This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.
Welcome to the latest edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable.
As the return of the season nears, our NBA staff answers five questions about what to expect in Orlando.
All odds via the FanDuel Sportsbook.
How much does the absence of Victor Oladipo impact the Pacers' ceiling in the playoffs?
James Anderson: It doesn't impact anything because they weren't winning a first-round series with him or without him.
Alex Barutha: Oladipo's absence affects the Pacers' ceiling significantly. He was just starting to round into form before the season suspended, and his individual ceiling is the best player on the team on both ends of the court. Indiana has managed without him, but their thin bench could get exposed more easily in the postseason as well.
Nick Whalen: With the version of Oladipo we saw in February and March, the Pacers weren't going anywhere. But if the break could give the former All-NBA guard a chance to get back to 100 percent, it wasn't crazy to think the Pacers could make a push for the Conference Finals. With that dream now out of the window, Indiana returns to being a very good team that lacks the star-caliber player to take them to the next level.
Mike Barner: I wasn't very high on the Pacers to begin with, but not having Oladipo and Jeremy Lamb basically ends their chances of being able to make any noise in the playoffs. It's the right move by Oladipo, too. At best, they maybe would have made it through one round of the playoffs even with him on the floor. Get right for next season.
Shannon McKeown: Without Oladipo, the Pacers fall into the same non-contender category as the Magic, Nets and Grizzlies. There was only a slight chance Indiana would have made much noise in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, even if Oladipo returned to 2018-19 form.
Jeff Edgerton: Oladipo's inherent value, when fully healthy, would have elevated their prospects, but the team has filled the hole effectively during his absence. Malcolm Brogdon isn't as much of a dynamic scorer, but he can aptly direct the offense.
Ken Crites: No Victor crushes their ceiling. Who else on that roster can create their own shot in crunch time? I love Malcolm Brogdon, but he's not a "three seconds on the shot clock, gotta score" guy. In the playoffs, you must have an option when the play breaks down. The Pacers do not.
The Bucks are heavy favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. From a gambling perspective, which other team in the East would you bet to take down Milwaukee?
To win the East: Milwaukee -175; Boston +700; Toronto +800; Miami +900; Philly +900; Indiana +2900
Anderson: Toronto +800. They were underrated preseason and are still getting disrespected by Las Vegas. Everything they do translates well into the playoffs and they obviously have valuable postseason experience. That said, I think I'd stay away from all of the Eastern Conference lines. I'd rather bet on Milwaukee to win the title than to come out of the East.
Whalen: I can't not go with Philly. The Sixers' flashes of greatness can sometimes be few and far between, but when they're healthy and clicking, they still have the best starting five in the East.
Barner: I'd take a chance on the Sixers at +900. They are healthy and certainly have the talent to hang with just about anyone. Not being able to play on their home floor hurts, but at those odds, they might be worth the risk.
McKeown: Given the lengthy layoff and quirky schedule, I think all of the top five teams in the East have a legitimate chance to make the Finals. The Bucks are still my favorite to do so, of course. For gambling purposes outside of the Bucks, I'd bet on Philadelphia since their odds are the longest and I expect Joel Embiid to have a monster playoffs.
Edgerton: I would put my money on the Heat. They are arguably the best defensive team of the group, and their roster is deeper than the other teams listed. Assuming that both Butler and Abedayo remain healthy, they are as safe as any other secondary wager.
Crites: Boston. The Celtics are a tight knit bunch and Kemba Walker is finally healthy. Jayson Tatum is ready to explode. The only worry is Gordon Hayward's upcoming paternity leave. Team chemistry will be critical in Orlando. The Raptors are tempting, but who scores at crunch time?
Do you agree with the notion that the Rockets are the third-best-bet to come out of the West? If not, which team do you like outside of the Lakers and Clippers?
