NBA Handicapping: What to Make of Horrible Eastern Conference
by Trevor Whenham - 12/18/2013
One of the biggest themes of the NBA season so far has been just how impossibly bad the Eastern Conference has been. The stats are almost too amazing to believe. There are only three teams out of 15 above .500 — compared to nine in the West. The ninth-place team in the West — Golden State — is sitting outside of the playoffs at this moment, but the Warriors would be third in the East. That means that only two Eastern Conference squads would be in the playoffs if they were in the West. It’s just plain ugly.
So, the conference is terrible on the court, but how have they performed for bettors? Public bettors have embraced this story and are inclined to assume that bad teams are going to be bad at covering spreads. If the conference isn’t as bad at the betting window as they are on the scoreboard, then there could be a good chance for nice profits. So what’s the story?
There are some bright spots. Two of the top four ATS teams and five of the top 10 in the league are from the East. Half of the teams that would be profitable for at least a unit flat betting on the season are from the East. That’s above expectations given their real struggles winning games. On the other hand, though, four of the five worst ATS teams in the league are from the East, and nine of the bottom 14. That performance also exceeds expectations. What does that all mean? Well, while there are some real betting bargains in the conference — Charlotte and Boston in particular right now — there are also a lot of duds, and it is dangerous to make broad assumptions one way or another based on the conference teams play in.
Beyond the broad performance of the conference, it can be helpful to look at how the teams have performed, what can be reasonably expected from them going forward, and what that can mean for betting the rest of the way:
Indiana and Miami are absolutely going to be the top two teams in this conference, and they are both going to be very dangerous in the playoffs. It would be a massive upset if one of these two didn’t represent the conference in the finals. At this point it would be a pretty big upset if they didn’t play each other in the conference final.
Atlanta is the third-best team in the conference, and the Hawks would really have to have things go poorly to fall out of the playoffs. Surprisingly, Boston is in decent shape to make the playoffs as well. It’s not that they are the fourth-best team in the league, but they are by far the best-coached team in the really terrible Atlantic Division, and some team has to win it.
Detroit has some nice young talent, and the Pistons aren’t as bad as some other teams. They are a long way from good, but they can score, and they are likely good enough here. Washington is also very young but has plenty of talent, too. They have had horrible injury luck but are beginning to get healthy and have plenty of upside — likely enough to stay in playoff contention.
Talent to rise
Chicago is struggling badly with dealing with the reality of playing without Derrick Rose again. They have some issues, but they are better than they have played and should improve. Brooklyn has been a total disaster, and Jason Kidd is making a case for being the worst coach in the league in recent memory — and that’s saying something given some of the duds out there. They have veteran talent, though, and should improve. New York also has plenty of talent and some terrible coaching to overcome, and the Knicks should get back up into contention. It’s less likely that New York gets it together than Brooklyn, though — and that is really depressing given the mess the Nets are in.
Charlotte is overachieving now, and they still need a couple more pieces before they can make things interesting. The coaching is working, though, and they are playing tough. They sit sixth in the conference right now. While I doubt they can hold on, stranger things have definitely happened.
Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee are clearly positioning themselves to build through the draft. Toronto is doing it by pawning off their overpriced talent on stupid GMs. Philadelphia took care of it early by dealing their best player and putting this year’s top addition on the rack for the year. Milwaukee took a more direct approach — have no talent and hire a terrible coach to lead it.
Just not good
Orlando and Cleveland are just plain lousy.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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