As the player movement has slowed, looking at you Brooklyn, and Utah, more markets begin to open that allow alternate ways to bet the season. One of those ways is division betting. In normal NBA discourse, divisions are virtually irrelevant but in the betting space, there are moments where the lack of focus on divisions can possibly lead to slivers of value.
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Division Straight Forecast Bet
*Lines accurate at time of publication
Central: 1st MIL, 2nd CLE +160 (DraftKings)
The Bucks have won the Central in all four seasons since LeBron James went west and there is little reason to believe that changes now. Their win total at most books is 52.5 or 53.5, running away from the rest of the division. Milwaukee brought back most of their role players and will be adding Joe Ingles after he rehabs from an ACL tear. With their continuity and having Giannis Antetokounmpo, there is no reason, outside of catastrophic bad injury luck, to believe anyone else wins this division.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons which are in different stages of youth movements and while having some fun, intriguing players, have little chance to approach .500.
That makes this bet virtually a question of who is most likely to finish second: Chicago or Cleveland? Last season the Bulls finished two games ahead of the Cavs. Neither team made significant additions, so the health that betrayed them last season and the two-way play that eludes them will play a big role.
In Chicago, DeMar DeRozan is coming off an All-NBA season but at 33 is a repeat performance fair to expect? Zach LaVine got his payday and should be the focal point of the offense, that is worth monitoring. Lonzo Ball is the biggest question mark, as he is still recovering from January knee surgery that most expected him to have recovered from by now. Ball’s status answers shooting and defensive questions as his perimeter defense was strong and shot 42.3% from deep on 7.4 attempts per game. Nikola Vucevic’s fall last season and Patrick Williams’ development are worth monitoring as well.
In Cleveland, Darius Garland blossomed last season, Jarrett Allen was an all-star and Evan Mobley showed all the potential of a franchise cornerstone. Before Allen went out for the regular season, the Cavs were 35-21, they were 9-17 without him. Where Chicago was a much better offense, the Cavs were sixth in defense per Cleaning the Glass led by Allen and Mobley. The questions come for Cleveland in their wing play and if they can shoot enough. Ochai Agbaji was taken in the lottery to be a more reliable shooter, as opposed to Isaac Okoro, they will have Caris LeVert for the entire season as another creator and Collin Sexton will likely return for scoring punch off the bench. Cleveland was 29th in offensive pace, so they had to work for their opportunities. Garland showed the ability to get open shooters the ball but they need to be better than 24th in converting those catch-and-shoot chances if the offense is to improve.
Cleveland has almost assured a top-10 defense with even moderate health from Mobley and Allen, and they were able to be within two games of the Bulls with an offense that struggled even at the best of times for the team and finished 19th. A vast majority of the league believes in the potential of Mobley on both ends of the court and if he takes the expected step in year two, there is no doubt the clearer path to growth is in Cleveland and not Chicago.
Risk: 2 units on DraftKings to win 3.2 units. (Playable to +120)
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