Uncle Benny’s Punting Guide to the 2016-17 NBA season

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NBA season is punting season! There are many reasons why I love the NBA; the opportunity make financial investments on a daily basis belongs right at the top of my list.

Being able to wake up and scroll through the daily buffet available on the Sportsbet website is one of summer’s great traditions. And once it begins, it’s a ritual that tows the delicate line between obsessive fun and compulsion. I’m like Frank The Tank with a beer funnel. Once I see those juicy odds and taste that first victory, I’m hooked until April.

That’s why I need a guide, and why my mortgage broker needs a guide. It’s also why my bank account needs a guide, and why we all need this guide.

I have looked through all the odds, analysed the numbers and present my betting guide to the 2016-17 NBA season. I’ve even built in some of my well-practiced rules to help lead you through this betting minefield.

Rule number 1. The point of this article isn’t to bet on what you necessarily think will happen. The aim is to find some value.

Predictions for the upcoming season are one thing, finding a value punt is something completely different. I firmly believe we are headed for a Cavaliers-Warriors Finals rematch, but why bet this? Our friends at Sportsbet have wound these odds down shorter than Pauline Hanson’s credibility. There is no value.

If you’re the type of person that likes a safe, boring return then go ahead, bet the Warriors. Just know that I’m judging you so hard through the lens of your computer. As for me, I am here to find some value. I want the big wins. So how can we all make some money?

Rule number 2. Find this season’s sleeper team and ride them like Black Caviar.

What are we without principles? Find a few teams that you like, create a set of punting principles (if my arbitrary set of rules are too much for you) and ride them throughout the season.

Every October, there are one or two underappreciated teams heading into the season. Last year it was the Golden State Warriors, the year before it was the Atlanta Hawks, the year before that it was the Charlotte Hornets.

Then we have teams that spend the entire off-season satisfied with their mediocre rise and predictably fall off a cliff. The Milwaukee Bucks being last year’s example.

Let’s get to the tips.

N.B. All odds are available at Sportbet.com.au and correct as of 19 October 2016.

Aussie corner

First, let’s cover off on the local lads. The injury to Ben Simmons robs us of a obvious Rookie of the Year candidate. Thon Maker is $21 to win the award; a figure that looks under the odds given playing time might be sparse in Milwaukee.

Andrew Bogut is paying $51 to lead the league in blocked shots per game. This represents insane value. He was the NBA’s second best shot blocker on a per minute basis last season. The only caveat is health, players must compete in a minimum of 58 games to be eligible. At such long odds he’s worth a small investment.

Then we have the six franchises our Australians in the NBA call home. Let’s look at the expected win total for each.

Dallas Mavericks over 40.5 wins ($1.87). Do not bet against Rick Carlisle. That is my first bit of advice for the upcoming season, and it comes from personal experience. I’ve made that mistake more times than Shane Warne with a cell phone.

The Mavericks haven’t had a losing season since 2000. Carlisle is a warlock so take the over.

Rule number 3. Do not bet against Rick Carlisle.

San Antonio Spurs under 57.5 wins ($1.87). The Spurs won 67 games last season and I cannot see them being 10 wins worse off this season. With Tim Duncan out to pasture, they will fall back to the pack some, but the over remains the play.

Utah Jazz over 46.5 wins ($1.87). With Dante Exum and George Hill providing competent point guard play, I expect Utah to hit the over and return to the playoffs. The more poignant question should be whether Joe Ingles will dunk a basketball during the 2016-17 season? Going off preseason form, the odds would be astronomical.

Milwaukee Bucks under 37.5 wins ($1.77). This one hurts. With apologies to Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker, I do not think the Bucks will be good at winning games this year. The injury to Khris Middleton has robbed them of their best shooter. Early preseason returns have shown that offensive spacing will be a major issue in his absence.

Point Giannis will be fun, as will watching Delly and Maker play together, but the wins will have to wait for another year.

Rule number 4. Do not bet on any Australian unless the value is insane. Look, I get the appeal. We want out boys to succeed and want to benefit from their finest work. Doubling down just adds too much stress to your summer. Don’t do it.

Detroit Pistons over 45.5 wins ($1.87). The Pistons won 44 games last year and natural progression alone should be enough to see them improve by at least two wins. The injury to Reggie Jackson should give every punter pause, but the combination of Stan Van Gundy’s swagger and Aron Baynes’ powerful beard will win the day.

