2018-19 NBA East Over / Under Predictions
A series of NBA preview articles from me will appear here on Baltimore Sports and Life over the next few days as we approach the 2018-19 NBA season, one that I am very excited for. The first two will preview the Eastern and Western conferences, while the last two will get into the big questions of the season, award and playoff predictions, and the potential impact the season will have on some of the league’s most prominent members. Instead of a more traditional break down of the conferences, I am going to view the team through a gambling prism considering it is now legal to bet on sports (I know nobody bet before this!)
So let’s start by looking at the over / under totals in the East. The teams will be presented in order of confidence beginning with the over / under I am most confident in. The totals are from OddsShark as of October 12th. As always, you can discuss this article on the BSL message board.
New York Knicks O / U 29 Pick: Under
Without Kristaps Porzingis for much of the season (I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s all of the season), and with the Knicks being a prime contender to tank late when Porzingis may be available to play, it’s hard for me to imagine this group of cast-offs and prospects winning 30 games. I do like Kevin Knox as a rookie and Frank Ntilikina is an interesting 2nd year guard, but neither should be expected to help the Knicks win much this year, especially Knox who has struggled mightily this preseason. My only other pauses for concern are that Trey Burke may actually be decent and I like David Fizdale quite a bit as a coach. Fizdale will have to do a remarkable job to get this roster into the 30’s though unless Porzingis comes back sooner and better than I would anticipate, and as I alluded to earlier, this is a team that logically should be thinking about their 2019 draft position, which favors the under bet here if it comes down to the wire.
Toronto Raptors O / U 55.5 Pick: Over
The Raptors won 59 games last year before their yearly playoff exit at the hands of LeBron, and have upgraded a roster that is mostly on the ascent. Kawhi Leonard, if healthy, is a huge upgrade over the very good, but still overrated Demar DeRozan. Leonard plays significantly better defense and his offensive game is superior primarily due to his increased proclivity and accuracy from beyond the arc. The less notable get in the trade with the Spurs, Danny Green, further fortifies the extremely important wing spots in today’s NBA. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka are likely to take a step back this season, but between the aforementioned acquisitions and young players like Fred Van Vleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam likely improving, it’s hard to see this team being worse than last year, especially by 4 or more games.
Chicago Bulls O / U 29.5 Pick: Under
The Bulls have a very interesting roster and have one of the rookies I am highest on in Wendell Carter Jr, and may even be a fun league pass team, but they are a bad basketball team. The primary reason is one that is abundantly clear: their defense sucks. They are pretty good there at the 1 and the 5 with Kris Dunn and Robin Lopez, but Zach LeVine, Jabari Parker, and Lauri Markkanen range from poor to awful on that end of the court, which is not tenable in a league where the weakest links are so often exposed. Beyond that, while their offense has some talent and intrigue, I see a unit that will struggle with passing and efficiency, and will therefore be below average. Making matters worse for the team that won 27 games last year is that Lauri Markkanen is out for the first 4-6 weeks of the season and their best player for the first part of last year, Nikola Mirotic, was traded mid-season to the Pelicans. Some may argue that full seasons from LeVine and Parker will help mitigate those losses, and perhaps they will to a degree, but I do not think either play winning basketball (either may be good as a 6th man though) and Parker especially is far from a sound bet to stay healthy.
Milwaukee Bucks O / U 48 Pick: Over
I will talk more about Giannis in an upcoming article so I will keep this one simple. The Bucks are going from a poor coach with a horrendous defensive scheme to a very good coach (at least in the regular season) and the Greek Freak, a notoriously hard worker, should take his game to another level. I also like the additions of Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, and rookie Donte DiVincenzo to help with depth and shooting. I am still holding out some hope for Thon Maker too. Fear the deer!
Atlanta Hawks O / U 23.5 Pick: Under
This Hawks team may potentially be on the right path, but they are going to be among the worst teams in the league next year and will be incentivized to be just that once it becomes clear that they are not going to compete for a playoff spot. Likewise, Trae Young may become a really good NBA player, but rookie point guards that just exited their teenage years do not have a good track record of leading their teams to even the footsteps of mediocrity. In all likelihood, Young will be a significant downgrade from Dennis Schroder next year even though it may not take him much longer to surpass his predecessor. Going back to their incentive to get a better draft pick, this could easily lead to them trading one or more of their few decent vets such as Kent Bazemore or Jeremy Lin.
