Welcome to the NBA Betting Dime. If you missed the debut edition, it’s a weekly basketball column that combines some of the game’s best aspects. You can expect to find some analytical deep dives, social media clips, gambling information, and maybe some dumb pop culture references sprinkled in.
This week’s edition is going to be a little different. The primary focus is going to be on the trade deadline, especially following a wild day of activity on Tuesday. I’ll also touch on the best ballplayer you may not know, the Heat’s chances of winning the Eastern Conference, and an event that the NBA needs to add to All-Star Weekend.
Let’s start by diving into a big move made by one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference:
1. Cavaliers Make Their Move
The Cavs have seemingly come out of nowhere to emerge as legitimate threats in the Eastern Conference. They’re currently in fourth place in the conference standings, just 1.5 games out of first. Cleveland already hit the over on their preseason Vegas win total of 26.5, which was the fourth-lowest mark in the league. We still have over two months of basketball to play!
The fact that they’ve done most of their damage this season without Collin Sexton is even more impressive. He led the team last season with 24.3 points per game, leaving the team to look elsewhere for scoring contributions.
The absence of Sexton has allowed Darius Garland to emerge as a legitimate franchise point guard. He was elected to the first All-Star game of his career this season, and he’s averaging 19.8 points alongside 8.2 assists per game.
The rest of their success is comprised of a deep, dominant frontcourt. Jarrett Allen stands out as one of the biggest All-Star snubs this season, averaging 16.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Evan Mobley has taken over as the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year. Kevin Love has shown flashes of the player that he was in Minnesota while providing big scoring off the bench in limited minutes.
Still, it felt like this team was one piece away from being real contenders.
That may not be the case anymore. They were able to secure Caris LeVert from the Pacers in exchange for one lottery-protected first-round pick and two second-round picks.
LeVert stands out as an awesome fit for the Cavaliers. His outside shooting leaves a bit to be desired (he’s just a 33.4% three-point shooter for his career), but he will fit in as an outstanding secondary playmaker next to Garland.
As the de-facto floor general, Garland has had to do everything for the Cavaliers since the injuries to Sexton and Ricky Rubio. He ranks third in the league in touches over that time frame, and only James Harden has more time of possession. The Cavaliers were incredibly thin behind Garland, relying on guys like Rajon Rondo, Brandon Goodwin, and Cedi Osman. LeVert can help ease that burden.
The Cavs’ offense was their biggest potential stumbling block moving forward. They rank just 18th in offensive efficiency this season, which makes them a slightly below-average unit. They make up for it with an outstanding defense, but true contenders typically rank in the top 10 on both sides of the ball. The Cavs now have the chance to fit that description.
You can currently grab the Cavaliers at +2200 to win the Eastern Conference and +5000 to win the Finals. I’m not sure if they can actually pull off either of those feats, but it seems like there’s a bit of value with both numbers. The Nets are currently in shambles, and the conference feels wide open if they can’t turn things around before the playoffs.
If you are looking to bet on the (still) longshot Cavs, then head to FanDuel Sportsbook, as it currently has the best numbers on Cleveland futures.
2. Jaylen Brown Brings The Thunder
It has been a down year for Brown and the Celtics. His numbers are fine on the surface – 23.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game – but his efficiency has taken a bit of a hit. There have also been some growing questions about the team’s long-term upside with Brown and Jayson Tatum as the team’s top two players.
The Celtics made it to two Eastern Conference Finals in a three-year span with that duo, but they were bounced in the first round last season. They currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, so the team is heading towards another disappointing season.
Still, the idea of breaking up Brown and Tatum still seems ridiculous to me on the surface. Both players are still 25 years old or younger, and they still have plenty of upside.
Brown put his athleticism on display on Sunday, finishing with a vicious poster dunk over Mo Bamba:
JAYLEN BROWN ON MO BAMBA’S HEAD 🤯🔥 pic.twitter.com/PIKMGMA2ss
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 7, 2022
Just in case you needed a reminder, Bamba stands at 7’0” and has approximately the same wingspan as a pterodactyl. He’s averaging 2.0 blocks per game this season in just 26.4 minutes. In other words, he is one of the most imposing rim protectors in the league, and Brown just went straight through him.
