Concluding our series of case-making for the season outcomes, we look at the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. If you missed it, check out WC playoff teams here, WC non-playoff teams here, and EC playoff teams here.
9. Charlotte Hornets - 35.5
10. Brooklyn Nets - 32.5
11. Orlando Magic - 31.5
12. Cleveland Cavaliers - 30.5
13. New York Knicks - 29.5
14. Chicago Bulls - 27.5
15. Atlanta Hawks - 23.5
This is not gambling advice! Use your brains!
9. Charlotte Hornets (35.5)
Over (Dom): If there’s one underrated point guard in the NBA today I’m convinced it’s Kemba Walker. The Hornets last year had the point differential of a 42 win team and when Walker was on court they played like a 49 win team. The issue was their total incompetence at backup point guard and basically anywhere off the bench.
I don’t think Tony Parker is good, but he’s better than Michael Carter-Williams and moving on from whatever issues Dwight Howard brought along make this on a bet on the over for me. This team looks like a playoff team out east.
Under (Bobby): Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum are both decent players, but this is a team that has been starting Jeremy Lamb. The front court for this team has almost no depth, with Biyombo and Hernangomez being the main guys, though Miles Bridges has looked good so far, which could allow them to shift guys around and play small.
Ultimately though, this is a team with an incomplete starting lineup, much less any depth. They may not be bad, but they are definitely middle-of-the-road. Don’t be surprised if they fall below the threshold here.
10. Brooklyn Nets (32.5)
Over (Bobby): Brooklyn has a lot of young talent that could become a decent core group. DeAngelo Russell has talent to be a starting level player if he can ever put it together. Spencer Dinwiddie isn’t an efficient player, but could develop and become a serviceable player. Five wins of improvement is a lot to ask, but should be doable as guys improve.
Under (Dom): The Nets are a really well coached and now well run franchise but for the first time since 2013 have their own first round pick without swap rights. They also have a young point guard in Russell who hasn’t shown he can run an offense and Spencer Dinwiddie feels like a possible regression candidate. I’d fade this as they’ve got a bunch of young guys with potential but bet the under here for a team deciding to rebuild and get a high draft pick
11. Orlando Magic (31.5)
Over (Dom): Orlando had the point differential of a 25 win team last year with the 20th ranked defense in the NBA. They’ve added a really promising defensive big in Mo Bamba, a now hopefully healthy Jonathan Isaac, a full season of Aaron Gordon, and could still get a starting point guard via trade. In a post-Lebron east, 31 wins certainly feels attainable with some form of improvement and promise from the young players. I’m not confident in the offense as of now so I fade the over on this one.
Under (Bobby): It feels like all Orlando has done recently is give Sam Presti gifts in the trade market. This team has seemed to be unsure of its plan for some time now, and the roster reflects that. A lot of their volume scoring has to come from inefficient players, and you have to wonder about how they will survive in the modern NBA, without any 3 point shooting or All-NBA players. Guys like Fournier and Aaron Gordon could be useful on some NBA teams, but I’m not sure I want them being the go-to guys. This feels like a team more likely to compete for the number one pick than the playoffs.
12. Cleveland Cavaliers (30.5)
Over (Bobby): You know how players leave OKC and seem to get better, and everyone uses that as some sort of evidence that Westbrook makes teammates worse? Expect similar results with the Cavs players. This roster has some talent, but it seems that guys were probably filling smaller roles than they were capable of since LeBron was so ball-dominant.
If you remember Kevin Love from his Timberwolves days, those teams were tough despite not having that much talent around him. This roster may actually be built to fit around him, too. If he can get back to being a good interior player, he is surrounded by shooters, so he should have space to work. With the ability to completely change their offensive scheme (rather than try to adjust on the fly with LeBron out), they should be better than expected.
Under (Dom): Other than Kevin Love, who is this team’s second best player? George Hill? Kyle Korver? I really don’t know. The Cavs should look to rebuild and gain assets for vets while giving plenty of time to Colin Sexton. They were a trainwreck last year whenever Lebron wasn’t on the court and come back with the same roster plus a rookie at point guard added to one of the worst defenses in the NBA. This line is well set so I’d fade it as 31 wins isn’t much, but there’s a great case for the under.
13. New York Knicks (29.5)
Over (Dom): Kristaps Porzingis won’t be returning to play until at least December if not later. I’m just letting Bobby take this one because this roster is bad and whatever sucker bets the over deserves to lose their money.
Under (Bobby): With that preamble, I guess I should really have a compelling argument here... This team is going to be a disaster defensively. Like, really, really bad. Teams that don’t play defense don’t usually win games. A lot of the more efficient players had left the team, and they are going to rely a lot on rookies. Allonzo Trier has looked good in the preseason, and if Kevin Knox develops, he adds to a young group with future potential. But right now, it’s all about that future potential, so expect them to keep losing for now.
14. Chicago Bulls (27.5)
Over (Bobby): Make no mistake, the Bulls are a bad team right now. There’s no arguing that. But there is some interesting talent that was added to this team. Zach LaVine isn’t a guy I would build around, but if he can get back to wear he was pre-injury, he’s a solid offensive player. If Wendell Carter Jr. can develop, they could find themselves winning some games.
The big concern I have with this pick is Lauri Markkanen being out for two months. He was a solid player for them last season, and they really needed growth from him to win games this season. How badly will the injury set him back? Will they be able to win any games without him? That makes this a pretty risky pick, but if you like to take risks, there’s potential here.
Under (Dom): The Bulls had the point differential of a 28 win team last year, but most of their good play came behind a bizarre stretch of games from Nikola Mirotic where he couldn’t let them tank despite the rest of the team’s best effort. He’s now gone and they’ve added a post-ACL tear Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker (actually post-ACL tear twice!). I like Wendell Carter Jr. a ton as their pick but tossing Lavine and Parker on top of the 27th ranked defense means a lot of losing even if it’s fun to watch. Expect a lot of 120-110 losses here. Bet the under.
15. Atlanta Hawks (23.5)
Over (Dom): Kent Bazemore isn’t flashy but he’s a solid NBA vet and Jeremy Lin can provide solid point guard play while mentoring Trae Young from the bench. Taurean Prince and John Collins were two of the least talked about good young guys last year and should both improve as well. Per Cleaning The Glass they played like a team winning 24-25 games last year so this line seems pretty well set but in a weak east with a few solid vets and some improvement, fade the over.
Under (Bobby): The Hawks could be the most fun bad team in the league this season. As an OU grad, I’m biased, but Trae Young could already be a top-5 passer in the league. Look at this nutmeg bounce pass. How many guys can throw this? If he gets back to his shooting from college, he could be one of the most exciting offensive players in the league very quickly.
With that being said... being a great passer only matters if the players you pass to can do something with the ball. Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of guys who fit that bill. John Collins has had a good preseason, and Alex Len has been playing decently well on both ends, but there just isn’t much talent here. Atlanta is full-on rebuilding. Now, in a couple of years, they could be really, really good, especially with the high Dallas pick coming up in addition to their own. But for now, expect them to make seasons about development, not winning, and expect the under here.