September 29, 2021, 1:52 am
Hi, everybody! (Hi, Dr. Nick).
Welcome back to the season win totals annual mega-writeup sheet. Last year we had a little Besbris vs. Bruski showdown, and I think I unofficially won. Truth be told, I didn’t actually see how Bru did and I just felt like taking a shot at my boss (hey, AB!).
Last season we went a ridiculous 22-8 on the 30 leans, and one of those was a “if you absolutely have to bet on the Rockets” thing where any reasonable human would have just waited to find out James Harden’s status before placing a wager. We’ll count it as 22-8 in the annals of history, but you and I both know it was 22-7 and a pass.
This is my favorite, and, really, basically, the only thing I write on an annual basis where I refuse to miss a season. And the themes are often the same. We analyze how a team performed the previous year, look into factors headed into the coming season, and then, generally, fade the ever loving crap out of public opinion on teams.
This year, the numbers are actually way, way better. Last season was the year of the overreaction and we were able to work off the bubble runs of various teams and… it was just a gold mine. This year, the offseason isn’t quite as short, people seemed to pay attention and oddsmakers had to get in better shape to split the take. Thus, I’d say this is probably my weakest set of writeups in the 4 years we’ve been doing this exercise. This year, the season extends back to 82 games, though COVID is still out there. We learned that the coaches, staff and referees will be vaccinated, but the players are not mandated, so we may still come across some teams more afflicted than others by the disease. Unfortunately, we don’t have all the information on that front, so we likely just have to wash the COVID handicap out of our books but for a few select players and, instead, just realize that a GOOD team missing a few key players is a bigger deal than a bad team. Why? Because the bad team only needs to win some 30% of their games to hit the Over, anyway, so a couple losses isn’t a big deal. A good team has a smaller margin of error, and as we saw with teams like Boston and Toronto last year, a few rough weeks can smother the season. (Note: we went 1-1 on those calls).
In any case, let’s lean into it below, and I’ll certainly add more or adjust as we get info, particularly on the Ben Simmons situation in Philadelphia.
Oh, and I’ll try to note some of my favorites with fresh new methods of highlighting like bold and italics…
ATLANTA HAWKS OVER 46.5
Oddsmakers went the zero-fun route on this one. The Hawks won 41 of 72 games last year, which would put them on a 46.7-win clip this season. So, they just grabbed the nearest half number to that. There are a few things to dislike about Atlanta, but, I feel, more to like. They caught teams a bit by surprise last season, and I’m not sure Trae takes another large leap. Clint Capela was also fairly healthy as their defensive backstop, and that might not stick another year. Overall, though, there’s nice continuity on this club, and a handful of young guys that should get better. De’Andre Hunter was putting together a strong season before his injury, and Cam Reddish missed most of the year. Bogdan Bogdanovic was superb down the stretch but he, too, missed about half the season. I also like that in an 82-game season, the Hawks will get an extra 10 games with the Eastern Conference.
BOSTON CELTICS OVER 45.5
The math on this one is bordering on hilarious. The Celtics had a total set at 46.5 last season in a campaign that was 10 games shorter. That was an easy Under winner when the Celtics only got to a break even 36-36 year. If our starting line is that the Celtics worst case scenario, which is basically what last year was, gets them to 41 wins, another 5 is a large but not insurmountable number. Boston unloaded the weird Kemba Walker fit, though Dennis Schroder isn’t exactly the answer. I personally feel Al Horford’s return is the biggest news as his veteran savvy and ability to play position defense is going to completely change the way Boston plays. Last year the Celtics were on skates on defense – big men were constantly out of position and the guys on the perimeter didn’t help as much as they probably needed to. But there’s a real chip on the shoulder with these guys, Marcus Smart is still there as the heartbeat, and if we assume they don’t get bludgeoned by COVID absences like last year (it’s not a guarantee, but it’s a reasonable hope), Boston should already be able to put together 3-4 more wins. Then, as we noted with Atlanta above and will probably do with every Eastern team, Boston’s extra 10 games are against a weaker conference. This one is close, but the story arc here points towards a bounce-back year in Beantown.
