As often, a lot of the conversation in the NBA world has revolved around the Pacific Division during the 2021 offseason. The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the league’s flagship franchises, the Golden State Warriors are always an intriguing topic, the Los Angeles Clippers bring uncertainty with the injury to Kawhi Leonard, and the Phoenix Suns are the reigning Western Conference champions. Even the Sacramento Kings have various angles to think about and, with only a few weeks until training camps open across the league, invested NBA observers are looking to plant their flags through the lens of season win totals.
Picking the over or under for each NBA win total is basically a national pastime, and it is time to formally weigh in on the five teams in the Pacific. For the sake of clarity and transparency, each line below comes from the folks at DraftKings and they will arrive in alphabetical order.
Golden State Warriors – Over 48.5
I have to make a pick on each team. Otherwise, I would run screaming from the Warriors. Golden State is clearly in “win now” mode with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, but they won at only a 44-win pace a year ago. Some of that stemmed from uneven supporting talent and the absence of Thompson, but it is impossible to know what Thompson will be in 2021-22. Golden State did make strong additions in Otto Porter Jr., Andre Iguodala and Nemanja Bjelica, but they add a pair of rookies in Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga. To be clear, I liked both picks, but the two youngsters, plus James Wiseman, probably don’t help the win total this year, and I’m simply leaning Over out of respect to the vets.
Los Angeles Clippers – Under 45.5
The Clippers actually had a good offseason, retaining Nic Batum and Reggie Jackson while adding reclamation projects in Eric Bledsoe and Justise Winslow. The big factor, though, is the absence of Kawhi Leonard, and given the uncertainty, I am going to assume he doesn’t play much, if at all. Los Angeles should be quite competitive without him, in part because Paul George is awesome, but this is a highly competitive Western Conference landscape. The roster just doesn’t stand out as much without a top-five guy in the mix.
Los Angeles Lakers – Under 52.5
For years, sharp NBA observers almost blindly took the Under on the Lakers, especially in Las Vegas. Casino shops artificially inflated the price on Los Angeles as arguably the most “public” team in the league, and it was almost like getting two or three free wins. With nationwide sports betting coming into view, that isn’t happening as much these days, and it is now almost popular to doubt the 2021-22 Lakers. Frankly, I was shocked that the total was only 52.5 wins, and that foiled plans to just say “Under” with conviction and move on. I’m still going to take the Under when forced to choose, but the skepticism I have about Russell Westbrook and a bizarrely constructed roster doesn’t push me far enough to fully advocate against LeBron, AD and company. Proceed with caution.
Phoenix Suns – Over 51.5
The Suns finished the 2020-21 season on a 58-win pace over 82 games. Even if you went off their point differential, Phoenix was a 56-win club. Factor in some built-in skepticism of a return to that same form, and there is still some cushion if you assume that the Suns are at least similar to last year’s bunch with almost every player on the roster is on the upswing, rather than the downside of their career arcs. Now, Chris Paul is decidedly on the opposite side of that aging curve, and the Suns were quite healthy last year, but they do bolster their backup center spot with JaVale McGee, and internal growth should offset any other questions. This is a fair number, but I’d lean to a repeat effort.
Sacramento Kings – Under 36.5
In going through a similar exercise to that of Phoenix, the Kings were a 35-win club (on an 82-game pace) a season ago by their record, but they actually outperformed their point differential. That means you have to think Sacramento is going to improve by more than a win or two in terms of real performance to take this Over, and I can’t project that. De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton are quality young players, and the Kings do have solid vets in Richaun Holmes and Harrison Barnes. On the flip side, the Kings inexplicably flipped Delon Wright into Tristan Thompson and, while Davion Mitchell projects as a better-than-average rookie given his age and defensive aptitude, he isn’t likely to change the team’s fortunes as a backup to Sacramento’s top two pieces. The Kings are at least capable of going Over if everything breaks well, but projecting that is something different.