Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013 | 2:30 p.m.
There’s a reason the NBA season will tip off in a few hours without some local sports books having ever released season win totals on the 30 teams.
The over/under wagering propositions aren’t a big moneymaker for casinos. They’re more of an amenity to loyal customers and a way to stimulate betting action by getting gamblers in the book.
Looking back at last year’s results should help ease any intimidation about matching wits with bookmakers on full-season NBA prognostication. The LVH Superbook, annually the first to unveil the numbers, was relatively off on half of the league.
Although 15 teams sported a record at the end of the year within three games of their preseason win total, the other 15 were an average of eight victories different from their over/under.
Value is out there. It’s just a matter of finding it.
That’s what I’ll attempt to do below, where you’ll find eight win-total plays to ring in the basketball season. I’ll track their progress in this space as the season goes on. Numbers comes from the LVH Superbook.
Atlanta Hawks over 40 wins
A franchise’s consistency breeds bettors’ complacency.
Atlanta is firmly entrenched as a mid-tier team in the Eastern Conference with six straight playoff appearances and five consecutive years with records at least six games better than .500. But bettors have shied away from taking the Hawks to finish better than 40-42 this season, as this total hasn’t moved since opening nearly a month ago.
Concerns of the Hawks falling off are unfounded. They lost cornerstone hometown-product Josh Smith to the Pistons, but replaced him with Paul Millsap. Despite reputations to the contrary, Millsap has been the better player with a superior player efficiency rating and higher win shares over the last three seasons.
Atlanta also gets back sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams, whom it went 22-16 to start the season with last year. The Hawks were 22-22 without Williams.
Charlotte Bobcats over 27 wins
Go ahead and insert jokes about unloading a three-year, $41 million contract on Al Jefferson this offseason.
Done yet? Now for the truth: Jefferson should make the Bobcats significantly better in the short term.
The 28-year-old remains about eight games better than a replacement-level player, which is notable because that’s exactly how to describe last year’s starting center Byron Mullens.
Jefferson could be a part of an effective one-two punch with point guard Kemba Walker, who made major strides in his second year that went undetected because, well, they’re the Bobcats.
Under new coach Steve Clifford, Charlotte at least looks like it will attempt to improve and win all season. That’s more than can be said for at least three conference rivals — the 76ers, Magic and Celtics — who are already clearly out for the best pick they can snag in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Chicago Bulls under 57.5 wins
Those who have driven this total up from its opener of 56.5 have certainly mentioned how the Bulls won 62 games in their last full season with a healthy Derrick Rose.
The problem? A lot has changed since then.
Starting internally, the Bulls are no longer the deepest team in the league like they were in 2011. They’re less equipped to deal with their rotation players missing extended time.
And they probably will. Plantar fasciitis haunted Joakim Noah’s 2012 campaign and he was questionable for tonight’s opener with a groin strain yesterday. Kirk Hinrich, who hasn’t played a full season in nearly a decade, is also already dealing with a couple ailments.
Rose, who looked terrific in the preseason but was bothered by sore knees, won’t find the Eastern Conference as harmless as he left it. The top of the league is on par with the West this season, much different from just two years ago.
Cleveland Cavaliers under 39.5 wins
Out of the 30 teams in the NBA, the Cavaliers have the largest discrepancy between their 2013 win total and their 2012 result.
Even with money driving this over/under down an entire game, Cleveland is going to have to win 16 more contests than last year to hit the over. In fairness, the Cavaliers boast several reasons for optimism.
Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are blossoming together. They’re adding No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett to the 21-years-old or younger super group. Coach Mike Brown returns to the bench.
And, of course, the Cavaliers biggest offseason acquisition was Andrew Bynum. But it seems like all of those factors would have to break just right to make this large of a leap.
This pick comes with admittedly more trepidation than the other seven, but in the interest of even numbers, I’ll call for the Cavaliers to go under.
Golden State Warriors under 51.5 wins
The team Sports Illustrated plastered on its cover and dubbed “The New Showtime” is naturally the top pick in the NBA to go over its win total at the Superbook.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have seen the biggest move on their over/under, from 50.5 wins to 55.5, but that had a lot to do with the reports that Russell Westbrook would return quicker than anticipated. The Warriors’ shift from 49.5 wins to 51.5, the second largest move, came off of sheer volume.
The Warriors’ playoff performance a year ago continues to coax gamblers into action. The first-round upset of the Denver Nuggets led by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson was no doubt thrilling, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the Warriors went only 6-6 overall in the postseason after the semifinals ouster to the Spurs.
Golden State’s 9-3 against the spread record in the playoffs was also much publicized, but still a small sample. It’s 42-39-1 in the regular season is more telling.
SCHOENE projections — basketball’s answer to Baseball Prospectus’ PECTOA and Football Outsiders’ KUBIAK — calls for Golden State to win only 42 games this season. That’s the second biggest gap between SCHOENE and win totals in the NBA.
When popular opinion and advanced metrics clash, go with the latter.
Minnesota Timberwolves over 41.5 wins
Speaking of SCHOENE, the numbers are bullish on the Wolves. And it’s easy to see why.
Minnesota has three of the most undervalued players in the league in Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. More importantly, all three of them are healthy entering the 2013-2014 season after combining to miss 45 percent of Minnesota’s games last year.
It would take a monumental brush of bad luck to get anywhere close to that figure again this season. Some bettors find it hard to count on a team to win 10.5 more games than they did a year ago when they made no major offseason acquisitions.
But, in the case of Minnesota, the minor ones add up to pay dividends. The Wolves signed Kevin Martin, who should immediately help shore up last year’s shooting woes, and Corey Brewer, who’s coming off of his best season.
Minnesota will make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. This number is a handful too low, as SCHOENE calls for the Wolves to win a staggering 51 games.
New York Knicks under 49 wins
Using win totals as a basis, the Knicks were the Eastern Conference’s biggest revelation a year ago.
They won 54 games, nine more than the total the LVH Superbook had posted before the season began. What’s to stop it from evening out this season and New York becoming the improved conference’s greatest disappointment?
A couple contributions it received last year seem to fit in the outlier category. J.R. Smith deservedly won Sixth Man of the Year in a season that was the best of his career by a wide margin. Jason Kidd chipped in an entire year of positive service despite turning 40-years-old.
He’s now coaching the neighboring-borough rival Brooklyn Nets. They brought in former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani, a big man who plays like a guard.
Or, in other words, exactly what they didn’t need. Gamblers have driven the total down slightly from an opener of 49.5 wins. That’s the right direction.
Orlando Magic under 23 wins
The 76ers have one of the lowest over/unders of all-time at 16 wins. The Suns have been the most popular under bet at the Superbook, sending their win total spiraling from 21.5 to 19.
It’s almost as if the plight of those two teams has taken away from the fact that the Magic will be just as bad, if not worse. Orlando returns exactly one player who was noticeably above average a year ago, 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic.
Last year’s first-round draft pick, Victor Oladipo, is a promising prospect but the Magic are insisting on playing him out of position at point guard.
Many of its semi-assets will all find a spot on the trading block, as Orlando looks to position itself in next year’s draft. It’s generally accepted that the 76ers and Suns are the two teams tanking the hardest this season.
Don’t underestimate the Magic’s tricks.