We’ve learned in the past that pro sports titles aren’t written in stone before the season starts. Two years ago the Golden State Warriors weren’t predicted by many to make it to the NBA Finals – let alone win it.
Last year we got a rematch between the Dubs and the Cleveland Cavaliers – a series in which the defending champs were the heavy favorites after winning an NBA recorded 73 games. After becoming even bigger favorites after a 3-1 series lead, they crumbled and lost in game seven.
In back to back NBA seasons, we saw miracles and the unthinkable. The Warriors came out of seemingly nowhere to win their first championship in 40 years and a year later Cleveland fulfilled its destiny by making history by claiming the franchise’s first ever NBA title.
You probably don’t need to be an NBA expert to assume that we’re getting a rematch between these same teams for a third year in a row. But what if that’s not the case?
Injuries happen, teams can regress and most of all, other teams can rise the ranks and declare their rightful shot at the league’s throne. That probably isn’t happening for the 2016-17 NBA season, but if it does, we have 10 sleeper teams you’ll want to keep an eye on when it comes to 2017 NBA Finals odds:
Note: We’re not diving into title contenders like the Spurs, Clippers, Raptors and others. The sleeper teams listed below aren’t going to be making many expert’s lists for title contenders, but there is an argument they should.
Boston Celtics (+1800)
The Celtics top our list off, as they hold the best odds among our NBA Finals sleepers. They also have been building momentum, as they’ve reached the playoffs the last two years and display terrific coaching and strong balance.
Isaiah Thomas runs a decent offense, while the addition of big man Al Horford could bring a strong Celtics defense to a whole new level. Boston still lacks that one go-to superstar, but they remain a balanced, defensive-minded group that doesn’t ever give up easy wins.
A 50-win season and another trip to the playoffs is quite possible, and once in, who knows how far their depth can take them.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+4000)
OKC is a very interesting team, as many will write them off after losing both Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka this offseason. Russell Westbrook is here for the long haul, however, and the Thunder are still plenty dangerous with Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steve Adams ready to shoulder bigger loads.
The Thunder still have one of the best players in the league, good coaching and a team that remains capable of playing stingy defense. Their main issue will be figuring out the hole at small forward, and perhaps a trade at some point can answer that question.
OKC got to within a game of the NBA Finals a year ago and while they’re a different team this year, there is still potential for a deep playoff run.
Chicago Bulls (+4000)
Boston lacks star power and OKC might not have quite enough of it, but you can’t say that about the Bulls, who added Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to an already talented group.
The argument goes both ways, of course, as Chicago traded away Derrick Rose and Michael Dunleavy, lost key reserve Justin Holiday and E’Twaun Moore and also lost Pau Gasol to the Spurs. There’s also an argument that Wade isn’t good enough to carry a team anymore and that Rondo is no longer a difference-maker.
Perhaps that is all the case, but what if it’s not? In his prime, Rondo was an elite defender who could penetrate at will and run an offense at an elite level. If he can turn back the clock a bit, Wade can be a strong scoring presence and Jimmy Butler gets back to his elite two-way ways, Chicago could be a problem in the Eastern Conference.
It’s not just the big names that promote confidence, either. Young guys like Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott all flashed amazing potential last year. If they’re ready to take their games to new heights, the Bulls could be a serious title contender.
New York Knicks (+6600)
New York is another team that could quickly rise up and cause problems in the Eastern Conference. They could easily be washed up, but Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee all head over to the Big Apple to lend some help to Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, a duo that was already starting to look appealing by themselves.
The Knicks inched closer to a return to the playoffs last year, but what if Rose and Noah regain their old form, Melo puts it one more elite season and Zinger blows the roof off of Madison Square Garden? It all certainly feels like a reach, but the Knicks are surely headed in the right direction and if everything clicks early, they could be a fun bet to go all the way.
Indiana Pacers (+6600)
Indiana feels like the safest sleeper yet, seeing as they were a yearly title contender before Paul George broke his leg. It’s taken some time for the Pacers to return to relevancy, as they missed the playoffs two years ago and were bounced in the first round last year.
If Indy is going to make a run anytime soon, though, this is the year. The Pacers have made some serious changes around superstar Paul George, having upgrading point guard and power forward with trades for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young and also beefing up their post depth with underrated signings of Al Jefferson and Kevin Seraphin.
The big question is if this is a quiet super team that looks great on paper, or if this is actually a team that can work towards keeping the Cavaliers from getting back to the Finals for the third year in a row. It’s doubtful, but the star power, depth and balance is definitely there for the Pacers to potentially make some noise.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+6600)
Sometimes young teams with all the talent figure it out a lot sooner than you’d expect. It happened for the Spurs years ago in the early years with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and it clicked for the Warriors two seasons ago, as well.
