Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: Picking through the over/under win totals for the 2013-14 season.
Oddsmaking service Bovada.LV sent out its preseason over/under win totals this week. Here's the list in alphabetical order. Disclaimer: This post is for recreational purposes only.
1. Which team will beat its over/under line by the most wins?
Mahoney: Bucks at 29 wins. This strikes me as a rather dismal projection for a team that should be on the playoff bubble in the East. Milwaukee isn't that good, but 29 wins is the territory of last year's Pistons or John Wall-deprived Wizards. The Bucks will be a fair bit better than that, and, correspondingly, the Cavaliers and Pistons might be a few wins short of their projection (40 wins apiece). I don't see an 11-game divide between the Bucks and those other fringe playoff contenders, or a strong argument for why Milwaukee would drop nine victories from last season.
Losing Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Mike Dunleavy and J.J. Redick will undoubtedly come at a price, most readily seen in the clamming up of the Bucks' offense. But there could be gains on the other end of the floor, as replacing the vomit-worthy collective defense of Ellis and Jennings should make things far easier on Larry Sanders. Considering that Milwaukee ranked just outside the top 10 in points allowed per possession last season despite Sanders' undue burden, the Bucks should be able to rely on team defensive success while their own scoring comes and goes. To me, that's a 30-something-win team, a bit closer to respectability than is represented in this line.
Golliver: Thunder at 51.5 wins. I realize this is a risky pick for a few reasons. 1) We know Russell Westbrook will be out until at least December. 2) We don't know when Westbrook will be back to 100 percent health. 3) The Thunder lost Kevin Martin, a key contributor, and added little of (short-term) substance this offseason. 4) Oklahoma City has never been more susceptible to copious amounts of losing should Kevin Durant miss time for any reason, even an ankle tweak. 5) A line of 51.5 wins is a high bar, one cleared by only seven teams (including the Thunder) last season.
Maybe "blind faith in Durant" is a poor reason to justify a position on a wager, but he's certainly talented enough to keep the Thunder afloat during Westbrook's absence, particularly because Oklahoma City's early schedule isn't brutal. Toss in the Thunder's solid home-court advantage (.750 winning percentage over the last four seasons) and the fact that the chase for playoff seeding at the top of the West should go down to the wire, and it's not too difficult to envision Oklahoma City's closing the season on a rampage once Westbrook returns.
This group is unlikely to hit the 60-win mark or lead the league in point differential like last year's team, but the Durant/Westbrook/Serge Ibaka trio shouldn't be written off so swiftly. This line just feels like an overreaction to Westbrook's untimely second knee surgery.
2. Which team will fall short of its over/under line by the most wins?
Golliver: Cavaliers at 40 wins. I nominate Cleveland as the biggest potential "disappointment" through an air of self-loathing. Kyrie Irving has been one of the best things to happen to the NBA in recent years, as he's effortlessly combined the flashy and the fundamental to become one of the league's most dangerous point guards. Jarrett Jack will prove to be very wise addition, and Cleveland should enjoy more than the 25 games it got from Anderson Varejao last season.
The Cavaliers should easily surpass their 24 victories from last season as long as Irving enjoys relatively good health. But adding 16 wins would require major contributions from Andrew Bynum, and that seems like the most wishful type of wishful thinking. Impact play from Bynum, should it develop, would require a period of acclimation, and that hasn't happened yet -- at all -- because he's been limited during training camp and unable to play in the preseason. The silver lining here: Cleveland could fall short of the 40-win mark and still reach owner Dan Gilbert's goal of making the playoffs.
Mahoney: I don't think there are any great picks here aside from the Cavs. But rather than double down on that skepticism, I'll make my doubts known about the Nuggets' ability to hit 46 wins. Denver should still be rather good, and in the thick of the race to fill out the Western Conference playoff field. But the team's modus operandi under George Karl did a marvelous job of disguising flaws, many of which were only augmented during a fairly brutal offseason.
It's no secret that the Nuggets were propelled by their steadfast commitment to transition play last season, an engine that allowed them to attempt over 500 more shots in the restricted area than any other team in the league. With that disposition, they were a blur -- so fast and so resolved to run that regular-season opponents struggled to pin down their weaknesses. But when the Nuggets slowed down, their offense started to show at the seams; there was enough driving and counter-driving to keep Denver going, but that half-court offense was quite solvable.
