This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
Over/under win totals for the 2019-20 season have been available for several weeks, but the books continue to tweak the numbers as the summer winds down and training camp approaches.
Factoring in the latest updates over at the FanDuel Sportsbook, here are 10 of my favorite bets for the upcoming season:
Hornets UNDER 23.5 (-130)
In the past, at times, I've been guilty of jumping the gun on teams that look terrible on paper. I don't think this is one of those times. Given the players they were throwing out on the court for much of last season, the Hornets won a shocking number of basketball games (39). But their two highest-win-share players – Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb – are now gone, while their only true addition is a 25-year-old point guard who's yet to crack 40 percent from the field in any of his four NBA seasons.
The Hornets were already one of the five least efficient shooting teams in the league last season, and behind Terry Rozier, the options are bleak. Miles Bridges is a fun breakout candidate, Dwayne Bacon has shown a few flashes, and I will always – always – remain an eternal Malik Monk supporter. But it's difficult to compare the Hornets' roster to even that of the other league doormats and feel confident about this team winning the almost-one-third of its games necessary to hit the over.
Over the last 10 NBA seasons*, 30 teams, an average of three per season, have failed to reach 24 wins. Going even further back, while some years have yielded more bottom-dwellers than others, at least one team has finished with 23 wins or fewer in every season since 1983-84. Assuming the streak holds true for a 37th consecutive year, the Hornets are the clear favorite to be that team.
*2011-12 lockout season excluded
Wizards UNDER 27.5 (-120)
First off, I'd like to make it clear that Bradley Beal is exempt from any and all Wizards criticism. Brad, it's not your fault. You don't deserve this.
Ironically, Beal is part of the reason I like the under. Beyond the Wizards having less top-to-bottom roster talent than any team except maybe the Hornets, there's a good chance they'll have no choice but to trade Beal at some point this season. A player of Beal's caliber would fetch a handsome return, but Washington would likely seek a more future-oriented package – not one built around win-now pieces.
Even if Beal plays out the full season in a Wizards uniform, getting to 28 wins won't be easy. Washington won 32 games a year ago, but that was with Beal having by far the best year of his career, playing in all 82 games and leading the entire league in minutes. Current Chicago Bull, Otto Porter, was also in the lineup for 22 of those wins, and with John Wall expected to miss most, if not all, of the 2019-20 season, Beal will be a full-time solo act this time around.
Wall's stand-ins will be Ish Smith, a career 30.6 percent three-point shooter, and Isaiah Thomas, who's shot 37 percent from the field and 29 percent from three in just over 1,000 NBA minutes since leaving Boston. On the wing, C.J. Miles, Jordan McRae, Troy Brown and Davis Bertans will all play significant roles. Up front, Rui Hachimura will be a fun piece and should see plenty of run right away, but he's unlikely to be a winning player. Then there's Thomas Bryant, who is… pretty clearly the second-best player on this team?
I'll take the under.
Raptors UNDER 46.5 (-130)
Contrary to reports circulating around the phony and corrupt RotoWire office, I am not, in fact, "out" on the Raptors. But at the same time, I wouldn't say I'm "in" on them, either. I'm getting some serious 2011-12 Mavs vibes. That Dallas team, of course, won the title a year earlier, pounding the Heat in six games after a 57-win regular season. The next season, a lockout-shortened one, Dallas finished 36-30 – a 45-win pace – before being promptly swept out of the first round by Daequan Cook, Derek Fisher and the Thunder.
The Mavs' decline was partially their own doing. They let Tyson Chandler walk in free agency. DeShaun Stevenson, a strangely integral piece off the bench, moved on. So did Peja Stojakovic and Caron Butler. It felt like the organization knew it had reached the peak and probably wasn't getting back there any time soon.
The Raptors find themselves in a similar situation. Having reached the mountaintop this past June, Toronto got what it hoped would come with trading for Kawhi Leonard. But with Leonard (and Danny Green) now in Los Angeles, the Raptors are without their centerpiece – the one player who so clearly raised their ceiling to a championship level. The remaining parts are still plenty useful, but a decline – and probably a rather sharp one – is inevitable. Serge Ibaka turns 30 next month. Kyle Lowry will be 34 in March and Marc Gasol turns 35 in January.
