It's NBA time! It's NBA time! Whoopee!
This blog is meant to serve as, largely, a reminder of everything that different teams have done (or not done), and also a guide to finding early-season betting value.
You guys aren't stupid, so there's no reason to go over every offseason trade, draft pick, etc. Let's spend our time digging into whether a team is going to overachieve or underachieve, because that's where the ATS money can be won.
Pro Remarks: None yet. When some Long Term Packages get posted for me (which I can assure you they will, or I'll throw a tantrum), or any other special deals beyond the standard outstanding monthly rate, I'll make a huge stink about it here, and in the comments section.
Format Remarks: There's really no advantage to breaking things down in any one particular organizational structure over another, so I'll just go with what's easiest: by conference. I'll try to profile a couple teams every day, with, again, an eye towards which teams have the most value coming out of the gate, and chemistry.
In fact, to simplify, for those that don't have a ton of time to pour over notes, I will include what I will affectionately refer to as Dan's Value Factors in parentheses after each team.
The first factor is the Public Opinion -- this one is pretty straightforward, the public's feeling on the team, ranked from 1 (complete disdain) to 20 (infatuation).
The second factor is Dan's Early Season Opinion -- also fairly clear, this is how I feel about the team EARLY IN THE SEASON. I already know I'm going to get some buttheads yelling at me about the fact that I have some number "off" but these are just for the early going...got it? JUST THE EARLY GOING. Again, on a scale from 1 to 20.
The third is the Value -- just subtract Dan's Opinion from the Public Opinion and that number is your value number. This is NOT the exact line value of the game, merely a guideline for knowing how overrated or underrated a particular team is. A positive value of 4 is probably about as overrated as possible, and a negative value of 4 is about as underrated as possible.
And with that, let's get going. Feel the excitement!
Sports Wagering: NBA
The Miami Heat - (20, 17, +3)
How could I start with any other team, really? And truth be told, I think this is a nice warm-up, since the Heat are one of the easiest teams to profile in the NBA. They signed LeBron James, re-signed Dwyane Wade, signed Chris Bosh, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Mike Miller, and so on and so forth. We can go ahead and put the obvious out there -- this team is going to be very, very good, there's no question about that. And over the course of the season, they'll likely be a "10" in both public and Dan-perception, but one thing that gets lost in the shuffle is chemistry. Everyone just immediately assumes that this team is going to be wholly unstoppable, but there's a reason that, recently, most of the hugely successful teams have one ball-handler in the game at any point. The Lakers operate in the triangle, so that's sort of exempt; Rondo leads the Celtics; Hedo Turkoglu was the primary guy 2 years ago when the Magic didn't fizzle -- last year, they had Vince Carter and a healthy Jameer Nelson, and they sputtered; the Spurs have both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but Manu came off the bench; Steve Nash leads the Suns...the list goes on and on. The only recent team I can think of with two primary guys is the Denver Nuggets, and Chauncey Billups is so darn disciplined that even if he's the point guard, the issue of touches rarely becomes an issue.
I watched the Heat-Pistons preseason opener, and the best thing that happened to Miami in the first half was the hamstring injury to Dwyane Wade. Clearly, they want their superstar healthy, but as soon as he went down, the "passive" offense of each guy trying to feed the others became the LeBron show, and Miami opened up a lead. Overreacting to 24 minutes of preseason NBA is not a goal of mine, but I am 100% certain that it is going to take some time for these guys to learn how to play together. Bosh is going to be the lucky recipient of the most easy buckets, but I believe we'll be seeing more isolation calls early in the year, at least until Miami can develop the right blend of guys on the floor. And let's not forget, this team isn't just 3 guys - nearly half the roster is new, and we all saw how the U.S. teams performed in the World Championships when they didn't spend years practicing together under Coach K.
Fade Miami early, as they're overvalued by "2" Blog Points (BP's), and be ready for a surge when Spoelstra (or Riley?) gets the rotations just right, or when one guy becomes the primary ball-handler.
The Charlotte Bobcats - (10, 11, -1)
Perhaps not the most snazzy choice for a follow-up to the Heat, but Charlotte is a team, and we're profiling everybody. Unfortunately, in my digging and musing, this team also turned out to be a pretty boring case study in perception, too.
Last year Charlotte made the Playoffs as the #7 seed and got steamrolled out of the first round by the Magic. I do find it intriguing that if you ask most folks who made up the 8 Playoffs teams in the East, they'd probably say Chicago long before Charlotte. That might be because Charlotte doesn't have the star power, or because Charlotte is largely a defensive team, but they're just not a team that impresses unless they're on a huge win streak. And it's that simple fact that makes them just slightly underrated heading into the season. We know they can play at home, where Charlotte posted a 32-10 record, the 4th best in the East behind Cleveland, Orlando and Atlanta, but the lack of a consistent scoring threat has left them a buck short on the road. If you watch the games, it's pretty clear that Charlotte feeds of that home noise, pushing the ball better at home, making jumpers at home, and even though they play solid defense both at home and on the road, if you're clanking shots, it's just impossible to defend as well as if you have time to set the defense.