BROOKLYN NETS UNDER 56.5
This one is going to be really tight. The Nets are an all-time powerhouse… when healthy. And Kevin Durant has looked incredible in the playoffs and the Olympics. And James Harden has had a half year to drop the extra poundage he put on to eat his way out of Houston last year. And Kyrie is, well, still Kyrie, so he’ll miss 20 games for whatever assorted reasons. I just get the strong feeling that this team has nothing at all to prove in the regular season even though, together, they haven’t actually proven anything. It’s a weird sentence, I know, but it makes sense. These are veterans. Two of them are champs. There’s no reason to blow it out for 82 games when we all know the only thing that stops this team from getting at least to the Eastern Conference Finals is the health of KD. Still, they could win 50+ games with 2 of their 3 superstars. And, again, they get to play extra games against the East this year, compared to the short season last year. All of the on-paper notes point to them pushing 60 wins, but I can’t in good conscience take the Over on a team with this much hype behind it. The line is inflated, and we’ll just roll with the “if you place this bet 10,000 times” angle and hope percentages take us to a narrow win.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS UNDER 38.5
Oddsmakers are getting a little clever this year in a few spots, and this is one of them. The Hornets Over last year was an incredibly easy winner, but the number has been adjusted up significantly. Last year, it was set at 25.5 and they hit 33 wins in a 72-game season. That’s not bad, but adding 10 games at THAT clip doesn’t get you to 39, which is what you have to believe is coming to grab an Over this time around. In terms of personnel, LaMelo Ball should continue to improve, maybe Gordon Hayward doesn’t miss as much time (or maybe he does) as last year, and they added Mason Plumlee to more capably fill that Cody Zeller role. Kelly Oubre Jr. is part of the mix, as well, but Devonte’ Graham isn’t. I’m going ahead and calling offseason roster stuff mostly a wash… maybe a microscopic win. Here’s my issue, though – it’s damn hard for teams to take big forward leaps two seasons in a row. You almost always see a slight regression, whether it’s from other teams adjusting to a style of play or even individual players dipping back (Terry Rozier, perhaps?). I like the Hornets, and in the East a 37 or 38-win team probably makes the playoffs, but there really can’t be any prolonged slumps if they’re going to try to get to 500.
CHICAGO BULLS UNDER 42.5
I missed a few Bulls Over calls, but last year we went back to the well and finally got ourselves a winner at the low-low price of just 29.5 wins. That wasn’t too tough, and yet they barely made it. Zach LaVine missing 3 weeks with COVID near the end of the year likely cost the team a couple wins, and he and Nikola Vucevic never really developed chemistry, so who knows how the end of the year might have played out. Then, Chicago went out and made some of the biggest moves of the offseason, bringing in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball to build a fairly competent core that is set to have a whale of a time trying to fit together until, say, January. The Bulls Under this year is a bet built on a slow start. I believe they will eventually build something that can win a few ballgames, and between January and April Chicago probably does roll at an over-500 clip, but if they’re sitting at something like 18-23 after half the season, now we’re talking 25-16 the rest of the way and I’m just not sure they get there. Plus, you guys know me: I love to back continuity (in general) and fade star acquisitions (in general).
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS UNDER 26.5
I’ll tell you… it’s hard to win only 26 games in an 82-game season, but the Cavaliers won only 22 last year, and at that same clip, they don’t get to 27 this year. I know fading a garbage team is pretty public, but I have no faith at all that Cleveland gets better year over year. They drafted Evan Mobley, who might be decent, but is unlikely to be a rookie year difference-maker, and other than that, bringing in Lauri Markkanen while losing Larry Nance Jr. is probably a net negative. The team remains offensively deficient, I’m not a huge Darius Garland believer, and the only way Cleveland hits this number is if Garland takes a huge step forward and Ricky Rubio somehow channels his youth to get them running NBA-level offensive sets. This team is still very, very bad, and though it’ll be a sweat simply because the number is so dang low to begin with, this isn’t a team that’s going to make any sort of concerted playoff push. I do believe they’re sick of losing, though, and maybe we should bring that into our handicapping a bit more – that is, how many seasons can a team stink before everyone just revolts and accidentally wins some games?
