When the NBA announced that it’d be returning to complete its regular-season and playoffs in Orlando starting on July 31st, bettors and basketball fans rejoiced. Per FanDuel, the Milwaukee Bucks (+240) and Los Angeles Lakers (+270) are listed as the frontrunners to win the 2019-2020 NBA title, while the Los Angeles Clippers (+340) are also in the mix.
However, one team with the 13th-highest NBA odds is a quality punt option that nobody’s talking about. The Oklahoma City Thunder (+10000) are 40-24 and currently are in 5th place in the Western Conference. There are a few reasons why they can emerge as a pest and ultimately a contender in this neutral site format.
Defensive Road Warriors
The Thunder have gone 20-11 overall and 23-8 against the spread on the road this season. Digging into the numbers, OKC’s defense has been on point in those contests, as indicated by the fact that they own a 108.0 Defensive Rating (6th-best). Further, they’ve limited their opponents to 12.3 second-chance points (7th) on the road, while also allowing just 12.3 fast-break points (4th) per contest away from Oklahoma City.
Their 108.9 Offensive Rating has essentially been league average, but they’re one of just nine NBA teams with a positive Net Rating on the road. Due to the elite ball-handling of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder, the Thunder have taken care of the ball and have posted the 5th-lowest road turnover rate. Setting the tempo will be important for Billy Donovan’s group, as they rank 24th in road Pace. That allows the team to settle into their halfcourt offensive and defensive sets.
Reading The Western Conference Field
Sure, the Lakers and Clippers have more star power and deeper rosters. However, the Lakers have gone 17-10 and the Clippers have gone 17-11 against teams with .500 or better records this season. That’s not exactly dominant. Here’s how the other teams in the Western Conference playoff picture have fared against quality opponents: Denver Nuggets (15-11), Houston Rockets (15-11), Utah Jazz (11-15), Dallas Mavericks (10-16), Memphis Grizzlies (10-16).
While the Thunder have gone 9-17, six of those losses came in their first 15 games. The Thunder went 8-2 overall over their last 10 games and 17-5 over their last 22 heading into the hiatus, so they were heating up at the right time. Once basketball comes back you can keep up with OKC and BetQL’s NBA picks for every game in the modified “playoffs” this summer.
The Dynamic Backcourt Trio
As mentioned above, the strong play of Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroder has paced this team. Per ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating, Paul has a 21.74 PER, good for the 4th-best mark among NBA point guards. Schroder has been one of the best sixth men in the Association and checks in as the 21st most efficient point guard with a 16.86 PER. Meanwhile, Gilgeous-Alexander checks in as the 8th most efficient shooting guard with a 17.90 PER.
In the frontcourt, Danilo Gallinari (19.47 PER) ranks as the 11th most efficient power forward while Steven Adams (20.85 PER, 14th) and Nerlens Noel (21.74 PER, 10th) are both solid contributors at the center position.
Gilgeous-Alexander, Gallinari, Schroder and Paul all average over more than 17.6 and less than 19.4 points per game within Donovan’s balanced offensive system. Unlike other teams in the playoff picture, the overwhelming brunt of the team’s scoring production comes from those four guys, and all four have the potential to go off on any given night. Therefore, opposing coaches will have a challenge when it comes to game-planning against them in a seven-game series.
While they’re certainly not the NBA consensus pick to win the title, if you were planning on laying a bit of money on a punt play that might have the chops to get the job done and shock the world, the Thunder are the best bet due to the composition of their roster and prolonged road success.