Expert NBA Handicapping: Teams Hardest to Judge
We know that Golden State, Houston and likely Boston are going to be good this year, and they will win a lot of regular-season games. And we know that the Knicks, Pacers, and Hawks are going to be bad and lose a lot of games. Those are the easy teams for NBA bettors to figure out. What is far more challenging is to figure out are the teams that exist in some sort of middle ground. They could be decent, or they could be lousy. They could win a lot of games and cover lot of spreads. Or they could consistently burn bettors' money up. When you can paint both positive and negative scenarios for a team, and have little trouble convincing yourself that either is possible, then you have a betting challenge.
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Here are four of the hardest NBA teams to judge entering this season:
Minnesota Timberwolves: Minnesota is short on excuses. They have a truly special talent in Karl-Anthony Towns. Jimmy Butler is elite and experienced. Andrew Wiggins, provided he bounces back from an off year last year, is a great talent. The depth is solid. The coaching is strong. So much is going their way. But there are questions galore, and it makes it tough to know what to reasonably expect. This is not the first year they have faced high expectations, and last year they majorly disappointed. By adding Butler to the mix with Wiggins and Towns you have three alpha dogs on a team. They all have to figure out how to work together or this could be a seriously failed experiment. And the West is absolutely brutal, with a lot of good teams and a lot of teams fighting for those last couple of playoff spots that Minnesota is likely contending for. And then the team needs Jeff Teague to mesh with all of the talent and find ways to maximize the assets of the team as the quarterback. And they need to hope that Tom Thibodeau's infusion of former Chicago players in bulk - Butler, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford - doesn't muddy the direction of the team and impede the team's ability to grow and develop their own culture, not try to replicate another. The upside here is pretty significant - the team could conceivably win in the neighborhood of 50 games if everything clicks. But it would be no more surprising if they struggled and missed the playoffs.
L.A. Clippers: The team wasn't working with Chris Paul there, and it seemed like no one was enjoying being around. In that sense the change that occurred is probably a positive, but Paul was also the best and most important player. Now Blake Griffin has to own this team, and he has never struck me as a guy who wants that kind of role or would shine in it. They have added a lot of players but are gambling on strong seasons from all of them - and continued health from Griffin. The upside is there - not likely to be as good as last year but to be more than a solid playoff team. But if chemistry is a struggle, or if injuries are a factor, then things could really get ugly for the team. There seem to be some people who are considerably more optimistic about this team than I am. Frankly, I'm not at all sure who is right.
New Orleans Pelicans: On the surface, the twin towers experiment New Orleans entered into last year didn't work. But there were factors at play. There was a lot of adjustment that needed to be made by both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and since the deal was made midseason, and while New Orleans was at least pretending to be in a playoff race, there was not the time to methodically and gradually adapt and adjust. Now the players and the organization have had an offseason to work things out, so perhaps it will work better. Or perhaps what we saw is what we got. They are also tough to judge because we can't know if Davis will be healthy all year or if he'll trip over his shadow again and hurt himself. It's also tough to judge a team with the kind of borderline incompetent coaching this one has - and the chaotic ownership for that matter. I kind of think the team is heading to an ugly year and a trip back to the drawing board, but I can imagine a scenario where I am at least a little wrong and they make the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Let's be clear - I'm not for a second suggesting that this is anything other than the very likely Eastern Conference champions yet again. I think they will win the East and then get crushed in the finals again. It's the regular season that is tough to judge. Last year they clearly couldn't have cared less about regular season success, and I think that that will reach new heights this year as LeBron focuses only and being healthy and ready for the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas won't play until January or later, so what the point guard position looks like is a mystery, too. And they have made a lot of additions to the depth which could or couldn't work out. The team could win the East or finish fourth. Nothing would surprise, and none of it matters even remotely. The days of regular season relevance are, at best, on hiatus.
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