Why the Bucks Are the Best Bet to Win the NBA Championship This Season
Bettors have been understandably hesitant to take a chance on anybody but the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA championship this season. Golden State is in the midst of arguably the most dominant stretch in the history of the NBA. The Warriors have made it to the NBA Finals in each of the last four seasons, and they came to within one game of winning it all every single time. Still, three titles in four years isn’t too shabby.
Before the season, bettors were reluctant to even bother wagering on championship futures for this season. The Warriors potentially got even better by signing DeMarcus Cousins over the summer. Cousins became the team’s fifth All-Star, and inserting arguably the game’s best offensive center into what was already a loaded roster looked downright unfair on paper.
Why bet on the Warriors at -250 to win it all? There’s no value in that. Why bet on any of the other 29 teams, even with favorable odds? Golden State winning a third straight championship this season has looked like fait accompli for quite some time. You’d essentially just be flushing your money down the toilet by taking a chance on a team like the Celtics, Rockets, or 76ers to take down the dynasty.
I have admittedly been high on the Toronto Raptors’ chances all season. While I still think Toronto is legit, I’m ready to change my tune. Will Golden State win it all again this season? Possibly. It could even be likely. That said, the Dubs could be set to face their toughest postseason challenge yet this time around.
No, the Nuggets, Rockets, Raptors, and Celtics won’t stop Golden State. The Milwaukee Bucks will.
Odds to Win the 2018-19 NBA Title
Nobody’s sleeping on the Warriors, of course, but let’s not overlook how good they have looked as of late. They recently had an 11-game winning streak snapped. They have won 13 of their last 14 games overall. They’re 7-1 in the eight games since Cousins joined the rotation after missing the first half of the season due to his Achilles tear. Golden State went into Denver and walloped the Nuggets, the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference, by 31 points last month. They’re still here.
The odds tell us as much. Golden State is still at -220 to win it all according to MyBookie. Any other team beating them and winning the title would be fairly shocking. They have looked borderline immortal in the two years since Kevin Durant signed after leaving Oklahoma City. Durant has won Finals MVP in both of his seasons with the Warriors, and you know he’ll be hungry for a third. Especially if he winds up leaving the team this summer to sign elsewhere.
As it stands, I think there are seven teams in the league that can talk themselves into the notion that they are good enough to win it all this season. MyBookie seems to think the Los Angeles Lakers belong in the title fray, so L.A. is listed at +1800 to win it all this season. That’s the power of LeBron James. I’m not buying it, though, so the Lakers are not among the seven teams I think can reasonably win a title this year. The eight teams with the best odds to win are listed below:
|Teams||NBA Championship Odds|
|Golden State Warriors||-220|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+1800|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+2800|
Milwaukee Is Undervalued
The Bucks are at +1400 to win the championship this season, which was legitimately shocking to me. I know we are not used to thinking of the Bucks as a legit contender, but it’s about time to amend that thinking. These aren’t the same Bucks we’ve been watching for the last handful of years. This team is for real.
Entering play on Thursday, the Bucks are sitting alone atop the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee is 40-13 on the season, which has them two games ahead of the Raptors for the best record in the East. Milwaukee has opened up a 5 ½-game lead over the Celtics and Pacers, so I’d be surprised if the Bucks fell anywhere below the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. Having home court advantage through all three rounds of the Eastern Conference postseason would be quite advantageous for the Bucks.
The Bucks have a point differential of plus-10.2 this season, which means they average 10.2 more points per game than they allow. Point differential is typically a reliable barometer when it comes to trying to differentiate contenders from pretenders. Milwaukee’s mark of plus-10.2 is the best mark in the league by quite the wide margin. Golden State is second-best at plus-7.7, followed by Boston (plus-6.9), Toronto (plus-5.4) and Oklahoma City (plus-5.1).
The Bucks racked up 148 points in regulation in a 19-point shellacking of the Wizards on February 6th. That was the Bucks’ fifth-straight win overall, and they have now won 13 of their last 15 games. Interestingly enough, the only two losses in that span have come against a couple of other title contenders in Toronto and Oklahoma City.
Eastern Conference Loading up
For years, the Eastern Conference has been dominated by LeBron James. James has taken his team to the NBA Finals in each of the last eight seasons, which is a remarkable accomplishment. Of course, LeBron is now plying his craft on the west coast, which has effectively opened the door for the other teams in the East to finally break through.
If the trade deadline activity is any indication, the legitimate contenders in the East are going all-in on this season. The 76ers nabbed Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers a couple of days before the deadline. Harris will slide into what was already a loaded Philly starting unit that features Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and J.J. Redick. It can be argued pretty easily that the Sixers now have the league’s second-best starting lineup, behind Golden State.
