Welcome to Thursday’s Thoughts. This week, (another Sunday edition, because I’m lazy and also thirsty Thursdays exist) I go over my Weekly Wagers, discuss my Top 5 of the Week, and have a bit of fun with things I like and dislike. If you’re not a fan of sports, gambling, politics, pop culture, or fun, then you probably won’t enjoy many (any) of my blog posts, but oh well read them anyway and you might be surprised.
Top 5 of the Week
This week for my Top 5 of the Week, I will be going through my top 5 NBA teams improvements this offseason. This is based on who made the biggest changes to their roster over the summer to contribute to winning. This will include teams who I expect to improve their win total by the most or who made moves that I think give them a better chance to win in the playoffs. This is different than grading an offseason as certain teams made good moves that won’t result in much more winning (sometimes less!) next season. For example, the Jazz acquired a ton of picks and decent players in trading their 2 stars, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, but they won’t be on this list because they figure to be much worse next season. Similarly, the Rockets made a number of strong moves (including drafting Jabari Smith Jr. at 3, when he was the betting favorite to go first overall just days before the draft), but they still figure to be pretty bad this season, so they won’t be listed either. Alternatively, the Hawks gave up 3 first round picks and a swap for Dejounte Murray, who could leave via free agency after 2 seasons; However, they will undoubtedly be better next season, and you’ll see them on my list.
Honorable Mention: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have made strong moves over the past 3 seasons that have set them up with a young star in the making with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SGA), good young rotation pieces with upside (Josh Giddey, Lugentz Dort, Darius Bazley, and Tre Mann to name just a few), and in the offseason selected Chet Holmgren with the 2nd overall pick. We shouldn’t put too much stock into Summer league, but Holmgren already looked ready to be their second star before injuring his foot, requiring surgery that will force him to miss the entire season. Without this injury, I’d firmly consider Oklahoma City among the teams ready to make a leap. Instead, it’s likely back to the lottery with the hopes that SGA doesn’t get disgruntled and ask for a trade.
5. Brooklyn Nets
With all of the turmoil surrounding the Nets this offseason, this may seem like a strange pick. Kevin Durant asked for a trade, Kyrie is still being a nutcase, and we’re still not sure if Ben Simmons will ever play basketball again – how could I include them? Well, Kevin Durant seems to have lost his standoff with Owner Joe Tsai and GM Sean Marks, and it’s very likely he plays in Brooklyn next season. Disgruntled or not, Durant is one of the 5 best players on the planet. Similarly, whether or not Kyrie believes in “spiritual alchemy,” that vaccines are bad, that the earth is flat, or that meditation connects him to Nikola Tesla has little bearing on the fact that Kyrie is one of the best point guards in the NBA. As for Ben Simmons, signs are pointing to him being ready for the season, and he even mentions that he’ll be shooting 3s this year. Whether or not Simmons develops (and utilizes) a jumpshot doesn’t matter as much as the NBA community seems to suggest. He’s still a top-3 wing defender in the whole league, can get to the rim (has scored 16ppg for his career *without* a jumper), and has elite vision, especially in transition. He’s an All-NBA caliber player, and if things break right for Brooklyn they’ll be not only championship contenders, but arguably the favorites.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
On the other end of the Donovan Mitchell trade, the Cavaliers were the beneficiaries of the 26 year-old All-Star. After a wild season where the Cavs outperformed most expectations (especially before Ricky Rubio went down with an ACL tear), they went all-in for the upcoming season. How good is Donovan Mitchell? Take a look at the stats below and tell me which is better:
Player A: 26.1ppg, 52.7 eFG%, 4.3rpb, 5.3apg, 1.3spg, Net Rtg +4, PER 21.5, WS 13.3, BPM 4.3, VORP 6.5
Player B: 26.2ppg, 53.2 eFG%, 4.6rpb, 4.3apg, 1.0spg, Net Rtg +1, PER 20.3, WS 12.5, BPM 2.2, VORP 4.9
These are their stats over the past 2 seasons, and by most metrics, they’re very similar players. I’d probably lean toward Player A, who happens to be Donovan Mitchell. Player B is Devin Booker, who was 1st Team All-NBA this season. I’d say that neither is a top 2 guard in the NBA, and Devin Booker would get the nudge because of his improved defense (especially in the playoffs) but the fact remains that Mitchell is one of the premier scoring guards in the NBA.
