The NBA Season tips off tonight (1AM UK) as last year’s NBA Champions Toronto Raptors face the New Orleans Pelicans at the Scotiabank Arena. The league has changed completely since the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors on the 14th June to complete their 4-2 Finals victory – a first for the franchise.
Toronto’s Finals’ MVP Kawhi Leonard now plays with the LA Clippers while the Warriors’ injured superstar Kevin Durant has headed east to team up with Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets. LeBron James has been joined by Anthony Davis at the Lakers and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook has rejoined former OKC teammate James Harden at Western Conference rivals Houston Rockets.
There is plenty to look forward to this season and we have some predictions for this year’s main betting markets below.
The second game of the NBA season sees the Clippers take on the Lakers with early season bragging rights up for grabs. The bookies predict that this match-up will be our Western Conference Finals series and on paper the 2020 NBA Champion is likely to come from one of these two.
The Clippers took two games off a full-strength Warriors in last year’s playoffs and they have made some big 0ff-season improvements since then. Two-time NBA Champion Kawhi Leonard has joined alongside former-MVP Paul George. Add that pair to an impressive core of Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Pat Beverley and you have a contender on your hands. The favourites are our pick at 10/3.
The Lakers should come close too with LeBron James well-rested and new addition Anthony Davis in Frank Vogel’s line-up. Their rotation might be their downfall though. They lack depth in key positions with Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee expected to get plenty of minutes at the Center. Expect them to come close but fall at the final hurdles.
In the Eastern Conference the two main contenders are the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucks finished with the best record in the regular season in 2019 but came unstuck in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors.
They have added defensive strength to their line-up in the form of Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez but much of the responsibility still lies with MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. It feels like a make or break season for Antetokounpo, Coach Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks. A Finals appearance is a must for them and at 21/4 they are the favourites to come out of the East but competition will be tight.
Our pick for the Eastern Conference is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers came closest to knocking off the Raptors in the playoffs last season, losing out in Game 7 thanks to Leonard’s epic game-winner. They lost Jimmy Butler and the ever-reliable JJ Redick in the off-season but they have added all-rounders in the form of Al Horford and Josh Richardson. Tobias Harris will have a bigger role to play this season and Joel Embiid is talking up his MVP potential. Back the 76ers to win the Eastern Conference at 9/4.
That’s the four favourites covered but outside of that there is a whole host of teams that will have title aspirations. The Golden State Warriors will still be contenders even without many of the players who powered them to five straight NBA Finals. Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguadola, Kevin Durant have all headed for pastures new while Klay Thompson will miss most – if not all – of the season with injury. Steve Kerr can still call upon Steph Curry, Draymond Green and new recruit D’Angelo Russell and they will cause problems in the playoffs.
The Houston Rockets cannot be discounted either. They have run the Warriors close in the last two seasons only for injuries and loss of form ending their chances. It will be interesting to see how a backcourt of Russell Westbrook and James Harden plays out. The Dallas Mavericks also have an interesting line-up with Kristaps Porzingis joining Luka Doncic and they could be set for their first playoff appearance since 2016.
The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets are also worth a look in the Eastern Conference. The 2018/2019 Celtics were a shambles. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum regressed while Kyrie Irving proved a disruptive presence in the dressing room. Irving has since moved onto the Nets and he has been replaced with all-round positive influence Kemba Walker.
The Nets made the biggest off-season moves with the addition of Irving and Kevin Durant. Durant is injured for the season but even still they have a deep squad capable of challenging the top four in the East.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the hot-favourite to retain his MVP award, listed at 11/4 with Bet365. The Greek Freak averaged 27 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists last season and in our opinion he will have to improve on those statistics to retain the title. That’s a tough ask for Giannis and we could see the award head to the Western Conference instead.
Our MVP pick is Stephen Curry. Curry was on a different level to the rest of the league in 2015 and 2016 and he rightly won back-to-back awards. His influence on the team diminished slightly with the arrival of Kevin Durant but now that he’s gone Curry can pick up where he left off. The burden of scoring will be on his shoulders this year and we have no doubt that his 3-point record (402 in a season) is in his sights. Back Curry to win his third MVP this season.
The other contenders for the MVP award will struggle with the same problem Curry faced while Durant was on his Golden State team. Who does the credit for great team performances go to? James Harden (6/1) has Russell Westbrook (28/1), LeBron (15/2) has Anthony Davis (15/2) and Kawhi Leonard (10/1) has Paul George (33/1) on his team.
Big men Joel Embiid (14/1) and Nikola Jokic (13/1) will need their team to have the best record in the regular season if they are to have any chance of winning the award.
Rookie of the Year
This seems like a foregone conclusion. The New Orleans Pelicans have a once in a generation talent on their books with No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Zion is listed at a best price of Evens with Bet365 and he’s odds-on with some other bookmakers.
His size and athleticism are pretty much unmatched in the league. However that may come back to bite him in the future. It was announced this week that he has already undergone surgery on his meniscus meaning he will miss the first six to eight weeks of the season. Now that does give him ample time to recover and play a big part in the Pelicans season but any more injuries to the teenage phenom and his season could be in jeopardy.
It’s wise then to consider some of the other ROY candidates. Miami’s rookie duo Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have lit up the Heat’s pre-season games with Nunn putting 40 points on the Houston Rockets. Herro may have secured a starting position with his efficiency in pre-season and he looks a good bet at 16/1.
Williamson’s former Duke teammate R.J Barrett is sure to get plenty of ROY buzz this season too. The Canadian will have plenty of eyeballs on him playing in Madison Square Garden every week and he’s expected to be a leader in this team undergoing yet another rebuild.
This year’s No. 2 draft pick Ja Morant is in a similar position to Barrett in Memphis. He will get plenty of minutes and shooting opportunities on that Grizzlies squad.