- With Vegas projecting win totals for all 30 NBA teams, The Crossover identified the five teams most likely to break from their over-under projections.
We’re in the dregs of the NBA offseason aside from the select few players who actually joined Team USA for FIBA World Cup training camp this week. Free agency is firmly in the rearview mirror and training camp storylines remain a month away. Opening night can’t come soon enough.
The doldrums of the offseason can lead to some helpful thought exercises, though, and if you’re so inclined, it can help your wallet, too. The Vegas insiders have released their over-under projections for the 2019-20 season, providing a clearer picture of the projected hierarchy more than two months before opening night. Both the Bucks and the Sixers are projected to finish a cut above the rest of the East, and the hapless Hornets will struggle to clear 25 wins. The 2019-20 West will arguably be the most competitive conference of the century, with nine teams slated to win more than 45 games, per BetOnline.
With the projected win totals set for all 30 teams, we at The Crossover identified the five teams most likely to deviate from their over-unders projections, mining the top locks for the 2019-20 season.
Toronto Raptors – Over 46.5 Wins
Toronto was a perfectly functional team without Kawhi Leonard last season. In fact, they were downright dominant in spurts. The Raptors won 17 of their 22 games with Leonard sidelined last season, winning 14 games by double digits. Toronto still has perhaps the deepest roster in the conference, and a top-five defense is still possible. Leonard’s departure may help Toronto avoid a championship hangover. This team still has a lot to prove.
There’s remains a wealth of talent in Toronto without Kawhi leading the way. Kyle Lowry’s production should rebound with additional usage, and Pascal Siakam began to grow as a playmaker toward the end of last season. Siakam is an elite transition menace. He could become a valuable half-court chess piece and a knockdown corner shooter, to boot. Hopefully OG Anunoby can return to his promising pre-injury form. Masai Ujiri may have mined another impact wing. Toronto remains deep and talented sans Kawhi, and even without Finals expectations, hosting a first-round series is very much in play.
Utah Jazz – Under 53.5 Wins
The additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic elevate Utah in the West pecking order, and the Jazz are legitimate Finals contenders for the first time in over a decade. Yet 55 wins is a tall order considering the West gauntlet. The conference could cannibalize itself to where no team sniffs 50 wins in 2019-20. Do we really expect Utah to be the No. 1 seed? The firepower in Los Angeles outpaces that of the Jazz (although the Lakers’ roster remains imperfect) and the Rockets are a strong bet to hold home court advantage again after winning 65 games in 2017-18. Karl Malone carried the Jazz to their last 55-win season in 1999-00. The Jazz will likely fall short of that mark in 2019-20
Portland Trail Blazers – Over 46.5 Wins
The West’s improvement from 2018-19 is obvious, but less than 47 wins would mark a major disappointment in Portland. The deeper conversation surrounding the Blazers is their postseason upside; Portland is still built to thrive in the regular season. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are among the most durable guards in the NBA, and their core remains comparably skilled compared to last year’s despite some significant overturn. Nassir Little is a sneaky pick for All-Rookie honors, and Anfernee Simons’ expectations continue to rise. Can Terry Stotts coax enough effort and unselfishness from Hassan Whiteside? A return to form would pay huge dividends.
Portland dominated at home last year with a 32–9 clip, finishing 28–13 the year prior. The Blazers feast at the Moda Center similarly to the Nuggets at altitude. Their dynamic duo is reliable and their roster is deep with rotation talents. Expect them to flirt with 50 wins again this season.
Memphis Grizzlies – Under 27.5 Wins
This shouldn’t be taken as a slight toward the Grizzlies’ potential to rise through the Western Conference in the next decade, but Memphis is likely to slide to the bottom of the conference in 2019-20. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mike Conley is in Utah and Marc Gasol is in Toronto. The new era has officially begun and there’s no clock in sight. Another top five pick could secure a special core for years to come.
We’ll see how many games Andre Iguodala logs in Memphis. We’ll likely see him on a contender come February, but there may not be a major rush to deal him before opening day. Regardless, he’s unlikely to tilt the win projection by a significant margin at this point in his career. Perhaps a full season of Kyle Anderson will help steady the Grizzlies, and plenty of touches will be available to Jonas Valanciunas. Memphis’ roster is respectable, but ultimately ill-equipped to compete in the stacked Western Conference. A last-place finish in the West is possible as Morant experiences the usual rookie growing pains.
Atlanta Hawks – Over 33.5 Wins
The Hawks hype train is getting crowded early this year, and it’s not hard to see why. Trae Young rebounded from a shaky shooting start to close the season with a flourish, slicing defenses with 23.2 points and 9.2 assists per game in his final 30 contests. The Oklahoma product entered the NBA with the reputation of a long-range gunner, but his vision and passing prowess is his true calling card. Young sees the floor like few players in the league, let alone his fellow rookies from 2018-19. He can find the opposite corner with either hand off the pick-and-roll. He’s incredibly imaginative near the tin, even daring to go through the legs of defenders to find John Collins or Alex Len rolling for layups and dunks. Watch Young dust a big on the perimeter and you might see shades of early Chris Paul. The comparison is obviously unfair, but Young has the DNA of an elite floor general. A leap could be in store in year two.
Atlanta won 29 games with a rookie point guard in 2018-19. A five win bump is firmly in play. Travis Schlenk and Lloyd Pierce are building a strong foundation in Atlanta, with Collins emerging as a fringe All-Star candidate next to Young this season. Evan Turner will help deepen the Hawks’ backcourt; perhaps DeAndre’ Hunter or Cam Reddish impress as rookies. The playoffs are still likely a year away, but Atlanta should show enough progress to win 35 games in 2019-20.