The Cleveland Cavaliers put up a valiant fight in the 2015 NBA Finals. As a result, the Cavs are the top team on the NBA odds list for winning the title in 2016.
Jason’s final record for 2014-15: 83-86-5 ATS, 22-25-1 Totals, +0.15 units ML, 6-4 Series (+2.0 units)
That turned into a hell of a Finals, didn't it? We weren't expecting much from the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially after Kyrie Irving was lost for the season. But the Cavs didn't fold their tents. Far from it; they nearly rode LeBron James and his hobbled supporting cast to the championship, before finally succumbing to the Golden State Warriors in six games. Our official NBA picks for the season finished slightly in the red as a result. Oh well. Close enough for government work.
After that valiant performance, the Cavaliers have opened as the 11-4 favorites at Bovada to win that elusive title in 2016. The Warriors are next at 4-1, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7-1 and the San Antonio Spurs at 10-1. Are bettors getting a little over-excited about Cleveland's chances next year?
Probably, but that's nothing new. The betting public is already biased toward supporting favorites in general, which is why we almost always recommend looking for a second-tier or third-tier contender when you're making basketball picks on the futures market. Putting James in the equation just amplifies that dynamic. As the NBA's leading man, his Cavaliers – and his Miami Heat – have been at or near the top of the NBA odds list for nearly a decade now.
Granted, those teams are the most likely to cash in. James has been to the NBA Finals six times in the past nine seasons; however, they've “only” earned two rings. Not three, not four, and therefore not profitable at these basketball odds. But looking forward to 2016, with Irving and (presumably) Kevin Love back in the lineup, and with some upgrades to the bench, it's easy to envision the Cavs rolling through the Eastern Conference.
The Golden Ticket
That's where things get more complicated. In the West, the Warriors just had one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, diminished only by their so-so playoff performance (11-10 ATS) against a series of injury-plagued opponents. Almost the entire team is expected back next year, minus David Lee, who had fallen to the end of the bench after Draymond Green's breakout campaign. Golden State might not win 67 games again, but this program should be even stronger overall in Year Two under head coach Steve Kerr.
Then you have the Western version of the Cavaliers. Oklahoma City nearly made it into the playoffs despite missing Kevin Durant for most of the season. The Thunder found some success giving Russell Westbrook heavy, but inefficient usage, and they got much better after shoring up their frontcourt by trading for Enes Kanter. Sound familiar? Big things are expected in 2016, assuming the former MVP can get healthy.
One More Match
You don't start finding any value with these basketball picks until you reach the Spurs. They've been overlooked year after year – except for last year, coming off their impressive 2014 Finals victory over James and the Heat. It looks like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will return for one last kick at the can, and while their best days are behind them, the Spurs also have Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter. They might also add a free agent like LaMarcus Aldridge in the offseason.
At 10-1, San Antonio's odds might still be too short for our liking. We're looking at the Houston Rockets at 16-1; they played very well against Golden State in the Western final despite losing Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas to injury. The Atlanta Hawks also have to be taken seriously at 25-1, especially now that head coach Mike Budenholzer has been named team president. These teams play the game “the right way” in the modern NBA. Let's try to keep up when we make our NBA picks.