Philadelphia 76ers under 23.5 wins ($1.87). With Simmons out for the foreseeable future, this comes down to one question for me. Is the power of Joel Embiid a real thing or the latest Greg Oden-esque flash in the pan? Can the man who dubbed himself ‘The Process’ drag the Sixers back to relevance before our boy Ben comes in to save the day?

I’m tempted to say yes, I want to say yes but there is no way in hell I’m putting money on Philly to exceed expectations. Not yet anyway. Like Embiid’s quest for Rihanna, this one looks unlikely.

Best over / under bets

There are a million NBA podcasts on the interwebs who have copied The Sports Guy and give you detailed analysis on every freaking over/under. That’s too much. We are only concerned with those which can make us some easy money. Here are five bets that I highly recommend you consider.

Houston Rockets over 43.5 wins ($1.77). This is a stone cold lock. Houston won 41 games last year despite having a bottom five coach, hosting a civil war between the franchise’s best two players and putting forth effort levels that would make Nick Kyrgios proud.

As we will get into later, I’m high on the Rockets’ ability to bounce back this season. Mike D’Antoni offers a clear upgrade at coach and an offence built around James Harden, Ryan Anderson and Houston’s Moneyball philosophy should be near unstoppable.

Houston is my first Black Caviar team.

Charlotte Hornets over 41.5 wins ($1.77). Consider this to be another lock. They won 48 games last year and have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning to the line-up after missing 75 games. Head coach Steve Clifford runs a tight ship in Charlotte and puts his team in position to succeed every night. Plus they believe in #BasketballScience.

Rule number 5. Believe in the power of the long ball. Last season, 9 of the top 10 teams in three point attempts made the playoffs. Charlotte for example, ranked fourth in three point attempts.

Chicago Bulls under 38.5 wins ($1.87). The Bulls clearly fall foul of rule number 5.

In light of this problem, Chicago went out and acquired Michael Carter-Williams, a man who owns a wonderfully inept 26% career three-point shooting percentage. Chicago has disaster potential written all over it and could resemble the Springfield tyre fire come March.

Rule number 6. Do not trust the big market franchise who builds an NBA2k roster around flashy names with declining skills. Refer 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers for the classic example.

Phoenix Suns under 29.5 wins ($1.82). Look, I like most of the young talent on the Suns’ roster. It just doesn’t make sense yet. Earl Watson remains a question mark and Phoenix is a prime tanking candidate should the season starts slowly. It’s going to be another long year.

Boston Celtics over 51.5 wins ($1.87). Boston is built perfectly for the regular season. The Celtics arguably have the deepest team in the Eastern Conference and head coach Brad Stevens is one of the rare coaches who actually adheres to the ‘no excuses’ cliché.

Offseason addition Al Horford will boost the offence, while the defence remains in safe hands with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder leading the way. Boston will be a fun watch this season and should easily reach the over.

Boston is my second Black Caviar team.

To playoff, or not to playoff

If the over / under betting is too arbitrary for your liking, Sportsbet has done us a solid and made things simple. You can now bet on whether a team will make the playoffs or not.

Most of the value on the board comes from the Western Conference. Heading into the season, I think there are six lock playoff teams out west: Golden State, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio, Portland, Utah and Houston.

Houston is paying $1.77 to make the playoffs and this is more easy money. Thanks Sportsbet!

Assuming my six hold up, that leaves two spots for the likes of Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas and Minnesota. The best value here is taking both Oklahoma City ($2.47) and Memphis ($2.61) to miss out.

Russell Westbrook will be in Terminator mode and is a League Pass must watch. But there are legitimate concerns with the Thunder. With Durant gone, a gigantic hole has opened up at small forward and I cannot see where effective three-point shooting will come from. Losing a top five player in the NBA doesn’t bode well for future success.

If Westbrook misses any time, the offence is headed right into the toilet. Plus, there is always the possibility of a Westbrook trade if things start slow.

Speaking of Memphis.

Rule number 7. Do not trust a glasshouse.  Look, injuries suck. They ruin seasons with reckless abandon. Just don’t let them cost you cold hard cash.

On paper, the Grizzlies have an awesome starting five. Chandler Parsons is finally the outside shooter they have been looking for all decade. I like Memphis and want to be sucked in. Just be warned. Their health status remains a house of cards.

