Houston Rockets and 5 Value Bets to Win the 2020 NBA Championship
The dust has not yet completely settled on the NBA’s offseason, but at this point, we have a pretty good idea of how teams will look to begin the 2019-20 campaign this coming October. Kawhi Leonard was the last domino to fall, as reports late Friday night revealed that the reigning Finals MVP will be a member of the Los Angeles Clippers next season.
Leonard won’t be alone, of course, as a few minutes later, news broke that the Clippers had also snagged All-Star swingman Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a blockbuster trade. All of a sudden, four of the seven (or so) best players in the NBA are calling Los Angeles home.
Oddsmakers believe that either the Clippers or the Lakers will claim the title next season. Odds shifted massively following the news of Leonard’s decision and Paul’s trade, and as of this writing, the Clips are now the odds-on favorites to win it all next season. BetOnline lists the Clippers at +300 to win the 2020 NBA championship, with the Lakers not far behind (+400).
While I think both teams are obviously viable bets, the shift in odds also had ramifications for other title-hopeful clubs. As you may expect, the championship odds just got longer for some of the other Western Conference teams. With Leonard moving out of the Eastern Conference, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have seen their odds improve.
Betting money will surely be pouring in on the Lakers and Clippers in light of their big moves, which will lead to other teams going overlooked. NBA futures betting is all about taking advantage of the ebbs-and-flows in the odds over the course of a long season. Which teams could wind up looking like betting bargains as next season plays out?
Indiana Pacers (+3300)
For years, the battle for the Eastern Conference came down to “Which team has LeBron James?” That changed last year when LeBron traded his Cavs jersey for a Lakers one, which led to Leonard and the Toronto Raptors rising to the top. Not to take anything away from the quality team the Raptors have built, but losing Kawhi may well torpedo Toronto’s chances of winning back-to-back conference titles.
So, the East is once again wide open. The Milwaukee Bucks (+500) and Philadelphia 76ers (+800) are understandably the favorites, but once you get past them, there’s no telling what this conference has in store. It’s easy to forget that the Indiana Pacers were atop the conference for much of last season, but their aspirations were largely dashed when All-Star Victor Oladipo went down for the season with a torn quad. The Pacers were eventually eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Boston.
The Pacers have been busy this offseason. Bojan Bogdanovic left for Utah in free agency, while Darren Collison abruptly retired at the age of 31. However, Indiana quickly patched those holes with the signings of Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb. The Pacers also nabbed talented swingman T.J. Warren from the Suns without giving up anything in the process. Thanks for being incompetent, Phoenix!
Add Brogdon, Lamb, and Warren to a roster that already includes Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis, and you instantly have what is easily one of the most talented teams in the conference. Brogdon is an ideal fit next to Oladipo that can play off-ball or run the offense. Having a couple of versatile guards like that, as opposed to signing a worse fit like Ricky Rubio (a player that had been repeatedly linked with the Pacers) makes Indiana dangerous.
Depending on how Warren and Lamb shake out on the wing, the Pacers may need to swing a trade at some point during the season for a star swingman in order to take the next step. We’ll see whether they can pull it off, but as it stands, I think the Pacers are vastly undervalued at +3300. This is probably the third-best team in the Eastern Conference right now. Getting through the playoffs in the East isn’t nearly as daunting as doing so in the West. The Pacers’ odds will get less favorable from here, so I’m fine with taking a flier bet on them at this price.
Houston Rockets (+1400)
Amid a sea of changes sweeping its way across the league, the Houston Rockets look an awful lot like the team we saw last year. There were rumors that Chris Paul could be on his way out of H-Town, but that talk has quieted in recent weeks, and it sure looks as though Houston will try to run it back again next season with the James Harden/CP3 backcourt.
It’s easy to forget now that the Rockets have served as the biggest threat among Western Conference foes to the Golden State dynasty over the last few years. Houston struggled early last season, but they eventually rebounded and once again looked like a fearsome team toward the end of the campaign. Golden State once again ended their season early, but the fact that the league is now wide open means Houston should once again be considered among the favorites.
The Houston Rockets do have fairly favorable +1400 odds, but that still puts them behind both LA teams, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. Houston has the same odds as the wounded Warriors, and slightly better odds than teams like Utah and Denver. The Rockets finished the 2017-18 season with the best record in the NBA, and it’s safe to say the roster they have now has more talent than that one did.
Houston’s chances hinge on whether Paul can look a little less old than he did a season ago. CP3 has a lot of mileage on his legs, and he didn’t look like the superstar we’ve come to know for much of last season. He averaged 15.6 points, 7.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game across 58 games. His field goal percentage dipped by about 5%, while his three-point shooting fell by just over 2%. Houston is banking on Paul serving as Robin to Harden’s Batman, and he just wasn’t good enough in 2018-19.
