It’s that tragic time of year: the Stanley Cup has wrapped up; there’s nothing going on in the NFL; and the NBA finals just came to its pre-scripted conclusion. Now all we have is the dog-days of baseball to keep us entertained until the League gets going again.
You know what that means: put on your time-travelling frock, ’cause it’s time to zoom forward, set the odds on the 2017-18 NBA season, and make some not-so-bold predictions.
2018 NBA Title Odds
- Warriors: 6/7
- Cavaliers: 5/1
- Spurs: 20/1
- Celtics: 28/1
- Rockets: 40/1
- Utah Jazz: 50/1
- Toronto Raptors: 60/1
- Washington Wizards: 60/1
- Oklahoma City L.A. Clippers: 60/1
- Milwaukee Bucks: 65/1
- Miami Heat: 85/1
- Atlanta Hawks: 90/1
- Memphis Grizzlies: 90/1
- Indiana Pacers: 93/1
- Chicago Bulls: 95/1
- Minnesota Timberwolves: 95/1
- Philadelphia 76ers: 105/1
- New Orleans Pelicans: 140/1
- Portland Trail Blazers: 140/1
- Dallas Mavericks: 140/1
- Detroit Pistons: 145/1
- Denver Nuggets: 150/1
- Los Angeles Lakers: 225/1
- Charlotte Hornets: 250/1
- New York Knicks: 300/1
- Sacramento Kings: 400/1
- Orlando Magic: 500/1
- Phoenix Suns: 750/1
- Brooklyn Nets: 1000/1
The Warriors have opened at roughly 2/3 (-150) odds in Vegas to win the 2018 title. That’s an implied probability of 60-percent. By all accounts, that’s the shortest a team has ever been in the preseason. Is that an accurate reflection of their actual chances? Not in our view. If everything stays the same, it’s likely a little long. If you run back this season over and over again, the Warriors probably win the title more than 60-percent of the time. But no two seasons are the same, and all of the contenders — including the Warriors — have significant questions heading into the offseason. The balance of power won’t be the same in October.
While Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are inked through next season, the Warriors need to re-sign Steph Curry (something that will almost certainly get done) and Kevin Durant has a player-option. With crucial role players Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston entering unrestricted free agency, the cash Golden State shells out for its stars could impact its unparalleled depth.
Meanwhile, the rest of the league has been put on notice: if you want to compete, you better build a superteam. That has the San Antonio Spurs poised to go after free-agent point guard Chris Paul, and the Celtics potentially adding the likes of Gordon Hayward and Paul George.
You can be sure Cleveland management realizes it has work to do as well. Expect the team to make a significant change or two, potentially parting ways with Kevin Love and his bloated salary in order to make room for someone with a little more defensive prowess.
If you’re surprised to see young teams like the Timberwolves and 76ers higher than veteran squads like the Blazers and Mavs, don’t be. They all have extremely long odds to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the upside of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons makes their teams more likely to go on a (still improbable) title run.
Not-so-bold Prediction: The Warriors bring back Curry, Durant, Livingston, and Iguodala and meet the Cavaliers in the finals for the fourth straight year, winning in five games.
2018 NBA MVP Odds
- LeBron James (Cavaliers): 6/1
- Kawhi Leonard (Spurs): 15/2
- Russell Westbrook (Thunder): 8/1
- Kevin Durant (Warriors): 9/1
- James Harden (Rockets): 9/1
- Steph Curry (Warriors): 15/1
LeBron is still the best player in the league. The only reason the four-time MVP doesn’t have more hardware is because voters have such lofty expectations of him. In reality, being the best player in the league isn’t enough for him to win anymore; he has to be significantly better than everyone … and hope that no one else has a historic season of their own. Still, it’s been three years since LeBron won his last MVP. He’s going to be the best player in the league again, and with the Warriors being the super-team du jour, voters won’t regard James as the big, bad wolf anymore.
The anti-Warrior sentiment will likely lead to a strong push for Kawhi Leonard, as well. Barring big changers, he’ll be the focal point of the San Antonio offense once again and (arguably) the best defensive player in the NBA. His advanced metrics could be staggering, and that’s going to become more and more important to voters as the years go on.
Speaking of advanced metrics, the 2017 race boiled down to a two-horse affair between Harden and Westbrook. Harden had the better advanced stats (i.e. he was more efficient) but Westbrook had the better raw numbers. (Did you hear that he averaged a triple-double this season? Oh you did … 4,000 times?) Westbrook is going to win the award, leaving many voters dissatisfied. That’s going to lead to an offseason of strong takes on why he didn’t deserve it, and that’s going to hurt his chances to repeat.
