We’re going to delay our regularly scheduled programming a bit this week in recognition of the start of the NBA season. I don’t generally bet on the NBA as much as other sports – I get most of my hoops fix from the college ranks – but I do love the league, and I look for intriguing betting opportunities daily. As the season gets underway, here are ten things I will be keeping an eye on as a bettor:
1. The Knicks. The team can’t help but be better since they got rid of Isiah Thomas, and Mike D’Antoni is a massive upgrade. D’Antoni is not walking softly, though, so it will be interesting to see how he is accepted. He cut Patrick Ewing Jr. even though Sr. is Knicks royalty, and Jr. had looked okay in preseason action. He’s not going to play Eddy Curry to start the season, even though he’s healthy and eager to play. This team needs a shake up, but it will be interesting to see how it works out.
2. The rookies. This is a spectacular rookie class. Greg Oden and Derrick Rose already look like they are ready to be stars. Michael Beasley has every chance to succeed. So do Kevin Love, Rudy Fernandez, O.J. Mayo… the list goes on and on. I’ll be watching very closely to see if the public’s perceptions of the budding stars differ, positively or negatively, from their contribution to their teams.
3. The Celtics. They played like a team possessed last year. This year they still have the talent, but they don’t have the urgency. It could turn out very well, or not so much.
4. Kevin Durant. He has a year of experience and a bit more help in his new home. People probably don’t expect much from the team this year, so if he avoids a sophomore slump and continues to mature then he could provide pockets of value.
5. The Bulls. As I said before, Derrick Rose is going to be a star sooner rather than later. He has a decent collection of talent around him, and a new coach that is a risk but has potential. The only major gap is a big man to go inside effectively. This team could be the most improved in the league from last year, or they could provide another disappointing season. Only time will tell.
6. The Timberwolves. If the Bulls aren’t the most improved team then the T-Wolves are one of two other likely contenders in my eyes. The team doesn’t have any proven stars, but they have a ridiculous amount of potential, and a lot of it – Al Jefferson, Rashad McCants, Randy Foye, Rodney Carney – could be poised to burst.
7. The Blazers. The third of three teams with massive improvement potential. It’s really an embarrassment of youthful riches for these guys. They have four rookies – Nicolas Batum, Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, and obviously Oden – who have the potential to be all-stars later on in their career. Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge could quickly grow into the most feared front court in the league. Brandon Roy is already a star. The biggest challenge for this team will be getting everyone the playing time they need.
8. The Raptors. As a Canadian I am partial to this team anyway, but even if I wasn’t I would be intrigued by them. Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal are a pairing with some risk, but the upside is tremendous. Around them are an unconventional but talented cast of characters. I don’t think that they are better than the Celtics, but they are pretty solidly the second best team in their division in my book. They fly far enough under the radar that they could provide value early on if they start well and bettors don’t notice.
9. The Sixers. This is the fourth team in the Atlantic that I have discussed specifically, and I have no real attachment to the grouping, so that really says something – this group is on the serious rebound. The Sixers are another team that I am excited to watch. Elton Brand joins a decent group and makes them much, much better instantly. They weren’t bad at all as it was at the end of last season. I’ll be looking to see how quickly Brand fits in, and how good they are. They should be in a great battle with Toronto for second place.
10. The Warriors. This one could get really, really ugly. No Baron Davis. Monta Ellis, their only real star, is suspended to start the season. A whole lot of rookies, but none who are anything other than green, or which are even close to being ready to contribute. Things could get really, really ugly.