The Western Conference is loaded with hot teams and profitable NBA picks. Also: the Los Angeles Lakers. As expected, everything’s gone to heck in a handbasket for Kobe Bryant and his Laker cohorts.
Jason’s record as of Nov. 27: 11-9 ATS
Profit: plus-2.48 units
As usual, there’s lots of great basketball being played in the Western Conference. But is anybody paying attention? Most of the good stuff is coming from the far corners of the conference, those small markets that rarely get featured on national television. That airtime is being absorbed instead by one of the worst teams in the West: the Los Angeles Lakers (3-12 SU, 7-7-1 ATS).
Which is all great news when you’re making your basketball picks. As long as people aren’t giving teams like the Memphis Grizzlies (13-2 SU, 8-7 ATS) and the Portland Trail Blazers (12-3 SU, 11-4 ATS) their just due, and as long as they’re fixated on Kobe Bryant and his assorted whipping boys, there will be plenty of value available on the NBA odds board this year.
Ten Years After
The Lakers have been down this road before. Ten years ago, after Phil Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal both left town, Bryant was left with a supporting cast that was long on offense (No. 9 overall in efficiency) and short on defense (No. 30). The 2004-05 Lakers ended up missing the playoffs at 34-48 SU and 35-45-2 ATS.
Here we are again – sort of. The 2014-15 Lakers (No. 18 offense, No. 30 defense) have enough scoring touch to compete with the best, provided those shots are falling. They gave the Grizzlies (–7 away) a good run Wednesday night, keeping the game close enough to get paid in a 99-93 defeat. If only the Lakers hadn’t missed 10 of their last 11 shots.
On one hand, Bryant (26.9 points per 36 minutes) is an absolute freak of nature at age 36. He’s been going to Germany every year to get those plasma-rich injections in his knees. They seem to be working. However, Bryant is still 36 years old, and his magic touch seems to abandon him in the last five minutes of games. He’s also a minus-3.9 in Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Everyone on the Lakers is a minus-defender thus far, except for Ed Davis (plus-0.4 DBPM). This will not do.
Throw It Down, Big Man
Compare and contrast to the Memphis Grizzlies (No. 7 offense, No. 4 defense). Here’s a regional market with little NBA history and no superstars – although there’s been some buzz that Marc Gasol (22.7 PER) belongs in the MVP conversation. Good luck with that. Gasol may be the best player on the Grizz, but he’s surrounded by quality players like Zach Randolph (20.2 PER), Mike Conley (19.4 PER) and even Courtney Lee (18.1 PER), who leads the team in BPM at plus-4.9.
And it’s not like the voting committee is going to spend any energy supporting an MVP campaign from a market like Memphis – unless the Grizz win 70 games or something. The last MVP who was a rising star in a small market? Bill Walton, of the 1977-78 Trail Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge (23.7 PER) will have the same issues this year playing for a Portland (No. 3 offense, No. 7 defense) team that has once again gotten out of the blocks in a hurry, but this time with an added emphasis on defense.
If anyone is going to break through this glass ceiling, it’s going to be Stephen Curry (27.4 PER) of the Golden State Warriors (12-2 SU, 10-4 ATS). This is another regional team with a strong defense (No. 3 overall) to pair with a solid offense (No. 12), but Curry is already a nationally recognized superstar, thanks to his prodigious 3-point shooting (42.6 percent). Curry just happens to be a well-rounded player to boot, and his numbers thus far are truly worthy of MVP consideration. So are the Warriors, if you’re serious about your NBA picks.