This is ultimately a bet on health. If Parsons and Marc Gasol play 70 games each, Memphis will make the playoffs easily and be a dangerous threat to anyone not named Golden State. If the injuries return, all bets are off. Tread carefully.

Out east, you can get $1.92 for the Knicks to miss the playoffs. Newsflash: they are still the Knicks. Invest adequately.

Division odds

There are two classes of NBA divisions from a gambling perspective.

First, we have three divisions with retuning heavyweights. Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio are all locks in the bookies’ eyes to claim their division, each having odds of $1.10 or lower.  Are there any value plays which should make us bet against the heavyweights?

Not in the Pacific Division. The Clippers are $8 but let’s be real, there is no chance in hell they finish with a better record than the Dubs. My Houston Rockets reside in the Southwest Division and you can get juicy odds of $10 for them to supplant the Spurs. Even for me, this seems unlikely.

Then we have the division LeBron James owns, the Central Division. Before I start sounding like a crazy person, let me first state that I believe Cleveland will win this division, and do it easily. But I really like Detroit at $26.

In order for this to happen, Detroit must reach 50 games and the Cavaliers must do a full Nick Kyrgios, drifting through the season in couldn’t-care-less mode. Nether of these can be ruled out. Cleveland is so clearly the best team out East, but here’s the thing: they know it as much as anyone. Home court means absolutely nothing when you have LeBron James and have just beaten the greatest regular season team of all time on the road in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

As for Detroit, we have already said they should reach 46 wins. If Andre Drummond takes another leap forward and they get lucky, that number could quickly elevate to 50. I’m not saying it’s likely, but at such long odds, investing a sneaky $5 bucks on Detroit is a great value play.

Rule number 8. Invest a small amount on a Disney movie bet. This is the Leicester City corollary. Pick a fairy-tale story you want to happen and throw down a single figure amount. The illusions of grandeur are worth it.

Then we have the second class of divisions. Those without an established powerhouse.

In the Atlantic Division, Boston and Toronto share favouritism. The rest of this poo poo platter should be ignored. Toronto is a prime regression candidate, while the author of this article is significantly invested into the Celtics. Play Boston at $1.83 to win this division.

With Miami in free fall, Atlanta is suddenly the short favourite ($2.50) to collect the Southeast Division. I am not buying this. Dennis Schroder has never run this offence for extended stretches and I must see him perform before the revamped Hawks deserve my money. All of that applies before we start considering the fit of Dwight Howard on his hometown Hawks.

Rule number 9. Do not trust Dwight Howard. Orlando, Los Angeles and Houston will confirm why. A major off-field distraction is looming.

If we are making a bet, the choice ultimately comes down to Charlotte ($3.25) or Washington ($4.33). The Hornets are the safe choice. You can count on this team to win 40-something games and be around the mark come April.

Washington is the exact opposite, they are the high variance team. John Wall is the best player in this division and Scott Brooks is somehow an upgrade at head coach. On the flip side, there is serious beef between Wall and Bradley Beal, their big name free agent acquisition is already injured and Scott Brooks is, well… still Scott Brooks. The man who thought Kendrick Perkins was the answer to Miami’s small ball posse.

I like Washington and am banking on Wall returning to his best form. Let your risk profile guide how you bet this one.

Finally, we have the Northwest Division, the home of my favourite division bet. I love Portland at $3.30. Denver is too young, Minnesota will be improved under Thibs but are one year away, while we have already covered why OKC is a question mark. That leaves Portland and Utah.

The Jazz will be enhanced but Portland is better. The Blazers’ vibrant motion offence is a thing of beauty. They keep everyone involved, moving the ball all around the court and setting more off-ball screens than any other team. Plus, their attack should improve with a full season of Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward.

Terry Stotts is the most underrated coach in basketball and his team will improve again this year.  Damian Lillard will be an All-Star and Portland will win 50 games this season. For those interested, their expected win total is 45.5. Hammer the over.

Conference and NBA title odds

My advice here is to stay away. In my humble opinion, only the injury gods can prevent a rubber match between LeBron and the Warriors.

If you like Golden State or Cleveland, stay away. There just isn’t any value. It’s also no fun betting on the short priced favourites? Don’t be boring.

