What We’re Reading: December 20

Happy holidays from all of us at SSAC! With the holidays around the corner and the Christmas Day games quickly approaching, two months of the NBA season are already over. This is the inflection point each year where we can see past early season surprises and begin to understand who the playoff contenders will be in May and June.

  • A class of teams separating from the pack

At the top of the standings sit the Houston Rockets. While it is not particularly surprising that the Rockets lead the league in offensive rating, what has stunned many is their renewed focus on defense. In the East, the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Toronto Raptors have distinguished themselves from the rest. While year 15 of Lebron James’ dominance won’t be found on any aging curves, the Celtics and Raptors are the class of the Atlantic division and will be sure to challenge the Cavs come playoff time.

  • While others race to the bottom

Conversely, while some teams are taking off like the Rockets, like any year there are many teams racing to the bottom. Once they get there, they will find copying The Process™ to be slightly more difficult than it was in years past thanks to the NBA’s latest effort at lottery reform. Beginning next season, the odds of winning the lottery for the worst teams will be lowered, theoretically reducing the incentive to tank. Whether this will do anything other than marginally alter these incentives is hotly debated, but if nothing else, most see it as a step in the right direction.

  • A crop of rookies stands out

The NBA is more than just contenders and tankers, and one of the most fun aspects of this season to date is the incredible rookies that are providing immediate contributions. Leading the (way too early) ROY race is Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, who notably is being touted as the best rookie since Lebron. Close behind is Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, the 13th pick of the draft that has shocked the league by emerging as Utah’s primary scoring option, giving Jazz fans hope after Gordon Hayward’s departure and an injury to Rudy Gobert.

  • The NBA’s bet on sports gambling set to pay off

With sports gambling potentially being legalized in the near term as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this month, the NBA is preparing to capitalize. Rather than ignore the inevitable rising tide, the NBA is leading the charge by entering into partnerships and positioning themselves to profit when legalization comes. In particular, NBA owners already invest in casinos, and the league itself has invested in FanDuel, a daily fantasy sports platform, and has partnered with Sportradar, a real-time data distribution service used in the international gaming industry to reliably set odds.

  • Advice from an insider on starting a career in the NBA

While many people love the NBA and aspire to work in the industry, getting a foot in the door is notoriously difficult. On his new website cleaningtheglass.com (an incredible source of data and insider perspectives), Ben Falk provides advice on breaking into the industry through hard work and, of course, a bit of luck.