Vegas just dropped their over/unders for the 2017-18 NBA season. Here are a few teams set to disappoint and some ready to surpass expectations.
Now that we have passed Labor Day and hit the unofficial start of the preseason, real NBA basketball is almost upon us. With just five and a half weeks until opening night, the flood of reports that literally every player in the league added 15 pounds of muscle and is in the best shape of their lives is just around the corner.
Vegas is feeling that same anticipation and last week the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook dropped their opening over/under win projections for every NBA team. Here are some teams primed to surpass—and fall short—of expectations.
Philadelphia 76ers – UNDER 42.5 wins
To be clear, I, like almost every neutral fan in the NBA, am rooting for the Sixers to be good. Now that Philly has somewhere between one and four All-Star-caliber talents, it’s fun to pretend like we all knew The Process was going to work from the beginning. But, in our anticipation of seeing Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, and TJ McConnell game-winners, I think we may have jumped the gun a little bit.
Small moments of brilliance have clouded our memory of what was a terrible team last year. They had the East’s second-worst record, the league’s worst offense, and were riddled with injuries for the umpteenth year in a row. Adding JJ Reddick, Amir Johnson, and Fultz, and getting Simmons back from injury, give this team far more talent than they have had in years, but they still have a ways to go. If Embiid plays a full season (knock on as much wood as humanly possible) then they will improve dramatically, but come on, 43 wins??
I get it, the East sucks, but are they really better than .500? Jumping 10 wins sounds realistic, but this team doesn’t belong in the top half of the league just yet. They may be able to grab one of the final playoff spots, but this year could be a season where the eighth seed has a losing record.
It’s possible everything clicks a year ahead of schedule and this team improves by 15 wins and gets to 43-39, but until they play together and stay healthy, that is too optimistic to expect.
Washington Wizards – OVER 47.5 wins
The 2016-17 season started out pretty horrifically for the Wizards under new coach Scott Brooks. They won just two of their first 10 games and it took a couple of months before they coalesced into even an average NBA team. Once they did figure it out, however, they quickly became one of the league’s best.
From Christmas onwards, the Wizards went 36-17. If you project that to an entire season, it comes out to nearly 56 wins. While looking at just a segment of the season and using that as your sole predictor has its problems, Washington looks likely to be closer to their form from the latter half of last season than the one they were in last October.
Even using their 49-33 record from all of last season, that would already beat their over/under and it is hard to argue that they got worse this offseason. Compared to the much of the steaming crater that used to be known as the Eastern Conference, you could argue standing pat counts as getting better. They still have defensive issues and their bench is one of the worst in the league, but John Wall and Bradley Beal give you a chance to win just about every game. If the Wizards play anywhere close to the level they consistently reached over the second half of last season, they should safely hit 48 wins.
Trevor Ruszkowski - USA TODAY Sports
Denver Nuggets – UNDER 45.5 wins
The Nuggets finished last season 40-42 with the league’s third-best offense and fourth-worst defense. On their good nights, they were as good as anyone, beating the Warriors by 22, and the Celtics by 20 and 22. They have an extremely young, promising core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Garry Harris who should all improve this season, only feeding the hype machine even more.
They added 2017 All-Star Paul Millsap as well as Trey Lyles who should both help shore up some of the team’s weaknesses. Lyles is a nice young piece and Millsap is one of the best all around forwards in the league today, but they can really only do so much to help what is an abysmal defensive situation.
Jokic is an offensive phenom but a defensive sieve, and there isn’t a Nugget on the roster who can even pretend to play good perimeter defense. Murray, Harris, and Emmanuel Mudiay have no hope of stopping the litany of dynamic guards the West has to offer. Denver has enough offensive firepower to win games by purely out-shooting a lot of teams, but they really are at the mercy of those shots falling.
The Nuggets are in a similar position to the Sixers in a lot of ways. Their young team with potential has people excited for their future, but unlike Philly, Denver plays in the West. In the East, Denver would likely be a safe playoff bet, but they are going to struggle in the extremely tough Northwest division. The playoffs are certainly a possibility and Denver could sneak into one of the bottom two seeds, but it is hard to imagine they improve enough defensively to reach 46 wins.
Boston Celtics – OVER 56.5 wins
It really is miserable playing the Celtics in the regular season. Brad Stevens is one of the league’s best in coaching up his players to play the same whether it is Christmas Day or a random Tuesday night in February, making the Celtics well-suited to have one of the best records in the league.
Last season, that consistency was enough to push them to 53 wins and the top seed in the East and this offseason they have improved dramatically. Gordon Hayward is the best wing they’ve had since Paul Pierce, and however you feel about them including the Brooklyn pick in the Kyrie Irving trade, it undoubtedly made them better this season.
Third overall pick Jayson Tatum and an improved Jaylen Brown will help their wing depth, and the front court will be improved with the additions of Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris. Avery Bradley will be missed against some teams, but it was a necessary price to pay for Hayward. It may take a few weeks for this dramatically overhauled team to completely gel together, but they have more than enough coaching and talent to reach 57 wins.
Oklahoma City Thunder – UNDER 51.5 wins
51.5 wins for the Thunder is partially a case of projecting based on unsustainable results. Sam Presti’s magic trick that was turning Victor Oladipo and Damontas Sabonis into Paul George and adding Patrick Patterson will make this team dramatically more talented than the team that finished last season 47-35, but several factors that made OKC successful last season will likely flip this year.
The clearest example is Russell Westbrook. It is impossible to say here what hasn’t already been said a million times, but to note that having one of the greatest statistical seasons we have ever seen was influential in OKC’s success last season would be a ridiculous understatement.
If OKC wants to reach 52 wins and a top-four seed in the West, they will need Westbrook to be great. The addition of George means he doesn’t have to be historic, but he will have to be an MVP-caliber player for them to reach those heights. Just going off of historical precedent and the basic limitations of the human body would lead you to think the chances of him being that great again this season are small, but then again, he did continue playing with a literal dent in his face so maybe normal rules don’t apply.
A huge part of Westbrook’s greatness last season, however, came as a result of something very difficult to control. OKC’s net rating in clutch situations jumped an astounding 19 points compared to their average over the whole game. The Thunder went 26-16 in those games which boosted their record a whole four games above their expected W-L. If they fall back towards league average in close games this season, it would make it nearly impossible for them to reach 52 wins.
San Antonio Spurs – OVER 54.5 wins
The Spurs’ over really comes down to “don’t bet against Pop and the Spurs in the regular season.” Fun fact, the Spurs have won (or been on pace to win) 55 games in all but two seasons since 1999. Few things are as certain in the NBA as the Spurs winning 55+ games.
Even beyond that gut feeling, this team has more than enough talent to reach 60 wins. Last season they fell off from their quietly historic 67-win season the year before to a record of “just” 61-21. They were second in the league behind Golden State, but they really could have been a lot closer. Of the 21 games the Spurs lost last season, 11 of them came by five or fewer points. If just a few of those games flipped, we would have been talking about yet another 65-win Spurs team.
Almost the entirety of their roster is back, but it doesn’t really matter. The longstanding joke that anyone could play in the Spurs’ system is made for a reason, and no matter who they throw out there, the Spurs always contend for the top defense in the league. As long as Kawhi Leonard stays a healthy robot, this team will ho-hum their way to 55+ wins whether you like it or not.
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