It was almost too easy to beat the NBA odds last year – if you bought low on the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks. Who will emerge from the East this time?
You could see it coming from a mile away. Two years ago, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks were in a race for the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, hoping to tank their troubles away and land a potential franchise player in the 2014 NBA Draft. Both teams got what they wanted, but along the way, they also started playing some decent basketball. This looked like a solid “buy low” opportunity for our 2014-15 NBA picks.
And so it came to pass. Not only did the Celtics and Bucks make the playoffs last year, they also made a big pile of money for their supporters. Boston was especially profitable at 40-42 SU and 49-32-1 ATS, while Milwaukee did more than just chip in at 41-41 SU and 46-35-1 ATS. Easy-peasy. So which Eastern teams do we expect to be rising commodities in 2015-16?
This will be the second year for the Pistons under head coach/PBO Stan Van Gundy. The first year got off to a horrendous 5-23 start, at which point Van Gundy began Detroit's extreme makeover by waiving Josh Smith (14.3 PER, +1.1 BPM). The Pistons immediately went on a 7-0 SU and ATS streak. They eventually finished well out of the playoffs at 32-50 SU, thanks in part to the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by Brandon Jennings (19.7 PER, +1.8 BPM). But Detroit still beat market expectations at 42-40 ATS, including 12-5 ATS over the last month of the regular season.
Finishing last in the Central Division just makes Detroit that much more valuable to us this year. It keeps the Pistons under the radar, while also giving them No. 8 overall pick Stanley Johnson out of Arizona. Johnson was seen as a reach by draftniks, but he does fill a position of need at small forward. And while losing Greg Monroe (21.2 PER, +1.9 BPM) looks bad on paper, according to the 5-man unit stats at 82games, Detroit was at its best last year when Reggie Jackson (19.8 PER, +2.6 BPM) and Andre Drummond (21.4 PER, –0.2 BPM) were on the court and Monroe wasn't – which was mostly during that 12-5 ATS run.
We're a little more skeptical about the Magic as a franchise, but their outlook has improved with the return of Scott Skiles as head coach. This is a clear signal that Orlando (25-57 SU, 41-40-1 ATS last year) is looking to be competitive in 2015-16. Last year's team was loaded with young talent; however, the Magic were fifth in the NBA in man games lost, and never quite got it together. We expect better things this year with Skiles at the helm and swingman Mario Hezonja coming over from F.C. Barcelona with the No. 5 overall pick.