If you know which NBA teams have done the most to improve this offseason, you're already halfway toward figuring out who will beat the basketball odds next year.
Improvement is not enough. If you're looking for someone to put in your NBA picks next year, you can't just look at which teams have upgraded their rosters; you also have to consider market expectations against the NBA odds. Some teams will get better, but not as slowly or as quickly as recreational bettors might anticipate. Let's keep that in mind as we present the five teams who, in our estimation, will make the biggest leaps in 2015-16.
What the deuce? How can the second seed in the East (53-39 SU, 39-43 ATS) be expected to improve from a level this high? Actually, it's quite reasonable. Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projections had the Cavaliers winning 68 games last year. Things didn't quite turn out that way thanks in large part to early-season injuries, but the Cavs got rolling after all those mid-season trades, and they'll be deeper this year with Anderson Varejao (17.7 PER, +0.9 BPM) returning to health and Mo Williams (15.4 PER, –1.3 BPM) backing up at point guard.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Of course, depending on good health from Varejao is always a shaky proposition, and we can't help but feel the same way about Kevin Durant (27.6 PER, +6.1 BPM). But if he can overcome last year's foot and ankle injuries, Oklahoma City obviously has room to grow after missing the playoffs last year at 45-37 SU and 39-41-2 ATS. Again, the Thunder were a much stronger team after their mid-season wheeling and dealing. The pieces are in place.
I sense a theme here. The Heat (37-45 SU, 35-43-4 ATS) were one of last year's most injured teams, losing Chris Bosh (19.8 PER, –0.1 BPM) for half the season to a blood clot, and Josh McRoberts (13.7 PER, +1.3 BPM lifetime) for nearly the whole season to a torn meniscus. Both players should be ready for training camp, and once again, the Heat performed much better last year after trading for Goran Dragic (18.8 PER, +1.7 BPM). A full season from Hassan Whiteside (26.2 PER, –0.9 BPM) should be interesting, too.
New York Knicks
Now we get to the bottom of the barrel. Teams with lousy records have the most room to improve, and nobody in the Eastern Conference was lousier than the Knicks (17-65 SU, 33-46-3 ATS). This will be their first serious re-model under Phil Jackson, who's cleared out a whole ton of deadwood and brought in Robin Lopez (16.2 PER, +2.1 BPM) to anchor the middle. The Knicks also did very well at the draft with PF Kristaps Porzingis (No. 4 overall) and PG Jerian Grant (No. 19). These are bigger than baby steps.
And the last shall be first – eventually. We've identified the Wolves as one of our top NBA picks from the West, and it was about as easy a call as our job gets. They finished in the league basement last year at 16-66 SU and 35-46-1 ATS, suffering the most man-games lost to injury by a country mile. Now Minnesota's got enough No. 1 overall picks to make the Philadelphia 76ers jealous. Surely things can only go up from here, right? Anyone?