Do Kawhi Leonard and Paul George Make the Clippers Obvious NBA Title Favorites?
The NBA is changing.
Heck, it already has changed.
The Golden State Warriors didn't win the title this year. Instead, it was the Toronto Raptors netting their first Larry O'Brien trophy in franchise history. On the back of Kawhi Leonard, Toronto had a team set up for future championship runs, but again, things are changing. Leonard decided to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, and in the process, a trade was finally facilitated to bring Paul George to L.A., but not to play for the Lakers.
A ton of other news, of course, has unfolded this offseason. Namely, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are with the Brooklyn Nets. Kemba Walker is a Boston Celtic. D'Angelo Russell will try to help keep the Warriors in the mix. Oh, and Anthony Davis has joined LeBron James in Los Angeles. It's just not the same NBA it was six weeks ago.
With the deals, the NBA futures market has changed drastically, and it's the Clippers who are favorites to win the NBA Finals, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Are they actually now the NBA's best team?
Tracking the Moves
At numberFire, we obviously try to be as objective as possible. To do that, we rely on our nERD metric when it comes to the NBA. nERD, similar to win shares, indicates expected wins added to a team over a full season if that team were completely league average. Add a player with a nERD of 2.0 to a neutral team, and that team should go two games over .500 on the season.
Now, how teams mesh together will impact individual nERD scores, but we can still lean back into past history to see which players have been the most efficient and use that to see which team might be best at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Projecting 2019-20's Best Rosters
Rosters aren't finalized yet, but after the Leonard, George, and Danny Green (to the Lakers) news, the Clippers' roster has the highest average nERD (3.75) of any team in the NBA, using last season's nERD scores.
The Milwaukee Bucks' 3.09 is a pretty distant second, and only five teams total are above even 2.50.
|Los Angeles Clippers||3.75|
|Los Angeles Lakers||2.60|
|Portland Trail Blazers||2.03|
So, based on the 2018-19 season, the Clippers boast the league's most efficient roster. In that sense, they certainly are the team to beat. This has a lot to do with Paul George's massive leap in nERD last season. He posted a 14.4 nERD score in 2018-19 after 6.6 in 2017-18 and 3.8 in 2016-17. That 14.4 mark ranked George fourth in the NBA. Leonard's 12.8 nERD ranked him 10th in 2018-19.
If we open up the sample to the past three years total, the Clippers' average nERD of 2.87 is still near the top of the league but actually ranks third. The Nets' 1.95 would be a distant fourth, but that's with Durant's stellar efficiency, so we're taking them off the list.
Over the larger sample, it's the other Los Angeles team that grades out best.
|Los Angeles Lakers||3.24|
|Los Angeles Clippers||2.87|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||1.36|
The Lakers jump to the top of the heap, and it's pretty easy to see why. LeBron (14.3, 15.5, 7.4) and Davis (12.4, 18.5, 13.1) have combined for four top-10 nERD scores the past three seasons.
The Rockets, though, are close behind, and if we look only at projected starting lineups, Houston might actually be the team to beat. Their starting five's three-year rolling nERD average equates to 7.47. No other team is above 5.00. The Utah Jazz are actually second in that measure at 4.89. The Lakers' star duo is enough to lift them to a 4.71, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder at 4.43 and the Clippers at 4.19.
The Thunder may seem a little surprising, but in addition to Russell Westbrook (8.8 average nERD), they have Steven Adams (6.3), Danilo Gallinari (5.1), Jerami Grant (2.1), and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (-0.9). The point being: they have a solid starting five, whatever that actually turns into come opening day.
So the Clippers certainly have one of the best lineups in the NBA, but is it enough to justify their being heavy favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook?
The Clippers are now our favorite to win the 2020 NBA Finals
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) July 6, 2019
That implies a 26.3% likelihood, which is pretty reasonable all things considered. However, they might be priced out compared to the other options and when we step back and look at how loaded the Western Conference still is -- just look at the Thunder for example. Are they a better team than the Clippers? No. Will they be an easy out in the playoffs? Jokes aside, maybe not.
The Lakers at +440 (18.5%) are trending back after being +390 after the Anthony Davis news, and they actually have slid to +480.
The Bucks (+600) stand out with their great team nERD score and easier path in the Eastern Conference, but don't overlook the Rockets (+1400). Constantly one of the NBA's best and most efficient teams, they could be in the mix yet again, and they may finally get to bypass the Warriors in the playoffs.
Do the Clippers deserve to be title favorites? Yeah, it seems that way. Are they the best bet at +280? Maybe not. There's value elsewhere, too.
Because the NBA could once again be wide open at the top.