NBA Western Conference Odds Update: Ranking the Top 5 Teams
Are the Lakers Still The Team to Beat?
It’s never too early to start peeking at those conference standings to see where things are beginning to shake out in the NBA. We may only be less than three weeks into the season, but certain trends are starting to emerge. The Lakers’ title chances? Plunging. The Warriors? Rising. Yesterday, we looked at the top five favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference, so today, we will venture out West.
Which of these five teams provides some value this early in the season, and which can we ignore? Let’s dive in.
Denver Nuggets (+1000)
A few weeks into the season, Nikola Jokic is playing at just as elite a level as last year’s MVP campaign, despite being without his sidekick Jamal Murray. At 25 points, 13 rebounds, and almost six assists per game, he continues to put up numbers no one can match.
However, until we hear the news that Murray will make a comeback this season, the Nuggets have to be considered underdogs to come out of the Western Conference. In addition, there would need to be a massive offensive course correction on the part of Michael Porter, Jr before Denver is considered a legitimate title contender.
The Nuggets’ offensive efficiency dropped from 116.3 last year (sixth) to just 102.0 this year (26th). Their defense is still top ten as it was in 2020-2021, but they lack another playmaker besides Jokic who can facilitate the offense. It would take a Herculean effort for Jokic to drag this team to the Finals all by himself.
Phoenix Suns (+800)
The reigning Western Conference Champions have sputtered slightly out of the gate, needing a three-game win streak to get to 4-3 on the season.
After a phenomenal 2020-2021 where they scored 115.3 points per game, the Suns are down to 108.7 this year (16th in the NBA). Part of that is because they have severely reduced the number of three-pointers they shoot. Last season, the Suns shot 34.6 threes per game and made 37.8% of them. This season, they rank 29th with 28.9 attempts per game and have made just 33.7% of those.
This early in the season, we can chalk that up to variance, but it is a trend to monitor. The Suns rank fourth overall in the league in total field goal percentage (47.1%), so any improvement from distance would help get their offense back on the right path.
Utah Jazz (+500)
Towards the end of preseason, we mostly saw the Jazz settle in around +750 or +800 to win the West. Now sitting at 7-1 with the best point differential in the conference, those odds have shortened all the way down to +500 in under three weeks.
The Jazz leads the conference in points per game and is just behind the Nuggets in opponents’ points per game. They currently rank second in offensive rating and third in defensive rating and seemingly have no glaring holes if they can keep Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell healthy.
Utah’s most significant obstacle to come out of the West may simply be history. By the time this spring comes around, it will have been 24 years since the Jazz made a trip to the Finals. In fact, they have only made it to a Conference Finals once in that span (2007).
Even with that burden of history surrounding them, assuming good health, this is my pick to come out of the West.
Golden State Warriors (+480)
This Warriors team that is already 6-1 could look downright frightening to opponents if they can get a healthy Klay Thompson and James Wiseman back before the All-Star break. They already score the third-most points per game in the West (fractions of a point behind the Lakers and Jazz), so a Klay Thompson shot in the arm could propel them to favorites in the West.
Steph Curry is playing at such a high level to start the year, and Draymond Green has comfortably reverted to his role as defender, rebounder, and distributor. Add in unexpectedly great performances from players like Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II, and this team may have found a recipe for another title contender.
Where the Warriors are really getting this done is on the defensive side of the ball. They have the best defensive rating in the NBA (97.1), a full point and a half better than the next team on the list. In addition, they are top three in both opponents’ field goal percentage allowed (42.1%) and three-point percentage allowed (30.2%). That combination of defense and offense could be unstoppable, and at +480, they are certainly worth a shot.
Los Angeles Lakers (+300)
At lunchtime on Thursday, the Lakers’ Western Conference futures sat at +260. Less than 24 hours later, they shifted to +300 after a bad loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at home.
If you are of the belief that the Lakers will eventually gel and get out of this collective funk in time to plow through the West playoff bracket, now is the time to place your bets. Before the season began, we saw the Lakers as high as +170 in places.
This is a drastic drop in just 2.5 weeks, but any team with Lebron James has to be considered a title contender, especially when you pair him with two other superstars. If the Lakers can get past their “one basketball” problem and find an offensive and defensive flow, they have the most talented Western team on paper.
But for now, they look more dysfunctional than your extended family’s political conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table. So I’m fading until I see some improvements.