The tipoff for the 2019-2020 season was highlighted by one dark cloud looming over the NBA. The elephant in the room, the Daryl Morey controversy with Hong Kong, has seemingly faded away since the opener between the Clippers and Lakers. For the NBA, the opener couldn’t have come any sooner.
The game provided us with some conclusive evidence towards the assumptions many of us had going into the season. As expected, Kawhi Leonhard was the best player on the floor, Anthony Davis is still probably the best big man in the business, and the Lakers do indeed lack depth.
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Nevertheless, the start to the 2019 season brings hope to LA and the absence of stars in Golden State gives NBA fans optimism about competitive balance this year for the first time in almost a decade.
According to BetRivers, there are five frontrunners for the title in 2019.
LA Clippers +300
The Clippers, when fully healthy, have the most championship-caliber team in the NBA. Lakers fans will complain about this, I’m sure. The simple fact of the matter is, Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the NBA right now and the Clippers are a playoff team, even without Kawhi or Paul George. Lou Williams can put up 50 in the right scenario, Patrick Beverley is one of the best defensive players in the league, Landry Shamet is a deadly sharpshooter off the bench, and Montrezl Harrell is an athletic, physical rim-protector and inside threat.
Defensively, this team may be the best in the league when fully healthy. To me, I really have more faith in this Clippers team and roster over any other team in the NBA. Barring any injuries into the playoffs, they appear to me to be the strongest favorite in the League. I personally like this bet the most.
LA Lakers +350
The Lakers are back and everyone is already tired of it. As if it wasn’t agonizing enough we were dealing with such a disproportionate amount of media coverage around the Lakers, who had an awful season last year. It was absolutely soul-crushing to hear they might be getting Anthony Davis from the Pelicans. Once the trade happened, I knew following the NBA over the next few years would be especially excruciating. I just had no idea they’d add a few more key role players and make this possible new West Coast dynasty a reality.
It’s an intimidating roster. Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma are deadly shooters who should get plenty of open looks with Lebron and AD on the court. The rest of the roster is interesting. Their bench “depth” isn’t really a thing, so my concern with their title hopes are two-fold. On one hand, the Clippers seem to be the better team and more likely champion to emerge, and on the other hand, there’s the thought that an injury to either Lebron or AD would certainly ruin their chances of winning a title. If the Lakers can stay healthy, they’re certainly capable of winning it all. I would expect their only major hurdle would be getting by the Clippers.
Milwaukee Bucks +550
The Bucks looked great last season, until they fell apart in the Eastern Conference Finals. Following a disappointing end to the season, the Bucks let former rookie of the year, Malcom Brogdan, walk in Free Agency. They managed to re-sign Kris Middleton and retain most of the team from the 2018-2019 season, but the loss of Brogdan is actually more significant than many think.
One sleeper people aren’t factoring in their 2019 campaign is Donte DiVincenzo. Donte was the star of the 2018 NCAA Championship game and the first-round choice of the Bucks in the 2018 draft. Nagging injuries and limited action on a deep roster plagued him in 2018, before an injury prematurely ended his season. Following limited action to start the season, over the past three games, Donte is averaging 56% from three, 18 minutes played per game, and a Player Efficiency Rating of 23.75. If Donte can provide that spark off the bench, he may develop rather quickly into a solid sixth man and help push the deepest team in the East even deeper into the playoffs in 2019-2020. The Bucks have a lot of length, depth, and should be the most formidable threat in the East, especially with another season of chemistry.
Philadelphia 76ers +700
The 76ers have a very unique team. It’s a dynamic roster, but one with glaring weaknesses. One thing 76ers fans hate to hear over and over again is, “Ben Simmons can’t shoot”. Well, I’ve got some bad news for 76ers fans. Ben Simmons still can’t shoot. Even if he starts taking and making shots outside of ten feet from the basket, he’s a long way from being able to do it efficiently. The issue with the Sixers and Simmons is that it’s hard to have a “dynamic” point guard who can bring so much on the defensive end, and one who is so tremendous around the basket, when he can’t pose a threat on the perimeter.
We’ve seen teams play off Simmons and dare him to shoot, and it’s definitely worked from time to time, but the bigger problem is the chemistry. Over the past two seasons, we’ve thought, at various points, we were seeing the “right lineup on the floor for this to work,” but that hasn’t really panned out over the long run. We’ve seen Embid off the floor and the inside is suddenly more open for Simmons. We’ve also seen Embid appear to be even more potent without Simmons in his way on the offensive end. The most critical goal for the 76ers this season needs to be finding some sort of identity on the offensive end and using variations of it to maximize offensive efficiency. This is a very strong roster and one built to contend, but the chemistry has to really come together soon, or we may be seeing a Celtics-level of breakdown come playoff time.
Houston Rockets +800
The Rockets are a year older and now even more offensively inefficient with Russell Westbrook in the mix. I have very little faith in the Rockets’ ability to make a deep postseason run. Even with James Harden posting absurd efficiency numbers and getting to the line at what seems to be an unfair rate, I can’t see a two-guard team doing much against the Clippers’ stout defense. This is really an attrition bet if you’re up for it. If one of the Clippers or Lakers stars go down with an injury, it’s conceivable to think the Rockets’ fast-paced system offense could get them by in a seven-game series. I’m avoiding this one, but if you want a dark horse candidate, this is a good one.