DALLAS MAVERICKS OVER 48.5
Perennially, the Mavs are a team that ends with me making a bit of a coin flip call. Last year we went Under and it hit by 1.5 games. This year, interestingly, despite the math all pointing the other way, we’re taking the opposite tack. Let’s dive a bit deeper. Last year the Mavericks won 42 games. At that same pace, they’re sitting on about 48 out of 82 this time around. There’s something psychological happening here, where it seems like 49 is out of reach, but Dallas really only needs one win to get there. I’ll admit, the front office shake-up and departure of Rick Carlisle gives me a TON of pause, here. But at the player level, I believe Dallas got better in most spots. Remember, this is a team that went through a prolonged slump when they lost half their team to COVID. It’s easy to forget that something like 4 Mavs players were stuck quarantining in Denver! And then we saw the long road to get those guys back to full strength. Kristaps Porzingis, for all his warts, starts the year healthy this time around, and I like that they brought in Reggie Bullock to firm up the outside shooting around Doncic. Dwight Powell being a couple years removed from his injury/recovery is also a positive. And there’s still an outside chance the Mavs try to make a splash with a trade of some kind. I’ll take them to have a little prove-it going.
DENVER NUGGETS OVER 47.5
I will not be talked into the Under by a weird number. I will not be talked into the Under by a weird number. I feel like I’m walking into a trap on this one, and maybe I am. It certainly wouldn’t be a bet in the real world, but I break down all 30 teams, so here we go. No Jamal Murray until probably around playoff time. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they still have the MVP, Michael Porter Jr. is primed for a pretty large season, Aaron Gordon is a decent fit even if he’s not a star, and we also probably all forgot that almost all of Denver’s depth was hurt late last season, too. And yet, they kept winning. Denver won 47 games in 72 tries last season. Even with a peel-back, don’t we at least think they can get to that same mark with 10 additional games? At its core this is a risky call since there’s a definite chance that fatigue catches up to the main guys, but Michael Malone’s guys always go full tilt for him, they can defend, which mitigates the loss of Murray to some degree, and, again, Jokic makes the whole damn team a bunch of 50% shooters just by existing. I hate how low this number is – it’s screaming trap – but screw it.
DETROIT PISTONS OVER 24.5
I truly believe the only question we need to answer with this team is “how hard will they tank?” We know a tank is coming at some point. But will they go into mega-tank with 7-8 weeks left like this past season? Or will it just be at the very, very end? Or will they buck the tank and just say “the hell with it” and try to be okay and get something like a top-7 pick. One thing we saw with this Pistons team last season was that they were the best terrible team in the NBA, constantly hanging with the better clubs before crapping themselves in the 4th quarter. Who knows – maybe that happens again, but I will say this: I like a lot of what they’re finally doing. It’s hard not to with Cade Cunningham, but I like the Jerami Grant signing last year, I like Isaiah Stewart as a young big, I like Kelly Olynyk as the floor-spacing backup-C/PF. Killian Hayes will hopefully grow a bit this year. Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s going to be an absolute truckload of losing, but 24.5 is terribly low, and I have to believe they try to win a few at least the first couple months. Again, the way this goes under is a hard tank. If you feel strongly about that tank, you get where I’m going there.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS UNDER 48.5
Is this another trap, but on the high side? This number is gargantuan. I almost feel like this number was set with the notion that Klay Thompson is back to start the season, but he’s very much not. Klay is expected back near Christmas, and even then he’s not going to be himself immediately (or ever?). The Warriors won 39 out of 72 games this past season, so if nothing changes over 72, they’d need to win every single extra game this season. Kelly Oubre Jr. is gone, though I’m not sure that actually hurts them. James Wiseman might be a bit better, so I guess that could help. Overall, though, the Dubs are basically the same team as last season, a club that was actually pretty healthy, too. What if Steph misses 3 weeks for some ailment? I do strongly believe they want to play their way out of the play-in tournament area, but I’m not sure it’s that easy. They have problems that Klay will help solve, but I just can’t see them as a team rolling that hard over the 500 mark. 49 and 33 is a big, big leap.
HOUSTON ROCKETS UNDER 27.5
I can’t believe I’m going this way with another bad team (we already leaned this way with the Cavs), but I can’t help it. The Rockets have a real chance to be the worst team in the NBA for two years in a row. I’m left scratching my head a little bit that Houston’s number is higher than a couple of teams we’ve covered so far. Who, precisely, is going to get them these wins? There’s almost no real efficiency to speak of, they’re young as heck, and John Wall wants out. Wall wasn’t particularly good last year, but at least he tried to create offense. Will this team get out and run and score and have some fun highlights? Yes. Will they never stop a single opponent and give up 125 points a night while going through some stretches where they miss 20 straight threes? Also, yes. They need more youth. The current crop isn’t enough to get them back into the mix in the West. A late tank is also quite conceivable.