So can we find a sleeper worth a little commitment? The Celtics and the Clippers are my choices to be the sacrificial lambs when the Conference Finals begin.

Both are $23 to win the title, with the Clippers owning far superior conference odds at $15, Boston is at $7. Is that enough to stimulate a little investment? I’d say not. It’s highly unlikely either of these teams make the Finals.

Addendum to rule number 8. Do not get carried away with the improbable. Don’t be a reckless daydreamer.

The better play is to take both teams to finish second in their conference. Boston is paying $3.40 to finish second behind Cleveland, while the Clippers are $5 to place behind the Warriors.

Player props

Now the real exciting stuff, player prop bets! I have reviewed the field and give you my expected winner, best value play and a roughie for each award.

Most Valuable Player – full odds available here

Expected winner: Matthew Dellavedova LeBron James ($6.50)

I have two opposing theories when it comes to selecting an MVP this season. My first theory has James winning the award.

The last 10 recipients of the MVP have all been on teams that won at least 57 regular season games. Steve Nash in 2006 was the last recipient not to reach this plateau, with his Phoenix Suns winning only 54 games.

So how many teams can get to 57 wins? I count three and a half: Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and maybe the Los Angeles Clippers. That’s it. Logic says that the MVP will be coming from one of these sides.

Steph Curry ($5.50) and Kevin Durant ($12) are both top 3 players in the league but I cannot see either winning the MVP this year. Given the level of distain being thrown at the Warriors, Curry would have to improve from last season. That sounds absurd considering he just competed the greatest regular season ever by a point guard. I don’t think he can collect this for a third straight season.

As for Durant, he has no chance. The mainstream media narrative around his defection will be too great to overcome. Even if he is the best player this season, he will not win the award. LeBron James in 2011 knows all about this.

Chris Paul ($51) has the reputation needed to garner votes and is in a contract year. Um, this is interesting… more on him below.

The only Spur with a realistic chance is Kawhi Leonard ($8.50), same goes for James on the Cavaliers. If we are selecting between the two, the choice is clearly James.

Defining ‘most valuable’ is an arbitrary exercise, but in NBA media circles there is a long held notion that it means the best player in basketball. Fresh off the NBA Finals, James is just that. He has recaptured that phantom wresting belt as the heavyweight champion of the world.

James’ approval rating is at an all time high and he is a beloved figure again. If Cleveland reaches that 57 win level, he would be a raging favourite to collect his fifth MVP.

Also don’t underestimate importance of James wanting another MVP. Michael Jordan has five, while James is currently sitting on four. Given his offseason comments abut chasing His Airness, the MVP award could be a logical place to start.

Rule number 10. LeBron James is the second best player of all time. If he wants the MVP, he will get it.

As for Leonard, he finished second behind Curry last season and strong defensive powers will mean he is automatically in the conversation. It’s just the offensive end that could prevent him from going one better this year.

Value play: James Harden ($7.50)

Now to my second theory: the 2016-17 MVP race will be like no other this century. As we have just explained, two of the three best players in basketball (Curry and Durant) are practically ineligible for the award. I have James as the favourite, but what if he decides another MVP award isn’t important and takes a month long vacation in Miami?

In 2011, Derrick Rose won the MVP because of a media narrative. Don’t get me wrong, he had a great season, but James and Dwight Howard were better. Use any statistical measure you like, Rose wasn’t the best, or the most valuable, or the most talented or the most ‘insert any word here’ player that season.

Rather, he was a young darling of the league. He was the antithesis of a scary ‘Big 3’ in Miami and parlayed the best season of his career into the award.

This is why Russell Westbrook ($4) makes so much sense. He is a stark contrast to Golden State’s army of superstars, and he has an insane amount of goodwill built up after signing an extension with Oklahoma City. The only problem is the team around him. Can his supporting cast boost the Thunder to 50 wins? Because if they do, Westbrook will likely win the award.

57 wins may be the historical standard, but 50 should be enough. The NBA collective wants to heap praise on Westbrook and reward him for being in Oklahoma City, ludicrous as that sounds. I just have my doubts about the Thunder’s ability to win enough games.

What about my horse? What about James Harden?

I actually think Harden is a better bet than Westbrook. For starters, I believe Houston will win more games. They will have an elite offence (if healthy, hold your breathe Rockers fans), and what do MVP voters love? Counting stats!