So, here we are, a little more experienced, but also a little lighter in talent, as Charlotte dumped both Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler for, basically, nothing in return. That means an increased workload for the trio of hapless centers named Kwame, DaSagana and Nazr, and for D.J. Augustin last year's backup point guard. The Bobcats are going to need a significant jump in contribution from Tyrus Thomas, as well as consistent effort from Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace all year. And maybe most of all, they need health, because losing any of those 3 guys for a significant stretch could prove insurmountable. Boris Diaw is apparently on the trading block, too. Why did the NBA need to bring a franchise back in a city that can't pay for it, again? In any case, the Bobcats need a lot of the "luck" factors to go their way, or the rest of the mid-tier clubs in the East will pass them (I'm looking at you, Indiana and New York). I do believe, though, that this team is going to open the season with a chip on its shoulder after getting manhandled in the first round of the Playoffs last year, and thanks to the fairly small amount of roster turnover, I think we'll see decent chemistry, and strong home play to start the season.
The Atlanta Hawks - (14.5, 14, 0.5)
I've made a pretty good name for myself waffling on podcasts and trying to always see both sides of every issue, and the Atlanta Hawks epitomize the team of two stories that just sort of balance each other out. But, before we cover why this team's public and Dan perceptions are about as close to equivalent as we'll get, let's take a quick peek at the team.
Oh, what's that? It's almost the same? Okay, that saves us some time. They still have Mike Bibby at the point, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith and Al Horford. Despite some contract disputes, they still have Jamal Crawford, and Zaza Pachulia. The hope in Atlanta remains that all of these guys will make small improvements, and that will continue to allow this team to move farther into the Playoffs. I have some bad news for the Hawks, though. Joe Johnson's been in the NBA 9 years already, so things aren't going to change much for the man who flamed out when they needed him most. Sure, he's going to come back with something to prove, and sure, Al Horford is the young center that has some room to grow, but the Hawks need to learn how to play on the road before anyone will truly them take seriously as a contender.
But you all didn't come to this blog to just listen to me blather on about Atlanta's deficiencies and how Orlando truly embarrassed them in the Playoffs. You're here for some perception notes. And, to me, Atlanta falls right in that strange window of teams that is going to be just slightly undervalued in home games against good teams, slightly overvalued in road games against most teams, and probably about accurately valued in home games against poor clubs - those games will often be blowouts just because of a talent gap. Put that all together, and they're a "situational" case study in line value. Take each game as it comes, and realize that Atlanta is not a full fade or a full back, but will have some value in both spots. I like that they got blasted out of the Playoffs, since I believe that lends itself to a team that wants to start quick (like Charlotte). But, as noted, Atlanta has some shortcomings, and unless they made some huge changes, it's tough to see those getting fixed in a couple weeks of camps and preseason.
The Orlando Magic - (17.5, 16.5, +1)
The Magic, to me, are one of the few "rich" that did not get "richer." The offseason brings health, and a fresh start, but for Orlando, the offseasons have brought tiny steps down the last two offseasons. First, the loss of Hedo Turkoglu took away the point-forward glue that seemed to perfectly distribute touches. The acquisition of Vince Carter probably sounded great on paper, but anyone that's watched Vince over the years knows how things get when he's the feature guy on a team expecting big things (shudders). Now, this offseason, the Lakers signed Matt Barnes, which, to me, was a huge blow to Orlando. When healthy, he brought a certain edginess to the perimeter guys that, for all his athletic ability, Mikael Pietrus just doesn't have. Orlando replaced one career backup PG (Anthony Johnson) with a younger one (Chris Duhon), and added Quentin Richardson to try to pick up Barnes's production. I like Quentin: he's a decent rebounding guard, but he's always been something of a volume shooter from outside, which is what Orlando relies on, and I wonder how much of a difference he'll make on the glass with Dwight Howard cleaning things up about 3 feet higher up.
In terms of chemistry, the starters remain mostly unchanged. Barnes was a role-player, so he becomes replaceable, and though, in the long term, I think his loss hurts this team, Orlando should be able to pick up pretty well where they left off. I'd suggest a potential hangover, but I feel like the action in Miami re-motivates this team. Orlando doesn't want to be the kid sister of Florida-based NBA teams, and I think Stan Van Gundy, that lunatic, is able to motivate his guys to a decent start.
So why, you ask, is this team overrated when Dan seems to be detailing how they'll get out of the gates quickly? Simple - they're the Magic. They still have all the star power of a marquee team, with Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and so on, and they rely so heavily on outside shooting (and defense), that the margins of victory would seem to fluctuate between a couple points and monster blowouts. Hell, they play in Miami the second game of the season in the second night of back-to-back. You want to talk about a look-ahead with the home opener against the Wizards?
The Washington Wizards - (?, 7.5, ?)
