LeBron James first entered the NBA nearly 20 years ago in 2003. And you probably can count on one hand the amount of teams he wasn’t expected to take to the playoffs over that span.
James has been so great that his team making the playoffs is just the expectation, but this season, that expectation is being tested through just four games.
Four games may not be enough to truly determine the fate of a team, but based on what we’ve seen, are the Lakers a good bet to miss the playoffs with this current team?
Our NBA experts Matt Moore, Brandon Anderson and Joe Dellera discuss the lightning rod Lakers and their postseason odds below.
Joe Dellera: Right Play, Wrong Number
The Los[s] Angeles Lakers are off to an abysmal start to the season and have now dropped to 0-4 straight up and against the spread. What’s going on here?
This is the epitome of that meme where you have the Bugatti next to the shed of a house. This team is just poorly constructed and it is an absolute waste of its star talent.
The Lakers are currently (+125) to Make the Playoffs (Caesars) and (-143) to Miss the Playoffs (BetRivers). With the West as loaded as it currently is it is getting more and more difficult to see a path where the Lakers can emerge as one of the eight best teams in the West.
However, that does not mean there’s value on the Miss the Playoffs Bet. There have been a plethora of trade rumors surrounding Russell Westbrook and his 8% 3-point percentage in an effort to surround LeBron with some shooters and perimeter scoring, but it is difficult to see paths that work for all parties involved.
Many are assuming that a trade will happen that should benefit the Lakers, but when we are betting it’s not prudent to base our optimism on something so specious.
What we do know from looking at the West is that there are four teams that are tanking regardless of their current record. Those teams are the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers need to be better than just one more team to be in the Play-In. At that point, it’s difficult to imagine that a team as public as the Lakers with LeBron will be underdogs in any matchup.
I think this is a situation to monitor. A bet to miss the playoffs may be the “right” play in terms of expected outcome, but there are too many variables for me to jump into this market at a (-143) number that implies they miss the playoffs 58.85% of the time.
Brandon Anderson: Wait and See … But Find Value Elsewhere
The Lakers are bad. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.
L.A. ranks near the top of the league defensively, which makes it all the more horrendous that the Lakers are 0-4 thanks to the league’s worst offense.
The Lakers rank dead last in Effective Field Goal Percentage at 46%. Their 3-point percentage is close-your-eyes-awful at 22%, so bad that going 8-for-30 against the Denver Nuggets Wednesday actually raised their season percentage. There’s no one outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis contributing even close to anything positive offensively on this team right now.
The defense is encouraging at least. L.A. probably won’t force one turnover every six possessions all season, but the structure is good and head coach Darvin Ham’s system makes sense. I was cautiously optimistic about the Lakers entering the season solely because I believed in this defense — and I believed in it especially because I imagined Russell Westbrook not being part of the efforts.
I’m not convinced we’ll ever see Westbrook in a Lakers uniform again. And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Whether he’s traded or just exiled, he’s not helping on either end. The Lakers are better off just having guys like Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves, and Matt Ryan out there to try hard on defense and take (and hopefully occasionally make??) open 3s.
It’s fun to pour dirt on the grave, but I’m not ready to dive off the deep end just yet. The bottom of the West is bad. The Lakers will finish with a better record than the Spurs, Jazz, Thunder, and Rockets.
The Sacramento Kings haven’t won yet either, so that puts them and the Lakers essentially tied for the last spot in the Play-In group. And if James and Davis make the Play-In tournament in a one-game elimination setting, they’ll have a great chance to escape.
Right now, it’s bad. It’s ugly. It’s borderline unwatchable. But it’s a long season. I’m in wait and see mode for the most part, unless I can get really long odds.
Need a sprinkle of something juicy? Everyone’s talking about James breaking the scoring record, and he’s about 44 games away.
But what if this team is genuinely awful and LeBron decides he’s out, or gets hurt and just calls it a season? James is +600 to not break the record this season at DraftKings.
This is a big deal to the King. If he decides he doesn’t feel like breaking the record on a bad Lakers team in some meaningless March game, who’s going to stop him?
Matt Moore: It’s Likely Not Getting Much Better in L.A.
You can take too much from seeing a team in person. It’s anecdotal. You need comprehensive views of teams.
I saw the Lakers on Wednesday in person, and let me tell you with full consideration for the big picture: they are trash right now. The numbers back this up, with the Lakers 30th in Adjusted Net Rating at Dunks And Threes. But it’s one thing to not be able to shoot (they can’t) and to struggle with offensive structure. (The defense is fine.)
The problem is that this team knows it can’t win. LeBron James emanates this. I’ve watched him over the 15 years of my career. I haven’t seen as many James games in person as some in the industry, but I’ve seen enough to tell you what it looked like.
In the 2017 Finals, the first year against the Kevin Durant-led Golden State Warriors, James’ entire attitude was “What do you want me to do? They won 73 games and then added KD.”
That’s what LeBron looked like on Wednesday in Denver. His postgame quotes were the usual, but the vibe said that James accepts his lot. Anthony Davis is already hobbled. James has openly said his team can’t shoot.
You can tell he wants management to liquidate their remaining picks to give him better players (and get rid of Russell Westbrook). I’ve held out on burying them with bets because a trade could happen.
But seeing this team operate, I’m not sure two quality starters fixes this. Lonnie Walker IV played well on Wednesday. He was aggressive on both ends and made shots, relative to the rest of the team. He had 15 points on 14 shots and was a -27.
The Lakers shot 8-of-30 from behind the arc against the Nuggets for just 27%. Their season 3-point percentage went up, as Brandon noted above.
Not only does that team know the jig is up and this isn’t going to work, but they know that their best player is resigned to this.
What trade gets them home? Myles Turner is a phenomenal two-way big and Buddy Hield is an elite shooter. OK, great. Their fifth-best player is still Patrick Beverley in that situation. Their bench is still a mess. They don’t have connectors. They don’t have finishers.
Thomas Bryant returning from injury would help. But is that enough to make the playoffs? Not just the Play-In, but win probably two games to get in?
Davis was hobbled and hurt on Wednesday, holding his back. We’re four games in. Four. Games.
Does a superstar ask out and say he only wants to go to the Lakers? Maybe. But the options of stars that can be traded this year is small. The depth is bad. Westbrook is a negative, but the Lakers are just as bad when Westbrook is off the floor.
I don’t think reinforcements are coming. I don’t think the tide is turning. I think there’s value on Lakers -143 to miss the playoffs.