NBA Media Day was Monday. Everyone looks amazing, everyone has added 10 pounds of muscle, everyone is in the best shape of their career, and everyone’s excited and optimistic about this season.
It’s a refreshing time for about a month until the games start, and the injuries start, and teams find they’re not as good as they thought. But for now, it’s nothing but good times! Well, mostly.
Here’s a guide to which teams you should look to bet, seeing through those rose-colored glasses for which teams really are looking up and which teams are already starting to slip.
Trending Up 📈 Clippers
The pre-preseason buzz from the Clippers was good. Everyone made it through the offseason healthy going into camp, and the photos of Kawhi Leonard caught my eye.
Leonard has added serious muscle in the offseason, particularly in this lower body. He’s a tank. I don’t expect the added muscle weight to slow down the key parts of his game, and some of that will naturally get worked off in-season.
I actually upgrade the Clippers slightly based on Kawhi being built more to play power forward with that size. Strength in the post has been a surprising weakpoint through the years for one of the league’s best defenders, and that lower body strength will help both in the post and on rebound opportunities.
As players get older, the wings tend to play down to forwards and forwards to centers. There’s always going to be concerns with Leonard’s availability, either because of injury or “injury management,” but the things you’d want to see from the Klaw are absolutely there going into the season.
The one remaining concern I have is that there’s no real backup center for the Clippers. Moses Brown is on a non-guaranteed deal hoping to make the roster, and there’s a lot of talk about Marcus Morris back healthy as the smallball option. This is bad for their outlook.
The lineups with Morris and Zubac together are good, +2.6 in Net Rating. The lineups with Zubac without Morris are even better, +3.7. The lineups with Morris without Zubac drop to +1.2.
(The lineups without either are +5.6, which is a credit to the play of Nic Batum and Isaiah Hartenstein, and their positional flexibility.)
But take Morris off, and Zubac goes to a negative. Take Zubac off and keep Morris, and it drops to +1.2.
Morris is not good enough of a smallball center. I’ll be watching the Clippers’ lineup choices when Zubac is off the floor early in the season for potential answers or pitfalls.
Suggested Bets: Clippers to Win the Pacific Division (+225) and Title Futures (+700) at BetMGM
Trending Up 📈 Pelicans
Not Skinny Zion. Not In-Shape Zion.
Zion Williamson doesn’t just look like he shed the weight that was the target for social media slander and memes, but he instead looks like his upper body is built from steel. Step zero on “buying in on the Pelicans” is Williamson’s condition. Well that’s a big ol’ ✅ right off the bat. Now we have to see if he can play in practice and preseason.
He seemed happy and excited to be with the team, and the overall sense was of a team that likes each other — and that’s a major difference from the underperforming Pelicans teams of years past.
Throw in that everyone said to a man that Herb Jones impressed over the summer and had to get thrown out of the gym, and there’s zero reason to back off Pelicans optimism.
Bet: Pelicans to Win the Southwest Division +400 (BetMGM)
Trending Up 📈 Nuggets
This one isn’t tough; both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are cleared and expected to play. Coach Michael Malone said that Murray won’t play in all five of the preseason games, but he will play in some-to-most of them.
They added veterans, and new acquisition Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was all smiles and happy to be on board on media day. The young talent also seems promising. Oh, and Nikola Jokic still exists.
Zeke Nnaji has added muscle, which should help with him playing smallball five (despite his claim he is a power forward) if DeAndre Jordan once again proves to be a Plus-Minus sinkhole.
Suggested Bet: Nuggets to Win the Northwest Division (-140, DraftKings), Nuggets Over 51.5 Wins
Trending Down 📉 Celtics
No surprise here as the Celtics are having the preseason from hell so far. Robert Williams required arthroscopic surgery, and then the recovery date on the surgery was extended to 8-12 weeks. Danilo Gallinari is out for the season, and the team hasn’t added anyone to replace his expected role.
That’s of course all surrounding the Ime Udoka situation which continues to develop and few believe is settled and over. The players admitted to it being a distraction with Marcus Smart saying the last week has been “hell,” and the players expressing more discomfort than resolve.
The playoffs are seven months away, and there’s no reason to doubt Joe Mazzulla out of the gate. But there are more reasons to believe Boston’s going to be fighting uphill than coasting back to a top spot in the East this season, at least so far.
Bet: Celtics Under 54.5 (BetMGM)
Trending Down 📉 Mavericks
Dallas’ media day wasn’t bad; this is in no way a major downgrade. But whether joking or not, Jason Kidd said that Christian Wood was coming off the bench. That’s a rough decision to justify, and then Wood said, in his media availability when asked about it, that this was the first time he’d heard about it. Maybe Wood was kidding! Haha, what a funny guy!
But that, combined with Kidd saying on both media day and the first day of camp that he’s emphasizing more ballhandling by Frank Ntilikina and Josh Green is a little concerning.
More than one league person has suggested that year two for Jason Kidd could be a little rough for multiple reasons. I’m not downgrading them yet, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Trending Down 📉 Bulls
The Lonzo Ball situation just sucks.
Ball was once again shut down in preseason and on Tuesday said that he’s still having trouble walking up stairs with his knee injury. That’s concerning from a quality of life standpoint, let alone basketball.
The rest of the Bulls’ media day was fine. DeMar DeRozan vowed to be better in year 14 after a career season, which is dubious. The Bulls front office maintained they have depth to handle the loss of Ball. (They don’t, barring a huge leap from Ayo Dusunmu or Coby White finally putting it together.)
Suggested Bet: Bulls to Participate in Play-In Tournament -115 (DraftKings)
Trending Down 📉 Suns
Jae Crowder was excused from media day while the team looks to find a trade for him.
This is perilous. The Suns have been after major upgrades since their season ended abruptly at the hands of the Mavericks (who let them know about it), league sources repeatedly said this summer. This isn’t really news; what team isn’t looking to improve? But Phoenix was more aggressive.
Their best asset to improve was a sign-and-trade with Deandre Ayton, but as the Nets situation with Kevin Durant stalled, the Pacers put the Suns at the edge of the sword with their offer sheet for the big man. The Suns elected to keep Ayton.
So while Ayton mopes, the Suns are looking to flip Crowder for an upgrade. (More than one league executive noted that the Suns haven’t agreed to an extension with Cam Johnson, either.)
Two sources said Miami was among the teams that called for Crowder, but Phoenix wasn’t interested in Duncan Robinson and a protected first.
This is a major gamble by the Suns’ front office. Crowder is uneven at times, but ultimately he’s a veteran with size and physicality who can defend and shoot. Those guys are not as available as teams often want them to be.
Should the Suns take a shot at swapping Crowder for a bigger name, it could ultimately lead to the Suns getting worse.
Either way, the vibes are not great.
The Suns are still good enough to not overreact here, but keep an eye on it.
Suggested Bet: Stay Away