For the first time in a long time, there is parity amongst the top teams in the NBA. With the Golden State Warriors shaken up due to Kevin Durant’s departure and Klay Thompson being on the shelf for much of the following season with an injury, coupled with Kawhi Leonard departing the NBA champion Toronto Raptors after helping them to their first crown, the league is relatively wide open with little history to look at when it comes to picking next season’s champs.
Just about every team with a shot has had a drastic retooling aside from the Milwaukee Bucks, who managed to keep much of their team intact without any significant changes aside from losing Nikola Mirotic and picking up Robin Lopez.
Most sportsbooks have given the slight edge to the Los Angeles Lakers after their dramatic makeover that finds LeBron James teaming up with perennial All-Star Anthony Davis while also adding DeMarcus Cousins, Avery Bradley, Danny Green and Jared Dudley while keeping Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo. The purple and gold hover somewhere between +240 (Bovada) and +450 (BetOnline).
Aside from having two of the top 5 players in the league, the Lakers have done a great job surrounding LeBron and Davis with shooting (Danny Green and Jared Dudley) and a tenacious 3-and-D player in Avery Bradley. The wild card is DeMarcus Cousins, who was hobbled last season with a torn left quad and looked like a shell of himself in the NBA Finals as a part of the Warriors. If he’s remotely close to what he once was when he was last paired with Anthony Davis in New Orleans, the Lakers will be a tough out for everybody. Their biggest concern will be keeping LeBron James and Anthony Davis healthy. With LeBron entering his 17th season, maintenance will be necessary to keep the 34-year-old healthy while Davis has had a long history of injury concerns.
Not too far behind are the Los Angeles Clippers, who have added both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to a team that pushed a healthy Golden State Warriors in the playoffs last year. Much has been made about the defensive prowess that the Clippers will show as Kawhi and Paul George team up with Patrick Beverly to give opposing teams the blues. With those three tenacious defenders putting the brakes on teams first, second and third scoring options, it’s going to be interesting to see how teams manufacture points against the Clippers starting unit, that will also feature the ever-improving Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zuban alongside JaMychal Green. Oh, and don’t forget the sparkplug known as Lou Williams who will certainly light teams up whenever he’s injected into the game.
The Clippers are right there when it comes to the betting lines between +315 (Pinnacle) and +350 (Bovada). They have youth on their side but it’s really splitting hairs when it comes to picking a favorite between the two teams. However, with the narrative of defense winning championships looming large, the Clippers may have the edge.
The Bucks (+597 at Pinnacle) won’t be sneaking up on anybody this season but have their core intact and won’t have the growing pains that other teams will need to play through. The question is whether or not somebody else can step up when Giannis has to deal with somebody like Kawhi. Khris Middleton received a monster contract but vanished when most needed in the playoffs. Their chemistry will ultimately be key.
Much has been made about the Rockets adding Russell Westbrook and subtracting Chris Paul. They sit around a +900 but I wouldn’t count on them being the team to win the title. Harden and Westbrook are ball dominant guards and Westbrook is a pretty abysmal three-point shooter. Defensively, it’s anyone’s guess how this Rockets team will shake out. They’re going to score a lot of points some nights, but it’s hard to see them making it out of the Western Conference.
Two teams worth taking a shot at that might be overlooked are the Golden State Warriors (+1100 at Bovada) and the Philadelphia 76ers (+1200 at Bovada). The Sixers are the better pick of the two considering that they are in a weakened Eastern Conference that doesn’t really have another team aside from the Bucks posing a threat. Although they lost Jimmy Butler, the additions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford will prove to more than make up for Butler’s departure. Their youth movement of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris is vastly underrated when compared to the rest of the league’s top talents teaming up. The trio complement each other in ways that doesn’t step on their teammate’s strengths. The question is their outside shooting as a significant void has been left by JJ Redick heading to New Orleans. They’ll certainly need to add shooting at the trade deadline to pull ahead of the pack.
As for the Warriors, they are still the Warriors without Kevin Durant. But the Klay Thompson injury is the one that really hurts the team. Aside from his shooting, Thompson is an excellent defender. They’ve added D’Angelo Russell and Willey Cauley-Stein, which will keep the team afloat for the first half of the season. What makes the Warriors interesting is how they will be when Thompson returns to the court. Fortunately, Thompson is a player who has never needed the ball in order to score. And the proposition of Curry and a 21-year-old Russell having another sharpshooter at their disposal around April? That’s downright frightening if they have enough time to gel together right before the playoffs.
Klay Thompson is going to do everything within his power to get back on the court and Steph Curry is in line to have a monster season in his absence. Golden State could be a force come playoff time and will be worth taking a shot at due to their history of being a team who can light up their opponents in a hurry.