For the third time in four years, the Cleveland Cavaliers have the first pick in the NBA Draft. Has the league’s lottery system created a monster? And are the Cavs worth a serious look on the NBA futures market?
Jason’s final record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14:
112-99-3 ATS (–1.51 units vig)
26-23-1 Totals (–0.21 units vig)
3-1 Series (+2.0 units)
Profit: 4.09 units
In most jobs, poor performance will get you demoted or fired. Not so in the NBA. In the name of “competitive balance,” the league lets the non-playoff teams get first crack at the best players available in the NBA Draft. So much for competition. And balance? The Cleveland Cavaliers just won the Draft Lottery – again. They should have been demoted to the D-League by now.
It is what it is. If you’re betting on the NBA, you can take advantage of this system just as well as any other. The 2014 Draft is about to rain blue-chip prospects all over the bottom of the league standings, and the more clearly you can see into the future, the more profit you’ll make off next year’s basketball lines.
One Ball to Rule Them All
So let’s get back to the Cavs. They had a 15.6-percent chance of winning last year’s lottery, and a 1.7-percent chance this year. As a result, Cleveland will be the first NBA team with back-to-back No. 1 picks since… drum roll, please… the 1992-93 Orlando Magic. They were the second-worst team in the league when they took Shaquille O’Neal; one year later, Orlando just missed the playoffs at 41-41, and only had a 65-1 chance to win the lottery. Kazaam~!
The very lucky Magic got to pick Chris Webber, whom they flipped to the Golden State Warriors for Penny Hardaway and three more first-round picks. O’Neal and Hardaway had three great years together in Orlando, reaching the 1995 NBA Finals, before O’Neal took his talents to Los Angeles. Is this what the immediate future holds for the Cavaliers?
Impede for Embiid
Yes and no. It remains to be seen whether Anthony Bennett (6.9 PER) can shake off his disappointing rookie season and live up to his potential, but for now, he’s no Shaquille O’Neal (22.9 PER in 1992-93). No problem: Cleveland still has that other first overall pick from 2011, point guard Kyrie Irving (20.1 PER), fresh off his second trip to the All-Star Game. He could certainly be the Penny in this scenario.
And now, the Shaq. It looks like the Cavs are going to use this year’s top pick on Joel Embiid, the 7-foot center from the Kansas Jayhawks via Cameroon. Embiid was so good for the Jayhawks last year (28.2 PER), he outshone the former consensus No. 1 favorite, teammate Andrew Wiggins (21.4 PER). As with just about any big man, there are risks – not the least of which is Embiid’s back, which kept him out of the NCAA Tournament. But there wouldn’t be betting on basketball without risk.
Three Years Grace
Having said that, if Cleveland is the new Orlando, maybe we should take a closer look at those three Magic seasons for Shaq and Penny (ATS results where available):
1993-94: 50-32 SU, 39-40 ATS
1994-95: 57-25 SU, 40-39 ATS
1995-96: 60-22 SU, 40-31 ATS
Not exactly the kind of instant NBA betting success you might have expected from such a Dynamic Duo. But O’Neal was already a beast going into the 1993-94 campaign. It wasn’t until Hardaway’s third season (24.6 PER) that he had developed into an MVP-quality point guard. Perhaps the Cavaliers will be able to flip the script this year, with Irving as the proven commodity and Embiid’s big-man skills translating quickly to the pros. It’s a possibility. Enough of one to grab Cleveland at 25-1 on the NBA championship futures market? Probably not, but the Cavs have beaten longer odds.