I would have Harden higher, since many will feel like he was robbed this year, but he was at his absolute best last season. The potential for a slight regression is high, and that’s enough to keep him out of the top three.
Not-so-bold prediction: LeBron James wins his fifth NBA MVP award while leading the Cavaliers to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
2018 Most Improved Player of the Year Odds
- Seth Curry (Mavericks): 14/1
- D’Angelo Russell (Lakers): 15/1
- Myles Turner (Pacers): 31/2
- Rodney Hood (Jazz): 31/2
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hornets): 20/1
Curry took a big leap last year, which might make you think he missed his chance to win this award. But unless the Mavericks bring in some perimeter talent, he’s going to see his usage continue to climb in Dallas and has a really good chance to significantly improve on his 12.8 PPG and 2.7 APG numbers.
Russell took a modest step forward in his second year with the Lakers (13.2 PPG to 15.6 PPG; 3.3 APG to 4.8 APG). With Lonzo Ball likely joining him in the LA backcourt, Russell will have the chance to play off-ball more and do what he does best: score. When players play to their strengths, they tend to succeed. (Hot take, I know.)
The Pacers need Myles Turner to keep progressing. He’s coming off a 14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 51.1 FG% season. If he can become a little more dominant on the glass, contribute a little more on offense, and be an elite rim protector, he’ll not only have a good chance to win this award, but he may just convince Paul George that the Pacers’ future isn’t so bleak.
Not-so-bold prediction: Curry puts together the better case for most-improved, but the award goes to Russell … because he plays for the Lakers.
Golden State Warriors Odds
Over/Under on NBA Titles in the next five years: 2.5
The Warriors best chance to hit the over is to just keep on winning. As long as the team is the reigning champ, it’s going to be a lot easier to convince Durant, Curry, Thompson, and Green to keep re-upping at less than their actual value.
Which of the Warriors’ “big-four” will leave the team first
- Kevin Durant: 1/1
- Klay Thompson: 5/2
- Draymond Green: 17/4
- Steph Curry: 19/1
Curry is going to ink a long-term deal this offseason. If he doesn’t retire in blue and gold, I’ll bungee jump off the Bay Bridge. Durant will likely exercise his player option for next year, but he’s the least attached to the team and will be a UFA again in 2018-19. That puts him at the top of the list.
Klay is signed until 2019-20. He seems to genuinely love playing for the Warriors and is fine with assuming a lesser role than he would have on any other team. But that might not still hold true a couple years from now. By then, it could be time for the boy (who will be nearing 30) to leave the nest and become his own man. Draymond isn’t as capable of leading a team on his own and is signed until 2020-21. The only way he’s the first to go is if management tires of his d***-striking antics and moves him.
LeBron James Odds
Over/Under final season with the Cavaliers: 2022-23
James is signed through next season and has a player option in 2018-19. He’s reiterated his commitment to the city of Cleveland, and it’s hard to see him leaving his home state again, unless the Cavs prove unable to build a winning team around him. Just one year removed from a championship, that’s not a big concern. The 2022-23 season will see James hit age 37. By that point, he may finally have surrendered his title as best player in the NBA and may need to go ring-hunting with another franchise … or could just call it a career.
Over/Under final season in the NBA: 2023-24
Odds James retires as a Cavalier: 1/5
Even if James does depart for the brighter lights of LA or the traffic snarls of Boston in the coming years (which, again, I don’t actually see happening), he could still pull a Kevin Garnett and return home in the twilight of his career.
Odds on James’ next team (if he moves)
- Clippers: 4/1
- Lakers: 5/1
- Spurs: 11/2
- Celtics: 9/1
Assuming for a minute that LeBron does find a new team, the four listed above all make sense for varying reasons. His bestie Chris Paul is a free-agent, but odds are that he ends up back with the Clippers, and that — coupled with the spotlight LA provides (and James’ interest in the movie scene!) — would make Los Angeles a prime landing spot. The Lakers have a few of the same alluring traits as the Clippers, minus Paul. They might have Paul George soon enough, though, and a James/George combo would make the Lakers instant title contenders.
If Paul doesn’t go back to the Clippers, the Spurs are the next most-likely spot for him. Unless people are willing to take massive pay-cuts, San Antonio would never be able to afford Kawhi Leonard (who’s owed $20M in 2018-19), Paul, and James; but holy crap is that a scary proposition.
Here’s some more fun math: LeBron + the current Celtics core + Markelle Fultz. That equals a team that can contend with the Warriors.