Season Previews: The Beasts In The East

Boston's Kyrie Irving takes on Philadelphia's Ben Simmons

Welcome to the first of our series of previews for the upcoming NBA season. First up we have the powerhouses of the Eastern Conference and a few related bets.

Boston Celtics
2017-18 record: 55-27, 2nd in the East

Boston made the Conference Finals last season and hasn’t made any offseason additions. However, this is a team on the up competing in a conference without LeBron James for the first time in over a decade. Boston we’re defeated without their two stars players in Irving and Hayward, whilst Tatum and Brown can be expected to improve this coming season and become truly elite players.

It’s difficult to see the Celtics missing out on the Finals this year, let alone the Conference Finals, as the competition in the East – barring Toronto and Philadelphia – is pretty weak.

For me, the biggest risk to them has got to be the 76ers – should Embiid and Simmons improve and Fultz lives up to the billing of a #1 overall pick, Philly will be a strong team with a very bright future. We’ll no doubt be seeing these two duelling it out for many years to come.

With arguably the strongest starting five in the league, the Celtics are rightfully odds on money favourites to win the Eastern Conference this season. Should they stay healthy, there’s no real reason why the team shouldn’t easily secure the top seed in the East.

It’s not just the starters, coming off the bench Boston have Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris are able to provide able back up. In Smart, they have themselves an elite defensive disruptor – in the top 20 of both steal and block percentage among guards. Rozier had himself a breakout season last year – more than doubling his scoring output, whilst improving his shooting percentages from from two- and three-point range. Rozier managed to improve again during the playoffs where his scoring jumped from 11 to over 16 point per game – impressive. Finally, Morris is a defensive stopper who shoots the three at above league average.

One negative against Boston: they’re made up of too many high usage players. Irving was involved in a team-high 31% of plays, whilst another five players had a usage rate of around 20%. With so many players demanding touches of the ball, head coach Brad Stevens will have his work cut out keeping everybody happy. With four score-first players in Irving, Hayward, Tatum and Horford in the starting five, it’ll be interesting to see how scoring is shared – so hold off on jumping into the over/under point scoring markets.

For me, there is only really one season bet here. This team should be the best team in the conference over both the regular and postseason. Skybet are offering 7/4 for the Celtics to win the Eastern Conference and secure top seed. With the team make the Finals an even money shot, boosting this to 7/4 as a double with #1 seed in the East seems a no-brainer if you’re looking for a Boston futures bet.

Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers

Philadephia 76ers
2017-18 record: 52-30, 3rd in the East

The Sixers are arguably the most exciting team in the NBA. The team’s most important players are Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Both players possess great size, being 6’10 and 7’0 respectively, and have the potential to be superstars of their generation.

Simmons is coming off a Rookie of the Year season, which he dominated teams by plying his trade at point guard despite having the size of a power forward or center. He’s a beast in the paint – scoring 95% of his points there and averaging nearly a block a game. A nightly triple-double threat, Simmons is already one of the league’s best – but for him to make himself and his team a truly elite force, he will need to develop a shooting stroke. He’s infamously never shot a three and claims his form has improved over the summer. At the very least he will need to incorporate some mid-range shooting this year. It may be worth keeping an eye on Simmons’ over/under assists and rebounding markets on a nightly basis throughout the season.

Embiid will be expected to continue to improve upon his sophomore campaign. He played a pivotal role as a ball handler and playmaker in the post, whilst also dominating the beneath the basket. Hopefully we will get to see him fit for a whole season for the first time. It’ll be interesting to see how both he and Simmons improve this year having finally had a fully fit summer to work on their games.

2017 #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz is another member of Philadelphia’s promising young core. Fultz’s rookie season was a major disappointment – he only managed to play 14 regular season games amidst concerns over his shooting mechanism. Clearly a player of immense potential, he still managed to become the youngest player to record a triple-double in NBA history. Over the summer Fultz reportedly shot over 150,000 jumpshots and went someway to proving his doubters wrong by nailing a three in a preseason game already. If Fultz lives up to his billing as a #1 pick, this team will be scarily good.

Should these three fire on all cylinders this season, the 76ers will be a major threat to Boston’s aspirations of securing the top seed and winning the East. Saric and Redick make fine complimentary pieces with their shooting from beyond the arc, whilst Covington possess the coveted three-and-D skillset required in today’s NBA.

There’s a decent chance of Philadelphia winning the East this season, but for me a better bet is for the team to emerge as division champions. The 76ers to win the Atlantic Division is a massive 7/2 with Skybet and Paddy Power compared to the skinnier 3/1 to win the conference. It’s an easy task to win the division over the regular season than defeating teams in the playoffs.

Additionally, I really think the Sixers will win more than the 52 they managed last year and with Embiid and Fultz fully fit, this should be easy enough. Philadelphia to win over 53.5 games is a good bet at 5/6 with Paddy Power and Betfair.

Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors
2017-18 record: 59-23, 1st in the East

Toronto played a role in the most shocking firing of the summer along with the most shocking trade. Because of this, the team that secured the top seed in the East and won a franchise-record 59 games will be very different from this season’s incarnation.

This year will see the Raptors line-up with a truly elite player for the first time in their history. After nine years as the face of the franchise, DeMar DeRozan was traded this summer for Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green). DeRozan has been a steadily improving player throughout his career to become one of the top shooting guards in the league in recent years. Loyal to Toronto (the city and the team) for so long, DeRozan was repaid by Raptors president Masai Ujiri trading him away after saying otherwise.

DeRozan was traded away for what may end up being just a one-year rental of Leonard before he bolts to Los Angeles in free agency next summer. But Leonard is a player of such a high calibre that many – including the Raptors – believe one year of him may be worth losing three with DeRozan.

Toronto’s success this season will be down to how Leonard performs. In his first preseason game he scored 12 points in 19 minutes and missed all four attempts from beyond the arc. In his second game, he looked to have shaken off some of his rustiness as he scored 17 points in 19 minutes – albeit still shooting under 17% from three over two games.

Leonard still has some way to go to get back to his MVP-calibre best, but should he get there the Raptors will be a top three seed at least and Leonard will be in with a shout to win Defensive Player of the Year (7/2 with Paddy Power).

This team is a better team on paper than last year. Leonard – a top five player and probably the best defender in the league – is a superior player to DeRozan and the addition of Danny Green will add three-and-D. Strictly on that, the team has every right to post a similar win total to last season and the Raptors to win over 52.5 wins is too low a number (10/11 with Skybet). Make sure you get 52.5, rather than the 55.5 wins offered elsewhere. However, it may prove tougher than expected due to the extreme player and staff turnover.

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