3. Boston Celtics
As much as I don’t like the Celtics, this team is built for sustainable success over the next decade. I won’t go much into the Ime Udoka drama, but it looks like he will be suspended for the upcoming season. For most teams, losing a head coach would factor more into my assessment than with Boston, but in this case he was already a first-year coach and it was clearly an easy transition, taking them to the finals. Losing him hurts, but with Brad Stevens still around and the franchise stability we’ve seen from the Celtics over the past decade, I’m not too worried. More importantly, the NBA is a talent-driven league, and the Celtics have plenty of talent. Their biggest issue in the Finals was that when Tatum played badly there wasn’t really anywhere else who could give them a lift. Jaylen Brown played admirably, but he’s much better suited for the secondary scorer role. So what did the Celtics do? They went and acquired Malcolm Brogdon, who will fit that team like a glove. He will likely be relegated to bench scoring duties and will be overqualified for the role he’ll play during the season, but having another guy who can create is something that will bolster the Celtics depth, and I expect them to make another deep playoff push.
2. Atlanta Hawks
I mentioned the Hawks above, and their big move of acquiring Dejounte Murray from San Antonio. Murray is an elite 2-way guard who is immediately Atlanta’s 2nd best player, behind Trae Young. He will also help to hide Young on defense, guarding the opponent’s best backcourt player while Trae takes the weaker assignment. I’m not sure if it’s the best offensive fit, as Murray will play off-ball more often in the Hawks offense, but Young is a good enough distributor that I also expect Murray to have far more clean looks than as the primary scorer with the Spurs. The Hawks are still a bit away from contention, but they’re young (Bogdan Bogdanović is the oldest player in their top-7 at 30 years old) and can reasonably expect everyone on their roster to improve. If that happens, the Hawks could be a dark horse.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Who else could it be? The Timberwolves acquired the best player who changed teams this offseason, addressing their most glaring needs: defense and rebounding; and only gave up picks and some rotational guys. They were the only team in the NBA with 3 players in the top 25 of ESPN’s Top 100, and figure to be near the top of the Western Conference for at least the next 4 seasons.
2022 Record 2-3
With an awful week last week, I had a rough 2nd week of NFL gambling, including such gems as “if Miami falls behind early, I don’t have any confidence in Tua bringing them back” (before he came back from down 14-35 to win 42-38 with 469 yards and 6 touchdowns) and “Without Dak, the Cowboys might be the worst team in the league” (before Cooper Rush outplayed Joe Burrow). We’ll try to get back on the right track this week.
TB -2.5 vs GB
I don’t like to bet against Rodgers, but the Green Bay offense hasn’t looked the part so far this season, and the Buccaneer defense has been dominant. Two of greatest to ever play the game will battle for perhaps the last time in what figures to be a marquee matchup. A game this big is usually a bit of a toss-up, but the Packers haven’t consistently shown up, especially on the road, so my money is on Tampa Bay continuing to get it done.
ATL +1.5 @ SEA
The Falcons have too much talent not to win this game. They’ve covered the spread in weeks 1 and 2 by at least 4.5 points each, so I’ll ride the wave of the underdog Falcons. As a bonus, I love Drake London props (+210 to score a touchdown, -120 over 4.5 receptions, and -110 over 56.5 yards are great value plays – I’ll be betting on all 3).
