Trends lean to a L.A. Lakers title

NBA All-Star Break Futures Look Ahead

While the NBA takes a week off for their All-Star festivities and a little R &R afterwards, there is no better time then now to dig into the futures market and try to be ahead of the curve on what is to come. Given the nature of the game, you just don't see huge upsets in the playoffs often as you do in say hockey or football, which means you can already narrow down the pool of NBA teams that are legit title contenders. Yes, 16 NBA teams will make the playoffs, but most years you are lucky to get half of that as title threats.

With that in mind, why not do a bit of a deep dive into recent history for the league and use the numbers we've got now – that are staying static for a week – and try to project the next four months of play. I've gone back and looked at various statistical trends for NBA teams at the All-Star break each year and found some interesting results.

The term “Final Four” is really only applied to the collegiate game, but if you want to see your NBA team – or the one(s) you are holding a futures ticket on – get to the Final Four, aka the Conference Championships, they'd better not have too many knocks on them in these upcoming categories.

So let's start our journey back through history, going through the past 10 years of NBA action, and looking at where past Conference Championship entrants sat at this point of the season – the All Star break. For consistency purposes, I've omitted the strike shortened 2011-12 campaign entirely, but even in that year some of the same statistical trends applied. There are four statistics I'll be discussing, but let's narrow the field of contenders down first with a look at the standings.

*References to past 10 years go back to the 2009-10 NBA season and are technically only nine full seasons with that strike shortened 2011-12 season omitted, unless stated otherwise

Standings at the All-Star Break

Over the past 10 years, NBA teams that make it to the Conference Finals have averaged 38.86 wins at the All-Star Break

No better place to start then here, as this gives us a good starting point on who to expect in that Final Four. 14 of the 36 teams in this historical set did have fewer than 38 wins at the break, so not all hope is lost if your team is a win or two short. But of those 14 teams with 37 or fewer wins at the break, nine of them failed to reach the NBA Finals, and only one of them – 2012-2013 Miami Heat – managed to win the NBA title. So all hope may not be lost, but the road usually stops at the Conference Finals for these teams, and for the five teams that made it all the way, 80% of the time they've had to watch their Finals opponent lift up the trophy.

Furthermore, no team with fewer than 31 wins at the All-Star break ever made the Conference Finals in this span, which speaks to the lack of deep runs by an upset minded team. So if you are going to hope for your team to buck the trend, they'd better have at least that number of wins already.

2020 teams with 31-37 wins : Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami, Dallas, OKC, Houston, Utah, Los Angeles Clippers

2020 teams with 38+ wins: Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver

Over the past 10 years, NBA teams to make the NBA Finals averaged 39.77 wins at the All-Star Break, and NBA Champions averaged 41 wins flat at the break.

The average number of 39.77 in terms of Final appearances can be taken a little lighter, as eight of the 18 teams in this category did sit with 39 or fewer wins at this time of the year in the past. However, six of those eight teams had LeBron James on them at the time, and with him in his prime for nearly all of those results with Miami and Cleveland, having the best player in the world in his prime can overcome a lot of team deficiencies in general. LeBron's team this year has already surpassed this 39.77 win mark at the break, so I'm not sure if that's good news for a team like Boston or Denver this year who don't have that guy that's even in a debate for “best in the world” right now.

Then when you look at the eventual champions, six of the nine in this span had at least 40 wins at the break, and two of the three that didn't were LeBron's teams again. Needless to say, it's going to be an uphill climb for those sub-40 win teams in this year's playoffs.

2020 teams with 40+ wins: Milwaukee, Toronto, L.A. Lakers

Defensive Efficiency at the All Star Break

The #1 ranked Defensive Efficiency team at the All-Star Break has made the Conference Finals in eight of the past nine years (omitting 2011-12), but has been eliminated in that round six times.

The Milwaukee Bucks own this distinction for the 2nd year in a row, and if you are a Bucks fan you are hoping that the team learned enough from last year's Conference Finals loss to break this streak. I mean there were two instances where the #1 defensive efficiency team did make it to the NBA Finals and they went 1-1 SU in those Finals series – 2015 Golden State Warriors (won) and the 2010 Boston Celtics (lost).

If you are a Bucks fan, there is that “every five years” pattern to attach some hope to for this year, and while this may be somewhat of a historical negative for them, it shouldn't be the be all, end all when you consider them for a futures wager. They currently sit as the favorite in the East and for good reason, some of which I'll get to later, but in terms of presenting as many pieces to the puzzle as I can, history is against Milwaukee in this sense.

The last six NBA Champions have all been ranked in the Top 10 in Defensive Efficiency at the All-Star break

While being the best in the league in this category may be somewhat of a curse in recent years for teams trying to lift that trophy, the NBA squad you are backing still better be damn solid on the defensive end. No champion has ranked worse than 13th in this category in the full nine seasons covered here, and when we do get to the Finals, the team that ranked better in this stat at the All-Star break has won the title five of the past six years. The lone outlier there were the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers who needed that historic comeback down 3-1 in the series.

So who fits into this category for this season?

Rank 1-10
  • Milwaukee
  • Toronto
  • Boston
  • L.A. Lakers
  • Philadelphia
  • L.A. Clippers
  • Orlando
  • Brooklyn
  • Denver
  • Utah
That means that so far, we've got two teams that have yet to have something working against them: the Los Angeles Lakers, and the defending champion Toronto Raptors.

