The LA Clippers Are Better This Season — But They’re Still Undervalued In Betting Markets
Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard #2, Paul George #13 and Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers.
When the Los Angeles Clippers added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last season, sportsbooks, analysts and fans alike pegged them as a shoe-in to make the NBA Finals. After their meltdown against the Denver Nuggets in last year’s postseason, expectations lowered significantly because so many couldn’t see beyond that historic collapse.
As we near the All-Star break, the Clippers are +500 to win the NBA title, +250 to win the Western Conference and -105 to win the Pacific Division at BetMGM trailing the LA Lakers in each category despite having the second-best record in the West.
But with Anthony Davis on track to miss at least a month, the Clippers are in the drivers seat to win their division, wrap up the No. 2 seed out West and live up to the expectations that last season’s squad couldn’t quite reach.
So what makes the Clippers different this season?
Addition by Subtraction
Although their bubble meltdown will make most bettors reluctant to buy in, I’m higher on this season’s roster.
The Clippers are much improved with the coaching change from Doc Rivers to Tyronn Lue, the subtraction of Montrezl Harrell and the additions of Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard.
I was bearish on the their title chances last season before they resumed play in the bubble. I ended up being right about their flaws: They posted -11.6 Net Rating in the playoffs with Harrell on the floor and a -30.1 Net Rating while he shared the floor with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. We’ve already seen the benefits of replacing Harrell with Ibaka and playing Ivica Zubac more off the bench.
Harrell’s deficiencies were exposed in the Clippers’ March 8 loss to the Lakers, where LeBron James relentlessly hunted him and Lou Williams in the pick-and-roll. It’s one thing to have one defensive liability in your closing lineup, but you’re essentially drawing dead when you have two and one is your center.
“A lot of the issues we ran into, talent bailed us out. Chemistry didn’t.” – Lou Williams after the Clippers’ playoff loss
The Clippers were a highly dysfunctional team with frequent leaks to the media, an overall lack of vocal leadership and the inability to make adjustments when necessary. Rivers was willing to stick with Harrell at all costs, even when it was obvious he wasn’t a good matchup against the Nuggets.
With his departure to the rival team across the hall, Harrell became an easy scapegoat for their on-court and off-court struggles — he was even rumored to be the source of some of those leaks.
Another issue that impacted chemistry last season was Leonard and George load managing. This season, there seems to be a more concerted effort for those guys to play when healthy, and that’s evident based on the results this season.
They’ve still had their share of injuries and absences, but are sitting second in the West despite George missing 10 games, Leonard missing seven and Marcus Morris sitting out nine.
Outside of George missing the final minutes of the Clippers’ game against the Nets this past Sunday due to a tight minutes restriction after coming back from his foot injury, there hasn’t been much load management for them this season.
Lue has been a substantial upgrade over Rivers in both building team chemistry and improving the Clippers’ offensive system.
The Clippers are making 283 passes per game this season, which is 12 more per game than last season, according to NBA tracking data. Check out some of the ball movement we’ve seen from this team this season:
Although the Clippers have capable isolation scorers, both Leonard (4.9) and George (5.5) are averaging career-highs in assists this season. The added shooting on this team means doubling Leonard or George will likely lead to open 3-point shots and it’s a big reason why they’ve made the fourth-most open 3s this season.
More Lineup Versatility
The Clippers have good shooters who can also defend the paint for stretches of the game and that versatility has already paid dividends for them. We saw Lue close their most recent game against the Jazz with a small-ball lineup featuring Marcus Morris at center.
According to NBA Advanced stats, the Clippers have scored 114 points on just 84 offensive possessions in the 36 minutes Morris has played at center.
Against the Nets and Jazz, we saw Lue play Morris at center with Beverley, Batum, George and Leonard. This lineup hasn’t played together much, appearing in just four games this season for a total 14 minutes, however they’ve put up an Offensive Rating of 131.4 and it’s clear they’ll be a nightmare for opposing defenses, particularly ones with traditional centers.
On this possession, Gobert is responsible for defending Beverley, gets out of position trying to help defend George in the paint and allows his man to get a wide open corner 3.
This small-ball lineup can also cause problems defensively with their ability to switch everything.
When the Clippers went to the small-ball lineup and spread the floor against the Jazz, they ripped off a 13-2 run. Down nine points to the Nets with 4:53 to go, they went on a 16-7 run to tie the game before DeAndre Jordan’s go-ahead tip in. Despite losing to that game, their performance showed the potential upside from this lineup in the future.
The Clippers had a quality bench last season and that has carried over with the young talent on this roster making strides. Terance Mann has played himself into the rotation giving the Clippers another wing who can defend and provide energy off the bench. His shooting is a liability (25% on 3s this season), so it’s unlikely he’ll make the playoff rotation.
However, he’s earned himself minutes in the regular season with plays like this:
Mann has taken over Luke Kennard’s spot in the Clippers’ second unit with Williams, Morris, Zubac and Reggie Jackson, but it’s likely we’ll still see Kennard’s number get called because of his 3-point shooting.
Even with Kennard out of the rotation you could argue that he’s been an upgrade over the Landry Shamet season.
- Luke Kennard: 8.0 PPG | .463 FG% | 44.2 3FG% | 2.9 RPG | 1.8 AST | 20 MPG
- Landry Shamet: 7.3 PPG | .371 FG% | 34.4 3FG% | 1.5 RPG | 1.3 AST | 19 MPG
All of this points to the depth that can get the Clippers through the season without overburdening their key rotation players.
Where the Clippers are Susceptible
If there’s one area that should give you pause with regard to the Clippers, it’s their dependency on jump shots — just 28.2% of their makes come at the rim, which ranks 28th among all NBA teams. None of the other primary championship contenders (Lakers, Nets, Bucks, 76ers) rank lower than 17th in the frequency of shots taken at the rim.
The Clippers make a living from behind the arc and in the mid-range. Leonard is shooting a superhuman 48% from mid-range, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there will be nights when the jumper just isn’t falling.
The Clippers also lack a true point guard to set them up for easy baskets (an issue they never addressed in the offseason), so there will be some nights where they struggle to score. That deficiency aside, the Clippers have the second-most efficient offense in the league, which eases some of the concern.
Although the Clippers’ small-ball lineup will cause problems for many teams, the lack of rim protecting and rebounding from that group will hurt them. Going back to their loss against the Nets, Jordan was able to get the tip-in because Morris couldn’t box him out.
With Morris at center, the Clippers have grabbed just 42% of the available rebounds, which is significantly lower than their 51.6% mark for the season. This will only impact them against teams with size, but Lue will have to find the right mix of playing Morris at the five for offense and Ibaka for defense.
How to Bet the Clippers
The Clippers are 22-10 on the season but are 16-4 with both Leonard and George in the lineup. Two of those losses were against the Nets, one was against the Jazz and the other came to the Warriors in a game where they blew a 22-point lead.
Looking at the Western Conference landscape, the Clippers would likely be postseason favorites against any team except the Lakers and that series would be close to a pick’em according to my power ratings.
They’re a nightmare matchup for the Jazz because of their ability to play Rudy Gobert off the floor and they’d also be favorites against Nikola Jokic and Denver Nuggets despite how things played out last season.
I should note that when it comes to futures bets, you don’t have to actually win your bet in order to make money on it. Should the Clippers make the Western Conference finals or NBA Finals, you have a position in which you can hedge on the other side and make a profit.
Given how this team is power rated, I see their futures being undervalued, so I would recommend taking a position on the Clippers at these current numbers.