NBA Betting Futures Friday: Don’t Buy Lakers Hype (Yet)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook.
Welcome to Futures Friday, where we break down the most pressing and actionable questions in NBA betting. This week? A look at the Los Angeles Lakers and whether they really are trending upward.
The Lakers are … well, not back. More back? Less gone?
After starting the year 2-10, the Lakers are 8-4, even after a back-to-back game in Toronto without most of their key players.
Much of the recent success has been driven by the phenomenal play of Anthony Davis. From the time the season began to turn around on November 13, through the game before he left sick against Cleveland, Davis averaged 35 points, 16 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.9 blocks per game.
With Davis on the floor in that stretch, the Lakers had a 120 offensive rating, a 107 defensive rating and outscored opponents by 13 points per 100 possessions.
So, are the Lakers back? Can they make the playoffs? Win the Division? The title?!
Let’s dig in.
The Lakers started the year as the second-best defense and a bottom-five offense. They were sixth in non-garbage time defense on November 4. By November 13, they had fallen to 19th.
The Lakers’ winning stretch began on November 13th, catching the Nets on the second night of a weekend back-to-back in LA, the dreaded “LA Nightlife” spot for teams.
Since that date, the Lakers are eighth in offensive rating and 17th in defensive rating.
After the Nets game, the Lakers had four full days off — a rarity in the NBA season — and played just one back-to-back until Thursday’s loss to Toronto without Davis (flu).
If we advance to November 26th, when their offense really got cooking, they have been fifth in offense and 28th in defense.
So here’s what we have: The Lakers started off the season unsustainably cold offensively, but with elite defense. Then their offense ran unsustainably hot behind Davis’ sublime shooting, and their defense fell off a cliff.
So which is the real Lakers?
I would tell you that in fact, this is the real Lakers. An inconsistent team with a makeshift roster whose stars will be in and out of the lineup.
As The Brow Turns
Davis left the loss to the Cavaliers with flu-like symptoms and is slated to return Friday.
After starting off the year looking like a shell of his former self, he’s turned back into the player everyone constantly crowns him as: a top-75 player all-time player and one of the greatest big men the league has ever seen.
Two things are true simultaneously with Davis in this stretch:
1) He's shooting unsustainably well on jumpshots.
2) He has a much better shot profile.
Davis has averaged 22 shots inside 10 feet per 100 possessions in these past 10 games, compared to 19 prior. He’s taking more layups and post-ups, playing as a true big man, and dominating.
Simultaneously, he has a 52% eFG on jumpers since the Nets game, compared to just 29% to start the season. The jumper has been essential to his impact and effectiveness — it’s what separates normal Anthony Davis from Bubble NBA Champion Anthony Davis.
His jumper was a weak point in his game before the bubble and after. It’s this shooting stretch that, as far as on-the-floor production goes, is most likely to regress.
However, he can regress and still be a monster if he keeps up his rate of shots inside 10 feet.
Davis took major MVP steam after this recent stretch and it’s understandable. If the Lakers finish decent-to-good and Davis continues putting up anything close to these numbers, his chances will be terrific based on the feel-good story of the Lakers being relevant again.
The injuries are another matter. His defenders are quick to point out Davis has missed as many games as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have over the past two seasons, and that’s correct. It’s also in no way promising for his MVP chances.
It’s always something with Davis and we are literally a month removed from him looking like he could barely move in a matchup with the Nuggets.
I have a wide swath of MVP positions, and Davis is not one of them. I’m willing to be forced to buy into him later, but between a Lakers roster that is deeply flawed and Davis’ history of both inconsistent play and injury, I’m willing to wait, even if it costs me value later.
Can the Lakers make the playoffs?
You can take your pick of six of these teams to be locks for the top six spots:
Suns, Warriors, Nuggets, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Kings and Wolves.
It is almost certain six of those teams will finish above the Lakers.
So then it’s the play-in tournament at best.
If the Lakers reach the play-in tournament, that means they are likely not bad. They may not be good, but they're probably not bad.
And if they’re not bad? They’ll be favored in the play-in, leaving a chance to hedge an underdog against them either in the first or second round of the play-in.
But the risk is real for them to miss outright. Bear in mind the Lakers are just two games back of the sixth seed … but they’re also behind five other teams vying for seventh through 10th.
Can a Trade Help?
First off, a trade to add significant role player additions likely lowers Davis’ usage and hurts his MVP case.
With the Pacers not yet really struggling or pivoting to the draft, there’s no strong indication of a deal there. Does Jakob Poeltl move the needle if it’s San Antonio? Does Kyle Kuzma and Will Barton?
League sources were skeptical when asked about the Lakers’ chances of pulling off a major deal, outside of the rumored possibility of Bradley Beal seeking a Washington exit. That hasn’t been reported by anyone in proximity to the Wizards or Beal, and seems more like a pipedream.
But, as one executive put it, “it just feels like the kind of thing that (stars) like Bradley Beal wind up doing.”
As of now, it’s not the time to buy the Lakers. Between their inconsistent profile and the constant concern of injuries with both Davis and LeBron James, this isn’t a sleeping giant or a team with hidden momentum.
We may return to this in a month and decide it’s time to buy in, but there’s enough on the other side to exercise caution.