Los Angeles Clippers NBA Win Total Odds & Pick: How Far Can Paul George Carry L.A.?
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Paul George
Los Angeles Clippers Win Total Odds
The Case for the Under
Usually, when I write these profiles, I start with the over’s case first, optimist that I am. But in this instance, we have to go through the under because of the Kawhi Leonard injury situation. Leonard suffered a partially torn ACL in the conference semifinals vs. the Utah Jazz and had offseason surgery.
The Clippers have not announced a timetable for Leonard’s return after he re-signed with the team this summer, but media sources close to the team have said they don’t expect him to play this season. League sources are also operating under those assumptions.
Leonard being out matters. No one is going to argue otherwise. When a player of Leonard’s caliber is out, I try to contextualize it through two prisms.
The first is that Leonard makes $39.3 million next season and is underpaid. The actual impact of a superstar player of his level on a franchise exceeds the max contract, particularly as a percentage of the cap. Leonard makes 23% of the Clippers’ total salary before the luxury tax. His impact goes far beyond 23% of their wins.
The second is that even under the salary constraints, with Leonard out, that’s $39.3 million in available resources that are simply off the table. If you took that $39.3 million and told the Clippers they could redistribute it while Leonard is out, they could theoretically replace him with a star player making $25-million and then still have $14 million left over to allocate towards role players/defense/shooting, etc.
(Note: This is, of course, not how the salary cap works at all even if such an exception was made, I’m just illustrating the opportunity cost of Leonard’s contract while he’s injured. Just roll with me here.)
They could also simply replace Leonard with five players making $8 million, four players making $10, etc. The point is that with Leonard out, you have to replicate his production and impact across the other 15 players on the roster, with roughly half of those players also having to maintain their respective levels relative to their role.
Paul George has to do everything he did for the Clippers last year… and compensate for Leonard’s injury on both ends of the floor. Markieff Morris has to shoot the lights out again and has to compensate for Leonard to a degree. On and on, throughout the roster, guys have to play as well as they did last year and then some.
There’s also an availability issue. Leonard could compensate for other players that were out. Paul George out? Leonard could go out and score 30 and carry them.
Leonard played in 52-of-72 games last season, and while that’s not a high bar for a lot of players, for Leonard, it’s notable that he played in more than 70% of the team’s games. If the Clippers are missing 2-3 players in any random regular-season game, that’s on top of Leonard being out.
Leonard had the best on-court net rating on the team, at +12.2. That’s simply a massive loss in terms of a player who made everyone better.
The Clippers led the league in 3-point percentage and shot the 4th-best mark from deep of all time. The 2016 Warriors shot 41.6%, the Clippers last season shot 41.1%. It was berserk. Trying to reach that bar again is going to be difficult. They had the second-biggest differential between eFG% and expected eFG% per Second Spectrum. Some regression is standard there.
The schedule makers said, “Look, you’re without Leonard; it’s going to be a rough year anyway, so let’s go ahead and load up you this season, OK?” The Clippers have five sets of five games in seven nights.
They have the ninth-toughest schedule overall, rest-adjusted, per PositiveResidual.com, have more rest disadvantage games than rest advantage games, and are tied for the second-most back-to-backs.
You can’t expect Paul George to play more games than the 75% he did last season. He’ll have to play more minutes without Leonard; he’ll have to manage those 14 back-to-backs, he’ll have his usual array of minor injuries. The Clippers have to be careful not to let George try and compensate for Leonard’s absence.
The worst-case scenario would be burning out George without Leonard, only to get Leonard back next season and then be without George. So if this team isn’t geared 100% towards making a run this year, knowing Leonard is likely out for the season, that lowers their floor.
The Clippers don’t have the depth they did last season. Eric Bledsoe is a limited player; it’s hard to know whether he’s underrated or overrated at this point. He’s a great defender who was not invested in the Pelicans and should have more spark this year, but his offensive numbers are what they are.
Rajon Rondo (now back with the Lakers) shot better than Bledsoe did from 3-point range last season. Patrick Beverley brought a level of toughness that the Clippers will miss.
Serge Ibaka wasn’t able to stay healthy last season, and they need him for minutes. They’re going to have to play Markieff Morris more at forward, which means they need Ibaka for small-ball five.
Again, Leonard’s injury isn’t in a vacuum, it has ripple effects down the roster, and if the strain is too much, they might wind up closer to .500 than expected.
The Case for the Over
This is all about the number.
The Clippers had an expected-wins-per-82-games mark of 57 last season. They openly and willfully tanked their last two games for seeding purposes. So we’re talking about going from a 57-win pace to 45 for the under? A twelve-win gap? With a more balanced schedule? Even without Leonard?
The team found something last season in the playoffs. My big reservation with this team for two years was a chemistry issue. It sunk them in 2020 in the Bubble, the players admitted as much. You could tell there were certain players (Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell) who were leftover from the surprise 2019 playoff team who didn’t vibe with the new leadership.
They might have followed Leonard because he is a “proven winner,” but Paul George was different. Leonard doesn’t lead by direction; he leads by example only. He does what he does. George tried to fill some of that gap, and it went badly.
But last season, not only did the team fill in the roster with more of “George’s guys” like Reggie Jackson, but the team seemed to genuinely rally around him, especially with his prolific playoff performances that only got better when Leonard went down until they ran out of steam vs. the Suns.
So there’s a better internal dynamic.
Yes, Leonard had the best on-court net rating of any Clipper. But George was second, and when George was on the floor without Leonard, the Clippers still outscored opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions per NBA Advanced Stats.
For perspective, that’s better than the Knicks’ team-wide season mark of 2.9 for a team that won at a 46-games-per-82 pace last season. Granted, the non-George minutes will be worse because Leonard averaged 14 minutes per game without George. But George will also play more minutes with starters as the rotation adjusts.
This team, with this level of talent, will be just four games over .500? A fringe MVP-list guy with a capable roster is going less than 47-wins? They have rookies who could contribute, Terance Mann has next-level upside.
The Clippers went 26-8 vs. teams under .500 after tanking the final two games, so that looks like 28-6, which would tie the Jazz for the best record vs. sub-.500 in the conference. That sets an incredibly high floor even without Leonard. They went 7-2 in games vs. sub-.500 teams without Leonard. He is not what sets the floor for this team; the overall roster is.
Finally, while their schedule overall is brutal, they do play the most games at home in the NBA before Christmas. They should have a soft landing into the season without Leonard.
Clippers Win Total Bet
If you want to bet the under, wait for an alternate total to come out, sub-.500. If the Clippers miss their win total, they likely miss the playoffs, and if they miss the playoffs, they are likely abandoning the season. That doesn’t mean a full-on tank, but it would mean shutting down enough veteran players to sail this number under.
I lean over but will probably not bet this total.
You’re betting on an uncertain situation with Leonard. You need George to play a high number of games. Leonard is probably worth six to eight wins from last year’s total, and some offensive regression accounts for a few more.