All of which makes it odd to me that new coach Brian Shaw seems intent on slowing his team down, despite losing an important facilitator and ball handler in Andre Iguodala. With Danilo Gallinari out for a portion of the season as he recovers from a knee injury, that leaves Ty Lawson burdened with the bulk of the team's shot creation. As good as Lawson has been, I'm not convinced that he's equipped to carry a slowed-down, pared-down offense to high efficiency. There are some wild cards in play (Shaw's schemes, JaVale McGee's increased minutes, Kenneth Faried's development, etc.) that could give Lawson a hand, but I don't think the combination of those factors will help Denver enough to reach this particular mark.
That's especially true due to the hit that the Nuggets are set to take with Iguodala and Corey Brewer -- the team's best perimeter defenders -- no longer in the rotation. Denver was a below-average defensive team before Iguodala came along, and this summer the Nuggets made room for dunk-allowing savant J.J. Hickson to fill out a rotation of big men that has never established defensive solvency. McGee boasts the length and shot-blocking ability to turn a corner in that regard at almost any moment, but he and Faried were a bit of a mess in bridging their individual instincts with the basics of a rotational scheme. Add Hickson to the mix -- without Iguodala and Brewer around to make opponents work on the perimeter -- and things could get very messy soon.
I don't want to overstate here; Denver is still a .500 team at least, set to be competitive on most nights once healthy. But this is a roster on thin ice, reconfigured under a new coach and left temporarily without a vital contributor. Call me a pessimist, but I see cause for underperformance there.
3. Aside from your picks for the first questions, if you had to bet your house on a single over/under, which team would it be?
Ben Golliver: Pelicans under 39. Much like my Cavs pick above, this selection comes with a twinge of sadness, as I share the linesmaker's belief that New Orleans will take a real step forward from its 27-win campaign in 2012-13. Beating the line requires a 13-win improvement. That's a huge margin no matter how you slice it, but especially in a Western Conference that has 12 teams with legitimate playoff aspirations.
Rationalizing the possibility of such a jump isn't out of the question if you're a huge Anthony Davis believer (I am), but he's just one piece of the puzzle. It's incredibly rare for a 20-year-old to lead such a drastic team-wide impact, even one with off-the-charts numbers like Davis. Consider the best current comparison, Irving, whose Cavs played at a 26-win pace before he succumbed to injuries. Davis definitely has more help this season than Irving did last season, thanks to the splashy offseason additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Those moves did come with a net cost, though, as the Pelicans lost two starters in Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez to facilitate the signing of Evans and parted with their 2013 lottery pick (which became Nerlens Noel) to snag Holiday.
Depth is still an issue for this team, especially inside, but the biggest question mark continues to be Eric Gordon, who has played just 49 games over the last two seasons because of knee injuries. If New Orleans does exceed the 39-win mark (thereby costing me my hypothetical house), it will be because the much-maligned shooting guard got back to his 2011 form, providing the Pelicans with a quality scoring threat to complement Holiday and Davis. I'm comfortable with betting against chronic knee issues and living with the results.
Rob Mahoney: Nets over 52.5 wins. I wouldn't be very confident in risking my hypothetical house on any of these lines, but I'm optimistic that the Nets can surpass that total. I see Brooklyn as the East's third-best regular-season team, behind Miami and Chicago. Elite offense tends to bring that kind of success, particularly when bolstered with the kind of depth that the Nets have in store.
Even in operating under a first-time coach (Jason Kidd), the Nets' roster balance will make them incredibly difficult to counter in a regular-season context. With teams around the league lacking the time to adequately prepare and scheme for specific opponents, the Nets are likely to give their foes fits. Most every one of their possessions can be rerouted easily to another shot creator after hitting a snag. The ball could find Brook Lopez on the block, Paul Pierce or Joe Johnson on the perimeter, Kevin Garnett at the top of the floor or Deron Williams for a reset -- all of which forces defense to make multiple efforts to contain high-quality scorers.
Between Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko and a cast of solid positional defenders, there's hope for growth in coverage, too. The Nets should have enough firepower to rack up victories early, though it's their depth (with a bench featuring Kirilenko, Jason Terry, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston) and potential for defensive improvement that could help sustain them on the back end. I don't think they'll blow this line out of the water by any means. But they have enough veterans, scoring flexibility and defensive headroom to clear it cleanly.
4. Which over/under line was the most surprising?
Mahoney: Thunder at 51.5. I'm a bit shocked that the Thunder are penciled in to tie Golden State for the eighth-best record in the league, even in understanding the unpredictability of the Thunder's current circumstances. To me, the biggest justification for this projection is uncertainty; no one has seen much of Oklahoma City without Westbrook, and even less without Kevin Martin -- who signed with Minnesota this summer -- as well. That leaves the Thunder as one of the league's less reliable teams to start the season, regardless of how well Durant might play.