INDIANA PACERS OVER 42.5
I’m giving the Pacers the Carlisle bump. I didn’t really take the Carlisle bump away from Dallas because, well, Luka. But here in Indy, this is a team that desperately needed a proven asset at the top. We saw it with Nate McMillan before he was foolishly let go in a true “grass is greener” blunder. The Pacers realized their error quickly, at least, and now they have a coach that can hold a locker room. They’re past the Victor Oladipo drama, so that’s not hanging over the team this year. Caris LeVert is likely all the way back from his tumor scare (also good), and then we hope that Myles Turner is set to roll, as well. It feels to me like last season was the aberration and not the norm, and oddsmakers have mostly set the line to act as such. We get a small discount because last year was such a mess, but the Pacers were a team quietly rising, and getting back over 500 feels well within reach if we treat this past year the way it looked from the outside: a blip.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS OVER 45.5
I actually think this number is really good. The Clippers aren’t nearly as bad as the world might have you believe without Kawhi Leonard. My issue is that the length of a regular season makes it a pretty different beast than what we saw out of LA during the postseason. They need rest. The Playoffs are loaded with off days and guys like Paul George can go ahead and play 40 minutes a game and keep things competitive. And Reggie Jackson can elevate his shooting for a short burst that may or may not hold up over 82 games. The scrappy Clippers from a few years back had that fire that I think we see SOME of in this group, though one of the big keys for me is the lack of Patrick Beverley. He’s become even more injury prone late in his career (and is in Minnesota, anyway), but when the Pat-Bev, Lou-Will Clips overperformed pre-superstar arrival, it was Beverley that lit the fire night in and night out. Is there someone on this club that can do that? As we always do, we roll the whole thing into a delightful handicapping burrito and come up with a number right around what we’re being served. I kicked this one back and forth a number of times, but I think we get a Knicks-like effect of a team just playing harder than its opponent many nights and bring them just over the finish line.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS UNDER 52.5
This one was a pretty easy one for me. The Lakers are going to be working on chemistry for probably 2-3 months, and even though they’re so awfully strong with the LeBron-AD backbone, it’s going to take a ton of time to get the pieces put together. Russell Westbrook may eventually settle in, as he’s done each of the past two seasons with new teams, but just think about the Wizards this last year. They were horrific early and only got things going for a push after the midway juncture. And if you thought it was tough for Russ to fit in with Washington (under a coach that gave him every freedom imaginable), just wait until we all see how long it’s going to take to assimilate with the best player of this generation on a team that’s going to be hunting spacing like crazy. We’re also likely to see the Lakers play it careful with their stars after a hobbled LeBron and completely-out AD had what you might call a small impact on the playoffs.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES UNDER 41.5
Which team did I mess up more than any other last year? The Grizzlies! I had the season win total wrong (I took the Under), and repeatedly throughout the year I had regular old-fashioned spread wagers on them, and mostly got those wrong, too. I don’t have a great feel for this club. Still, I think I can confidently say Memphis got worse this offseason. And it almost seemed like they did it on purpose. Trading away Jonas Valanciunas opened up a whopper of a cavity on the interior. Steven Adams will rebound but he has zero offensive game and can’t shoot free throws, so that move was, seemingly, to clear out center minutes for Jaren Jackson Jr… right? Sure, he can space the floor and he’s a fantasy stud, but he’s going to get his body smashed to pieces by opposing bigs and that’ll limit his minutes at the 5. Ja Morant probably gets a little better again this year, so that’s nice, but his supporting cast is lacking star power, and comfortably clearing the 500-mark again in a loaded West is going to take a level of sustained play that, honestly, I’m just not sure they’ve got in the tank. The way Memphis hits this number is the proper use of their depth, which they DO still have, but damn, I think they end up missing having a useful interior presence on the roster.
