The 5 Best NBA Win Total Bets for Next Season
In addition to already dropping early betting lines for who will win the 2019-2020 NBA Championship, FanDuel Sportsbook has now released early win total lines for all 30 teams next season.
As I talked about last week in looking at the best betting values for the championship, just because this pre-draft, pre-free agency period leaves us with a ton of uncertainty doesn't mean we can't find good bets. These lines (and the way people are betting) are all trying to factor in the possible changes teams will undergo through the off-season, and that leaves plenty of room for over- or under-confidence to skew the odds.
A useful way to generate a baseline for what we're looking at is to go back to last season and see what kind of a change the odds are implying for the year ahead.
|Team||2020 Total||2019 Wins||Projected Difference|
|Los Angeles Lakers||53.5||37||+16.5|
|Los Angeles Clippers||49.5||48||+1.5|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||47.5||49||-1.5|
|Portland Trail Blazers||46.5||53||-6.5|
|Golden State Warriors||46.5||57||-10.5|
|San Antonio Spurs||44.5||48||-3.5|
|New Orleans Pelicans||33.5||33||+0.5|
|New York Knicks||29.5||17||+12.5|
Of course, with rosters always in flux, we need to dig a lot deeper, but that's a great place to start. Our first bet is the team implied for the biggest increase in wins.
Los Angeles Lakers UNDER 53.5 (-115)
This one probably doesn't come as a surprise if you read my take on the Lakers' championship odds after acquiring Anthony Davis, but there's just too much uncertainty surrounding this team to warrant the NBA's second-highest win total.
The combination of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is definitely terrifying for opponents, and with Kyle Kuzma showing lots of promise, the potential addition of another big-name free agent (Kemba Walker is reportedly their top target) definitely elevate them to the top half of the Western Conference. But 54 wins is a lot to ask.
I'm not too concerned about a potential decline in play for LeBron James, who is one of only two players in the NBA to play at least 1500 minutes and post a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of at least 25 in each of the last five seasons. What there is plenty of room to be concerned about is his durability and workload at this stage of his career.
Looking at regular season and playoffs combined, LeBron's 56,284 minutes played are the sixth-most for any player in NBA history. He's 34 years old (turning 35 during the season), and last year injuries limited him to both the fewest games and fewest minutes of his career.
And of course, Anthony Davis is no bastion of health either, having played no more than 75 games in any of his seven NBA season, failing to hit even 70 in five of those.
That makes the risk in this line two-fold. If either one suffers an injury that causes them to miss significant time, the Lakers could be all but drawing dead on a line like this. But if they hope to make a deep playoff run, they're also going to have to do their best to keep both Davis and James fresh. That means resting them whenever possible, making a push for something like the Number 1 seed in the West unlikely.
47 or 48 wins tends to be all that's needed to make the playoffs in the West, so we could see the Lakers take their foot off the gas a bit even if they do come out looking like a team that could win at least 54 games.
Utah Jazz OVER 52.5 (-110)
They played like one of the best teams in the NBA last season, ranking fourth in numberFire's nERD Power Rankings and fourth in net rating (+5.2). That success was despite a tough schedule, which Basketball-Reference had as the sixth-toughest for any team with a positive net rating last season.
If we make a simple comparison between teams' per-game point differential and how many games they won, we can come up with a quick-and-dirty "expected" wins number -- one that suggests teams that out-score their opponents the most should win the most games. Using that method, the Jazz went 3.6 wins below expectation last year.
Before projecting ahead to next season, that already more than captures the 2.5-win jump being implied by oddsmakers.
The Jazz also have a good chance at coming out as an even better team in the 2019-2020 season, though. They'll be returning most of their core players, and getting rid of Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors -- solid pieces but not exactly crucial -- could free up a lot of cap space, which would give them the potential to make a splash in free agency.
We can also likely expect some improvement out of Donovan Mitchell, who is already one of their best players. He's in some rare company for a young player, as since 2010 he's one of only three players to notch a PER of at least 16.5 while playing at least 2,500 minutes in each of their first two seasons.
