There’s not much point in talking about the betting favorites to win the 2017-18 NBA title. We all know that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors – barring major injury — are going to face off in the NBA Finals for an unprecedented fourth straight season, and the Dubs are heavy -230 favorites to repeat and win a third championship in four years. While there’s parity in MLB, NFL and the NHL, the NBA champion often is predetermined by which team has the most stars. And that’s Golden State.
What’s more interesting, perhaps, with the season around the corner is the race to the bottom – i.e., the best chance to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. The 2017 draft was considered very deep, but the ’18 class looks absolutely loaded at the top. There are potentially five franchise players in college freshmen Marvin Bagley III (Duke), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona) and Mohamed Bamba (Texas), plus Slovenian teenager Luka Doncic. It’s obviously assumed all those guys will declare for the 2018 draft – who even knows if Bagley, Porter, Ayton and Bamba will play college basketball this year with all that’s going on with the corruption and FBI investigation in that sport?
It’s the last, best chance for teams to tank because the NBA recently approved draft lottery reform starting for the 2019 draft in an attempt to prevent tanking. Currently the team that finishes with the worst record has a 25 percent chance to get the No. 1 pick. The team that has the second-most ping-pong balls has a 19.9 percent chance and the third-worst club a 15.6 percent shot. Starting in 2019, all three of the worst teams have an equal 14 percent chance.
Thus, it truly will be a race to the bottom this coming season for teams like the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns – they have the lowest win totals at BookMaker.
The Bulls were a playoff team last season and took a 2-0 series lead in the first round against the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Boston Celtics. However, then Rajon Rondo got hurt and Chicago never won again. The front office decided on a full-blown rebuild in trading All-Star Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for young players Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen, buying out Dwyane Wade and releasing Rondo. LaVine might not play until December at the earliest as he comes off a torn ACL. Chicago’s win total is a scant 22.5.
Atlanta also was a playoff team in 2016-17 but now has a win total of 25.5 as new general manager Travis Schlenk started over by trading Dwight Howard for basically nothing, losing star Paul Millsap to Denver and choosing not to match a free-agent offer the Knicks made to Tim Hardaway Jr.
The Eastern Conference is really going to be bad at the bottom as Brooklyn is given a win total of 27.5. The Nets had the fewest wins last season with 20 but had to swap first-round picks with Boston. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, it really has no reason to tank because it doesn’t own its 2018 first-rounder, either. That will go to Cleveland, sent to the Cavs by Boston in the Kyrie Irving trade.
Sacramento was 32-50 last year and traded away star DeMarcus Cousins at the All-Star break. The Kings, who also have a BookMaker win total of 27.5, had what appears to be a very solid offseason with a draft that drew raves and the additions of veterans George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph.
Phoenix won 24 games last year, second-fewest in the league, and has a total of 28.5. The Suns were in on a potential trade for Irving but refused to give up No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson as part of a package. Other than Jackson, this is basically the same team as last season. There’s some intriguing young talent there.