D’Antoni has already flagged that Harden will be the club’s starting point guard. The running beard is averaging over 10 assists per game during the preseason and looks set to post video game statistics once the season proper begins.

Team success and a depressed narrative are obvious drawbacks to Harden’s potential MVP campaign. Although, just remember that he finished second to Curry in 2015. All is not lost.

Harden was paying an absurd $21 just two weeks and this number has been slashed into $7.50, likely due to a sizeable investment by a certain author at The Pick and Roll. He is still worth a sneaky investment.

Rule number 11. High usage doesn’t equal MVP. Of the top 20 usage seasons ever recorded by Basketball-Reference, only one has won the MVP award.

Roughie: Chris Paul ($51)

I tend to think my first theory is the way to go. If so, Chris Paul is way over the odds at $51. Paul George and Damian Lillard are two other long shots who could surprise if everything goes right for their respective teams.

Rookie of the Year – full odds available here

With Simmons out of the picture, the field has opened up. Kris Dunn ($4) is now the bookie’s favourite and this is madness to me. Dunn must supplant Ricky Rubio before we start talking about him winning this award.

If Embiid ($4) stays healthy, he will win. The #TrustTheProcess king has been a Vine machine during preseason and 70 games of that will be enough to take home this award. Also, remember that he likes Australia. Go Joel!

Expected winner: Buddy Hield ($5)

There are two reasons why I like Hield. First off, he is entering the NBA as a 22-year-old rookie.

Hield is much older than most rookies and has more pro-ready skills than the likes of Dario Saric, Brandon Ingram and Wade Baldwin. He enters the association fresh off one of the most efficient scoring careers in NCAA history.

Then we have his situation in New Orleans. The Pelicans desperately needed shooting and they got it with Hield. With Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans out to start the campaign, Hield will receive ample playing time.

Hield actually compares well to his new teammate Evans, who won Rookie of the Year in 2010 in Sacramento while playing on a terrible team.

Value play: Thon Maker ($21)

This is a bet on the Summer League version of Thon Maker quickly appearing in Milwaukee. He averaged 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds in Summer League, becoming a standout due to his size and playmaking ability.

Maker could be racking up double-doubles for the Bucks if given enough playing time. It’s unlikely he will receive minutes early on, but that could change for a number of reasons. Milwaukee is one Giannis Antetokounmpo injury away from Maker potentially starting.

Roughie: Jamal Murray ($21)

This is my man crush. I love Murray’s game. He is an elite shooter and the Nuggets drastically need every bit of his range. If Denver decides this is another rebuilding season, look for Murray to receive major minutes and be given the chance to show off.

Coach of the year – full odds available here

The winner usually comes from a top four seed or the surprise playoff team that nobody really expects. Who do we like?

Expected winner: Brad Stevens ($8)

If Boston improves as expected, Stevens will receive the lion’s share of the credit. Plus, the NBA coaching fraternity ranks him as the third best in the business. That’s good enough for me.

Value play: Terry Stotts ($26)

The likes of Quin Snyder, Doc Rivers, Nate McMillan, Jeff Hornacek, Mike; D’Antoni and Dwayne Casey all have odds equal or shorter than Stotts. That is insane. Stotts is perennially underrated and has a talented squad at his disposal.

Roughie: Rick Carlisle ($61)

Have I mentioned that Rick Carlisle is a warlock?

Rule number 3 (on repeat). Do not bet against Rick Carlisle.

Scoring title – full odds available here

No detailed analysis is needed, Westbrook ($3.20) is winning this award. His usage rate will be through the roof. He will present the best Kobe Bryant circa 2005 impersonation this side of Los Angeles.

If you need a little action on a roughie, look at Klay Thompson ($64). With Curry and Durant distracting defenders, Thompson could get 10 open three-pointers a night.

Defensive player of the year – full odds available here

Once again, the analysis is simple here. Kawai Leonard ($4.50) is the two time defending champion and looks to be the red-hot favourite. Rudy Gobert ($6.50) is my favourite choice among centers. Draymond Green also belongs in the conversation. I just think Warriors fatigue will make it hard for him to collect enough votes.

As for wing options, Avery Bradley ($23) has gone public with a desire to claim this award. Watch out for him at such long odds.

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Do your own research, use my arbitrary rules as a guide and make it rain this season. Happy punting to all! Jerry, take us out.

 

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