Handicapping the NBA: Lakers Open As 2021 Title Favorites

Handicapping the NBA: Lakers Open As 2021 Title Favorites

This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.

The 2019-20 NBA season finally came to an end Sunday night, as the Lakers vanquished the Heat in six games to capture their 17th title in franchise history.

Normally, around this time in the calendar we'd be preparing for the start of a new season – mostly likely by putting far too much stock in the result of a Kings-Pacers or Hornets-Grizzlies preseason game. But in a year marred by unprecedented obstacles, it remains to be seen when, exactly, the 2020-21 – or, probably just 2021 at this point – campaign will get underway.

Nonetheless, that hasn't stopped our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook from releasing their 2021 NBA Championship odds.

Here's a look at how things currently stand:

2021 NBA Championship Odds

Lakers: +350Clippers: +400Bucks: +500Warriors: +600Nets: +900Heat: +900
Celtics: +1200Raptors: +1600Nuggets: +2000Mavericks: +2200Rockets: +220076ers: +3000
Jazz: +4000Trail Blazers: +5000Pelicans: +7000Thunder: +8000Pacers: +10000Suns: +10000
Hawks: +15000Bulls: +15000Grizzlies: +15000Timberwolves: +20000Magic: +20000Wizards: +20000
Kings: +25000Spurs: +25000Hornets: +50000Cavaliers: +50000Pistons: +50000Knicks: +50000

A few quick takeaways:

  • The Lakers are (slight) favorites, and rightfully so. Even with the inherent caveats created by the bubble, it's impossible to argue that the Lakers weren't the NBA's best team. They rolled through the Western Conference with a 12-3 record, and while we never got the LA vs. LA showdown we deserved, that's not the Lakers' problem. Assuming Anthony Davis re-ups for at least one more year, the road to the Finals will again go through Los Angeles. The Lakers won't have a ton of flexibility, but overall they should be able to make slight improvements to the supporting cast. And if there's one team that a veteran or two might take a below-market deal to join, it's the Lakers. In the end, though, it all comes down to LeBron James, who just completed one of his best and most efficient postseason runs, to date, at age 35. At some point, James will begin to show signs of decline, but he's provided little reason to believe a drop-off is coming next season.
  • The Clippers deserve every bit of slander lobbed their way after blowing a 3-1 lead to Denver, but this team absolutely deserves to be neck-and-neck with the Lakers heading into next season. Man to man, the Clippers' roster is still better than the Lakers', though the gap between Anthony Davis and Paul George may be larger than most thought heading into last season.
  • I don't have much to say about Milwaukee at 5/1. The Bucks are 116-39 over the last two regular seasons – the best mark in the league by a decent margin – but I'm not sure it matters. Even if Milwaukee wins 75 games next season, the Bucks will be treated with rightful skepticism until that success translates to the playoffs. With that said, simply having Giannis Antetokounmpo as an employee of your basketball team is enough of a floor-raiser to keep the Bucks near the top of the list.
  • The Warriors (6/1) and Nets (9/1) are perhaps the two most interesting franchises heading into next season. If I were to make a value bet right now, these are the two teams I'd most consider. The Warriors carry some significant injury and age-related concerns, but the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green trio remains intact, and among contending teams, Golden State is best-positioned to make a major roster splash before next season. Meanwhile, the Nets will have the best duo in the Eastern Conference, provided both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving can stay healthy. Inherently, Brooklyn will be prone to volatility, but on paper no other team in the East can match the Nets' combination of multiple All-NBA talents plus a strong supporting roster.
  • Miami at 9/1 feels about right. Coming off of such a memorable run to the Finals, the Heat are suddenly a year or two ahead of schedule as they continue to eye the 2021 offseason as an opportunity to add a superstar piece. Goran Dragic is a free agent, but the Jimmy Butler-Bam Adebayo-Tyler Herro-Duncan Robinson core returns, as does perhaps the league's best coach. All four of those players dramatically improved their stock over the course of the playoffs.
  • I'm a little surprised Denver didn't get more juice after making a run to the Western Conference Finals – in fact, the Nuggets had better title odds this time last year. Sure, the Nikola Jokic-Jamal Murray duo ran out of gas against the Lakers, but it felt like the Nuggets had turned the corner from fun young team to legitimate contender. Denver has some roster issues to work out this offseason, but if it can find a way to add one more complementary piece (or at least hang on to Jerami Grant), the Nuggets should again be in the mix for a top-three seed.
  • If you're looking to throw some money at a longshot, consider Dallas at 22/1 and hope that: 1. Kristaps Porzingis stays healthy; and, 2. The Mavs find some ways to upgrade around their star duo. It's only Year 3 for Luka Doncic, but he's already capable of carrying a so-so supporting cast to the postseason. Give him a better roster and the Mavs could be next season's biggest riser.
  • Houston at 22/1 and Philadelphia at 30/1 are harsh but fair numbers. At this time a year ago, both teams were bridled with optimism and listed at 8/1 to win the title. Last season was basically a wire-to-wire disappointment for the Sixers, while for the Rockets it was the usual month-to-month roller coaster. The Sixers' roster is still one of the best in the East, but the Al Horford situation looks like a possible disaster, and there's still the world's largest elephant in the room with the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons partnership. As far as the Rockets go, oddsmakers have finally had enough. They're no longer giving James Harden the benefit of the doubt. Another 35-points-per-game season is all well and good, but the Rockets may have missed their title window as the West seems to grow stronger at the top with each passing year.
  • Utah (40/1) is probably the last team on this list who I could conceivably see playing in the NBA Finals – and even that is probably being far too generous.
  • New Orleans (70/1) and Phoenix (100/1) should both be extremely fun teams to watch but neither is anywhere close to championship contention. Given the depth in the West, both teams are probably 50/50, at best, to even make the postseason. Inevitable injuries aside, the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Nuggets, Rockets, Mavericks, and Jazz should all make the playoffs. In theory, that leaves one spot for Portland, New Orleans, Phoenix, Memphis, Sacramento, Minnesota, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Of that group, the Thunder might be the only team that's content to miss the playoffs in 2021.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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