Whether he ever gets to a superstar level again remains to be seen. If he does, though, I don’t see much reason the Rockets can’t contend with the other teams atop the Western Conference. The Rockets have more continuity than most of their conference rivals, which may well count for something once it’s all said and done. I think the value on Houston at +1400 is outstanding.
Boston Celtics (+2000)
Do you remember a year ago at this time when the Celtics were considered to be legitimate championship contenders? Needless to say, an awful lot can change over the span of 365 days in the NBA. Boston went on to underwhelm during the regular season before being bounced in five games by the Bucks in the conference semis. Now, they’re licking their wounds after losing both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in free agency.
While the Celtics’ roster may have lost some shine, it’s still a team with no shortage of talent. Boston replaced Irving with Kemba Walker, which was a nice move. It’s, at worst, a lateral move for Boston at arguably the most important position in today’s NBA. Considering the lack of depth out east, anything below the 5 seed for Boston next season would be a surprise.
The Boston Celtics will be leaning more heavily on the likes of Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown offensively with Irving gone. How that works out remains to be seen, but entering year 3 expectations will be particularly high for Tatum. He didn’t grow much offensively between years 1 and 2, but if he starts to look like the player many believe he can be, the Celtics could be an improved team next season.
The main question with Boston comes inside. Horford’s departure leaves a dent in the team’s defense, and replacing him with Enes Kanter won’t do much to cure that ailment. How the Celtics defend a team like Philly, featuring Joel Embiid, in a postseason series remains to be seen. Still, I think there’s merit to betting on the Celtics as a long shot for the same reasons I like Indiana. There’s still talent here, and the East is paper-thin once you get past the top 2 of Milwaukee and Philly.
Brooklyn Nets (+2000)
The Nets were one of the big winners of free agency, as Brooklyn landed a pair of All-Stars and former champions in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Both players will join a solid roster that includes plenty of young talent as Brooklyn makes the leap into a tier of legitimate contenders.
Of course, the big question mark surrounds Durant’s injury. The two-time Finals MVP ruptured his Achilles late last month with the Warriors, and there’s a decent chance he doesn’t suit up at all next season. Don’t be surprised if the Brooklyn Nets play it safe with their new franchise player.
Obviously, this team isn’t winning a title if Durant misses the entire season. However, it’s not unreasonable to think there’s a chance he winds up returning prior to the end of next season. The recovery time for this injury tends to differ from player to player, so we really don’t know for sure when Durant will return to the floor.
If he does come back prior to the end of the season, though, I think there is plenty of merit to taking a punt on Brooklyn at +2000 to win next season’s NBA title. If Durant were healthy heading into next season, the Nets would be right there with the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks at the top of the pack.
If we get confirmation that Durant will miss all of next season, feel free to avoid Brooklyn as a championship bet. At +2000 with the potential for an early Durant return, though, I’m fine with the punt.
Utah Jazz (+1600)
The argument can be made that the Jazz are the most-improved team in the league other than the Lakers, Clippers, and Nets. Utah was already among the best teams in the Western Conference entering the offseason, and they’ve only gotten better. They made the splashy trade for Mike Conley earlier in the summer, and they’ve followed that up with a productive free agency period that includes the signings of Ed Davis, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Jeff Green.
Utah needed another ball-handler to take some pressure off of Donovan Mitchell, and Conley fits the bill. He brings a much better scoring presence than Ricky Rubio did while also providing better defense and comparable playmaking. It’s a win across the board for the Jazz.
They lost Derrick Favors, but replacing him with Davis and Bogdanovic is an overall net gain. Bogdanovic gives them another much-needed shooter from the outside, while Davis can play alongside or behind Rudy Gobert in the middle. Utah can now litter the floor with shooters around the Stifle Tower, which hasn’t always been the case.
Given the uncertainty at the top of the league these days, it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see Utah rise to a top 4 seed in the West. Assuming Mitchell continues to steadily improve, the Jazz have a built-to-win type of roster that may well be able to take advantage of some other teams that may need time to gel with a bunch of new faces.
Utah has as good a home-court advantage as any team in the league, so if the Jazz are able to find their way to a top 3 seed, there’s a very realistic chance that they represent the Western Conference in the Finals. +1600 is tremendous value for a team with as much talent on both sides of the floor as the Jazz.
Most of the betting action will understandably focus on both LA teams, as they have positioned themselves to be relevant in the title picture for years to come. I’m not convinced that this is the year either of them accomplishes that goal, so I do think there is good reason to take a chance as a bettor on some teams that are being overlooked by oddsmakers.
The upcoming season is going to be a fascinating one considering there is no massive favorite, as has been the case over the last handful of years with the Warriors ruling the league. Place your bets now in order to lock in the best possible value on some long shots.