As we start to phase in some gambling talk here at Rotoworld this season, I thought I’d discuss my five favorite over/under win total wagers for 2018-19.
*Note: All totals and odds courtesy of Bovada as of October 15th.
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Memphis Grizzlies over 33.5 (-145)
Last season was a disaster for the Grizzlies, as they finished the year with a dismal 22-60 record. However, it’s important to note that this down year was an anomaly for Memphis. Prior to 2017-18, the Grizz had won over 40 games and qualified for the postseason in each of the previous seven seasons, which was one of the longest active streaks in the league. Last season's downslide was directly attributable to the loss of starting PG and team leader Mike Conley in November to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. With Conley in the lineup early on, Memphis actually won five of their first six games and were 7-3 in his first ten. When Conley went down, the team was unable to recover. In addition, head coach David Fizdale and stud center Marc Gasol got in a feud which ended with Fizdale being fired. As additional injuries mounted, the season quickly circled the drain. How limited was Memphis last season? Dillion Brooks and Jarell Martin finished second and third on the team, respectively, in total minutes played.
The key to a bounce-back season in 2018-19 is obviously the return of Conley, one of the NBA’s most complete point guards. However, the Grizzlies also upgraded their roster around their star PG. Memphis addressed their lack of depth on the wing by signing Kyle Anderson (four years, $37.2 million), Omri Casspi (one year, $2.2 million) and trading for Garrett Temple. In addition, they drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. with the fourth overall selection in the 2018 draft and Jevon Carter in round two. Jackson Jr. is young, but is incredibly gifted and has the potential to dominate on both ends of the floor. Carter, an elite perimeter defender, is one of the more NBA-ready rookies in his draft class. Add it all up, and you have the makings of a team with the talent and experience to notch 40 victories. Yes, playing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference is certainly troublesome, but I still think Memphis easily wins at least 34 games.
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San Antonio Spurs under 44.5 (+125)
A lot of gamblers have lost a lot of money over the years betting against coach Gregg Popovich and his Spurs, especially when it comes to regular season win totals. The numbers speak for themselves. San Antonio clinched a playoff berth for the 21st consecutive season in 2017-18, which is the longest active streak in the NBA. The second-longest being Golden State and Houston with six. The Spurs active streak of playoff appearances is also the longest of across all four major U.S. sports. And it’s not like San Antonio have squeaked into the postseason. The Spurs have won at least 50 games in 19 of those 21 seasons. However, last year was the first time they finished with a winning percentage south of 60% since 1996-1997.
The Spurs major offseason move was trading away Kawhi Leonard in exchange for DeMar DeRozan. Considering they got very little from Kawhi last season, DeRozan’s contributions should be a significant net gain. However, the Spurs backcourt was decimated over a five-day span earlier this month. On October 6th, it was announced that Lonnie Walker would have to undergo surgery on a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. On October 7th, Dejounte Murray tore the ACL in his right knee in an exhibition game. On October 12th, the Spurs announced that Derrick White, who was set to replace Murray as the team’s starting point guard, would be sidelined for 6-8 weeks due to a left plantar fascia tear. If the Spurs aren’t able to trade for an established PG, they will be forced to rely on Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes. Again, I understand that betting against coach Pop is unwise. He's a master at figuring out ways to win. In fact, per NBA.com, last season the Spurs were the first team to reach the playoffs with no more than one player averaging at least 12 points per game since the 1953-54 Minneapolis Lakers. Still, I simply don’t see how even Popovich and company can somehow squeeze out 45 victories starting Bryn Forbes, who will have going up against the likes of Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, etc. on a nightly basis. Give me the under.
Houston Rockets Over 55.5 (-175)
The Rockets are a math problem that’s difficult to solve. Coach Mike D’Antoni and his all-world backcourt have figured out that 3’s are worth more than 2’s, and they look to remind you of that fact on every single possession. During a long playoff series, it’s easier to prepare and scheme against the Rockets onslaught. However, when you are playing them on the second night of a back-to-back in the middle of January, Houston’s style of play provides them with a tremendous advantage. While other teams have followed the lead of GM Daryl Morey and coach D’Antoni in terms of approach, there is still no squad close to the Rockets. Houston attempted over 50 3-pointers per game during the preseason! Think about that for a second. As recently as five years ago, during the 2013-14 season, no team in the NBA attempted more than 26 treys per contest. The Rockets have revolutionized the way the game is played.