Offensive Efficiency at the All-Star Break

Each of the last nine NBA Finals (from 2010-11 through 2018-19, including the strike year 11-12), the two teams to reach the NBA Finals have always ranked in the Top 9 in Offensive Efficiency at the All-Star Break

The saying may be that “defense wins championships”, but in reality in the NBA, it's probably the opposite that's true. Every team that's reached the Finals has ranked in the Top 9 in this category at the break, and of those 18 teams, only two of them were actually outside the Top 5. Now both of those two outliers – 2019 Toronto Raptors, and 2011 Dallas Mavericks – did go on to win the title in their respective years, so keep that in mind as well.

But generally speaking, you want the NBA team you are backing to either win the conference or win it all to be sitting in the Top 5 in Offensive Efficiency right now. The Top 10 is good, but in terms of Finals appearances, the Top 5 has connected at a 16-for-18 clip the past nine years (88.8%).

Offensive Efficiency Rankings for 2020 currently:

Rank 1-10
  • Dallas
  • Milwaukee
  • L.A. Lakers
  • Houston
  • Boston
  • Utah
  • L.A. Clippers
  • San Antonio
  • Miami
  • Denver
A notable team missing from that list would be the defending champions from Toronto, as they currently rank in tied for 13th in this category. Toronto has lost a huge amount of man games to injury this year so that's got to be taken into account as well, but it makes it much harder to legitimately consider them with nine straight years of history going against them at a 100% clip. Even in the 2009-10 season which was prior to this streak of Top 10 offensive efficiency teams making the Finals, it was the Boston Celtics who went the distance ranking 14th at the time, and they came up short in the end.

So if the Raptors are your team, and I know there is a whole nation (give or take a few bettors) that would land here, you may want to only consider them for futures regarding winning the Eastern Conference again and stop there.

On the other hand, once again we've got the L.A. Lakers hitting all the necessary requirements so far. Will that continue?

Effective FG Percentage at the All-Star Break

In the last six years, of the 24 teams to make at least the Conference Finals, 20 of them ranked in the Top 10 in Effective FG % at the All-Star break.

I'll get to the 10 teams that fit the bill currently this year, but it's important to make a note on the four teams that were outside this range. They were the 2019 Portland Trail Blazers, 2018 Boston Celtics, 2016 Toronto Raptors, and 2014 Indiana Pacers. All four of them were able to make it to the Conference Finals, but all four ended up getting dispatched in that round, and only one of them – 2018 Boston – were able to take that Conference Finals the distance. That's another 100% historical angle that is working against all these potential contenders outside of the Top 10 in Effective FG % right now, making it tough to ignore.

Effective FG% rankings for 2020 currently:

Rank 1-10
  • Milwaukee
  • Utah
  • LA Lakers
  • Dallas
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • Toronto
  • Indiana
  • Houston
  • Memphis/OKC
Most notable there is that once again the L.A. Lakers find themselves right where you want to be in terms of these historical trends, which leads me to....

In each of the last eight seasons (including strike year), the #1 ranked team in Effect FG % at the All-Star break has made the NBA Finals, going 5-3 SU in those NBA Championship series.

Also, in each of the last eight seasons (including strike year), 13 of the 16 teams to make the NBA Finals ranked in the Top 3 in this category at the All-Star break.

That is quite the history working in favor of Milwaukee, Utah and the L.A. Lakers (again), as the Bucks end up on the right side of history being ranked #1 in a statistic this time around. As the favorites to win it all currently, Milwaukee's got a lot of things working in their favor in general, and while history may not completely be on the side of the best ranked defensive efficiency team at the break, on the floor, being the best in that category is far from a negative.

And we can't forget about those Lakers yet again, who find themselves continuing to check off boxes here. So let's get to the last category looked at and see if LeBron and company can make it a clean sweep.

Opponent Effective FG% at the All-Star Break

Each of the last 10 NBA Champions (including strike year) sat at 51.2% or lower in this category, and nine of 10 were sub-50%

Only last year's Toronto Raptors team were able to win a title with an opponent effective FG% at the All-Star break over 50%, which is quite relevant in the sense that it was the most recent season, and that all but one team this year is at 50.3% or greater. That one team that's sub-50%? The Milwaukee Bucks.

Again the Bucks find themselves on the right side of history here, and at some point you've got to determine how much stake you really want to put into that #1 defensive efficiency thing being a bad thing. After all, there have been a couple teams that went the distance leading the league in that stat at the break, as it's not like one of the 100% offensive efficiency one working against Toronto being outside the Top 10.

Toronto does sit 2nd in the league at 50.3% in opponent effective FG%, which has to be a plus for them as well, but you know what their win last year at 51.2% actually does? It gives yet another check mark to this year's Lakers team who sit exactly at that 51.2% number in opponent effective FG%. In between the Bucks and the Lakers, we've got Toronto, L.A. Clippers, Brooklyn, Boston, and Utah.

Final Thoughts and Future Bet

Obviously there are many other statistical trends you can break down if you wish, but in terms of this puzzle that's been laid out for the rest of the 2020 season, the answer does seem pretty clear; the Los Angeles Lakers are going to be the NBA Champions this year. They were the only team to fit all the requirements laid out here, and while some may want to suggest some confirmation bias here, the process in doing this was backtracking the results this week first, discovering the trends, and then waiting until the break was officially on before figuring out where teams officially stand statistically in 2020.

I always expected the Bucks and Lakers to have plenty of positives because of where they currently sit in the standings, and like I said, the NBA is the one league where favorites do tend to reign. But I did not expect one team like the Lakers to not have a “negative” against them, but I guess that's why they are currently listed as the favorites in the +180 range. They would be the only team I'd even consider for a win-it-all future. Definitely not the sexiest pick as the big favorite, but barring significant injury, the Lakers have to be the pick to win it all.

2020 NBA Futures Bet:
L.A. Lakers to win the NBA Title (+180)

Odds provided by DraftKings (IN, NJ & PA only)
Subject to Change (T&C's apply, 21+)