By William Hill
Last Updated: 6th November 2019
The NBA returns with two excellent fixtures to welcome in the new season – the New Orleans Pelicans take on the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers face the LA Clippers.
Despite winning three of the last five NBA Finals, the vaunted Golden State Warriors aren’t even ranked among the top five favourites for this year’s championship – a sign of what a hugely competitive campaign it promises to be.
The off season saw unprecedented player moves, with All-Stars changing teams at a rate we haven’t seen in a long time, leading to what should be a fascinating competition with plenty of contenders.
Not sure exactly who it is you should be backing? Fear not, as we’re on hand to guide you through the upcoming NBA season and which teams and players to keep an eye on.
Western Conference: Los Angeles Clippers lead the race
Conventional NBA wisdom has said for a while that the Western Conference is the strongest conference by a significant margin, but this year the top two favourites even play in the same Staples Center building – the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
Any team with LeBron James will automatically be a favourite in the league, such is his star power and unstoppable two-way play for the Lakers. Teamed with perennial All-Star power forward Anthony Davis and the Lakers have a two-headed monster of generational talents. However, in the trade to acquire Davis, the Lakers gave away a very promising young core of talent, leaving their bench a little thin. The iconic franchise are the 4/1 second favourites behind their noisy neighbours the Clippers, who lead the way at 3/1.
The Clippers team were a playoff-worthy squad last year, becoming the eighth seed in the Western Conference before promptly losing 4-2 to the Golden State Warriors in the first playoff round. This year, though, they are now favourites to win it all due to the offseason acquisitions of two All-Stars: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Both are exceptional defenders and when teamed with point guard Patrick Beverley, the Clippers will be extremely difficult to score on. When you add a deep bench of experienced veterans and reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the equation, the Clippers will be expecting to be very busy come the business end of the playoffs.
Arguably a dark horse in the Western Conference, and indeed overall, are the team on the other end of the Anthony Davis trade. The New Orleans Pelicans have that young exciting core, formerly of the Lakers, some very solid veteran playmakers in Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick, and the most hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James himself in Zion Williamson. While plenty of focus will be on Williamson, the Pelicans should have genuine aspirations of a top-four seed in the playoffs, and could easily outperform their 80/1 preseason odds.
Eastern Conference: Milwaukee Bucks head the charge
Reigning NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors, look to have had their championship-winning window slam shut after just one year. Kawhi was outstanding in Toronto last year, but has since left for pastures new, and Nick Nurse’s side haven’t filled the void, instead relying on the squad already in place.
Make no mistake, a core of Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol is still very dangerous, but unless more miracles occur at the Scotiabank Arena, the 25/1 on offer looks about right, and there are better teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Milwaukee Bucks, with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, look to be the team to beat in the battle for No.1 spot in the East. Aside from Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, the Lopez twins (Brook and Robin) and George Hill give the Bucks a nucleus of savvy veterans who can all contribute to the side’s quest for a first championship since 1971. Milwaukee are 5/1 to win it all – the best-priced Eastern Conference side – and they lead the field behind the LA powerhouses.
The Philadelphia 76ers provoke one of the most interesting debates in the East. A roster stuffed with talent and a tough seven-game series loss to the Raptors in the conference semi-finals last year has provided a sense of optimism in Philly, and with Toronto weaker than last year, logic dictates this could be their time. However, sport is never so straightforward, and aside from keeping Joel Embiid fit, they will need big contributions from Tobias Harris, Al Horford and prototype guard Ben Simmons if they are to have a chance of reaching their first NBA Finals since the Allen Iverson era. The 76ers are 8/1 to lift the title.