To win the West: Houston +700; Denver +1000; Utah +1300; Dallas +1600; OKC +3500
Anderson: I'd rather bet Dallas +1600 than Houston +700. I think the Rockets are the third most likely team to come out, but realistically I don't think it's likely at all that the Western Conference champ isn't one of the L.A. teams.
Barutha: I think that's right. Houston is a high-variance team with two recent MVPs in James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Because of that, the Rockets are a team you can never feel totally comfortable betting against.
Whalen: I don't necessarily disagree with the Rockets having better odds than the teams below them, but the numbers should probably be closer. Houston can beat anyone on any given night, but the Rockets' chaotic style is prone to bogging down against better defenses. Employing James Harden and Russell Westbrook means any game is winnable, but neither star has earned the benefit of the doubt in the postseason.
Barner: I do not. This might sound crazy, but I'll take Denver at +1000 behind the two LA teams. They have depth and Nikola Jokic has already tested positive for COVID-19, so they should at least have him through the entirety of the playoffs since he would be healthy by then. I'm not convinced the Rockets small lineup will work against bigger teams and they are toast if anything happens to James Harden or Russell Westbrook.
McKeown: I do agree that Houston is the third-best team in the West, but I like the odds for Denver more. It could be argued Denver will have the best chemistry out West since the core has played together longer than most of their competition. Utah would also fall under that umbrella, but I'm worried about the chemistry after the Rudy Gobert saga.
Edgerton: I think the answer to this question hinges on what version of the Nuggets we will see coming out of the gate. Denver faded late last year, but Jokic is one of the best big men in the league and was playing as well as he had all season before the break.
Crites: I do not. Give me Denver over the Rockets. I'm not sure Houston can play "Playoff Defense" without a center. Plus I think Denver, in a seven game series, will figure out Houston's small ball offense. Jerami Grant gives the Nuggets lots of options. My only worry is Nikola Jokic's health.
Which of the following players would get your vote for Most Improved Player?
Anderson: Brandon Ingram because his improvement was the one I didn't see coming and he legitimately got much better at the most important skill in basketball: shooting.
Barutha: Brandon Ingram. I think the steps he made as a playmaker and shooter took him up two levels. Many guys improve one or the other, not both.
Whalen: It's Ingram by a very small margin over Adebayo – I'd be fine with either guy winning the award. This is a really strong field overall. In a lot of years, any one of the players listed above would win.
Barner: I like the favorite Adebayo. He's proven to be an anchor in the middle of the Heat's defense and his ability to contribute in so many facets of the game has been really impressive
McKeown: My vote goes to Graham. He was a non-factor in limited run as a rookie and no one expected him to break out this year, especially to this extent. That said, I would expect one of the bigger names to receive the accolades.
Edgerton: Some of these guys received a boost due to the change of game script for their teams. But outside of Bam, I would have to go with SGA.
Crites: I'm in the Adebayo chalk camp. Bam was blowing up in meaningful games. Too many of Ingram's stats came in meaningless games – the Pelicans are 28-36, and were worse before Zion returned. Ingram's numbers remind me of Harvey Grant on terrible Washington Bullets teams. Someone had to score on those bad squads.
When play resumes, it will have been nearly five months since the last NBA game. Which single player are you most looking forward to seeing back on the floor?
Anderson: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Donte DiVincenzo. Giannis looks stronger than pre-shutdown, so I think he's been getting a ton of work in. DiVincenzo is the most underrated player in the league and was quietly breaking out as a valuable, winning two-way player before the shutdown.
Barutha: Zion Williamson for obvious reasons. It feels like we barely got to see him before the season suspended.
Barner: I like the favorite Adebayo. He's proven to be an anchor in the middle of the Heat's defense and his ability to contribute in so many facets of the game has been really impressive.
McKeown: Doncic. He's been amazing all year and the spotlight will be even brighter in this unique setup.
Edgerton: It's Zion, by a mile. He's had three solid months to rest, and I believe he'll take his talents to another level in the bubble.
Crites: Zion Williamson. We only got 19 games for his rookie season. I want (and need) more.