In a matter of just a couple of years, the NBA’s Atlantic Division has gone from a laughingstock to easily the best grouping of talent in the Eastern Conference.
The top of this division features three young teams that have become the class of the conference: the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. The Brooklyn Nets are still trying to recover from a terrible trade five years ago and the New York Knicks are seriously rebuilding.
5Dimes, one of the top American-friendly legal sportsbooks, has offered odds based on each team’s likelihood of winning the Atlantic Division in 2018-19. How should we feel about these odds? Let’s preview each team’s season and then decide which squads offer the best betting value with our Atlantic Division predictions and picks.
Boston Celtics (-122 at 5Dimes)
The Celtics are the favorite to win the entire Eastern Conference in 2017-18 and for good reason. Boston won 55 games in 2017-18, nearly making the NBA Finals in the process, despite having stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward miss a combined 141 regular season and playoff games due to injury.
Both Irving and Hayward should be back this year. In addition, young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be another year developed and much of the roster as a whole is young and improving.
If all this weren’t enough, the Celtics have the best coach in the Eastern Conference, Brad Stevens. Boston’s main potential issue is integrating Irving and Hayward back into the lineup that found a nice balance in the playoffs, but that can easily be resolved.
- Projected record: 60-22 (55-27 in 2017-18)
Toronto Raptors (+290 at 5Dimes)
Toronto won 59 games a year ago and looked like the class of the Eastern Conference throughout the year. However, the Raptors exited the playoffs meekly against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers for the third straight year.
The franchise opted for change in the offseason, promoting Nick Nurse to head coach in place of the fired Dwane Casey. The big move, though, was trading for disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in exchange for All-Star DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl.
DeRozan was much-maligned for his playoff struggles over the past several years. He didn’t defend well and relied on isolation scoring and mid-range shooting too much. Bringing in Leonard, a superior player who has none of those weaknesses, is a major upgrade.
Like the Celtics, Nurse and the Raptors will need to find some offensive balance at the top of the roster with Leonard taking DeRozan’s place. Also, Toronto had almost no injuries a year ago, which probably won’t happen again.
- Projected record: 58-24 (59-23 in 2017-18)
Philadelphia 76ers (+290 at 5Dimes)
Who expected the 76ers to jump from 28 to 52 victories in just one season? Pretty much no one, probably. Ben Simmons dazzled fans in his first season on the court, Joel Embiid continued to blossom into one of the NBA’s top big men and Dario Saric, J.J. Redick and Robert Covington filled in as perfect role players.
The growth that the 76ers achieved last season will be tough to replicate, though. Philly will get Markelle Fultz back healthy and most of the main contributors are on the upswing of their career, but teams are gunning for the Sixers now. Who knows if Embiid, Simmons and Fultz can stay healthy with all of their recent injury issues?
The Sixers’ ceiling for this season is incredibly high, though. If every key player can stay healthy and 2017 No. 1 pick Fultz develops into a high-level secondary creator next to Simmons, Philadelphia could end up winning the Eastern Conference.
- Projected record: 54-28 (52-30 in 2017-18)
Brooklyn Nets (+20000 at 5Dimes)
Here is where the drop-off comes. Brooklyn is nowhere near Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia. The Nets don’t have anyone that can reasonably be considered a star and all the teams above them have at least two of those guys.
One thing the Nets do have is depth. The Nets’ projected starting unit of D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen hardly looks any better than the bench of Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Kenneth Faried and Ed Davis. There are just a whole bunch of “B” or “C” level players, and no one is really threatening to reach that “A” level.
To take the next step, Brooklyn needs a couple of its many young prospects to develop into legit stars. More than likely, though, the player (or players) who will take this team to the next level is not yet on the roster.
- Projected record: 32-50 (28-54 in 2017-18)
New York Knicks (+25000 at 5Dimes)
Third-year big man Kristaps Porzingis is the main X-factor for the Knicks. If he returns early from his Achilles surgery and is at 100 percent right away, New York could be somewhat respectable in 2018-19. On the other end of the spectrum, the Knicks might be the worst team in the league if Porzingis’ recovery doesn’t go as planned.
Like the Nets, the Knicks don’t have star power. Unlike Brooklyn, though, this team doesn’t have great depth and will rely heavily on players in featured roles for the first time in their career. Rookie forward Kevin Knox will get heavy minutes, as will 20-year-old guard Frank Ntilikina. Neither guy is what you would consider a “polished” basketball player.
Chances are, having no Porzingis early on will push New York to the bottom of the standings early on. The Knicks, sensing a chance at getting a very high draft pick, will take advantage by focusing on developing their youth rather than strictly going for wins.
- Projected record: 24-58 (29-53 in 2017-18)
Our Betting Preview’s NBA Atlantic Division Predictions & Picks Verdict
For how narrow the gap is between the Celtics and Raptors, it is worth betting on the Raptors. They have a very balanced, talented and athletic roster, with a deeper bench that can withstand some injuries from the starting lineup if necessary. Their superstar (Kawhi Leonard) is also better than anyone on the Celtics.
The 76ers are a decent dark-horse bet, but the Raptors are definitely a wiser bet at the same odds. Toronto is more established as a very good team and has more developed talent with less injury risk.
It’s not worth it to take a flyer on either the Nets or Knicks. There’s a massive gap between them and the rest of the division. There’s a chance one of the top three crashes and burns, but it would be virtually impossible for all three Eastern Conference contenders at the top of this division to fail miserably.
So, in summary, this is our Atlantic Division prediction and advised pick:
- Bet on the Toronto Raptors to win the NBA’s Atlantic Division @ +290 with 5Dimes.