The Golden State Warriors were criticized as talent-hoarders when they signed Kevin Durant. Now, a newly-healed acquisition will add muscle and scoring touch to a lineup of superstars.
Las Vegas tends to pay attention to such developments. Although the Warriors are not having an elite regular season, they’re dominating the futures betting board at sportsbooks all over the world.
Betting on a 2019 NBA Finals Winner: Vegas Odds and Our Thoughts
- Golden State is a prohibitive favorite to win the 2019 NBA Championship with a (-150 )futures betting market at Sportsbetting.ag
- While the team’s record is impressive as usual, the Warriors have also made the blockbuster announcement that summer acquisition Boogie Cousins is ready to play
- The addition of a All-Star big man to a squad already known for championship scoring could take Golden State to a level of basketball not seen in generations
- There is, however, an interesting sleeper on the board at (+1400) payoff odds
From ‘Come Out to Play’ to ‘Well, Cuz’
For any contending NBA team watching the standings and brackets from year to year, Golden State has been like Luther from The Warriors. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, he’s somewhere nearby with that evil grin on his face.
But the Western Conference is about to experience a new nightmare – the Warriors plus DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. Now the Oakland club is more like Jonathan Banks’s character Mike from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. More than just really good. Diabolically good. Impossible-to-figure-out good. Seemingly superhuman until you notice that military-grade bulletproof vest under his collar.
Boogie makes a pretty good bulletproof vest for Golden State, a group of cagers known for running, shooting and scoring. It feels strange to look back and realize that the Warriors were winning NBA titles before Kevin Durant came along. Durant, at the time of his acquisition, was thought to add a touch of power and big-man defense to a team that had gotten by with role-playing rebounders in the paint.
That changes now. It’s instinctual to think there will be some growing pains, as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant must each adjust to having a real money-option under the basket. Cousins must be worked into the perimeter game and defensive schemes too. But I’m thinking by the time Boogie steps onto the court to face the Celtics at TD Garden on January 26th (his debut is looking like 1/18 vs the L.A. Clippers) they’ll have some things worked out.
To Bet on the Division Killer?
Several major American sports have been threatened by “division-killers” or league killers over the past few years. The New England Patriots have become synonymous with “Super Bowl” while Alabama and North Dakota State (and now Clemson) threaten to sap all of the fun out of Saturdays. Kentucky threatened to rule over college basketball until one-and-done began jumping the shark.
It’s exciting, though, to see dynasties form and maintain themselves…especially when they remind you of times gone by. What the NFL is missing right now is a dynasty built on defense. What the NBA has been missing is a dynasty built on a complete roster of legends-in-the-making.
The Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s played a style of creative circus-ball that combined the best of the ABA with dynamic depth and versatility. They were, above all, complete teams. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the rock around which the L.A. offense was built. Robert Parish and Kevin McHale became 2 of the most-admired superstars in Boston despite playing an inside power game on a team known for passing and shooting. Run-and-gun small ball is still a winning formula in the NBA – Curry and the Warriors have been busy proving that. But small-ball supremacy with a dose of skyscraper in the middle?
Now we’re talking. Golden State may be about to play basketball like we haven’t seen in 30+ years.
But that’s not the only reason that a club’s NBA Championship futures line would be as short as (-150) in the middle of January.
LeBron as a Laker
Bookmakers and the betting public are also concerned that LeBron James may have cast himself out of the NBA title picture – at least for the immediate future – by taking his talent to Los Angeles.
It’s not as if the Lakers are playing badly. LeBron has contributed ample scoring and player-coach experience but the rest of the roster is on high alert. A sleepy venue (and franchise) has awoken with its new identity.
An identity is what it will take to beat the Warriors – a style that even an All-Star doesn’t know what to do with. At 8th place in the current standings, James’ team isn’t there yet.
Despite the great baller now playing in the same conference as Steph Curry, the loss of a potential Cleveland Cavaliers vs Golden State Warriors final series has helped push the latter’s odds-to-win shorter.
What will the Warriors really look like on the court? And are there any worthwhile sleepers in the pack? A “sleeper,” of course, can be defined as any team not called Golden State.
Golden State Warriors (-150 Odds to Win NBA Championship)
The Warriors are only in 2nd place in the West at the midway point, but if Boogie doesn’t get banged-up then the regular season results could be trivial in the end. Cousins averaged 25.2 points per game and 12.9 rebounds per game last season before going down with a torn Achilles.
Oakland will welcome the additional scoring threat in the paint. Outside of Curry, Durant, and Thompson, no one has been averaging in double-digits, and easy buckets have been hard to come by. The bottom line is that Golden State could lose a key player and still win the NBA Finals in a rout if all goes well. The team’s margin-of-error is greater than those of their opponents.
