San Antonio Spurs +800
The implied probability of 11.1% is much too low for a Spurs team that missed the playoffs for the first time in the last 22 years last season. Gregg Popovich has run a winning program for longer than anyone in the NBA and the Spurs do not tank. The Spurs made some moves that seemed to make the team weaker, but they also got younger and the chance for development and improvement in the season is greater than it has been in the past 3 years.
Still, the Spurs don’t seem talented enough to make the playoffs, so why would we make this bet, even with the low implied probability? The NBA season has wreaked havoc upon the players’ bodies and the older players are struggling to stay healthy. The bubble threw off the players’ natural rhythm for rest and recovery in the off-season last season. Last year we had a condensed season, which saw more injuries than we’ve seen in a long time. It is not crazy to expect that some teams that we currently have rated as playoff certainties will fall out of the playoffs due to injury.
The Los Angeles Lakers are fielding a very old roster (average age 31.8 yrs old) and injuries to LeBron James or Anthony Davis (who does have a significant injury history) could jettison them out of the playoff picture. The Los Angeles Clippers will be missing Kawhi Leonard for the year. It is hard to quantify the extra wear and tear the other Clippers players will endure having to play more minutes in Kawhi’s absence. An injury to Paul George would most likely remove the Clippers from playoff contention.
The Portland Trail Blazers could not withstand an injury to Damian Lillard and an injury to Nikola Jokic knocks out the Denver Nuggets from playoff contention as well. The Warriors are one Steph Curry injury away from being out of contention and are relying heavily on Klay Thompson who missed the last two seasons due to injury.
So while we do not know which team will suffer these injuries, we do know that the risk of injury is higher due to the fact that the NBA has played so many games with shorter offseason and time between games in the last two years in order to protect their revenue. This is going to impact the older players more. The wear and tear on their bodies is much greater and they’re not able to recuperate as fast. There could be a quicker changing of the guard for the top 10 players in the league with the NBA running their superstars into the ground the last two seasons.
Due to the Spurs’ youth, ability to improve, and the increased risk factor of injury amongst other Western Conference contenders, I believe at +800 there is value on the Spurs to make the playoffs.
Toronto Raptors +250
The Toronto Raptors are another proud franchise that suffered a setback last year and is rebuilding with younger pieces. The Raptors lost franchise leader and stalwart Kyle Lowry in the offseason, but they can absorb his loss with the multitude of playmakers they have on the wings. The Raptors were already a strong defensive team and adding rookie defensive standout Scottie Barnes will only help their case as they look to be a team that can shut down opposing offenses in the fourth quarter. Pascal Siakam can shoulder most of the load. They can also rely on Fred Van Vleet to make big shots when needed, and create quality shots in Lowry’s absence.
The Raptors are also one of the best-run organizations in the NBA with President Masai Ujiri being widely regarded as a top-five executive, and head coach Nick Nurse is widely regarded as a top-five coach. This leadership means the Raptors will not be down for long. Although they had a trip to the lottery last year, I expect them to be back to where they usually are this season, and that is in the playoffs. An implied probability of 28.6% is too low.
Washington Wizards + 450
The Wizards made the playoffs last season and I believe they improved this offseason. While they lost a big name in Russell Westbrook, they gained solid pieces to go around their star Bradley Beal. The trade of Westbrook netted Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. All of them are above average defenders, which addresses a major weakness for the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards were not quiet in free agency either, adding point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to replace Westbrook. Dinwiddie fits better next to Bradley Beal because he can space the floor better, and is a more pure shooter. Beal and Dinwiddie will still provide the same dynamic backcourt. The recent acquisitions from the Lakers, and the late-season addition of Daniel Gafford, make this team much better defensively.
It is hard to see how the Wizards do not end up in the playoffs again. The Wizards might be being discounted because of the improvements to the Chicago Bulls, but I still believe the Wizards have a better team. They are more balanced now in their ability to defend and score. The irrational exuberance around Chicago has provided us with value on the Washington Wizards. An implied probability of 18.2% is too low, there’s a much greater chance that the Wizards end up in the playoffs again.
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*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.