MIAMI HEAT OVER 48.5
Trust in Spoelstra. Maybe. This number is pretty big for a team that only won 40 during the 72-game short season. That puts them on a pace for about 46, and call me insane, but I don’t think Kyle Lowry gets them those extra 3 wins. What might, though, is circumstance. The Heat were, by all accounts, playing on borrowed time last year. They ran as deep as you can go in the bubble, and we all saw what that did to the Lakers. On top of that, Miami had a COVID outbreak that knocked them down to about 8 healthy players for two weeks. They were exhausted, battered, bruised, undermanned, and, somehow, still got to 40 wins. If we take last year’s pace, adjust up to the 46 we mentioned above, and then do a little hand-waving to account for the fact that they had a fairly normal offseason, added a strong point guard to replace an even more beat-up Goran Dragic, the Heat are prime for a bounceback year just on energy, emotion and luck. If we assume their offseason maneuvers made them better from a true power ranking position … even better.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS UNDER 54.5
We need to fade the champs. I’m not going to get into the deep weeds on each minor thing, here. This is a move based on desire. It’s just so damn hard to repeat, in general. And beyond that, it’s even harder to do it in a shortened offseason (and even harder when your team goes to the Olympics). But look, the way to look at this is that the number is going to be a bit inflated because they did just win the whole darn thing. Also, every team is going to be gunning for the Champs. That’s just how it works. But most importantly, I don’t care how much a team might SAY they are going to take the regular season seriously, when you win a title, the regular season has no zest to it. It’s like the Bucks got to taste the perfect filet and now have to go back to eating burgers for 82 days. I love burgers, but the point is that the human brain just can’t handle that intensity drop without a pretty significant letdown. And they’ll win a bunch of games because they’re just a stacked team, but when you consider they won only 46 during this short season, assuming they take 9 of the 10 bonus games is a little audacious.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES OVER 34.5
I’m so annoyed about this one. I thought for sure we’d be staring down a 29.5 or 30.5 after Minnesota won just 23 games last year. But folks are hip to their growth, it seems. The Wolves were basically a break even team down the stretch as they got healthy, and I really like that they added noted NBA maniac Pat Beverley to bring a little dickishness to the team. He’ll stoke a fire under the guys without insulting their humanity the way Jimmy Butler seemingly did. The Wolves are a prove-it team this year with terrific young talent. They’re fun, and if Bev can inspire the guys to defend (even though he’s getting a bit old to do it himself the way he used to), they’ll surprise a number of teams. It’s asking a ton, but I like the Wolves to beat up on clubs that won’t score with them and steal a few from the good teams. I remain extremely annoyed this number wasn’t lower or this would have big a huge wager. Instead, the number is pretty close to accurate, and I think they slip over.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS UNDER 39.5
Last year the Pels 36.5 number was idiotic. They had no prayer. This year 39.5 isn’t completely bat-bleep nuts, but it’s still pretty high for a team that didn’t really get better in the offseason. I like the Jonas Valanciunas add – he’ll help them considerably – and Zion should continue to improve, but they’re going to be relying on a backcourt that is either very young or very role-playerish. It’s conceivable the Pelicans got worse, but for argument’s sake I’m going to say they stayed about the same. New Orleans won 31 games last season, so that trends out to about 35 or 36 this year. Can they bump that up by 4 or 5 wins while at the same time playing a larger share of games in the West? That’s a huge ask and likely comes down to how they deploy JV and whether they can ever start to defend something.
NEW YORK KNICKS UNDER 41.5
Hah! Well, we cruised to an easy winner on New York last year with an over 22.5 (!) – the Knicks won 41 games in 72 tries! But then, how on Earth could the number be 41 (and a half) with 10 bonus games? Something isn’t adding up, and I’m here to tell you what that is. Did the Knicks, from a personnel standpoint, get better? They did indeed. Adding Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker addressed a grotesque need for more offensive options beyond Julius Randle and basically no one else. Here’s the issue: the Knicks played harder than any team in the NBA every stinking night last season, and that’s not the kind of thing you can ask of your guys every year forever without consequences. I’m fading the Knicks win total here not because I don’t think they CAN get there. In fact, if things play out in a normal fashion, they should. I’m banking on missed games from every key guy (except maybe RJ Barrett, but also perhaps him, too) that forces the team to run stinker lineups that can’t score. I think Julius Randle takes a small step back this season as well – his play last year was a revelation but didn’t feel sustainable given his workload and their playoff flameout.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER OVER 23.5
Honestly, I can’t believe our Under on the Thunder hit last season. It had no business staying under 23.5 when they won 20 games out of something like their first 50, but then team went into such a prolonged, hideous, egregious tank job that it worked! Will they tank again this year? The answer is “probably” but when you consider that Al Horford and SGA alone pretty much willed the team to 15 win last season, SGA, Derrick Favors, and a cadre of improving young guys should be able to get back to the 22 from last year and hopefully add 2 more in the remaining 10. How does this one not hit? If Gilgeous-Alexander gets shut down for 2 months again. The percentages tell us it should trickle over with some mostly accidental wins. The team convinced SGA to sign a long term deal, and I don’t think he wants to blow two years in a row after tasting the playoffs with CP3. Who knows, maybe the Thunder swing some wild deal with their 850 picks. Doubtful, but a lot of things can break their way with the number this low.
