NBA Betting Storylines
by Trevor Whenham - 11/01/2007
It snuck up on me this year, but the NBA season is underway. Sure, I'd heard endlessly about Kobe and his every move, and every time I turned around another promising young player was out for the year with an injury, but the actual season came up with even less buzz than normal. The Association is always fun to bet on, though, so that means that it is time to get up to speed with what is going on from a betting perspective in a hurry. I'll leave the handicapping of the individual teams to you, but here are a few questions and issues that are going to figure prominently into this season from a betting perspective. Getting a handle on your opinion of them will help you in your pursuit of NBA betting success:
Who's best in the East? - The conference has gone through so much change and improvement that it is very hard to know exactly what is going to happen or how the season is going to play out. Virtually every team in the East, with the notable exception of the Cavs, got better over the offseason, so we have to throw out the power structure we had in place in the conference and establish a new understanding of which teams are the elite as the season plays out. There are a couple of teams that are facing a real uphill battle, but there are probably a dozen teams that are legitimately in playoff contention. Even the circus that is the Knicks can't be ruled out entirely. Nothing can be called a surprise in the East until teams have a few games under their belts, and the pretenders start to become obvious.
How will key rookies perform? - It seems like every year recently we have had high profile rookies stepping right into key positions in lineups with expectations of big performances early on. This year is no exception. The public has a love affair with big-name rookies, especially if they made a name for themselves during March Madness. The key, then, is to decide if the players are worth the public love. If they are going to contribute as expected then that's one thing, but if you think that they are going to fail to live up to expectations then there is probably an opportunity to profit by betting against the inflated lines the public has caused. The most obvious example this year is Kevin Durant. He will put up some solid numbers, and will certainly find his way to the highlight reels regularly, but he has almost no help in Seattle. If he's not comfortable and producing early then he could let bettors down. Other key rookies include Luis Scola, who is being hyped as a serious contributor in Houston, and Yi Jianlian, who, if the first game of the season is an indicator, will see more playing time in a key role than many expected early on.
Whither Kobe? - I'm sure you join me in being ridiculously sick of the whole Kobe Bryant debacle. At this point I don't care if he is happy or not, and it really doesn't matter to me where he ends up playing. That being said, until the situation is resolved the big baby will have a big impact on the league. His own team is obviously on edge. He spends a lot of time playing by himself, he shows up when he wants to, and he'll tell anyone who will listen that his teammates aren't good enough for him. His stretch extends far beyond L.A., though. Luol Deng and the other young stars in Chicago will be looking over their shoulder constantly to see if they are playing their last game as a Bull. Every other possible destination will be talking about him. Trade talk will be in the papers, good players will have to deal with the fact that they might be traded. It could be a mess. The longer this soap opera carries on, the bigger the impact could be. Anticipating the situation, reacting to it, and sensing when the public is overreacting will lead to betting success.
Refereeing under a microscope - NBA referees have never been under more scrutiny. It's not just the gambling controversy that has created this situation, though it obviously hasn't helped. Too many times last year, especially towards the end of the year, the referees were much more a part of the story than they should be. You know that David Stern won't be happy about that, and you know that he will do something about it. Last year we saw the referees calling technical fouls for everything. That eventually faded, but you know that the officials will have been told to crack down on some things in order to restore their credibility and return the balance back to where it should be - with the officials anonymously going about their jobs. In basketball, more than most sports, the referees can have a big impact on the outcome of a game, so it will be important to watch what the refs are doing early on and compensating for the effects of their actions in your handicapping.
Do the Western powers have another run in them? - For the last few years the West has been a battle of the titans between Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. All three of those teams should be at or near the top again this year, but the window may be closing on all of them. They all took care of business in the offseason, but none of them are any younger, and they are all primarily relying upon the same cast of characters that have got them this far. Those players are aging and may lose a bit of their fire, or their effectiveness may be dulled a bit because opponents are catching up and are familiar with what the big teams have to offer. If one or more of those teams struggles this year it will set up obvious betting opportunities because the public won't let go of a dimming elite team as fast as an astute bettor will.