If the Wolves didn’t have a ton of talent or good coaching, we’d understand the raising of the eyebrows. But Tom Thibodeau is an experienced coach who preaches elite defense and full team effort. With that, we know Minnesota won’t run blindly into the season, and we also know they’ll defend.
Furthering that narrative is the fact that they are loaded with offensive talent that is equipped to defend at a high level. Karl-Anthony Towns is already shaping up to be one of the best two-way big men in the entire league, Andrew Wiggins can be a shutdown defender on the perimeter and both Ricky Rubio and rookie Kris Dunn can stifle elite point guards.
If Minnesota can pack elite defense in with their maturing offense, they could be looking at a playoff return and possibly a lot more.
Portland Trail Blazers (+7500)
If we’re to imagine the upside of a young Timberwolves team, then why can’t the Blazers dream of a chance at a title? Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum turned into one of the best backcourt duos in the league last year and will once again terrorize opposing defenses with their elite offensive games.
The big issue in Portland is the offense can’t stop there and the defense also needs to get better. Perhaps that’s why the Blazers shelled out some cash to bring in solid glue guys like Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli, the former of which can help at up to three positions offensively, and the latter can improve the team’s interior defense.
Getting more consistency out of role players like Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe could end up pushing this playoff team over the top.
Houston Rockets (+10000)
Had there been a better looking team on paper? While the Rockets are sure to still leave A LOT to be desired defensively, they were probably right to move on from big man Dwight Howard, who simply never meshed with the penetrating James Harden.
Instead, the team added some appealing star offensive talent, as guys like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson can score in bunches and should help take the pressure off of Harden. Letting new head coach Mike D’Antoni run the show could seriously make Houston one of the more explosive offenses on the year.
The question will be how the Rockets set this up and fix their main issues, as they don’t have a reliable interior defender and defense as a whole will be a huge question mark. They might be able to solve that by sliding Harden in as the main point guard, however, which could help them get more run out of defensive stoppers like Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and maybe even Patrick Beverley out on the wing.
Clint Capela and veteran big man Nene Hilario could be the key to this working, however, as Hilario has the size and strength to bang with the star bigs in the league and Capela could help with his ability to block shots. It’s tough to get past the defensive questions, but the upside is clear with this team: If they can score more than you, they’re going to be tough to beat.
Dallas Mavericks (+20000)
It’s always tough to write off Dirk Nowitzki, but even after perceived loss this summer, it feels like Dallas could be a lot better than they were a year ago. The big role players are still there to help out, as J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Dwight Powell and Charlie Villanueva haven’t left, but the Mavs seem to have a little more upside thanks to new additions, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut.
Trusting Bogut to stay healthy is a stretch, but he can be a difference-maker down low when he’s on the floor, plus Barnes may finally have a chance to take his game to another level now that he’s out of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s shadow.
Toss in Dirk, Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews adding some offense and veteran touch, and the seasoned Mavs could quietly be a real threat in the Western Conference.
Orlando Magic (+20000)
One of the coolest things about some of these sleeper NBA Finals teams is their NBA betting odds. Dallas and Orlando, for example, could provide insane payouts ($100 bet would return $20k) and actually have reasonable logic behind them being appealing bets.
The Magic might even be the better play, seeing as the Eastern Conference doesn’t feel quite as stacked as the Western Conference and the team also made some very big (and necessary) changes.
Bringing in Frank Vogel to coach the team was massive, as Vogel has tons of playoff experience and knows how to get players to play team ball, as well as defense. Orlando made sure he had the tools to succeed, however, as they traded for defensive stud Serge Ibaka and also signed big man Bismack Biyombo.
Defense was not a strength of Orlando’s a year ago, but they can’t help for it to be now with two serious defensive aces in the paint. Those additions only enhance the talent they already have, as it helps cover up offensive center Nikola Vucevic’s defensive shortcomings and also frees up the uber athletic Aaron Gordon to freelance as a point forward.
Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier don’t have to do it all at the one and two spots anymore, either, as Orlando sought out veteran help via D.J. Augustin and Jodie Meeks. Jeff Green was also brought in to give the forward spot extra versatility, while second-year guard Mario Hezonja’s development could also be huge off the bench.
From top to bottom, Orlando is completely different and by all accounts much improved. Can Vogel and a new-look Magic make the playoffs and then make serious noise? That’s anyone’s guess, but with these ridiculous NBA Finals odds, they might not be the worst flier bet.
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