Despite tentatively sitting as the no. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the LA Clippers are currently projected as the co-favorites to win the NBA title, according to the analysis and data website FiveThirtyEight.
FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR model, which, according to the site, is “based on 100,000 simulations of the rest of the season” and uses player projections to estimate future performance, gives the Clippers a 21% chance to win the NBA Finals, tied with the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz. Among the three teams, the Clippers have the highest rating (1680) by a hair. The Sixers are given the highest chance at making the Finals at 43% compared to 35% for LA, presumably because a Western Conference team would have a tougher path to the final round of the postseason.
The prediction system is obviously not unimpeachable. It assumes all key players on the roster are healthy (though it does track current injuries), and has no way to account for unquantifiable factors like, say, an internal collapse or animosity between the players and coaching staff. But perhaps that is precisely why Clipper fans should be willing to put some stock in this projection—unlike many national media figureheads who default to the Clippers’ infamous blown 3-1 lead in last year’s Conference Semifinals as a reason to dismiss their chances this year, this metric relies solely on data, and the data says that the Clippers are a very good basketball team.
The Clippers hold the second-highest net rating in the NBA (6.3), trailing only the Jazz by a fairly wide margin (9.0). They hold the third-best offense (116.8 ORTG) and the seventh-best defense (110.5 DRTG). The Clippers are one of four teams (the others being the Jazz, Suns and Bucks) to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive rating, a club which is widely considered to denote a true contender.
The numbers are there, and they are currently healthy (Serge Ibaka’s return to action appears to be looming) with three games to go until the postseason begins. They’ve had another year to build chemistry and continuity, ideally learning from last year’s failures. There appears to be no locker room issues between players or with Head Coach Tyronn Lue (though one cannot be sure until the full truth comes out after the season). Above all else, the Clippers have a superstar in Kawhi Leonard who proved two years ago that he can be the centerpiece of a championship team, which is not something some of these other contenders can say definitively.
LA checks many of the necessary boxes, and these projections reflect this. The figures are updated daily, but with a 69-game sample size, the odds appear to be leaning the Clippers way in about 21,000 of the simulations. It’s not something to bank on, but it is an encouraging sign nonetheless.