BAL -3 @ NE
I lost on the Ravens last week, but that was me being wrong (very wrong as it happens) about Miami rather than about Baltimore. I also think there’s a chance that the Patriots just aren’t very good. I think Lamar puts up another big game, plus J.K. Dobbins is finally back. And… *sighs*… if New England falls behind early, I don’t have any confidence in Mac bringing them back.
Framley Teaser League
In addition to my regular picks, I’ll also be giving my weekly teaser selections here. For those unfamiliar with teaser leagues, I’ll give a simplified version: Each person (or team) selects 4 teams each week, and the betting line is adjusted by 10 points in favor of the team you select (e.g. if you choose a team with a -3 line, their new line would be +7). Each team that goes 4/4 gets paid by all those who had at least 1 missed pick (and paid extra for more misses). I’m currently on a team with a friend – Nicholas – where we select our picks together, so he has 50% say in these picks, and our conversations will be a recurring theme here.
2022 Weekly Record: 0/2 for ($140)
The lines for this league finalize on Wednesdays, these are our Week 3 options:
So after 2 weeks, Nicholas lost us a week and I lost us a week. Now that we’re back on equal footing, we’re in for a better week (hopefully)
Me: DET, KC, PHI, ARI – Thoughts?
Nicholas: Violently hungover today. I’ll take a look after lunch.
Nicholas (later): Yeah, that seems fine. Don’t love rooting for the Vikings to have to win by less than three touchdowns though.
Me: After last week, I don’t think ‘winning by too much’ is something we need to be overly concerned with.
Nicholas: My great concern is that impossible margins may be our only path to victory.
Indeed, Nicholas. Indeed.
Final picks: KC +3.5, DET +15.5, PHI +3.5, ARI +14
Things I Like and Things I Don’t Like
I don’t like
Eagles fans. I really hate the Eagles. With the exception of Max McCarthy, Philly fans are the worst. No real reason here other than I’m mad at myself for last week and wanted to take a shot at them.
Giants fans. A weird dynamic in the NFC East is that a team with 2 championships in the past 15 years doesn’t feel like a winner and is still likeable. I think part of it is playing in the same division as the Cowboys (“America’s Team” that is actually one of the most hated in America) and the Eagles (see above). It’s also partially due to their 2 titles coming against the Patriots (probably *the* most hated in America) and the fact that they’ve only won their own division twice in that same span. Most teams who win the Super Bowl go on to prolonged success and become hated from the resulting arrogance: Packers, Eagles, Steelers/Ravens, Seahawks, Patriots, Bucs, and even the Chiefs now seem on their way. A few rare cases include the Colts, Giants, arguably Broncos, and the currently too-early-to-tell Rams awhere they win and remain likeable. But again, we’re just including the Giants as a way to take shots at the Eagles.
I don’t like
NFL Coach Weird Justifications. When asked about phenom tight end Kyle Pitts and his lack of targets over the first two weeks, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said, “It’s not fantasy football. We’re just trying to win.” Yes, of course. The Falcons (who have not won a game yet) are focused on winning, which means not utilizing one of their best weapons. Makes sense.
After the Bengals bad loss to the Cowboys last week, head coach Zac Taylor blamed the officials saying it was “frustrating” they said the Dallas punt didn’t hit scoreboard and that it was a “big play in the game.” (The drive after that play, the Bengals scored a touchdown). Using that excuse from a guy who didn’t go for it on 4th down in obvious scenarios and had suspect play calling (at best) through 2 weeks, it was a weird response.
Home Dogs. One of the running trends each year in the NFL gambling world is debating how much home field advantage affects the game. At any rate, it’s clear that home teams win more often, and that it’s reflected in the betting lines. Still, with the amount of parity in the NFL, any team can win in a given week, and home teams are more likely than away teams to generate upsets. This week there are 9 (nine!!) home underdogs in the NFL. It’s worth a dart throw to parlay a handful of them and hope for a week of upsets.
Week 3, let’s go!