Last season, Houston won a franchise record 65 games. Their over/under number for this season is set at 55.5. Yes, the Rockets lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute via free agency, who were undeniably valuable on the defensive end; but they also re-signed Chris Paul and Clint Capela, and brought in Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis III and Michael Carter-Williams. Does that net to 10 more losses than last year? I don’t see it. Keep in mind, the Rockets also dealt with some injury issues last season. Clint Capela, James Harden, and Chris Paul played together in only 45 games. Houston was 42-3 in those 45 contests, and all three losses were by six or fewer points. They were 23-14 when those three didn’t suit up together. This Rockets team looked as though they hadn't missed a step this preseason, as they outscored opponents by an average 16.6 points per game. They led the NBA in scoring differential last season (+8.5 points per game). Even if we factor in some regression to the mean, I think they shoot their way to 56 victories.
New York Knicks Under 29.5 (-180)
Over the final 50 games of the 2017-18 season campaign, the Knicks went 12-38. The Phoenix Suns were the only team in the league with a worse record. It’s important to note that Kristaps Porzingis played on 23 of those 50 contests before tearing his ACL in February. KP will be sidelined for at least the first three months of 2018-19, and neither he nor the Knicks have ruled out him missing the entire season. By the time he’s close to being cleared to play, New York will likely have already been effectively eliminated from playoff contention. As a result, there will be no reason to rush him back into action.
The good news for New York fans is that the organization seems like it’s finally heading in the right direction. That means that they are focused on the big picture, which is developing their young players and building towards the future. As a result, rookie Kevin Knox will start at small forward, despite coach David Fizdale admitting he hasn’t earned it after a lackluster preseason. This new Knicks brain trust understands it’s important for their neophytes to take their lumps. The organization recognizes that a high lottery pick in the 2019 draft could greatly aid the team’s goal of one day competing for a championship. For instance, 33-year old Courtney Lee is undoubtedly one of the team’s best all-around players as of this moment, but he’s already stated he may not be part of the rotation. Relying on unproven young players typically results in losses in the NBA. The Knicks are willing to take a couple of steps backward this season, in hopes that they can make a huge leap forward next year. A coach with virtually no pressure to win games right away, combined with an inexperienced team that has limited talent playing in the best division in the Eastern Conference (the Sixers, Celtics and Raptors are all projected to win over 53 games) is a recipe for an awful lot of losses.
Los Angeles Lakers Over 48.5 (-105)
How valuable is LeBron James to an NBA organization? Consider the Cleveland Cavaliers season-average win totals over the last 12 years:
From 2006 thru 2010 (with LeBron on the roster): 55.5 wins
From 2010 thru 2014 (without LeBron on the roster): 23.7 wins
From 2014 thru 2018 (with LeBron on the roster): 52.8 wins
I understand the hesitancy to believe he can turnaround the Lakeshow in Year One of his L.A. residency. The Lakers have the league’s worst record over the last five years (126-284). However, they were trending in the right direction even before LeBron’s arrival, improving their win percentage in each of the previous three seasons. I’m sure there will be plenty of early season struggles as they attempt to build chemistry and get on the same page. However, playing alongside LeBron tends to bring out the best in even mediocre players. That Cavs team that he carried to 50 wins last season would have been one of the worst teams in the NBA without him. Do you know who finished with the second most assists on the 2017-18 Cavs? Dwyane Wade. Do you know who was third? J.R. Smith. Young players such as Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram should flourish while sharing the floor with James. And the Lakers also brought in a handful of aggressive, experienced vets (Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Micheal Beasley, etc.) to help carry the load. Qualifying for the playoffs out west will likely require 48+ wins. LeBron is still, far and away, the best player on the planet and I can’t envision James failing to lead his team to the postseason.