My favorite part about this dunk? Brown doesn’t need to use his off-hand to create separation. On a lot of “poster dunks,” the offensive player has to give a little shove with their off-hand to generate space. Not Brown.
I’m still all-in on the Brown-Tatum duo in Boston. The team certainly has issues, but they do not start with those two players.
3. The Kings Did WHAT?!?
Judging by the reaction on my Twitter timeline on Tuesday, the Kings have officially traded away this generation’s Michael Jordan. That was the general reaction when the Kings traded Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers for a package that included Domantas Sabonis.
In all seriousness, Haliburton is clearly a good young player. He’s still just 21 years old, and he’s averaging 14.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. He’s also been very efficient from 3-point range, shooting 41.3% on 4.9 attempts per game this season. Those numbers are solid, but they don’t exactly scream “All-Star.”
The efficiency is what really makes Haliburton enticing. According to Kirk Goldsberry, Haliburton ranks sixth in the league in effective field goal percentage among 93 players with at least 300 shots this season:
At 21, Tyrese Haliburton ranks 12th in the league in steals, 11th in assists and is already one of the most efficient jump shooters in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/QUj4xvxiCj
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) February 8, 2022
Ultimately, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Kings to be trading away a young player of Haliburton’s caliber.
Still, I feel like the reaction to this trade was way crazier than it needed to be. It’s easy to go “LOL KANGZ” any time they make a move, but the Kings did have a clear issue. They had an abundance of guards with Haliburton, De’Aaron Fox, and Davion Mitchell, so they chose to break up that trio in order to improve the rest of their roster.
Trading Fox clearly would’ve been the preferred strategy given the contract differential, but guess what? NBA front offices are aware of that fact too. Moving Haliburton definitely allowed the Kings to fetch more than moving Fox’s five-year, $163M contract would.
And make no mistake about it, the Kings got a heck of a player back in return. Sabonis is still just 25 years old with two All-Star game nods under his belt. He’s on the books for less than $20M in each of the next two seasons. His skill set is incredibly unique, and he’s on pace to average at least 18 points, five assists, and 12 rebounds for the third straight season.
That’s not to say there are no question marks with Sabonis. His defense remains suspect at times, and his 3-point shot is still a work in progress. Still, the Kings’ roster is definitely in a better position for the immediate future after making this trade.
The Kings are currently in 13th place in the Western Conference, but they’re just 2.0 games behind the Pelicans for the No. 10 seed. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that they can catch them. Even if they can’t, I think they’re in better shape to potentially make the playoffs next season.
4. Ja Morant Continues To Dazzle
Morant has gotten more space in this article than any other player this season. That said, it’s been deserved. He’s taken a massive step forward this season, and he’s put the Grizzlies in a spot to be legitimate threats in the playoffs. He also produces jaw-dropping highlights on a near-nightly basis.
So what did he do this week? You won’t find it on the stat sheet, but this was still incredible:
that's a H for somebody 😂 https://t.co/I5s0p50KMG
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) February 6, 2022
Anyone who has played basketball at the park or in their driveway knows the difficulty of that shot. Plus, Morant had to deal with the shot clock! I promise you, anyone who thinks they can make this shot on one attempt is fooling themselves.
Ja’s social media post also reminds me of something very fitting with the All-Star game around the corner: Bring back HORSE! NBA players playing HORSE is something that we need in our lives. It’s happened before, and it should happen again. Who doesn’t want to see the best basketball players in the world trying to make trick shots against each other? All-Star weekend has gotten very lame outside of the 3-point competition, but this would undoubtedly spice things up.
5. C.J. McCollum Heads to New Orleans
Before the Kings and Pacers sent shockwaves through the league with their trade, the Blazers agreed to officially end the Damian Lillard-McCollum era in Portland. The team has committed to rebuilding around Lillard – who is sidelined for possibly the rest of the season – but his longtime running-mate will now be in New Orleans.
