- Sportsbooks are giving the Eastern Conference a puncher’s chance of producing the NBA’s next champion
- Will Kawhi Leonard be healthy and motivated in Toronto?
- Can the talented trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz stay on the court for a full season?
Forget everything you’ve heard about the NBA’s “Leastern” Conference. Sportsbooks have released new odds on which conference will produce the next NBA champion and is listing the East at +360.
That’s higher than expected given the sheer disparity between the Golden State Warriors and the rest of the league, but sportsbooks clearly believe that the Celtics, 76ers, and Raptors could present a legitimate challenge in June.
All three teams have championship odds of +1600 or better and have made just enough changes to make the defending champs nervous.
2019 NBA Championship Odds
|Golden State Warriors||-150|
|Los Angeles Lakers||+800|
The Raptors, who finished with the best record in the East in 2017-18, have had the most transformative summer of all three clubs after trading DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected first-round draft pick for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
The trade carries enormous risk as the tremendously popular DeRozan was still under contract for three more seasons, and Leonard could bolt as soon as he becomes a free agent next summer. There’s also the question of Leonard’s physical and mental well being.
The two-time Defensive Player of the Year played only nine games last year and chose to sit out the playoffs despite being medically cleared by San Antonio’s doctors.
Kawhi Leonard’s 2k controls be like. pic.twitter.com/MTNprfv2c0
— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) August 1, 2018
If he’s healthy – and motivated – Leonard is a top five player capable of scoring from virtually anywhere on the court and shutting down the opposition’s top perimeter player with his suffocating D. That version of Leonard hasn’t been seen in a while, but it would help elevate Toronto among the league’s elite.
The Celtics stayed relatively pat this summer, adding talented big man Robert Williams in the draft and re-signing ball hound Marcus Smart to a lucrative four-year, $52 million deal. However, Boston could make the biggest jump of all next season when All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward both return to the court.
Irving appeared in just 60 games in 2017-18, and Hayward played only five minutes before suffering a gruesome leg injury on opening night.
REPORT: Gordon Hayward is closing in on a full recovery pic.twitter.com/eKBYRKcpo5
— Celtics Junkies (@CelticsJunkies) July 25, 2018
Despite their absences, Boston still pushed Cleveland to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals and came within a few bounces of advancing. It will be fascinating to see how head coach Brad Stevens juggles his deep line-up during the regular season.
Will he be able to find enough playing time for playoff standouts Terry Rozier and Semi Ojeleye, or will Trader Danny step in and swing a deal for another established star? One thing is for certain, few teams are better set up to win now and in the future than the Celtics.
Like Boston, Philadelphia is also counting on internal improvements. The Sixers won 52 games in 2017-18 and are hoping for the continued development of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who flourished during their first season together.
Their talent and athleticism has never been in question, but doubts about their durability still linger. Embiid played only 31 games in his first three years after being drafted, and Simmons sat out his first season as he recovered from a broken right foot.
” I wasn’t hiding my shot from the NBA, I was hiding the NBA from my shot ” – Markelle Fultz, probably. pic.twitter.com/4HTDm2KjIy
— Name cannot be blank (@jazzierthanjeff) July 9, 2018
The team’s real wild card is Markelle Fultz, who also sat out much of his rookie season in 2017-18 as he completely rebuilt his shot from the ground up. The former number 1 draft pick attempted only one three-pointer in the 14 games he played, and was a complete non factor in the playoffs.
Fultz’s new and improved motion has looked better this summer, but it’s one thing to make jump shots over college drop-outs and another to make them when Rudy Gobert has a hand in your face.
Can the Eastern Conference Conquer the West?
All three teams should be better in 2018-19, but they’re still a long way from being able to topple the Warriors, who have won three of the last four NBA championships and added four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and underrated floor stretcher Jonas Jerebko to their already formidable core.
Golden State ranked first in offensive rating, points per game, field goal percentage, three-point shooting percentage, true shooting percentage, assists, assist to turnover ratio, and blocks last season, and it’s unlikely they’ll regress much this year. For now, bank heavily on the West and be leery of the East’s surprisingly robust odds.