain degree, and Simmons can clearly put the ball in the basket, from range, on at least a passable level.
Did someone mention Redick? His loss will hurt. The Sixers still lack for shooting. But the defense is going to be terrifyingly long and athletic and super smart. Scoring on a lineup of Simmons, Richardson, Tobias Harris and Horford/Embiid, or even a five-man unit with the two bigs together, is going to be a nightmare. The Sixers are young (outside of Horford) and super motivated and not the kind of collective personalities to take a lot of games off. They have something to prove and they’ll get a lot of games against a lot of Eastern Conference bottom feeders to do just that.
Portland Trail Blazers (over 46.5 wins)
It’s that time of year that everyone underrates the Blazers, and by extension, Damian Lillard, who is a flat out killer who single-handedly lifts otherwise flawed teams in much the same way that Stephen Curry will do this season, which is why the Warriors are being underrated as well. But that’s another story for another day.
As far as Portland is concerned, this is a team that has been a top-five seed five of the last six years, and a top-three seed the last two. Continuity makes a big difference in the regular season. So does depth. The Blazers have a lot of both, and while their lack of a defensive three-man will hurt them in the playoffs, it won’t show up so much in the regular season. How long Jusuf Nurkic remains out is a big X-factor, but again, in the regular season, Hassan Whiteside can at least cover the boards and block some shots.
In the end, this comes down to Lillard and C.J. McCollum, as it does every year with the Blazers, and the bottom line is they just don’t get enough credit. They’re so great at what they do, and once again, it will lead to a solid regular season for the Blazers that eclipses the 46-win mark.
Now, how they’ll fare once they’re in the playoffs is another story.
Brooklyn Nets (over 44 wins)
The Nets won 42 games last season, and for starters, they’ve replaced D’Angelo Russell with Kyrie Irving. I know Irving didn’t exactly get the most out of a talented Celtics roster, but he’s significantly better than Russell and presumably energized to prove some folks wrong about his team-leading capabilities.
Beyond that, their second-best player, Caris LeVert, missed 42 games last season. He’s healthy now and assuming he stays that way, that’s a big difference. Again, the Eastern Conference schedule is a factor.
There are concerns, one of which is the fact that Brooklyn went 12-8 in 3-point games last season, by far the best mark in the conference and second only to Denver in the whole league. They actually wound with a negative point differential for the season, which tells you they won a lot of close games that could easily go another way this year. Losing Ed Davis in the middle hurts and we’ll see how they handle the DeAndre Jordan vs. Jarrett Allen deployment.
This isn’t my favorite bet, but I like it. Brooklyn, bottom line, should win 45 games in the Eastern Conference. If it doesn’t, we can officially take Kyrie Irving out of the superstar talk.