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Odds on the Next Team to Win Its 1st NBA Title After Raptors Bring Championship to Canada

Kawhi Leonard shooting a free throw.
Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors to their first NBA title in 2019, cutting the number of teams that have never won a championship from 12 to 11. Photo by Chensiyuan (wikimedia commons) [CC License].
  • The 2019 Toronto Raptors brought home the first NBA title in the franchise’s 24-year history
  •  Eleven NBA teams are still waiting to win their first championship
  • Which of those 11 title virgins has the best chance to end its drought in 2020?

The Toronto Raptors’ run to the 2019 NBA title brought Canada its first championship in one of North America’s big-four major sports leagues since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. It also reduced the number of NBA teams that have yet to win a title to 11.

More than ever, the NBA is a league of haves and have-nots. Heading into the 2019-20 season, the majority of the 11 NBA title virgins are among the have-nots. As shown in the table below, Bovada’s early odds to win the 2020 NBA title have just one team that’s never won a title among the top-nine favorites. And that team, the LA Clippers, is only as high as it is on spec.

Teams that have never won a title are listed in bold.

2020 NBA Title Favorites

Team 2020 NBA Title odds at Bovada (as of Jun. 13)
Golden State Warriors +300
Milwaukee Bucks +600
Los Angeles Lakers +750
Houston Rockets +1000
Toronto Raptors +1000
New York Knicks +1000
Boston Celtics +1800
Los Angeles Clippers +1800
Philadelphia 76ers +1800
Brooklyn Nets +2500
Denver Nuggets +2500
New Orleans Pelicans +4000
Utah Jazz +5000
Indiana Pacers +8000
Orlando Magic +10000
Memphis Grizzlies +15000
Minnesota Timberwolves +25000
Charlotte Hornets +50000
Phoenix Suns +50000

The odds for all 30 teams have an implied probability of roughly 125%, meaning there’s a full 25% overround. Leaving aside the inherent inequity of an overround that large, the teams that have never won a title comprise just 21.1% of the total 125%.

In other words, the way Bovada’s oddsmakers see it, there is less than a 17% chance of a first-time winner in 2020.

Compare that to the NHL, where the 11 teams that have never won a Stanley Cup are given a 33.1% combined chance to win in 2020.

Are Bovada’s early odds on the right track? Do any teams have a real shot to follow in Toronto’s footsteps and end their lifelong title drought in 2020?

The following table sets out SBD’s odds to win the 2020 title for all 11 teams, along with their baseline 2019 performance.

Teams That Have Never Won the an NBA Title

Team SBD’s odds  to win the 2020 NBA Title 2018-19 Record 2018-19 Point Diff. 2019 Playoffs
Denver Nuggets 28/1 54-28 +4.0 Lost to Blazers in round two (4-3)
LA Clippers 32/1 48-34 +0.8 Lost to Warriors in round one (4-2)
Brooklyn Nets 35/1 42-40 -0.1 Lost to 76ers in round one (4-1)
Indiana Pacers 50/1 48-34 +3.3 Lost to Celtics in round one (4-0)
Utah Jazz 50/1 50-32 +5.2 Lost to Rockets in round two (4-1)
New Orleans Pelicans 55/1 33-49 -1.4 Did not qualify
Orlando Magic 124/1 42-40 +0.7 Lost to Raptors in round one (4-1)
Memphis Grizzlies 175/1 33-49 -2.6 Did not qualify
Minnesota Timberwolves 200/1 36-46 -1.5 Did not qualify
Phoenix Suns 350/1 19-63 -9.3 Did not qualify
Charlotte Hornets 400/1 39-43 -1.1 Did not qualify

Do Any NBA Teams Have a Legitimate Chance to Win Their First Title in 2020?

In short, no, at least, not as things currently stand.

The last team to win a title without a top-ten player on its roster was the 2004 Detroit Pistons. The 2011 Mavericks were arguably such a team, but Dirk Nowitzki was still a superstar at that point. He was a ten-time All Star with unlimited range, who had a 28.2% usage rate and  54.5 EFG%. He also happened to have a Hall of Famer running the point for him in Jason Kidd.