Toronto Raptors (+800)
Toronto made a splash in the offseason by acquiring Kawhi Leonard and the move has paid huge dividends. The Raptors have racked-up the most wins in the Eastern Conference to date, and Leonard is having an MVP-caliber season with 27.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Pundits are still divided as to whether the squad should carry high hopes into the playoffs. The Raptors have finished the regular season top-4 in the East for the last 5 seasons but have yet to sniff the Finals. With Lebron James out of the picture, the door is open – but can a Raptor fit through it?
Toronto has been excellent at scoring in transition but hampered by a 22nd ranking in 3-point shooting percentage.
Boston Celtics (+900)
The Celtics were a hot pick to represent the East in the NBA Finals with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. To date, the season has been anything but smooth sailing for a franchise with high expectations.
But Brad Stevens’s squad has played very well since November, going 15-6 over 21 recent games. Irving has been solid averaging 22.6 points and 6.4 assists, and 2nd-year forward Jayson Tatum has flourished scoring 16.2 points per game.
The Celtics have relied on superb defense, holding opponents to top-5 low %s in FG shooting and from beyond the arc.
Houston Rockets (+1000)
With crafty point guard Chris Paul likely out until the end of January with a hamstring injury, reigning MVP James Harden has put the team on his back. Since Paul went down, the Rockets have gone 7-2 and earned victories over Oklahoma City, Boston, Golden State, and Denver.
Harden nailed one of the most dramatic 3-point shots of the season to beat the powerful Warriors just as the buzzer loomed in OT.
The clutch athlete is averaging an NBA-best 33.9 points per game. 6’10” center Clint Capela is also having a solid season, averaging 17.6 points per game and 12.9 rebounds per game. The Rockets have lit it up beyond the arc, nailing more trifectas than anybody in the NBA.
But they’re still giving up the 2nd-biggest average points-in-the-paint per game. The Boogie Cousins experiment almost seems designed to vanquish any threat from clubs like Houston, whose Achilles Heel will be under direct assault in every future game vs Golden State…unless Boogie injures his Achilles again.
Milwaukee Bucks (+1400)
After spending the last 2 seasons shuffling in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, the Bucks are having a breakout campaign and can be counted among the NBA’s best. The “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpois is having his most productive season ever, averaging 26-13-6 and in the running for the MVP award.
This year’s Bucks are a lot more than just Antetokounmpo, with 5 players averaging double figures and a league-best 117.5 points per game. Opponents have had difficulty keeping pace with the Bucks, who boast the top point differential at +9.5. Milwaukee’s stifling defense has held opponents to an NBA-pacing .431 field goal percentage.
Milwaukee could use a couple of crack 3-point artists and better free-throw shooting.
Denver Nuggets (+2000)
Despite surging to the best record in the Western Conference at 28-12, a young, scrappy Nuggets squad is still doubted as a legitimate NBA title contender.
7’0” center Nikola Jokic is the centerpiece for a resilient team that has battled through injuries and started 11 different players halfway into the season. The Serbian leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Denver has been ultra-efficient on offense and rank top 10 in points-allowed.
It only remains to be seen whether the Nuggets are as vulnerable to a well-rested veteran squad as handicappers think. We’ll know for sure when the playoffs get here.
Philadelphia 76ers (+2000)
The 76ers made an eye-popping trade in November by acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves. Some handicappers believe that Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons could grow into the next dominant trio in the NBA and challenge the triumvirate of Curry-Durant-Thompson.
Problem: It’s now the 4 horsemen with Cousins in the picture.
Tensions are already mounting as Butler has voiced his dissatisfaction with his role in the 76er offense. The 76ers are still playing catch up to the Raptors. Despite the locker room turmoil, the 76ers rank top-10 in scoring and top-5 in assists per game.
Los Angeles Lakers (+2000)
King James and the Lakers appeared to be peaking with a 10-4 November record, but the Purple & Gold have hit a recent slide. L.A. is clinging to the 8th seed by only 2 games.
2nd-year forward Kyle Kuzma has been a great compliment to James, averaging 18.8 points.
The Lakers have been efficient on the glass, but live-ball turnovers are a major issue.
NBA Finals Prediction: My Picks on the Futures Board
Don’t be quick to dismiss my 80s-era comparison due to blather about “modern” sports. Yes, Jordan may be bowing to King James in the tabloids, but we don’t need to go back to the era of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to find a parallel with what Golden State is doing.
The Warriors are building an ideal roster, a “Dream Team” that is now close to complete with a 4th perennial All-Star type of starter. The coup bears resemblance to the league-killing phenomenon that has affected much of European club soccer outside of England. You can’t beat a perfect machine if the NBA allows somebody to build it.
Golden State has at least a 3-in-5 chance of winning the 2019 NBA Finals and is a solid futures snag at (-150) on that basis. However, I’m liking the Milwaukee Bucks’ chances of turning their defense into a science and heating-up just enough from the 3-point line and the foul stripe to make a miracle upset possible in late spring.