What the Raptors have that the Mavs did not is a young star in Pascal Siakam. Siakam grew into a household name last season, and while the 25-year-old should only continue to improve, asking him to suddenly go from super-role-player to the guy for the defending champs is a tall order. The Raptors fared well in Kawhi-less games last season, and that's encouraging, but they'll miss the Finals MVP's shot-making and steadiness, especially late in games.
At the end of the day, Toronto is an upper-middle-of-the-pack team in the East. A safe playoff qualifier, but never a true threat to Milwaukee, Philadelphia or even Boston. Could that result in 47 or 48 wins? Sure, especially if Siakam jumps to another level. But the trajectories of Gasol and Lowry worry me, as does the increased responsibility Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby will be asked to shoulder.
Spurs OVER 46.5 (+110)
This number is on the rise at some books, including a sizeable leap at Caesar's, and for good reason. While their stars are aging and the West is once again a minefield, the Spurs have managed to win at least 47 games in 20 – TWENTY – consecutive seasons. That streak should really stand at 22 seasons, given that the 1998-99 Spurs finished 37-13 – a 61-win pace – before going on to win the title in a lockout-shortened year.
Of course, the exploits of Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan and Fabricio Oberto bear no effect on what this latest iteration of the Spurs will accomplish. But San Antonio still has its backbone in place, and as long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, there has been literally no reason to expect a sub-47-win season.
On the court, the Spurs should be a steady, if not improved, product, as well. Losing Davis Bertans – fifth in win shares last season – will hurt, but DeMarre Carroll is an underrated replacement on the wing, and Rudy Gay, now two-and-a-half years removed from a torn Achilles, is coming off of an encouraging season. The backcourt should be San Antonio's strongest in years, as Dejounte Murray returns from a torn ACL to join Derrick White in what could be the best defensive guard tandem in the West.
All that is to say, the Spurs should be a very good and very consistent regular season team that, true to the Spurs brand, beats the teams it should beat. They may not have the postseason ceiling of the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, or even the Warriors. But as long as this isn't the year 34-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge begins to enter the twilight of his career, San Antonio should hit the over rather comfortably.
Mavericks OVER 40.5 (-105)
As is the case with most over/unders, there isn't a ton of value here, but the over is a slight underdog compared to the under at -115. In the Eastern Conference, the Mavs are probably comfortably projected in the mid-40s, but in the much-deeper West, they'll jockey with Golden State, New Orleans, Sacramento (and maaaybe Minnesota) for one of the final playoff spots.
Dallas won only 33 games a year ago, but the Mavs were 15-11 through their first 26 games and sat at 25-28 before a pre-All-Star-break swoon. While the Mavs were a disaster down the stretch, I'm willing to write off just about everything that happened after the halfway point. DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith, Jr., Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes were all traded, leaving behind a rag-tag roster of misfits to run out the clock on what quickly became a lost season.
Dallas also compiled a 6-13 record against New York, Washington, Memphis, New Orleans, Phoenix and Sacramento. At least two of those teams should be pretty good next season, but there's certainly ground to be made up against that group.
Ultimately, the Mavs' ceiling will be determined by Kristaps Porzingis, who will be more than 20 months removed from a torn ACL by the time the regular season tips off. Porzingis' health is less of a concern than how quickly the Mavs can get him up to speed, but if he's able to develop a quick rapport with Luka Doncic, Dallas will have the firepower to top 40 wins for the first time in five seasons.
Nuggets OVER 52.5 (+100)
I realize 52.5 is a big number, but I have no hesitation taking the over. The Nuggets were a 54-win team a year ago, and while that's three more than their expected win/loss, they dropped a pair of late-season games to Minnesota and Washington and endured long-term injuries to Will Barton (43 games played) and Gary Harris (57). If Nikola Jokic goes down, all bets are off, but of the top teams in either conference, Denver is best positioned to weather the storm in the case of injuries to its ancillary stars.
