The Philadelphia 76ers are the favorite to win this division with the NBA odds of – 170. The Sixers significant loss in the offseason was Jimmy Butler, but they used that space to sign Al Horford from the rival Boston Celtics. Horford was a great pickup, because not only does he play well but he was a major thorn in Joel Embiid’s side when they matched up, and the perfect foil to Embiid’s skill set. So not only do they add a solid team-based player, who knows how to do things that won’t show up in the box score to make a team win, they take away one of their major rivals best pieces.
The Sixers also lost JJ Redick, an important source of floor spacing with his deadeye 3 point shot. To replace Redick, they added Josh Richardson in the Butler trade, who can’t shoot the way Redick does but provides much improved perimeter defense, which may make him more valuable in playoff rotations, and should ease defensive responsibilities during the regular season. The Sixers have a starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. The concern for this team is depth. They are currently bringing James Ennis, Mike Scott and Zhaire Smith off the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sixers make a move to add depth at the trade deadline.
This Sixers team is built to win now and is the rightful favorite to win the Atlantic division, but at – 170 I do not see a lot of value here on the 76ers.
The Boston Celtics provide an interesting look with NBA odds of +400. Although they lost Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker has a very similar skill-set and should be much more team-oriented then the mercurial Irving. This roster is now in Brad Stevens wheelhouse, as he excels in designing a team-based, free-flowing offense and was troubled by integrating Kyrie’s superstar personality and ball-dominant game into his system. Gordon Hayward should look much better this year because the type of injury he had, the leg break, takes at least a year to recover from and get back to full form, as witnessed when Paul George had his nasty break and it took more than a year to for George to return to superstar form. With Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum on the wings, the Celtics field a roster which has depth at the NBA’s new must have position, athletic wings. Every team can use depth at wing now in the new pace and space, run and gun, 3 and D league. The Celtics boast wing depth which will make them a formidable opponent in the grind that is the NBA season.
Other key Celtic losses were Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes. Rozier is a solid point guard who filled in admirably while Kyrie missed time, and was a great backup as he provided scoring and distributed to his teammates well. Rozier is replaced on the depth chart by rookie Carsen Edwards, although it remains to be seen if Edwards will truly back up Walker or if ball handling duties will be transferred to Marcus Smart. My guess would be on the latter as I don’t know if Edwards will be able to make an immediate impact on a team vying to be in the top tier in the East. Smart can fill in decently at point, even if he is prone to the occasional “contested 3 pointer early in the shot clock” style play. Baynes will be a tougher task to replace. He brought toughness and rebounding and improved his shooting range during his Celtic tenure. He is replaced by Enes Kanter, who has a nice offensive repertoire, but can struggle defensively, especially when switched to the perimeter on the pick and roll. The Celtics will need a solid effort from Kanter if they hope to have a successful season.
If Hayward can find his form that made him a max player and Stevens continues to draw up winning plays, they can make up for the loss of Horford and have a chance to be a great regular season team and sneak the division title. At +400 this is a great look if you want to get some early value with an NBA pick in the Atlantic division.
Champions on the Rebuild
I know it sounds crazy to be the rebuilding defending champions, but that’s the situation the Toronto Raptors are in this year. Free agent Kahwi Leonard left after leading them to the title, which is unprecedented in NBA history, but probably the new norm with the player empowerment movement. So the Raptors look to defend their title without their best player and also they lost a solid wing depth piece, Danny Green. I expect Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to get this team on the right back path, and to do so quickly, but I don’t know if this season is time enough for Ujiri to work his magic.
The Raptors still have solid pieces, with a projected starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol. The four main players coming off the bench will be Fred Van Vleet, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Serge Ibaka. This is a solid squad! This squad will definitely win its share of home games in the regular season, and will provide tough tests when traveling on road trips. Without a mid-season acquisition however, I don’t expect this team to be able to overcome the Sixers or the Celtics and win the Atlantic division title. The Raptors should have a nice rebuild while still being competitive, but there is not enough value here to look at them at +625.
The Brooklyn Nets provide an interesting look at + 800, but will have the same issues that Boston did last year integrating Kyrie Irving into a team-oriented, movement-based offense. Kyrie showed little interest in sacrificing his shot attempts for the good of the team last year, and I see little reason to see him doing it this year. Just the integration process alone should cost them some games early and probably put them in too much of a hole behind the strong Celtics and Sixers to make the +800 valuable. Irving is replacing the outgoing D’Angelo Russell, who made his first All Star appearance last year, but was traded to the Warriors so the Nets can bring in the rehabbing Kevin Durant, who is not expected to play this season. The Nets also lost Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to the Raptors, but his spot should be filled in by Garrett Temple adequately.
The Brooklyn Nets will have a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, and Jarrett Allen. The Nets will bring Spencer Dinwiddie, Garrett Temple, DeAndre Jordan, and Wilson Chandler off the bench. This team has a very similar feel to last year’s Celtics team, as they are well-coached, they have deep lineup, and rely on a motion offense to get everyone involved and keep a high pace of scoring. They defend fairly well and should be a threat to win the Atlantic. I like this price much more then the Toronto price that I’ve got at +625 because here I think that this team has a similar chance to win the Atlantic Division title, but yet I’m getting more value in the + 800 NBA odds.
“BusiKnicks” as Usual
The New York Knicks are + 50000 and for good reason. I almost ended my summary of the Knicks prospects this season right there, but let’s actually look into it. With the starting lineup of Dennis Smith Jr, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson this team really isn’t as bad as to be expected, but when they planted fans minds with Madison Square Gardens of visions of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant joining this offseason, it was quite disappointing for Knicks fans. Not the lineup they expected. If they didn’t ramp up expectations so high, fans would see this is actually a solid core to begin a rebuild, but that is exactly what this is…a rebuild. I don’t see any plausible scenario where this Knicks team is able to develop as players, and as a team with chemistry, in any way to challenge the top teams in the Atlantic for the division title. While the Knicks will provide interesting spots for us to back them as underdogs when making NBA picks this season, this Knicks team is not in any way ready or capable of winning the Atlantic division.
Best Bet: Celtics to win Atlantic division (+400) with 5Dimes