The 2014-15 Houston Rockets were the best NBA pick in the Western Conference. Next year's team looks even better on paper, but will the Rockets remain profitable?
Hey, basketball fans, good to see you again. It's been a while. Is that a new haircut? Lookin' sharp. So it's August now, the quietest month on the NBA calendar. The draft has come and gone, most of the available free agents have been scooped up, and the Summer League is already a distant memory. It's all human-interest stories and Instagram beefs from now until training camp.
Which means it's the perfect time to start working on our NBA picks for 2015-16. Let's start with one of last year's most profitable teams, the Houston Rockets (56-26 SU, 48-34 ATS). Nobody in the Western Conference made more money than the Rockets – no, not even the Golden State Warriors (67-15 SU, 47-34-1 ATS). But can Houston beat the basketball odds next year now that market expectations have been raised?
The Whole Planet Houston
There are two things working in Houston's favor. One, despite catering to the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States (pop. 6.17 million in 2010), and despite employing two very famous players in James Harden and Dwight Howard, the Rockets still get treated like a small-market franchise in the national press. Recreational bettors might have missed the memo about how good this team really is.
Houston definitely slipped off the news radar this summer. There was very little free-agent drama, and the Rockets didn't get much notice when they drafted Wisconsin SF Sam Dekker at No. 18 overall. Even when they did pull the trigger on an important trade, it went largely unnoticed – which brings us to the second reason Houston could stay profitable next year.
That would be Ty Lawson (18.5 PER, +0.5 BPM last year). The Rockets did a good job of staying competitive in last year's playoffs despite losing PG Patrick Beverley (11.3 PER, +0.8 BPM) to injury; Lawson has been getting into some trouble off the court lately, but assuming he gets his stuff together, the former Tar Heel will be a welcome addition and a considerable upgrade on offense at a position of need.
So how did the betting market respond? It didn't. Before the trade, the Rockets were +1600 on the 2015-16 NBA championship futures market at Bovada. One week after Lawson was dealt from the Denver Nuggets on July 20, the basketball odds hadn't budged an inch. Even as we go to press, Houston is still sitting there at +1600.
Notice how Reasons 1 and 2 dovetail nicely into one another. Not only have the Rockets upgraded their roster, they've also done it without drawing much attention – or betting action – to themselves. Lawson, who toiled in relative obscurity with the Nuggets, didn't even cost them much in the short term: Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni and a protected first-round draft pick in 2016. Let's just hope Lawson's not damaged goods at this point.