ORLANDO MAGIC OVER 22.5
This one is nauseating, but 22.5 is just too unbearably low a number, even for a team headed into a full rebuild. Thing is, the Magic secretly have some decent players left, even after auctioning off the entire core. I love Jonathan Isaac, when healthy. The Mo Bamba/WCJ center position isn’t a total waste. Chuma Okeke looks like a blossoming young gun. Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton, Fultz when he’s back. There’s stuff here, and I believe they’ll play hard even in what is basically set to be a lost season. They strike me as a lot like last year’s Pistons, fighting tooth and nail nightly, and in 82 games, you just sort of “trip over your wiener” into 20 wins. Just please, Orlando, don’t shut everyone down in February. Give us 1-2 more weeks of mildly competitive basketball and you can make it to 24 wins on the year.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS UNDER 50.5
LET’S LEAVE THIS ONE ALONE UNTIL WE KNOW WHAT’S UP WITH BEN SIMMONS. If he’s sitting things out and this thing drags into the season, that’s why we currently have the Under lean. If the drama settles, I might flip back the other way. Feels like trying to handicap Houston last year, though James Harden is obviously a much larger impact piece than Simmons, here…
PHOENIX SUNS UNDER 51.5
Get outta here with the Suns crushing it in the regular season again. This team is going to be a bit fried from the deep playoff run and Chris Paul’s wrist surgery might end up creating some sort of lingering impact. But mostly, I just don’t think they have the unbelievably strong health luck of this past season. Almost the entire core made it through the season unscathed. That’s ABSURD in the COVID era! They’re not going to need to go as hard during the regular season this year, and a few losses will creep in when guys have to sit. All of this explains why a team that won 51 games in a 72-game season has a number (like the Knicks, really) set right near that same mark despite the extra games. Look for the Suns to lose some close ones that they won last year, too, possibly because Chris Paul has to miss some time here and there, or possibly just because of a bad bounce.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS OVER 44.5
Oddsmakers get Portland right pretty often. Last year the number was 41.5 – we took the Over – and they finished on 42. This year, the number is adjusted up a smidge with a few expectations built into the smaller-than-expected bump. There’s a looming possibility that things turn sour, though I doubt that’s the case. I have ultimate trust in Dame, and I like that the Blazers are actually coming into this year healthy. Last season Jusuf Nurkic was a complete disaster from the outset with family tragedy playing a large role. He’ll be better. CJ McCollum had his worst injury as a Pro last season – I expect him to dodge the big injury bug. I liked the acquisition of Norman Powell last season and he re-signed. I like the Larry Nance Jr. pickup. There are just a bunch of small things to like about the Blazers. The question mark is whether the coaching change helps or hurts. I’ll go ahead and call it a small bounce just because there’s a new voice in the room, and with the pressure on to make this year a winner (a Dame demand could rock the boat pretty hard in the offseason if things flop), I expect the Blazers to go all out.
