NBA Futures: Who Should You Bet on to Win the Eastern Conference?
The NBA is coming back on December 22nd for a shortened 72-game season, an early Christmas gift from Adam Silver. The NBA has the draft on November 18, free agency on November 20, and just a month later, the league will play its first game. That leaves bettors and markets without too much time to react to offseason movement, so let's get a head start.
FanDuel Sportsbook offers odds on just about everything, but we're going to dive into the Eastern Conference futures market, specifically which team will win the East this coming campaign.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the odds-on favorites with +250 odds after being the best regular season team in the East in each of the past two years. However, the Miami Heat went on an incredible 12-3 postseason run to win the East. The Heat were massive underdogs entering the season, and as of June 2019, Miami was 200-to-1 to win last season's title and 33-to-1 to win the East.
With last year's Heat in mind, I'll take a look at one of the favorites I like and a longer shot. Here we go.
Brooklyn Nets (+360)
The Brooklyn Nets are in for a significant turnaround in 2020-21 with the long-awaited Nets debut of Kevin Durant. He'll join Kyrie Irving and immediately thrust the Nets not only into the elite company within the Eastern Conference but into NBA Finals contention, too. Brooklyn hired Steve Nash as head coach this offseason, and the organization will look to retain most of the key players from last season -- including Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Caris LeVert, and Taurean Prince.
With those six paired with Irving and Durant, that's a quality eight-man rotation already. Brooklyn has the best one-two punch in the Eastern Conference and one of the best benches. LeVert and Dinwiddie alone were a solid duo for the Nets in 2019-20, and now the two can thrive without defenses locked in on them LeVert, in his first-year of a two-year, $52 million deal, averaged 18.7 points per game last season and 20.3 in the postseason. Dinwiddie led the Nets with a team-high 20.6 points per game among players who played more than 20 games. Irving averaged 27.4 points per game but played just 20 games.
The Nets made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons but failed to make past than the first-round, losing 4-0 to Toronto this past year and getting swept by Philadelphia in 2018. Brooklyn hasn't made it to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2013-14, when they lost to the Miami Heat and LeBron James.
The Nets -- if they stay healthy -- have a fantastic chance to get out of the first round in 2020-21, and they have as much offensive firepower as anyone in the East. Brooklyn is also following a trend that many successful teams have done over the last six years -- building their rosters up to the point where they make the playoffs but can't quite get over the hump to title contention and then dumping the head coach who endured the losing and found success for a fairly unproven coach. The Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors have all found success by doing something similar to this.
Obviously Nash is a big question mark for this Brooklyn squad, but Ty Lue, Steve Kerr and Nick Nurse were in similar type of positions not that long ago. Kerr is the guy with the most similar path as Nurse and Lue at least had experience as assistant coaches.
There's no question what the goal is for Brooklyn, and Nash has made it clear. "We're playing for a championship," he said. "I don't want to say anything less than a championship isn't a success. ... But we are playing for a championship, and we are going to build accordingly."
With four players who have averaged more than 20 points per game in their last season played, offense shouldn't be an issue for the Nets, especially as we get to the postseason and the KD-Irving duo has a better feel for how to thrive together. On defense, Brooklyn possessed elite interior paint defense courtesy of Allen and Jordan.
Brooklyn will have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and in an Eastern Conference that's more competitive than ever with LeBron gone, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Nets make a run to the finals this season. Oddsmakers are expecting big things, making Brooklyn the second favorite behind Milwaukee.
Philadelphia 76ers (+1100)
The 76ers could be an unpopular pick for most, but think about how you would have sounded prior to last season if you said the Heat would win the East. I like Philadelphia for a few reasons. Let's start with Doc Rivers.
Rivers was fired after the Los Angeles Clippers lost in the second round to the Denver Nuggets. In 2019-20, Rivers had two stars in LA -- Paul George and Kawhi Leonard -- and now he will inherit a duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The 76ers dealt with numerous injuries last season, and despite that, they went an NBA-best 31-4 at home while boasting a disappointing 12-26 record on the road. Rivers may be able to fix Philly's road woes. He went 159-123 (56.3%) on the road with an average of 22.7 road wins per season in his Clippers' career. In 2019-20, the Clippers held the Western Conference's third-best road record at 22-14.
Depending on how COVID impacts the NBA season and fans, Philadelphia is one team to watch closely. The 76ers benefit significantly from their home crowd, but if they can balance their road failures and home success in 2020-21, Rivers' team will be better suited for a deeper postseason run. The 76ers were without Simmons in the team's first-round matchup with the Boston Celtics last season, and Embiid wasn't enough to stop a 4-0 sweep. Philadelphia got past the first round in 2018 and 2019, losing in the semifinals each year, but the first-round exit in 2020 led to Brett Brown's firing.
Brown certainly did a lot of good things in Philly, but that iteration of the Sixers might have run its course. Rivers could help this squad take the next step.
With that said, the 76ers are clearly a few pieces away from winning a title, but in an open Eastern Conference, Philadelphia just needs to get hot at the right time -- much like Miami did this past season. There's no telling whether or not they will restructure their roster within the next 45 days, but expect Rivers and general manager Elton Brand to make a move or two. The key piece most likely to be moved -- or the one Philly probably most wants to deal -- is Al Horford as the experiment alongside Embiid didn't pan out. But Horford signed a four-year deal worth $109 million, and at 34-years-old, he might not be an easy player to trade.
While the 76ers' Eastern Conference odds will fluctuate during the season, +1100 might be about the best number we'll get unless they start slowly. Last season, this team did everything well, finishing top 12 in the NBA in field-goal percentage (46.8%), three-point percentage (36.8%), rebounds per game (45.4), assists per game (25.8), turnovers forced (14.2), steals (8.0), and blocks (5.3), opponents rebounds (41.8), and opponents points allowed per game (108.4). This is a good team.
What we learned from the 2019-20 76ers was they have a good foundation but the puzzle isn't quite complete. Simmons is every bit of a top defensive player in the league and one of the best passing (7.6 assists per game) and rebounding guards (7.8 boards per game) out there. Embiid is an elite big and a potential MVP-candidate if he can put a full season together. Embiid upped his regular-season averages in points (23.6) and rebounds (11.6) to 30.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in his four playoff games.
The third guy on the 76ers is Tobias Harris, and he's been an asset so far, averaging 19.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. The decision to pass on Jimmy Butler to pay Harris and Horford ultimately kept the 76ers away from a championship-caliber team last year. The 76ers' role players such as Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Shake Milton aren't bad by any means, but this is an area where Philadelphia will likely look to reshuffle the deck a bit.
With Rivers at the helm, Philly should continue to be one of the East's best teams, and Rivers may be able to unlock the sky-high potential of the Simmons-Embiid duo while also helping the role players.
FanDuel Sportsbook has the Sixers a decent ways behind the Bucks, Nets, Celtics (+470) and Heat (+550). But Philly is my favorite bet outside of Brooklyn, and I think the +1100 line is a good number to pounce on.