The full trade is McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell to the Pelicans in exchange for Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 first-round pick, and two second-round picks.
It’s easy to see what the Pelicans were thinking with this deal. They’re adding the clear best player in this trade, and McCollum should serve as a capable primary ball-handler for the Pelicans.
He also gives the Pelicans another threat on the offensive end. They already had two very capable scorers in Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas, but the team still ranks just 26th in offensive efficiency. They clearly have room for improvement in that department.
However, the Pelicans’ big question remains the same: When will Zion Williamson return to the lineup? There has really been no update on his status, and a return to the court does not seem imminent. There’s a chance it doesn’t happen at all this season.
Still, the Pelicans know that they’re on the clock with Zion. Superstars have more power now than at any point in league history, so it would not be all that shocking if Zion tries to force his way out if he’s unhappy with the direction of the team. He is eligible to sign the rookie max extension during the offseason – and he would be foolish to pass that up given his injury history – but signing an extension doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to. Ultimately, it’s vital that the Pelicans prove to their franchise player that they are worth committing to.
For the Blazers, this trade is about tearing things down so they can rebuild stronger in the future. Hart is a nice addition who can play a role for a winning team, but this trade is more about the cap space and the draft pick. The Pelicans will only keep the pick if it lands between the first and fourth spot in the upcoming draft. If it lands anywhere else in the lottery – No. 5 through No. 14 – that pick will head to Portland. Their own first-round pick is also lottery-protected, so they will likely have the chance to add two cheap players with upside to their roster.
The additional cap space also gives Lillard the option to potentially recruit another superstar to Portland. It’s unclear if that will actually happen, but we have already started to hear grumblings about a certain unhappy superstar in Brooklyn (more on that later). The bottom line is the Blazers were never going to win a title with their current core, so it makes sense to start over.
6. Jose Alvarado Can Indeed Shoot
Alvarado has been a fun story this season. The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket went undrafted in 2021, but he signed a two-way contract with the Pelicans.
He wasn’t expected to play much of a role, but he has shown more promise than expected. He’s appeared in 24 games and has averaged just 12.4 minutes per game, but that hasn’t stopped him from averaging 4.5 points, 2.0 assists, and 1.1 steals.
He’s also had some funny interactions. He received a technical foul earlier this year after a confrontation with Joel Embiid, which cost him $1,000. That may not sound like a ton of money to an NBA player, but Alvarado isn’t exactly a max player. He told Embiid he couldn’t afford to pay for the infraction, so the star big man covered his fine.
More recently, he was mic’d up for a game vs. the Timberwolves, which led to this hilarious interaction:
This might be the funniest basketball clip I’ve ever seen 😂😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/rpN9HPThhM
— Dj Stephens (@DdotJAY30) February 5, 2022
Let ‘em know Jose! Alvarado was born in Brooklyn and played his high school ball in Queens, so you know he’s used to talking trash. I hope we get more from Alvarado as the year progresses.
7. Ok, Now What?
We had a flurry of trade activity on Tuesday, so I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that it was the trade deadline. However, we still have two more days for deals to go down. The deadline is actually set for Thursday at 3 p.m. ET, so what else could unfold before then?
The biggest thing on everyone’s mind is will the Nets and 76ers agree to a trade involving James Harden and Ben Simmons. Simmons has not suited up for the 76ers this season, while rumors are circulating that this will be Harden’s final season in Brooklyn. With that in mind, both teams swapping headaches does make some sense.
Still, it seems like a long shot this will actually happen. The Nets are clearly in win-now mode, and there is no doubt that they’re a better team with Harden than Simmons. While Philly would love to make this trade happen, it just doesn’t seem all that wise from the Nets’ perspective.
What the Lakers decide to do with Russell Westbrook is another massive question. Westbrook has a player option for more than $47M next year, it seems almost certain that he’s going to pick it up. With that in mind, the Lakers aren’t expected to have a ton of interested suitors.
