Nothing's certain in today's NBA. Earlier this week, it felt like a stone-cold lock that Phil Jackson would return to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, but in a shocking turn of events, it was Mike D'Antoni who assumed the Lakers' sideline seat.
For the dozens of news outlets already speculating on how Jackson was going to reinvigorate the Lakers, the D'Antoni hiring was a real lesson on the danger of a rush to judgment.
Since we've been so recently reminded that it's nearly impossible to be certain about the ever-changing face of the NBA, it might be best to leave the guessing to the experts. And no, we don't mean the pundits who jumped the gun on the Jackson situation, or the talking heads on TV who are already crowning the Knicks as Eastern Conference champions.
We're talking about the oddsmakers.
While we can't consult the sharps in Vegas about burning questions in the NBA—they don't have odds on stuff like that—we can use the same way of thinking to make calculated guesses about the hottest topics in the league.
Here are some Vegas-style odds on the NBA's hottest burning questions.
Stats accurate through games played Nov. 15
Over the past two seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies have been a dangerous but inherently flawed outfit. Despite terrific defensive and rebounding numbers, the Grizzlies simply couldn’t score enough to hang with the West’s elite—although they did give the Oklahoma City Thunder a scare two years ago in the conference semifinals.
But this year, they’ve suddenly flipped the offensive switch.
Part of the transformation is attributable to the growing level of familiarity among the league’s best trio of frontcourt players. Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have now been together since the 2009-10 season, and their chemistry is a huge reason for the Grizzlies’ early success.
On top of that, Gasol and point guard Mike Conley have both taken huge steps this season—Conley as a scorer (13.9 points per game on 47-percent shooting) and Gasol as a facilitator (4.7 assists per game). The result has been an offensive attack that is harder to predict and vastly more efficient than it’s ever been.
Add in the desperately needed shooting of Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless (combined 21-of-42 from three) and the Grizzlies also have the floor-stretchers they’ve lacked in the past.
Overall, the Grizzlies rate in the NBA’s top 10 in points, rebounds, assists and points allowed per game.
Financially, it’s unlikely that this group will stay together beyond this season. So it’s a good thing the Grizzlies really are ready to contend right now.
Vegas Odds: 5:1
The New York Knicks are doing everything right. Having jumped out to the franchise’s best start since Patrick Ewing was around, Carmelo Anthony and friends have been scoring efficiently and shutting down the opposition. By margin of victory (plus-15.6 points per game), the Knicks are easily the NBA’s best team.
So it might be a little ridiculous to ask, but here goes: If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?
The Knicks are functioning perfectly without Amar’e Stoudemire right now. Carmelo has been a revelation as a power forward, and the offense runs perfectly with him as its focal point. Why even bother trying to wedge Stoudemire, who can’t play center because of his defensive ineptitude, back into the Knicks’ lineup?
The Knicks have at least another month before Stoudemire is ready to return, so they’ve got some time to figure out what to do with him. But one thing seems abundantly clear: They simply don’t need him.
If New York can find a sucker to take Stoudemire in a trade, they’ll be better for it, but they definitely shouldn’t try to re-integrate him into the rotation when he returns.
There’s no way he’ll make the Knicks better.
Vegas Odds: 2,500:1
The better question might be: Is anyone good enough to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs?
Short of LeBron James, who proved he could drag a sorry cast of Cavs to the postseason entirely on his own, there isn’t anybody in the league capable of making this mess a playoff team.
That’s no knock on Kyrie Irving, who has turned himself into one of the NBA’s 10 best players in just his second year. With absolutely no help, he’s managed to put up 24.3 points, 6.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game on 47-percent shooting. Considering opposing teams are focused entirely on stopping him, that’s pretty impressive.
Irving is in this one alone, and when the Cavs fall well short of the playoffs, it certainly won’t be his fault.
Vegas Odds: 50:1
As long as LeBron James is breathing, the Miami Heat have to be considered favorites in the NBA title race. King James is currently playing the most efficient basketball of his career while enjoying a reduced workload. He’s logging a career-low average in minutes per game.
In addition to extra rest, LeBron has more help this season than he’s ever had. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis force defenses to honor their shots, which spaces the floor for James to operate in the mid-post area.
But it’s not just that James and the Heat have gotten better; many of the league’s other contenders are showing signs of weakness.
The Lakers’ age and shallow bench are real issues, the Oklahoma City Thunder clearly miss James Harden and the Boston Celtics are struggling to integrate all of their new pieces.
So while those teams fight through their issues, the Heat can casually coast through the regular season before flipping the switch in the playoffs. The Heat will hit a few speed bumps, like their early losses in New York and L.A., but the road to the title still goes through Miami.
Betting against the Heat to repeat as champions is no way to make a living. They’ve got the best chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the second year in a row.
Vegas Odds: 9:5
Let’s get one thing straight: Mike D’Antoni can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the L.A. Lakers. For starters, he probably doesn’t have access to the Fountain of Youth, so Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are still going to be a combined 72 years old when he takes his seat on the bench.
D’Antoni also won’t be able to eliminate the risk of injury that affects the top-heavy Lakers like few other teams. A broken fibula has already knocked Nash out, Kobe never goes a full season without some nagging health issue and Dwight Howard still isn’t quite right after offseason back surgery.
However, D’Antoni can maximize the considerable talent at his disposal. The Nash-Howard pick-and-roll figures are to be the biggest part of the Lakers’ new attack, and those two players run it better than anybody in the league.
D’Antoni’s offensive system should result in more efficient offense and more easy wins for the Lakers, which will allow the starters to log fewer minutes on the court. Theoretically, that will reduce the risk that they’ll break down as the season progresses.
In addition to sparing the starters, D’Antoni’s schemes should also allow the bench players more easy looks, which can only help in the effort to get at least a few of them on track.
Most important of all, the Lakers respect D’Antoni. That wasn’t the case with Mike Brown.
D’Antoni can’t fix everything, but he can do enough to at least return the Lakers to the championship conversation.
Vegas Odds: 4:1