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Setting The Pick – Post-break instant reactions

Philadelphia 76ers Kyle Lowry - The Canadian Press

I didn’t realize how badly I missed having basketball back on TV until last night.
From one week of nothing to 12 NBA games in the first night back – it felt like a cold plunge.

With the final straight of the regular season in sight, it was clear which teams were ready to switch into another gear and which ones have 2024-25 in mind.

Here are my five instant reactions from Thursday night’s slate, with accompanying betting considerations:

The old Hornets are gone

For the fourth straight game, Charlotte won straight up as heavy underdogs.

They were expected to lose by 9.5 points, instead they won 115-107 in Utah.

If you bet $10 on the Hornets at the start of this streak and rolled over your profits every game, you’d be up roughly $1,950.

This team is simply being slept on.

Nine players took the floor for the Hornets Thursday night, and only four of them played for this team prior to the deadline.

Charlotte is no longer the immature, nonchalant roster of misfits we saw all season.

The five new post-deadline team members (Tre Mann, Grant Williams, Seth Curry, Vasilije Micic, and Davis Bertans) all have a chip on their shoulder and give head coach Steve Clifford more talent to work with.

If the three-pointer stops falling for them, their success will peter out.

Until then, I wouldn’t bet against them.

The play: Bet on the Hornets against the spread and moneyline

No friends in Brooklyn

Toronto fans got a front-row seat to the post-deadline Nets and boy did they look miserable.

My biggest takeaway from that blowout win? These guys don’t seem to like each other very much.

Eyes were rolled after blown defensive assignments; arms were shrugged after wide-open players begged for the ball.

This team is not playing as a cohesive unit whatsoever and new head coach Kevin Ollie is going to have a ton of work bringing the troops together.

Brooklyn managed 19 assists on 33 made field goals. That assist rate would rank fourth worst in the NBA this month.

Cam Thomas is their best isolation playmaker, but the ball rarely leaves his hand voluntarily.

Ben Simmons’ teammates don’t seem committed to operating the offence through his hands, and he subsequently was standing in no man’s land all game, clogging up driving lanes.

On paper, this team has four starters who all grade as above-average defenders.

That might be enough for them to churn out the occasional win.

But for now, I’d be going after their offence and banking they don’t develop any system in the near future.

The Play: Bet the under on Brooklyn’s team totals

Lowry and Nurse running it back

Kyle Lowry made his triumphant debut in the City of Brotherly Love, his hometown.

The GROAT’s tenure in Philly will be made easier getting to play for his former head coach, Nick Nurse.

One thing that stood out watching the game Thursday night – Lowry seemed to immediately have the respect of his teammates even though he’s been with them for just two weeks.

Whether he’ll have a material impact on winning remains to be seen.

The Sixers have been in a freefall ever since Joel Embiid got knocked out of the lineup, going 3-6.

The void left behind by the reigning MVP is insurmountable. The team should feel fortunate if they can float at .500 the rest of the season.

What can Lowry’s presence tangibly influence moving forward?

I think he can make life easier for Tyrese Maxey.

Right after Embiid’s injury was official, Maxey’s odds for Most Improved Player dropped down to -600 on FanDuel after he dropped 51 points in the first game without Embiid.

Since then, Maxey has shot 42.5 per cent from the floor, struggling with his efficiency against teams scheming for him.

If Lowry can stay on the floor, he should absorb some playmaking responsibility from Maxey and afford him more opportunities to find his offence off-ball.

Maxey is only averaging 2.4 threes these past seven games.

Lowry’s presence should help him revert back closer to 3.0 threes a night moving forward.

The play: Bet the overs on Maxey’s threes and points.

The Mavericks’ centre rotation

After the deadline, I wrote about Dallas’ addition of Daniel Gafford and the dream of having a rim-running centre on the court for all 48 minutes.

In that blurb, I flagged an opportunity to bet the unders on both Gafford and Dereck Lively II since they’d have to share minutes.

I didn’t think a third centre would compound the problem.

Lively II returned to the starting lineup Thursday night but ended up logging just 16 minutes against Phoenix.

I assumed Gafford would’ve filled up the remaining 32 minutes at the five spot, but instead Maxi Kleber played more minutes than the both of them (25 minutes and 48 seconds).

Part of this could’ve been matchup-based; Phoenix loves to play small.

Either way, the fact that Kleber is playing any minutes at the five heightens the urgency to bet the unders on Gafford and Lively II moving forward.

Both rim-running centre averaged 26 minutes per game prior to the deadline.

It looks like their minutes are trending closer to 20 a night.

The play: Bet the unders on Gafford and Lively II

Wemby being unleashed

If you haven’t jumped on the Victor Wembanyama hype train, ask yourself where all your hate comes from.

Statistically, he’s putting up astounding numbers we’ve rarely seem from a rookie.  Eye-test wise, he’s doing some things on the court NBA fans have never witnessed.

Against the Kings Thursday night, Wemby finished with five steals and five blocks.

No player has done that since Anthony Davis did 16 months ago.

His defensive stats will always jump off the page, but the opportunity to bet on him comes on the offensive end.

Over the last month, he’s been seventh in usage rate ahead of superstars like Stephen Curry and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Head coach Greg Popovich is letting more of the offence flow through Wemby, and the presence of Tre Jones in the starting five has amplified his production.

What was notable from San Antonio’s first game back was Wemby’s play time. He logged 31:17, which is the most he’s played since his ankle injury.

Additionally, he played the final minutes of the game, something Popovich has been inconsistent about throughout the season.

The usage rate has been a known thing for the past month, but should his minutes permanently be above 30 a night, there’s a narrow window to take his overs especially against teams with weak rim defenders.

The play: Bet the over on Wembanyama points and threes