BettorIQ’s NBA Pacific Division Betting Preview
On Monday, we began our preview of the NBA’s Western Conference. Today, we continue that analysis with a look at the top-heavy Pacific Division.
Los Angeles Clippers (-140 to win Pacific Division)
The Clippers have well and truly arrived. After years of progress in the post-Donald Sterling era, Los Angeles had arguably the most impactful summer since the Warriors managed to sign Kevin Durant. By signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George, the Clippers have gone from pesky upstarts, to legitimate contenders for the title. It didn’t come without a cost, though. When it became apparent that bringing in Paul George would seal the Leonard deal, they had to pull out all the stops. They shipped high-ceiling guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to Oklahoma City along with polished scorer Danilo Gallinari. They also laid waste to their draft future, surrendering five first-round draft picks, in addition to two pick swaps with the Thunder in 2023 and 2025. Ultimately, these were moves the Clippers simply had to make. Adding the likes of Kawhi and George is an opportunity that comes along once-in-a-lifetime.
While the Clippers will almost certainly head into the playoffs near the top of the West, it might not be smooth sailing right off the bat. To begin with, Paul George is slated to miss at least the first 10 games of the year.Then, there’s the question of how many games Kawhi Leonard will play. He missed 22 last season, and while the art of managing Kawhi’s minutes paid championship dividends for the Raptors, similar restrictions would be far more difficult to deal with in a talent-laden Western Conference. Despite losing two key contributors from last year’s team, the Clippers still project to be deep, and when the stars are available, the defense should be among the league’s best. Ball-handling duties may be the most apparent weakness, as the team’s point guard duo of Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams are hardly known as great passers. All of this suggests that while the Clippers will probably come good, the win total line of 54 may be a bit bloated. The public will love this team, and value could be hard to find.
Los Angeles Lakers (+200 to win Pacific Division)
The first season of LeBron James’ twilight years in Tinsel Town was something approaching a debacle. Coming off of an exhausting eight consecutive Finals appearances, James showed glimpses of being human. The aging star was shutdown at the end of a dysfunctional season that included an embarrassingly botched attempt to bring in disgruntled New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis. This summer, at a huge cost, the Lakers finally got their man, as Davis was traded for quality youngsters Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, to go along with a boatload of draft assets.
Even at such a high price, this move was inevitable. At this point in his career, James simply needs the help. And, there are few players who would be a better fit alongside LeBron than AD. His presence on offense will allow James to transition into an even larger point guard role, and it should prevent James from adding undue wear and tear on his body. Defensively, James’ effort has diminished over the years, and having an anchor like Davis on that end of the floor should lead to a substantial improvement.
To be sure, there will be nights where the James/Davis two-man game will be undeniable. This duo running a bevy of pick-and-roll action is almost unfair. Outside of these two MVP candidates, however, there’s little but question marks. The roster is littered with aging veterans like Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard. There’s still not enough shooting, and there’s reason to be concerned about their ability to execute uptempo. That said, a win total of 51.5 is well within reason. Now that James has the help he craved, he should be plenty motivated to right the ship in L.A. and Davis, who forced his way out of New Orleans, is likely desperate to prove he made the right decision.
Golden State Warriors (+425 to win the Pacific Division)
It would have taken some serious psychic powers to predict all that had to unfold to reduce the dynastic Golden State Warriors to third-favorites in this division. After all, this is a team coming off its fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. It’s also sort of strange, considering the choke-hold they’ve had on the league for the last half decade to consider they only managed to go 3-2 in those series, but injuries to Klay Thompson and the since-departed Kevin Durant were their undoing against the Toronto Raptors. Following Durant out the door was franchise mainstay Andre Iguodala, who provided value all over the floor, and routinely showed up in clutch moments. With the Warriors planning to hold Thompson out until at least the All-Star break, they truly find themselves in uncharted territory.
First-time All-Star D’Angelo Russell was brought in to help soften the blow, and although his presence on the floor will likely force Steve Kerr to make some changes to one of the greatest offensive schemes in league history, Draymond Green and Steph Curry are still around to dismantle opposing defenses. While these are two men who seemingly need no extra motivation, they’ll certainly have it this season. With many around basketball writing off their chances to get back to the Finals, we should see the two of them playing with a level of focus they sometimes lacked when Durant was in tow. There may be major issues on the defensive end. Durant and Thompson are two of the NBA’s most impressive defensive players, and the loss of Iguodala also looms large. Russell is a sub-par defender, and while it seems impossible that Draymond will be able to give more than he already does on that end of the floor, he’ll have to find a way if Golden State plans to once again win 50-plus games. It would be foolish to consider this team an afterthought, though, and the sizable plus money on another division title would not be the most foolish play, especially with the questions surrounding the two new top dogs in the Pacific.
Sacramento Kings (+5500 to win the Pacific Division)
The strength of the Pacific Division’s top three clubs is well-illustrated by the fact that an improved Sacramento Kings team remains 55-1 to leap ahead of them. Last year was the first time in recent memory that this organization seemed to have a solid core and direction. Handing the keys to De’Aaron Fox was the best decision Sacramento has made in years. Probably the quickest player in the entire league, Fox has helped give the run-and-gun Kings an identity. His ability to get to the rim and make good decisions with the ball has been a boon for the team in general, and top-class shooter Buddy Hield in particular. Bringing in new head coach Luke Walton should only help enhance the Kings’ brand of play. Despite a tough time at the helm of the Los Angeles Lakers, Walton’s pedigree is solid, and this roster actually lends itself far better to the sort of things Walton loved to do while working for the Golden State Warriors.
The Kings have a decent mix of veteran presence, led by Harrison Barnes and new signing Trevor Ariza, to go along with some substantial young talent. There’s some hope that the glimmers of brilliance shown by oft-injured Harry Giles will translate into a more substantial contribution. However, it’s the development of Marvin Bagley III that will dictate if this team can match or exceed last year’s 39-win season. Bagley too showed signs of real potential, and he seems primed for a bigger role. His sizable price of 25-1 to win the Most Improved Player Award is perhaps more intriguing than their win total of 38.5. After all, as the West has strengthened, better play from the Kings may not yield more wins on the ledger.
Phoenix Suns (+25000 to win the Pacific Division)
Leaving the disastrous Knicks aside, perhaps no team was more adversely affected by falling in this summer’s NBA Draft Lottery. The Suns were absolutely rotten last year, finishing tied for the second-worst record in the league at 19-63. An afterthought for any free agent, Phoenix desperately wanted to add a third star in the draft to go along with young stars Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. Instead, they ended up with the sixth pick. Feeling that Jarrett Culver lacked the star quality they were after, they traded down to the 11th slot, selecting Cameron Johnson from the University of North Carolina. Considered a bit of a reach, Johnson, along with forward Dario Saric who was part of the same trade, should provide some much-needed three-point shooting for a Suns team who ranked last in that category in 2018-19.
The win total of 27.5 is based on the projected continued development of Booker and Ayton, but it’s hard to think the Suns wouldn’t prefer another season of player improvement while also once again taking up residence at the bottom of the league standings. This summer failed to yield the third star they’ll need to make a real push out west, and with their two studs a mere 22 and 21 years old, there’s still time to be patient.