We are just over two weeks into the NBA season. It's too early to determine which team will win it all next summer, but we can pick out a few Western Conference trends that NBA bettors should keep an eye on going forward.
Kobe Bryant Could Win Scoring Title
Back in the preseason, I wrote that it was a bad wager at sportsbooks to back Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, the betting favorite, to win his fifth scoring title. Nothing against the incredible Durant, but I didn't believe he would play enough regular-season games to qualify. I still don't as Durant remains at least a few weeks away and probably more from his broken foot.
My best value NBA pick was Houston's James Harden, and he entered Wednesday at No. 3 in the NBA at 25.4 points per game. So he's still a viable option. Now, however, I am pondering the very real chance that Kobe Bryant wins the scoring title at age 36.
Kobe, a two-time scoring champion (2005-06 & 2006-07), is averaging 26.71 points entering Wednesday. That's actually quite low. The last time someone won a scoring title around that number was in 1998-99 when the 76ers' Allen Iverson averaged 26.75 points. The last time someone did so under 26.0 ppg was back in 1956-57 when St. Louis' Bob Pettit averaged 25.68 points. Yes, in case you didn't know, St. Louis did have an NBA team.
There are two reasons I believe Kobe can win this. The two other main threats generally are Durant and Carmelo Anthony. I touched on Durant already. Anthony, meanwhile, is struggling in a big way in New York's new triangle offense. He's averaging only 20.3 points on 39.1 percent shooting. The other reason is that Kobe is going to lead the NBA in shots because the Lakers have no one else. Bryant by far leads the NBA in jacking up 24 shots per game. Assuming Kobe doesn't get basketball elbow, that might even go up.
Warriors Have One Clear Flaw
Golden State is off to a solid 5-2 start under rookie coach Steve Kerr, with Curry and Klay Thompson far and away the best backcourt in the NBA. They may keep each other from winning the scoring title because they need to share shots; in fact, sharing has been part of Golden State's problem.
Everyone NBA team would like to model itself after last season's NBA champion Spurs, who put on a passing and offensive clinic against the Miami Heat, who were supposed to be an excellent defensive team; but right now the Warriors are passing too much.
In Sunday's double-digit loss in Phoenix, the Warriors had 26 turnovers, including 10 by Curry. In Tuesday's home double-digit loss to a San Antonio team playing the second of a back-to-back, Golden State turned it over 20 more times. Much like football, you simply aren't going to win most nights --or cover NBA odds at sportsbooks -- losing the turnover battle because they lead to easy scores. The Warriors are turning it over 21.9 times per night, last in the NBA and nearly four more than the next worst team, It would also be one of the worst marks in league history. Curry is coughing it up an NBA-high 4.6 times per game.
Kerr is preaching patience, saying he doesn’t want the Warriors to lose their offensive aggression or up-tempo pace. What does that mean for bettors at sportsbooks? The 'under' bet has been better so far because all the turnovers are hampering the Warriors' offense. Their offensive efficiency of 102.2 points per 100 possessions is only 17th in the NBA.
Clippers Have Defensive Issues
Many people, myself included, thought the Clippers would win the Western Conference this season and they entered the year as the third-favorites on NBA futures at sportsbooks behind San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Maybe the Clips still will, but they are a disappointing 4-3 with really only one quality win: vs. Portland. L.A. ha been beaten by Golden State and the Spurs.
This one you can chalk largely up to defense, usually a Doc Rivers staple. Los Angeles allows 104.7 points per 100 possessions, which is 21st in the NBA. Last year L.A. was seventh. Rivers recently put guard Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup in place of Matt Barnes, but that's a defensive problem with the smallish Chris Paul, Crawford and J.J. Redick on the floor at once. It's why you hear the team is perhaps interested in free agent Metta World Peace, who at least can defend.
Los Angeles also ranks dead last in the rebounding. DeAndre Jordan is averaging 2.6 fewer boards than last year when he led the league with 13.0 per game. Blake Griffin is averaging a career-low 6.9 boards. Los Angeles remains the only winless ATS team in the Western Conference on NBA odds at sportsbooks.