However, the Knicks do stand out as one team that might be willing to take Westbrook off their hands. They have a boatload of unappealing contracts – Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, and Julius Randle just to name a few – that they certainly wouldn’t mind getting off their books. If they can convince the Lakers that they have a better shot of winning with Randle, Fournier, Walker, and Alec Burks, it’s possible that these two teams could be a match. Like the Nets, the Lakers are focused solely on winning this season. Who knows how much basketball LeBron James has left, so they can’t afford to let any opportunity go by.
Jerami Grant is another big name that is reportedly available. He would be a great fit on plenty of contending rosters, and he’s under contract for a reasonable $21M next season.
Grant has proven that he can be a role player for a good squad – he filled that role for the Nuggets before signing with the Pistons – but he has made it known that he would prefer to be a primary scoring option. That does complicate the situation a bit. Matt Moore does a great job breaking down the Grant dilemma in this piece for the Action Network.
Finally, could the Wizards be sellers at the deadline? It’s possible after the news broke that Bradley Beal would be undergoing season-ending surgery. They have a few pieces that certain teams could be interested in – Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell – and getting what they can for any of them makes more sense than chasing the No. 10 seed in a tough Eastern Conference.
8. Caitlin Clark Is a Bucket
This piece rarely ever focuses on college hoops, but we have to take a second to appreciate what Clark is doing at Iowa. She set the school record for freshman scoring last season, averaging 26.6 points per game, and led all of Division I in points. She also lead the league in total assists and made 3-pointers, and she finished second in assists per game. Clark was a bit overshadowed by UCONN freshman Paige Bueckers, but it’s hard to argue she wasn’t the best player in the league.
She has taken her game to another level as a sophomore. She already has five triple-doubles this season, and she became just the second woman since Elena Della Donne to reach 1,000 career points in less than 40 games. Overall, she’s increased her production to 27.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game.
Clark put on an absolute show against Michigan on Sunday. Her team was unable to secure a victory, but Clark racked up 46 points and 10 assists. She also displayed range that is comparable only to Steph Curry:
WOW. What a game for Caitlin Clark.
She dropped 46 PTS, 10 AST, 4 REB, 3 STL AND drained one from the logo. 😱
— theScore (@theScore) February 7, 2022
If you’re not familiar with Clark yet, this is the time to get to know her. She’s that special.
9. Can You Feel The Heat?
Before the NBA trade deadline hijacked this column, the Heat were going to be the primary focus. They’re currently in first place in the Eastern Conference, despite the fact that they’ve yet to have their full lineup for a single game.
That is expected to change shortly. Victor Oladipo is working his way back from a quadriceps injury that has sidelined him for the past 10 months, but he is targeting a return at some point in February.
That is very significant. Oladipo may no longer be an All-Star – he’s played just 88 games over the past four seasons – but adding him to the Heat’s already talented roster makes them a very real threat in the Eastern Conference. He’s a two-time All-Defensive Team selection, and he averaged 19.8 points per game over 33 contests last season.
The Heat are still available at +500 to win the Eastern Conference on PointsBet, and this may be our last chance to jump on them at a favorable number. They’ve become my favorite non-Bucks, non-Nets selection to win the conference.
10. The Cardiac Clippers
In last week’s article, I wrote about how the Clippers have had a flair for the dramatic this season. They’ve overcome a number of sizable deficits this season, including a massive 35-point comeback win.
They played another exciting game last week, this time against their biggest rivals. It looked the Lakers would squeak one out following an Anthony Davis alley-oop, but Reggie Jackson ultimately hit the game-winner with 4.1 seconds left on the clock:
CLIPPERS WIN IN A WILD FINISH AGAINST THE LAKERS 🤯 pic.twitter.com/mgpxEonVxn
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 4, 2022
There were five lead changes in this game in the final minute alone, four of which came in the final 30 seconds. According to ESPN Stats & Info, these two teams combined for just six final minute lead changes in their previous 95 meetings!
The Clippers were another team to make a deal before the trade deadline, bringing in Norman Powell from the Blazers, and they’re currently 0.5 games above the Lakers in the standings. It remains to be seen if Kawhi Leonard or Paul George will suit up this season, but the Clippers are going to go down swinging.