SACRAMENTO KINGS UNDER 36.5
Luke Walton is still the head coach, so the team isn’t changing. The Kings won 31 games last year while trying their little hearts out until the very last day, and the offseason seemed to tell us that the team still feels like it’s a year away from really making a push. That rather stinks for Kings fans who wanted to see something substantial. We rode the Kings Over last year to our biggest bet (and win) on the card, but I just can’t bet on them to improve with Luke still at the helm. A midseason firing would completely upend this wager, though. Put a dog in a Halloween costume in charge, and they probably get to 38 wins. It just doesn’t seem like Walton is going anywhere, and on top of that, it feels like they could trade away veterans at the deadline and lean into a few more prospects/assets, then try to make a splash in the draft and free agency next offseason. Still, I’ve written a ton of negative stuff. Fact of the matter is that this number is pretty close and you’re probably looking at a 35-win team.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS OVER 28.5
The Spurs definitely got worse. No DeRozan hurts. But they also piled up a host of nice value contracts and the team is now, officially, in the hands of a pair of underrated guards in Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. The Spurs are an incredibly clever organization, and something tells me the team finds a way to have some fun this year where last season didn’t seem like they were enjoying what was basically a lame duck year for the older guys on the roster. San Antonio won 33 games last season in 72 tries. At that pace, they’re in the 37-38 range for this year without any personnel moves. Is DeMar worth almost 10 games? He isn’t. The West is going to steamroll them at times, but there’s enough talent and MORE than enough savvy on this roster to beat a lot of the bad, young, poorly coached teams in the league. Crap, just look one team back in these write-ups.
TORONTO RAPTORS OVER 35.5
Homeward bound! I’m leaning into this one with Toronto in a state of pure relief as they leave their fake home in Tampa and get to play in Canada again. If you recall above, I mentioned how the Celtics and Heat had arguably “worst case scenario” type seasons last year. Toronto, actually, is the winner of those sweepstakes. They had multiple COVID outbreaks and didn’t get to play a single home game. At a certain point, the front office and coaching staff realized the players were simply too tired to compete and just started resting guys because of a fear they’d get hurt in games they were probably going to lose anyway. The Raptors will miss Kyle Lowry, but the rest of the hyper-talented core remains. I expect a bounceback year for Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby should be great. The Raps picked up a nice young center in Precious Achiuwa to go along with Chris Boucher and Khem Birch. They have Gary Trent Jr., Malachi Flynn, Yuta Watanabe … the list goes on and on. Toronto probably ends up in the playoffs, and the nice thing about the play-in tournament is that even if things aren’t pretty for Toronto all year, they’ll have a reason to fight it out down the stretch. This is one of my favorites on the board.
UTAH JAZZ OVER 51.5
I feel like I’m being bamboozled. There are a ton of teams where the number is set right around where the club finished during the short season, and in most of those I feel like the reasons to fade the wins were staring us in the face. The Suns had a deep playoff run, so they’ll probably fall back. The Knicks surprised teams with their ferocity and Julius Randle overperforming all year long. But with Utah, they were so methodical in their carving of opponents, I just don’t see how they fall back that much. A little? Yeah, probably – they went on a ridiculous winning streak mid-season that was never quite sustainable. But they have all their core pieces locked up, there’s a culture of winning already in place, Donovan Mitchell’s playoff injuries cost them a chance to go deeper (though, to be fair, they really shouldn’t have lost to a Kawhi-less Clippers team and that speaks to other issues), but this team is still really, really good and with their spacing, well-built for the modern NBA’s regular season. There’s a fade angle in play in terms of whether they care as much about winning the regular season again, and they probably don’t, but there’s a very real home court edge at altitude and I feel pretty strongly that the team’s focus during the offseason and in gameplanning is how to use Gobert more effectively when teams spread them out like we saw in the postseason. Utah probably doesn’t win 57 or 58 games like last year’s pace might indicate, but 53 is very much within reach.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS UNDER 33.5
This team isn’t good. It’s quite fashionable to clobber Russell Westbrook, but he’s absolutely the reason the Wizards went on a run down the stretch last season, going 17-6 in their final 23 games. That was Russ. I know, his fantasy game stinks and that’s why many of you follow me, but once he settled in he willed that damn team to the play-in and then the postseason. So, as much as I’d like to say that trading him to the Lakers opens up all sorts of freedom and that’ll lead to wins … I don’t think it does. Kyle Kuzma isn’t very good. Montrezl Harrell is a fine energy guy but this team already had defensive issues. Spencer Dinwiddie is coming off a monster injury. I just don’t see how the current construction finds wins. Now, will they make a play-in tourney push? Most likely, which means we probably won’t get the benefit of tanky losses late in the year, but 34 wins isn’t all that far below break even. It’ll be close, but without that extra gear that Russ brought, I don’t think this club has the muster to win the big games late in the season and the only way they get to this number is to steal a bunch early when teams have no idea what sort of gameplan to bring against a revamped club. Oh, and yeah, I also don’t like discontinuity, which is another thing happening here with Dinwiddie and Beal needing to figure out how to trade off doin’ stuff.