Kidd was past his prime in 2011, but still averaged over eight assists per game and had a nearly 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

What I’m getting at is that none of the 11 non-winners profiles like any of the past 15 NBA champions. In a league dominated by the upper-crust, and which has a playoff format that puts increased emphasis on the top-end of your roster, it’s going to be extremely tough for any of these teams to break through, barring significant roster revisions.

The Nuggets Lack Necessary Starpower

Denver stunned pundits last year by compiling a 54-28 record and finishing second in the West. Nikola Jokic took a step toward stardom, averaging 20.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 7.3 APG with a 26.38 PER, while being named to the All-NBA First Team. But remember that each All-NBA Team has to have a center.

Jokic was great, and is still getting better, but he is not quite a top-ten player in terms of overall value, not in this version of the NBA, not with his limitations.

The seven-foot Serbian shot just 30% from three last year and, once again, struggled defensively due to his lack of athleticism. He has tremendous vision and is most effective as a point forward, but he’s not surrounded by the right players to maximize his skill set.

As a team, Denver was just 17th in the NBA in three-point percentage at 35.1%. None of their four main back-court cogs (Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, or Monte Morris) had a PER over 16.3, which puts them all outside of the top 100 in the league.

The limitations of this roster as its currently constructed were evident in the 2019 postseason. The Nuggets were pushed to the limit by the Spurs before bowing out to the Jusuf Nurkic-less Blazers in the second round, and that was with Jokic playing phenomenally. He averaged 25.1 PPG, 13.0 RPB, and 8.4 APG with a 29.6 PER. But his usage rate was down at 26.5%, just 0.1% higher than Murray.

By contrast, Kawhi Leonard’s usage rate was over 30% in the regular season, and upped to 32.4% in the playoffs. Giannis Antetokounmpo was at over 32% for the Bucks. Steph Curry was at 29.3% for the Warriors. Damian Lillard led the Blazers at 29.4%, and even his backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, had a usage rate higher than Jokic (27.6%).

Clippers and Nets Fighting for Same Free Agents

Realistically, the best chance for a non-champ to win its first title is by signing two or more elite free agents this offseason.

Kevin Durant’s career-derailing Achilles injury ticks the biggest and best name off the list of UFAs. Here’s who’s left, plus the frontrunner for their services the last time odds were available in May/June.

Odds to Sign 2019’s Impending Free Agents

Impending Free Agent Last Team Latest Odds to Sign with Nets Latest Odds to Sign with Clippers Latest Favorite to Sign Player
Kawhi Leonard Raptors +600 +100 Raptors (-175)
Kyrie Irving Celtics +200 +1000 Knicks (-150)
Jimmy Butler 76ers +350 +700 76ers (-250)
Kemba Walker Hornets N/A +900 Hornets (-200)
Klay Thompson Warriors N/A N/A N/A
Tobias Harris 76ers +200 N/A 76ers(-200)
D’Angelo Russell Nets -400 +1200 Nets (-400)

Anthony Davis is another top-ten NBA player who will be in new environs next year, but it’s looking more and more likely it will be with the Lakers or the Celtics.

The Nets cleared space to sign two max free agents this summer. That could mean adding Kyrie plus Butler, or Kyrie plus Harris. But the only free agent they are the outright favorites to re-sign is their own D’Angelo Russell.

The most likely outcome is that they re-sign Russell while adding, at best, a Tobias Harris-level player. That’s not going to be enough to turn last year’s surprise playoff berth into a title run.

The situation is actually more bleak for the Clippers when it comes to free agency. The only player they have short-ish odds of signing is Kawhi Leonard, and with each passing day, it’s looking more and more likely that the Claw heads back to the Raptors, aiming to write a sequel to 2019’s storybook ending.

The Clippers have a solid young core that will be in the Western Conference championship picture in the not-too-distant future. But they are much deeper than they are top-heavy at the moment, and depth is only carrying teams so far these days. (To the first round of the playoffs and not much further, to be specific.)

The 2019-20 NBA season may be as wide open as any in recent memory — the effective breakup of the dynastic Warriors assures that — but that doesn’t mean the likes of Denver and LAC will be in the title picture.

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