NBA Futures: Who Should You Bet on to Win the Western Conference?
The NBA is coming back on December 22nd for a shortened 72-game season, an early Christmas gift from Adam Silver. The NBA has the draft on November 18, free agency on November 20, and just a month later, the league will play its first game. That leaves bettors and markets without too much time to react to offseason movement, so let's get a head start.
FanDuel Sportsbook offers odds on just about everything, and we're going to dive into the Western Conference futures market, specifically which team will win the West this coming campaign.
In 2019-20, the Lakers entered the season as the favorites to win the Western Conference, and that's the same heading into this season, which makes a ton of sense after LA's title last year. But are the Lakers a good bet at +195, and which longshot is worth a look?
Los Angeles Lakers (+195)
The Lakers were the Western Conference favorite for most of last season and came through with not only a conference title but their first NBA championship since 2010. LeBron James earned his fourth NBA Finals MVP, and Anthony Davis won his first championship. With Davis widely expected to resign in LA after opting out of the final year of his contract, the James-Davis duo should have the Lakers right back in contention in 2020-21.
Los Angeles achieved many feats during their championship run, but the most impressive was the 57-0 record they had when entering the fourth quarter with a lead. The Lakers were closers all season long, and that was on display in their 16-5 playoff run.
In 2020-21, the Lakers should look different but not necessarily worse. DeMarcus Cousins will likely return at some point this coming season, and he could replace Dwight Howard, who enters free agency. The Lakers will have the option to bring back veterans like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris, Rajon Rondo, and Dion Waiters -- some of whom were key cogs last year.
The Lakers are linked to a number of trendy trade targets ranging from the San Antonio Spurs' duo of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to Bradley Beal, Kevin Love, and Derrick Rose. Time will tell if any of these moves come to fruition, but the Lakers are clearly in the business of trying to maximize this window with LeBron.
The Lakers were dominant defensively a year ago, allowing the fourth-fewest points per game (107.6) and the second-fewest rebounds per game (41.8). Those defensive marks led to a Lakers' 5.8-point differential (fifth), which rose to 6.9 (first) in the playoffs. Offensively they controlled games from the inside out with 55.2% of their points coming from two-point land (fifth) and 46.5% from the paint (second). From beyond the arc, they weren't nearly as strong with a 34.1% clip (21st) from deep and only 35.8% (23rd) of their field-goal attempts coming from three. I expect them to try to improve their three-point shooting this offseason.
Right now, according to oddsmakers, the Los Angeles Clippers (+310), Golden State Warriors (+440), and Denver Nuggets (+1200) are the teams following the Lakers in the market. The Clippers are set for a new look after dumping coach Doc Rivers, and the Nuggets will be trying to cement their status as contenders after last season's playoff run. The Warriors will be healthy after punting last season, and with the Dubs holding the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Golden State has a lot of options this offseason.
LeBron is never a bad bet to win a conference championship as he's made the NBA Finals in nine of the last 10 seasons and 10 of 14 years since his first appearance in 2008. But if LA doesn't do it, I like the Warriors to be the team to get out of the West.
Portland Trail Blazers (+2600)
Yes, the Portland Trail Blazers. It seems like everyone has forgotten about them. The Blazers have an intriguing free agency ahead of them with the possibility of a lot of cap space opening up. There are vital moves to be made, including Rodney Hood's upcoming player option for next season, plus Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony are testing their worth in free agency,
Anthony is an interesting case given Portland gave him his only opportunity to resume his career. Anthony finished the season with averages of 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds, decent marks for the 36-year-old veteran. The Blazers have $60 million of their $107 million tied up in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for the upcoming season. The NBA's cap projection is around $116 million, and if they make some moves with Hood, Mario Hezonja, or Trevor Ariza, they could free up some space or bring in rotational depth.
According to ESPN, the NBA will reduce the luxury tax bill for teams at the end of the 2021 season by a percentage connected to the decline of the league's Basketball Related Income, per Oregon Live. That's an incentive to go over if you ask me, and if the Blazers can find a trade partner or a marquee free agent pick up, they're not far off from the elite of the Western Conference. Undoubtedly, the conference is more challenging in 2021 with the Warriors back. But are the Clippers, Rockets, Nuggets, or Thunder as strong as they were last season? I'd say no.
The Blazers have made the postseason in seven straight seasons. They have three Western Conference Semis appearances under their belt with one Western Conference Finals appearance in 2018-19 that ended in a 4-0 sweep courtesy of the Warriors.
This past year, Lillard made a ridiculous effort to help the Blazers get the 8 seed. Portland went 6-2 in the NBA's restart, and Dame scored 29 or more points in eight of 12 games, including the postseason. The Blazers beat the Lakers in Game 1 of the first round before losing four straight, but Lillard's efforts weren't forgotten. And McCollum posted a career-high 22.2 points per game last year, ranking 17th in the league and marking his fifth straight 20-point season.
The return of Jusuf Nurkic was arguably the most significant impact as he averaged 14.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in five games versus the Lakers in the postseason. His season was thought to be lost due to injury, but with COVID-19 delaying league play, it allowed Nurkic to make a comeback and knock off the rust. Regardless of if the Blazers let Whiteside walk, Nurkic will play a major role in 2020-21. A role player like Zach Collins could step up for the time being and supply minutes to Whiteside's void, but Portland could also elect to go small with Nurkic as the lone big.
With their current roster, it's likely going to be tough for Portland to beat the Lakers or Warriors in a seven-game series, assuming LA and the Dubs are healthy. But if Portland can make some upgrades this offseason -- possibly making a trade for someone like Gordon Hayward or Aaron Gordon -- and pick up where they left off a year ago, the Blazers could climb the ladder in the West and become a real contender in 2020-21.