The 2020-2021 NBA season is just over one-third of the way through. Most teams have played around 30 games, giving sports bettors plenty of material to overanalyze.
30 games is hardly a small sample size. In fact, most teams have made it clear whether they are contenders or pretenders. However, there is plenty of basketball left to be played and, hopefully, plenty of money to be made.
At this stage of the season, it’s important to not overreact to certain team’s records and player’s performances. While it’s true that the gambling public should be able to separate fact from fiction, there are still a few glaring questions around the league.
To help those who are still trying to get a handle on this basketball season, here are five observations to guide you in the right direction.
1 ‒ Utah Is NBA’s Most Well-Rounded Team
In a league dominated by super teams and star power, the Utah Jazz is showing the NBA that depth is still critical to success.
The Jazz might not be the most exciting team in the league, but it’s hard to argue with the team’s results.
Utah sits at the top of a loaded Western Conference with a record of 27-9 and are winners of six of its last 10 contests. The most impressive part of Utah’s start to the season is the fact that the team is getting it done on both sides of the ball.
The Jazz is averaging 116 points per game, good for third in the NBA, while limiting opposing teams to 106 points per game, which is second-best in the league. The key to this success is depth up and down the roster.
When Basketball Fans Think About Utah, Two Names Should Come to Mind:
That’s understandable, as both of them are the team’s best and most marketable players. While the duo should receive a fair amount of credit for the success, other key pieces have been the difference makers. Veteran guards Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson are both playing excellent basketball and give Utah more options on offense.
Clarkson is having the best season of his career, averaging a career-high 18.3 points per game. More importantly, he’s putting together this remarkable season without having started a single game for Utah.
Additionally, key role players like Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Derrick Favors are all playing productive and efficient basketball. When the NBA playoffs roll around, that insane amount of depth will serve Utah well and make them an incredibly challenging team to beat.
2 ‒ Lakers’ Lack of Depth on Full Display Without AD
While the Jazz’s strength seems to come in numbers, the same cannot be said for the Los Angeles Lakers.
At full strength, the Lakers are still a powerhouse thanks to its dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But when either of them aren’t playing, Los Angeles struggles mightily.
Unfortunately, Davis suffered an injury earlier this month, and it looks like he will miss a significant amount of time. Since his injury, the Lakers are 1-4 and losers of four straight.
It’s not smart to bet against LeBron James, but it’s becoming hard to resist doing so if Davis isn’t on the floor.
To make matters worse, the Lakers have been without starting point guard Dennis Schroder due to safety protocols. However, Schroder has been cleared and should be good to go for the Lakers.
Still, the last few weeks have exposed the Lakers and shown the rest of the league that the reigning champs are beatable. If Los Angeles has any aspirations of maintaining its control of the league, other members of the team will have to step up.
On paper, this team is more talented than last year’s. The roster includes the likes of solid players like Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wesley Matthews, and Marc Gasol.
However, none of those key pieces have played exceptionally well in Davis and Schroder’s absence. Los Angeles are second in odds to win the NBA championship, and their odds have plummeted as of late.
3 ‒ Eastern Conference Is Open, But Brooklyn Is Top Dog
For the first time in quite a while, the Eastern Conference is starting to hold its own against the West.
A number of teams around the conference are showing gamblers they should be taken seriously as legitimate contenders. Others are off to disappointing starts.
As it stands, the Philadelphia Sixers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Brooklyn Nets are all sitting near the top of the conference. Both Philadelphia and Milwaukee are playing mediocre basketball, each going 5-5 in their last 10 games.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, is making a run at the top of the standings. Everyone with any basketball knowledge knew how dangerous the Nets could be after trading for James Harden.
Harden, together with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, are easily the best trio in the NBA. However, like the Lakers, it seemed a lack of depth could pose an issue for the team.
That assumption was put to the test earlier this month when Durant went down with an injury. While it’s still too early to make any definitive statements, it seems the Nets can function without one of its stars.
In Durant’s absence, the Nets are 5-0, gaining victories over playoff contenders like the Lakers, Clippers, and Suns. While many experts believed that Brooklyn’s somewhat thin bench and lack of depth could be its Achilles heel, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
4 ‒ Young Superstars Deserve Less Scrutiny
The modern-day NBA moves at an alarmingly rapid pace. In the age of superteams and monumental free agency signings, it seems like fan bases are growing impatient with a lack of production from certain teams.
Most of the teams in question feature young superstar-caliber talent.
Players like Luka Doncic (21), Zion Williamson (20), De’Aaron Fox (23), Jayson Tatum (22), and Trae Young (22) are all playing for teams either hovering around or struggling to maintain a .500 record.
Every team in the NBA can’t make the playoffs. Yet some fans and gamblers alike expect these young stars to lead teams as if they’ve been around the league for a decade.
The time will come when most, if not all, of the players listed above will be regarded as the top players in the NBA. However, it’s important to remind yourself that they are merely young adults competing against grown men.
They will continue to develop, both physically and mentally. It’s important to allow them to do so without putting too much pressure on them during their development.
For the time being, make sure to think carefully when placing wagers of significant value on these young superstars. Their talent is hard to ignore, but most are still a work in progress.
5 ‒ It’s Still Too Early to Write Off Certain Teams
When looking at the standings through a third of the season, there are a few teams that jump off the page. Some of these teams are pleasant surprises, while others are serious disappointments.
On the positive side of things, teams like the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, and even the New York Knicks are playing better than expected.
The Suns’ young talent combined with the veteran presence of Chris Paul are slowly transforming the team into a certified threat in the West. Meanwhile, Chicago (16-18 and 9th in the East.) is putting together a season that few saw coming.
However, for every team that’s exceeding expectations, there is one that’s failing to live up to the hype.
Teams like the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves are facing varying levels of adversity. The Celtics, a team many regarded as one of the best in the East are currently sitting outside of the playoff picture. At a startlingly mediocre 15-16, the Celts are fading fast.
But it’s still too early to write off this team. While the roster is a bit top-heavy, it’s far too talented to go down without a fight.
Elsewhere around the league, the defending Eastern Conference champs have struggled to break through the .500 mark. But don’t let a 15-17 record fool you, the Heat will make a resurgence down the stretch.
The fact Miami got off to a slow start isn’t even remotely surprising. The disappointment of losing the 2019-2020 finals to the Lakers, combined with a historically short offseason is enough to derail any team.
Miami, winners of seven of its last 10 games, will continue to shake off the rust and continue climbing the Eastern Conference’s standings.
Through roughly 30 games of NBA action, basketball fans and gamblers alike are in an interesting position. Some might think 30 games is a strong enough sample size to base gambling decisions on, others aren’t so sure.
The fact is that neither side is right or wrong. Certain teams are playing well above their talent level, others are failing to live up to their potential.
When making gambling decisions in the coming weeks, keep in mind that the All-Star break and free agency loom large. While the playoff picture becomes clearer with every passing game, there are no guarantees in the NBA.
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