That start will come with its struggles, but I'm with Ben in assuming the best for the Thunder this season. Things could get dicey if Westbrook isn't able to play up to full speed upon his return, but Durant is so good at stretching his game to fit OKC's needs that I see the Thunder more or less keeping pace through Westbrook's temporary absence. It's not as if Durant won't have help, either. If Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb can offer semi-dependable support, Durant is explosive enough to fill the gaps without much problem. If not, then the Thunder still have time to make up ground on this line once Westbrook is healthy again.
Golliver: Clippers at 57. I know that we're entering Year 3 of the Chris Paul era, and the Clippers are coming off a solid "A" offseason, but it's still a tiny bit disorienting to process a reality in which Donald Sterling's club is viewed as the Western Conference's preseason favorite. As of last April, this organization still hadn't won a division title.
Don't get it twisted: Being surprised that the Clippers are placed above the likes of the Thunder and Spurs isn't the same as being dubious of their ability to hit these high expectations. Indeed, on paper, L.A.'s summer -- exchanging Vinny Del Negro, Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe, Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups and Ronny Turiaf for Doc Rivers, Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick, Darren Collison, Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens -- should amount to more than a one-win improvement over its 56-16 record in 2012-13.
Because the Clippers lost in the first round of the playoffs, it's easy to forget that they posted the league's No. 3 margin of victory last season, behind the Thunder and Heat, and it's possible that the roster's talent level and depth pushes that ranking even higher this year. From that standpoint, 57 wins definitely seems attainable, even in the cutthroat West. At the same time, nothing this Clippers team does between now and April will really matter, as this organization has reached the point where playoff-series victories (plural) are the only measure of success that matters.
5. Would you bet the over or the under on the Heat at 61.5 wins and the Sixers at 17?
Golliver: I'll take Heat over 61.5 wins and Sixers under 17 wins. Let's enjoy life at the extremes!
Miami rode its epic 27-game winning streak to a league-best 66-16 record last season, and that was without anyone in the East pushing it during the regular season. This year, its old nemesis Chicago is back, joined by Indiana, Brooklyn and New York in a pack of Eastern Conference challengers that's as deep as any the Big Three Heat have faced. The Heat will have every reason to play through to the final line in April, and that should be enough for them to get to 62 wins.
The Heat's fundamentals were just so strong last season -- No. 1 in offense, No. 7 in defense, No. 2 in margin of victory -- and their roster continuity is practically unblemished (Mike Miller, who played just 900 regular-season minutes, is the only major loss). Everyone's favorite piece of trivia -- that Miami went 39-3 after signing Chris Andersen -- applies here, too, as he's poised to be an X-factor once again. The 2012-13 season marked the point where the Heat really figured things out on both sides of the ball; it seems a bit absurd to expect LeBron James and company to suffer from collective amnesia this time around.
As for Philadelphia, 17 wins is a ridiculously low bar. Only 24 teams have won fewer than 17 games during an 82-game season since 1946. The Sixers have (intentionally, at least partially) the ridiculously bad roster to make a serious run at sliding under that ridiculously low bar. All the risk factors are there: a first-year head coach, no experience at point guard, no proven No. 1 scoring option, depth problems at virtually every position, injury concerns and a front office that is ready for the 2014 draft lottery to happen tomorrow. Every NBA team, including these Sixers, can count on stumbling into a handful of wins over a six-month season, but that still leaves open the question of where the rest of the victories needed to hit the "over" will come from.
Mahoney: I'll take the Heat at just under 61.5 wins and the Sixers under 17 wins. Miami's midseason run was an otherworldly accomplishment, impressive to the point that I see it posting a slightly less gaudy record this time around. Based on Pythagorean calculations, the Heat played well enough to win 62 games last year, with a handful of contests swinging in their favor to bring their actual win total up to 66. That margin typically comes from incredibly variable end-game execution, a factor that tends to level out over time. So many games come down to make-or-miss binaries, the likes of which can turn a few wins or losses based on simple probability. Miami is very well equipped to maximize its chances to win games and should win plenty, but I'm guessing that with a little less luck, the Heat might slip just below this expected line. Philadelphia is obviously on the other end of the spectrum, and I expect this season's Sixers to make a hard run at historic misery. They strike me as too good to fall below 10 wins for the season, but there's a healthy range of possibility for Philadelphia between the all-time worst mark (7-59, the equivalent of 8.7 wins) of the 2011-12 Bobcats and a 17-win projection. Nerlens Noel's injury, Michael Carter-Williams' inexperience, Evan Turner's inefficiency and a generally hilarious depth chart should be enough to keep the Sixers from winning 21 percent of their games. Add in the possibility for injury and the potential dealing of Thaddeus Young, and that 17-win mark starts to look even more rosy.