Not to be outdone, the Bucks made a splashy move of their own just ahead of the deadline by acquiring sharpshooting big man Nikola Mirotic from New Orleans. The Bucks parted ways with Jason Smith and Stanley Johnson, so they essentially were able to add Mirotic without giving up any of their rotation pieces.
About an hour after the Bucks plucked Mirotic out of New Orleans, the Raptors made a huge move of their own by nabbing All-Star center Marc Gasol away from the Grizzlies. Gasol will now slide into Toronto’s starting center spot, with Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam eating most of the minutes at power forward. The addition of Gasol gives the Raptors a playmaking big man they have been lacking all year.
The lone contender on the outside looking in here is the Celtics, who did not make a big deal before the deadline. Boston was rumored to be interested in Anthony Davis, but the Celts were prohibited by rule from trading for Davis with Kyrie Irving already on the roster. The Celtics could add Enes Kanter on the buyout market, but that’s a move that hardly moves the needle.
Based on the aforementioned deals, it looks as though Boston has fallen a little bit behind in what has become an arms race in the East.
How Milwaukee Stacks up
The best move the Bucks have made in recent months was the decision to hire head coach Mike Budenholzer. After lagging through some subpar years under Jason Kidd, the Bucks hired the architect of the Hawks’ 60-win season from a couple of years ago. With Atlanta entering a rebuilding phase, Budenholzer left with the hopes of signing on with a team with championship hopes.
So, he joined the Bucks. So far, so good. The talent on the Bucks’ roster has never been questionable, but with Kidd the team lacked a creative coach capable of getting the most out of said talent. Budenholzer has transformed the Bucks’ offensive philosophy, and the results have been outstanding. Milwaukee also signed another big shooter in Brook Lopez over the summer and inserted him into the starting lineup.
A lack of shooting has been this team’s Achilles heel for years. Milwaukee shot just 35.5 percent from the 3-point range last season, which was tied with the lowly Bulls for 21st in the league. The Bucks also attempted just 24.7 triples per game, which was 25th-most in the league. In this day and age, you need to be taking and making more threes if you want to keep up with elite teams like Golden State and Houston.
So far this season, the Bucks have attempted 37.6 threes per game, which ranks second behind the Rockets. That’s quite the shift in style. The Bucks are shooting the exact same percentage they did last year (35.5 percent), but 35.5 percent is good for 11th in the NBA so far this season. More teams are taking more threes, which has lowered the conversion percentage around the league. Taking more threes while shooting the same percentage means you’re making more on a per-game basis, however.
The Bucks’ centerpiece, Giannis Antetokounmpo, isn’t much of a threat from a distance. The Greek Freak is shooting just over 21 percent from long range on the year, which is dreadful. It hardly matters, though, considering the vast majority of Giannis’ attempts from the field come around the rim. Antetokounmpo is converting 57.8 percent of his shots from the floor this season, which is stellar.
Milwaukee can survive Giannis’ lack of shooting because they can surround him at all times with four other players capable of connecting from deep. Adding Mirotic to a team that already has Lopez, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Eric Bledsoe gives the Bucks all sorts of versatility. Save for Bledsoe, all of those guys are shooting 38 percent or better from beyond the arc.
So, around their all-world playmaker, the Bucks can litter the floor with shooters. Considering no other team really has a prayer of stopping Giannis in the first place, Milwaukee is an incredibly difficult matchup for even the most capable defensive teams. That makes them scary.
Can They Get Through the East?
With the 76ers and Raptors loading up, the Bucks’ path to the Finals won’t be a breezy one. Milwaukee seems to be in the best position as the best team to this point, but injuries and buyout acquisitions could certainly shake things up between now and when the playoffs get underway in April.
Regardless, the Bucks will be tested. Here is how Milwaukee has fared against some of the league’s best teams as of February 7th:
|Golden State Warriors||1-1|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||0-1|
So, Milwaukee is 9-4 against the other best teams in the league this season, which is impressive. The Bucks have wins in Denver, Houston, Golden State, and three victories in Toronto already on the season.
I think the Bucks are the real deal, and their odds are only going to get less profitable from here. If I were a betting man, I would absolutely jump all over taking Milwaukee at +1400 to win the NBA title this season. They have the superstar, they have the supporting cast, and they finally have the right coach in place. Getting through the other teams at the top of the heap won’t be easy, of course, but there is no reason to believe the Bucks can’t beat the odds here.