I don't have many question marks in the NBA, but the Wizards fall into that category. Not because I don't have strong opinions on the team, but because I'm simply not sure of the impact of John Wall on how the public approaches the Washington 2010 season.
Let's face it, Washington was downright bad last year, and they salary-dumped at the trade deadline, unloading every expensive player that wasn't on a season-long suspension (cough), and giving the youngsters a chance to prove themselves. They scored a huge stroke of luck, getting the first overall pick in the draft, and got themselves an impact player to build around for the next however many years they can keep him there. So, the question is, and we might very well know the answer by game 3, "How does Wall increase public money?" It certainly will increase it, but by how much? And that will dictate the type of value we can expect.
I happen to believe this team has a nice future. Andray Blatche is a sickeningly gifted athlete, so Washington has a nice fixture in the frontcourt, and adding Kirk Hinrich and Yi Jianlian are both nice moves to shore up the positions around Wall, Blatche, and Arenas. The deep isn't very deep, but they're vastly improved over how they looked at the end of last season, but there is just a ton to learn about them. These guys haven't played together at all, which means it's going to be a John Wall show until the guys develop some chemistry. That's great for those that draft Wall (unless your league counts turnovers), but Washington isn't going to be beating any teams that can play team defense until the middle parts of the year, at the earliest.
The Boston Celtics - (18, 18.5, -0.5)
Yep, you read that right - I believe that the Boston Celtics are still the best team in the East, at least at the season's inception, and also assuming no one gets blasted in the preseason with an horrific injury. I do believe that Kendrick Perkins being out until the All Star Break (at least) is going to take a huge toll on this team, but the broken (or breaking) down bodies of Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal should be good for the first few games of the year, at the very least. If I'm a Celtics fan, I'm holding out hope that Perkins gets back in time to push flimsy opponents around for the postseason, but I'm also pretty excited about the two old centers that Boston brought into town.
In fact, the two new big men bring something of a new dimension to Boston's offense. Last year, and in the previous few seasons, Boston's best post-up player was probably Paul Pierce. Garnett with the ball in the post is as good as a sure fade-away, Ray Allen is a shooter and a slasher, and Rajon Rondo is incredible around the rim, but isn't a post-up player. He's a wizard. This high ranking from me comes down to Doc Rivers and staff working Shaq and Jermaine into the offense without taking anything away. That also means that Shaq has to be content with being a role-player. Boston is going to need him to take up space, rebound, and take anything near the rim and slam it in. Lord knows his defender is going to have some serious questions of whether to leave Shaq to stop Rondo's penetration, or stay home and let Rajon have an open look. And Jermaine is a tremendous post player, when healthy, and also a very good shot-blocker. Boston might lose some of the intimidation of Perkins hunched glare, but I think these aging vets fit into the offense fairly well, moreso than Shaq trying to find space in Cleveland. And on defense, Boston can turn to Jermaine when Shaq can't deal with the opponent's center (e.g. Bargnani, of Toronto).
My one huge fear for this team is a Finals hangover. I like the veteran leadership, because it strikes me as a core group that should remain hungry, but the regular season can look like a long haul when your goal is to be winning games in late June.
The New Jersey Nets - (5, 6.5, -1.5)
Nothing fancy on these rankings -- the Nets were the worst team in the NBA last year, but showed some signs of at least competing late in the year, and beyond that, it almost doesn't matter. They simply can't be any worse, so the value is just sort of built into that fact. Still, 2 sentences isn't very interesting for you guys, so let's explore, a bit, the changes going on in Jersey.
From the top down...the team was purchased by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, so they're looking to spend and turn the team into a fun product just in time for a move out of Jersey. This drew some media attention, but all the potential big trades fell through, and the Nets didn't get the top pick, so I don't feel like this overvalues the team at all. Derrick Favors is a solid draft pick, but he's not John Wall and doesn't draw near the attention. The Nets also brought in a fiery new Head Coach in Avery Johnson, and we'll get a chance to see if he's a big name or an actual leader. I have confidence he'll, at the very least, help Devin Harris understand the game better. The Nets also picked up (deep breath) Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Quinton Ross and Sean May, though I'd argue only the first 4 of those names will make a difference. The Nets lost Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian and Chris Douglas-Roberts. That's a ton of turnover, which doesn't necessarily bode well on the chemistry side of things.
Fact is, this team is still going to be pretty bad. It's going to take time for Avery Johnson to install his system; it's going to take time for the new half of the team to gel with the pieces already there; and maybe the biggest factor, the Nets didn't get that impact player despite a ton of posturing. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez make up a nice nucleus, and Troy Murphy is sort of a quiet producer with a well-rounded game that should complement Lopez's interior style, but everybody else is sort of a mish-mosh of pieces that don't make a ton of sense. It almost seems like Farmar, Morrow and Outlaw are just going to be thrown at the dart-board, and see which one sticks.
Will this team win more than 12 games? I have to believe so. Are they ready to compete for the Playoffs? I doubt it. Look for the Nets to be a steady small value play