The great thing about this line is that you really just need to project the Jazz to not get any worse to find some value, while they also look like a good bet to be an improved squad by the time October rolls around.
Los Angeles Clippers UNDER 49.5 (-120)
The Los Angeles Clippers were a real surprise last year, winnings 48 games and taking two playoff wins over the Golden State Warriors even though their team-leader in Win Shares was Montrezl Harrell, who started only five games.
Much of their core is back this year, with Patrick Beverley sitting as their only player who generated at least 2 Win Shares that isn't under contract for next season. With some solid young players and plenty of cap space, an implied improvement of 1.5 wins may seem modest on the surface.
It didn't just feel like the Clippers were over-achieving last year though -- they absolutely were. Using that same method from above for expected wins, they finished 5.0 wins above expectation. For context, no other team recorded more than 3.5 above expectation, and only two others came in above even 2.9.
There aren't a lot of players out there who single-handedly move the needle by 6.5 wins (the gap between last year's expected total and this year's betting line), and this line feels a lot like taking the over would be paying +100 on a "Kawhi Leonard signs with the Clippers" prop.
Dallas Mavericks OVER 41.5 (-110)
No team may have finished close to the Clippers in wins above expectation last year, but the Dallas Mavericks had a similar finish on the opposite side. They were only out-scored by 1.2 points per game but finished with a lowly 33 wins. That put them 5.1 wins below expectation. So while an increase in 8.5 wins from last year's 33 might seem extreme, the difference you need in the way they play is only more like 3.5.
Other than DeAndre Jordan, who was moved in a trade, the only players that generated at least 2 Win Shares for them last year that aren't under contract for the 2019-2020 season are Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith, who are both restricted free agents so shouldn't be tough to bring back if they want to.
It's also a safe bet that they're going to get even more out of Luka Doncic next year following his incredibly promising rookie season. Since 2000 we've seen 74 instances of a 19-year-old playing at least 500 minutes. Luke Doncic finished 7th in that group with 4.9 Win Shares, only trailing a pretty elite group: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Jayson Tatum, and Dwight Howard. On average, that group saw their Win Shares jump by about 38% in their sophomore NBA seasons.
And then there's Kristaps Porzingis. Coming off an ACL injury, Porzingis is expected to be ready for the start of training camp, so he should be pretty close to full-go by the time the season opens. It remains to be seen what lingering effects the injury will have, but Porzingis averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game across 48 contests in his last NBA season, notching a career-best PER of 20.4.
Even before we factor in Porzingis, this team has a shot to get close to that 41.5-win mark. With promising reports about Porzingis' health, the over a terrific bet.
Cleveland Cavaliers UNDER 23.5 (-110)
It may feel extreme to go under on the lowest win total in the league, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are also an extreme situation.
They finished with two more wins than the New York Knicks last year, sitting second-last in the NBA with only 19, and that was actually 1.1 above expectation. They finished with a league-worst differential of -9.6 points per game and a league-worst net rating of -9.9.
Their roster does not give us much to get excited about, with Larry Nance Jr. having been their most effective player last season, and a 31-year-old Kevin Love coming off an injury-plagued year probably representing their best hope for an All-Star caliber player next year.
They also have no cap space to make any big moves this off-season, and they look to be setting themselves up for next offseason to be the real start of their rebuild.
Per Spotrac, they have a ton of big contracts expiring at the end of the 2019-20 season. J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Brandon Knight are all making at least $15 million this year and will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. John Henson and Jordan Clarkson are also both making north of $10 million in their final year, while Matthew Dellavedova is making over $9 million.
Their most valuable pieces at this point are last year's 8th overall pick in Collin Sexton and the 5th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and that's not going to leave them with anything to play for next year. The incentive will be for them to tank for one more year, ideally landing another top-5 draft pick before trying to make the most of the huge cap space they'll have available.
This team probably couldn't win many games even if they were trying their hardest, but it's also more realistic to expect their efforts to be focused more toward maximizing their outlook for the future, and that means winning as few games as possible.