Nets somehow, someway still favorites to win NBA title

Some day I will understand the faith sportsbooks have in the Nets. I don’t care what their liability is, the fact that Brooklyn entered Saturday eighth in the East and still the title favorite after trading a former MVP and All-Star in exchange for Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and a player who has not played basketball in eight months and has no set timetable for return is madness.

Kevin Durant matters. He’s the best player on the floor in every matchup, with the possible exception of Milwaukee. The Nets were 27-15 when Durant went down on Jan. 15. There’s no timetable for his return, but assuming he’s back sometime in March, the Nets should be fine for the playoffs or at least be able to get out of the play-in.

However, the bar between that and the favorite, across the board, is stark.

The Nets frontcourt is a mishmash that lacks rim protection. Drummond helps with that, but teams will put Kyrie Irving and Drummond in pick-and-roll every time they’re on the floor.

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving

Simmons certainly helps the defense, and Curry provides another shooter. But the Nets are still better built to try and outscore teams, and they lost part of the three-headed scoring monster.

There are ways this scenario plays out great for Brooklyn, which was a +450 (9/2) tri-favorite with the Warriors and Suns at BetMGM as of Saturday morning. If Simmons elects to operate as a pick-and-roll big, a passer off the short roll, like a hyper-athletic version of Draymond Green, then it could be incredible. There is also absolutely zero reason — none, whatsoever — to believe that Simmons will want to change how he plays.

Simmons sees himself as a point guard and will want the ball in his hands. Durant needs the ball in hands. Irving wants and needs the ball in his hands.

The Nets have a ridiculous amount of shooters, especially if Joe Harris comes back this season. Irving, Durant, Harris, Curry and Patty Mills are all elite. But of course you can only play so many on the floor together.

Simmons is a monster in transition, and there will be incredible highlights of him stealing the ball, running the floor, and dishing to Irving and Durant for transition 3s. The athleticism injection is significant. The Nets are 18th in the league per possession in transition this season.

The issue is in the halfcourt, and the same problem that started this whole mess remains. Teams are going to ignore Simmons as a shooter and clog the lane. If he plays the dunker spot, they will again ignore him. You can counter with two shooters in Harris/Curry/Mills, but now you’re back to not having any rim protection.

The Nets’ title odds moved from +250 to above +400 at most books after the move. This may not be the floor for their price. If Durant is out a few more weeks, the Nets may move into likely play-in team territory, and at that point the books will have to account for the possibility they’re eliminated in the play-in tournament.

That said, getting the Nets with Durant and Irving at +450 when they’ve been +250 is objectively good value if you put their title chances above 20 percent. If nothing else, it may be worth waiting to see just what happens with Simmons and if he returns this season, and what Durant’s situation is, even if that means losing the +450 figure now.


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