Virtually the entire roster, including the top 10 win shares leaders, is back, and Denver packed on even more depth up front with the acquisition of Jerami Grant, who could eventually push Paul Millsap for a starting spot. On top of that, there's the possibility that Michael Porter Jr. comes back healthy and adds another dynamic to what's already arguably the deepest bench in the league.
Rockets OVER 53.5 (-105)
I understand the risk that comes with pairing the two players who have led the league in usage rate in four of the last five seasons, but I can't help but be cautiously optimistic. Houston got to 53 wins last season despite an 11-14 start and injuries to Chris Paul (24 games missed), Clint Capela (15) and Eric Gordon (14). Suggesting James Harden can't possibly repeat the tear that saved Houston's season is a reasonable take, but he should have a better – and if nothing else, healthier – supporting cast this time around.
As was the case in Oklahoma City, there will be nights when Westbrook shoots the Rockets out of games. But if he can tone down the daredevil drives and pull-up threes even half as much as Daryl Morey and Mike D'Antoni hope, the Harden-Westbrook partnership should be enough to move the Rockets past 53 wins for the fifth time in seven years.
Lakers UNDER 51.5 (-125)
This isn't so much a bet against LeBron James or Anthony Davis as much as it's a vote of confidence in the rest of the Western Conference. As long as that superstar tandem stays healthy, the Lakers will be a very good team that will head into the postseason on the short list of true contenders, but the regular season Lakers might not be quite as threatening.
James has a lengthy history of pacing himself and using the first few months as an extended training camp. And while Davis might be the best big man in basketball, unlike many of his elite peers, he's yet to prove capable of turning a good team into a great team. Beyond James and Davis, the Lakers' roster is improved but still harbors significant questions at point guard and center.
The overwhelming talent at the top may win out in the long run, but this roster isn't constructed to be a regular season juggernaut.
Suns UNDER 27.5 (+120)
As I explained, in painstaking detail, on our over/unders podcast, the Suns have provided absolutely no reason to believe they're capable of winning 28 basketball games. Even after adding Deandre Ayton, they managed to take a step back last season, sinking under 20 wins for the first time since the roster featured two Dicks, a Gail, a Stan and someone called McCoy McLemore.
Ayton had a strong rookie year, Devin Booker is a big-time scorer and Mikal Bridges looks like he'll be a solid role player. But other than that, the organizational momentum is tilted in the wrong direction. The front office is unseasoned and underprepared. The owner is one of the worst in sports. A coach hasn't lasted a full three seasons since Alvin Gentry.
The Suns have more talent than Cleveland or Charlotte or the Knicks – maybe even more than Washington or Memphis. Yet, they've shown no signs of capably developing that talent, and they'll likely finish with fewer wins than at least three of those teams.
Simply having an NBA point guard on the roster should help, but I didn't watch last year's Suns and think you know what this team could use? Ricky Rubio.
Eventually, the Suns will break the cycle. Things always turn around. But it's not going to happen this year. Take the under.
Trail Blazers OVER 46.5 (-110)
Vegas has a (very recent) history of undervaluing the Trail Blazers. Two years ago, Portland finished with 49 wins, beating the preseason over/under by 6.5. Last season, the Blazers blew the over/under out of the water, finishing 11 wins better than their 42.0 number.
This time around, the Blazers come in with some significant question marks – namely, the center position – and while the oddsmakers have given them a little more leeway, I think this team can once again flirt with 50 wins.
With Jusuf Nurkic likely out of the picture for most of the regular season, the offensive burden will fall squarely on the shoulders Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. But that's nothing new, and both players have demonstrated they can work effectively in tandem. Portland might not be a title contender, but as long as Lillard and McCollum are healthy – which they almost always are – several years' worth of data tells us this team has a high floor.
If there's one thing that worries me about the Blazers, though, it's how much of their season hinges on
Count Blockula Hassan Whiteside fitting in and playing at a high level. Production-wise, Whiteside should be fine, but his stats have rung hollow in the past, and it's hard to imagine him having anywhere near the overall impact Nurkic did last season before the injury.