Game Time: Woke Up This Morning, Got Myself LeBron

Categories: Basketball

​Those of you who listen to my show know that I am fond of placing the "occasional" friendly wager. While handicapping the day-to-day and week-to-week ebb and flow of a football, basketball, or (if you're really sick) baseball season can be enjoyable and, at times, lucrative (especially when betting against the bottom ten QB's in the NFL has turned into an ATM), where I have had the most success the last few years has been placing futures wagers on the over/under for total wins in a season. And when I say "most success," I mean that typically my season bets are so strong that they bail me out of six months' worth of game-to-game ineptitude at the end of each season.

I'm not sure why I've had more success with season wagers other than the fact that over a 16- (NFL), 82- (NBA), or 162- (MLB) game season, you can look at distinct aspects of that particular sport and with fairly decent accuracy say "I think X will happen," and taking it a step further identify a small handful of teams where "X will happen" in spades. Whereas the game-to-game wagering is a bit like day trading (highly volatile and likely a road to financial hardship), season bets are like long-term investing (less volatile, less grounded in emotion, more grounded in rules, and ultimately protecting you from yourself).

Now, season wagers on sports typically come down to "one thing" (raising my index finger like Curly in City Slickers) -- one thing that above everything else needs
to make sense in order for you to pull the trigger. That "one thing" is
different for each sport. In the NFL, it's the quality of the starting
quarterback; in college football, it's a team's schedule; in baseball,
it's starting pitching (although the answer to "Is Cecil Cooper
prominently involved?" should be added as Thing 1-A); and finally, in
the NBA, it's what I call the "Boss Factor," or just how good is a
team's best player.

Here's what I mean ... for the following
reasons, more than any other sport, the quality of an NBA team over 82
games is driven by the caliber of your star player:

-- Only five guys on the floor for each team (simple math)
Of any sport, the disparity between impact of players' talents to
coaches' impact on a team is the biggest in NBA basketball (heavy
advantage to PLAYERS)
-- Preferential treatment to star players by referees

compare each NBA team to a mob family. In the world of organized crime,
a mob family is only going to be as strong as the baseline that its
boss sets for it. If I may illustrate (and yes, I am illustrating using
entirely fictitious characters), Tony Soprano was such a decisive and
forceful leader, his family was going to succeed whether his capos
were supremely capable (Ralphie, Vito) or bumbling fools (Paulie,
Carlo, etc). To be sure, there were ups and downs, but Tony's family
always managed to survive and mostly thrive.

In the NBA, my
feeling is that each team has a "boss," a player whose talents
establish the baseline for how many wins that team can achieve. From
there, you have the "consigliere" (second banana; Silvio Dante, for you
Sopranos fans) and the "capos" (supporting cast; players 3 thru
6 or so), who can move the needle for an NBA team seven wins either way off
the baseline. Then, you have the "soldiers," the rest of the guys who
eat up minutes, crack jokes on the bench, and pay for hookers during
All-Star weekend. Good soldiers are worth maybe 1-3 extra wins. Maybe.
But the Boss is the guy that decides whether you're playing in June or
fishing on April 15.

So here's an example, take Boss
Player A, whose baseline is 50 wins; if you gave him consigliere/capos
that are pretty sporty, you're looking at a 55-56 win team. A few good
soldiers, 59 wins is a possibility. Surround Boss Player A with
garbage, and he'll still find a way to win 43 games.

This method of evaluating NBA teams is totally subjective, grounded in
no scientific data, and is largely based on hunches. Now, they are the
hunches of someone who watches basketball roughly six nights a week,
but hunches nonetheless.

So without further ado, a Mob Style Overview of each NBA team ...

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