Expert NBA Handicapping: Betting Teams Out of Playoff Chase Already
It's not even December yet, but for several teams in the NBA it might as well be June. Nothing that happens between now and then is going to make any difference for them. They have played only a quarter of their games, but their seasons are essentially over. There is nothing left to play for. In terms of any competitive sense, all is lost. For the fans of these teams, there is nothing but despair. But for bettors the failure can present real opportunities for profit. At least something good can come from how bad these teams are.
Cleveland: I mean, who could possibly have seen this coming? The best player of his generation, and several others leave town, leaving wreckage in his wake - no return in trade, a puppet of a coach, a roster built entirely to kiss James' ring and do what he says, and management that didn't have a clue even when all they had to do was find ways to get it to the King. We've seen a coaching change, and now a lame-duck coach who has no real authority - yet somehow has 100 times more gravitas than the guy he replaced. We've seen class warfare between the guys who were around when this team was winning games, and the youngsters who are supposed to lead the team back to winning territory. We've seen a top pick, Collin Sexton, who can score but is a stunning liability everywhere else on the court. The only really good player they have, who they had to overpay dramatically to stick around, has been injured for all but four games. It's all just an epic freaking disaster. And if you can see a clear path to how this gets better in any hurry then you are a heck of a lot more optimistic than I am.
Atlanta: The only surprise about this Atlanta team is that they aren't the worst team in the league yet. Their five wins are one more than Atlanta and Cleveland have - though the asterisk is that they have played two more games than those teams. This is the worst roster in the league right now, and it's not even close. There just isn't any real upside here. Trae Young is their leading scorer, and the one-dimensional rookie has less than 16 points per game. His upside is unclear - though it certainly isn't as high as Luka Doncic', who he was traded for. It's just bleak in Atlanta, and it's going to take a very long time, and some serious draft luck, for things to turn around.
Chicago: The Bulls have the same record as the Hawks. That's not good. They have more talent, but they still have some really big issues. Lauri Markkanen has yet to play this year, and his health status is unclear. Zach LaVine is a scoring machine, and Jabari Parker is scoring as well, but the two are both so bad defensively that having the two of them on the court at the same time comes with a real cost. At his best, rookie Wendell Carter Jr. has looked quite good, but consistency is a real issue for him, and it's just going to take time for that to change. They have some decent pieces, but like so many teams that struggle they have yet to find a way to make the whole even begin to approach the sum of the parts. Still, I would much rather be them than the Cavs or Hawks.
New York: The Knicks used to be a good and relevant franchise. I say that because if you are younger than me you might not know that. This edition of the Knicks is much like the team has been for a decade now - some nice pieces that don't add up to much. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a one-dimensional scorer, but he is putting it in the basket. Enes Kanter might not be quite as impressive post-injury as he was when he had a pristine knee, but he's still elite. And the resurgence of Trey Burke's career has been fun to watch. But the young guys aren't developing, the depth just isn't there, and the team seems to be going nowhere in a hurry. How a team with the resources that come from playing in a city that great can be this consistently bad is a continuous mystery.
Phoenix: Poor Devin Booker. He's too good to be stuck on a team this bad - the Suns again have the worst record in the league, with a 4-17 mark. There are a few reasons for hope. T.J. Warren continues to be a very nice supporting player, and DeAndre Ayton would be running away with the Rookie of the Year race if it weren't for the beautiful freakishness that is Luka Doncic. Mikal Bridges is struggling, though, and Josh Jackson has taken a step back from his rookie year. It continues to be a work in progress. I just hope they get it figured out before Booker ages out of the league. I'm not optimistic.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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