Miami Heat O / U 42.5 (Actually not on the board as of writing due to potential deal for Jimmy Butler) Pick: Over
Miami is a deep team of relatively talented players, but no superstar, or perhaps even star. They do have a very good coach though in Eric Spoelstra whom I am placing my faith in on this bet. The depth though is also a key as they have 11 legit solid or better players, which may not be important in the playoffs, but is very helpful during the long regular season. The primary concern is Hassan Whiteside, whose attitude and resulting play were often a detriment to the team last year, but it looks like Hassan may be primed for a bounce back year. There is also the chance that Miami will acquire Jimmy Butler in a floor and ceiling raising deal.
Charlotte Hornets O / U 35.5 Pick: Over
I am not going to delve too deep into the Hornets’ nest here. They won 36 games last year, which would be a winner here if repeated, but their point differential suggests that they should have won 42 games, and they bring back much of the same team besides known cancer Dwight Howard. The Hornets should also be a playoff contender and there is little reason to think that they would tank even if it behooved them to do so.
Cleveland Cavalier O / U 30.5 Pick: Under
Cleveland has a collection of solid vets with one borderline star leading that pack, plus an interesting rookie in Collin Sexton. However, that group of vets lacks players that can effectively create offense for themselves or others and rookie point guards typically are not positive contributors as mentioned earlier. So this is where some would mention Minnesota Kevin Love, and I get that and I was a huge fan of Kevin’s when he played for the Wolves, but I do not think that level of impact exists for Kevin anymore. Love was ahead of his time when he was Minnesota Love as the league had not yet adopted the 3-point shot to anywhere near the level they do now, especially among big men, so that was a huge advantage for him. Besides that, he was typically able to match up against traditional power forwards, who were not used to defending beyond the arc and who did not usually challenge Love’s lack of speed or lateral quickness. At this point though, power forwards are very used to guarding beyond the arc and are more often than not, easily faster and quicker than Love. This makes it much harder for Kevin to operate at a high level on either end of the court. One potential solution that the Cavs have already utilized is playing Love at center, which generally mitigates the aforementioned issues, but brings on a different set of issues, mainly his inability to defend the rim as well as difficulty defending the best post-up bigs in the league, especially those with great length. Love’s durability is also of concern. The primary reason I do not have higher confidence in this is there is a small chance that Bill Simmons oft mentioned Ewing Theory sparks the Cavs team to heights reaching mediocrity. While I think the Cavs will want to prove they can win without LeBron, I do not think that motivation will last throughout the season once it becomes apparent that they simply are not a good team.
Detroit Pistons O / U 38 Pick: Under
I have two primary problems with the Pistons, first is that their non bigs are well below average even though I like the shooting that Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard bring to the table, and second, their two best players are not a good fit together. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond had a net rating of 1.7 last year, which on its face is respectable, the problem though is that you need your two stars to outscore the opponents by more than that during the minutes they share the court if you want to be around .500 or better for the season. That is especially true when the others as Shaq would call them are well below average collectively. The other significant issue for Detroit is the durability of its best player, or lack thereof. While it is hard to count on even close to 82 games from Griffin, one thing that gives me pause is that he became a legit three point shooter last year making 34.5% of them at a high volume of 5.6 attempts per game. However, his waning athleticism, poor fit with Drummond, proclivity to miss games, and the poor supporting cast result in an under choice.
Indiana Pacers O / U 47.5 Pick: Over
The Pacers won 48 games last year despite me consistently expecting them to fade and then they almost beat the Cavs in the first round even though I gave them no chance. That series along with the acquisition of Tyreke Evans has turned me into a Pacers believer. Indiana has a nice balance between vets and young players, they have a legit star in Victor Oladipo who I expect to have another great season, and I believe that Miles Turner (still only 22) is on the verge of becoming a fringe all-star, at least in the East. The addition of Evans is what gives me the most confidence in the over here, which is a weird thing for me to type as someone who has thought he was a guy you would rather not have on your team for much of his career, but he has both accepted a reduced role in recent years and become a legit shooter from deep, which allows him to be on off ball threat as well as someone who take some of the load off Oladipo.
Boston Celtics O / U 58.5 Pick: Over
Finally we reach the team with the highest over / under in the East, a number that is so high that I am reluctant to bet it even though I think very highly of the Celtics this year. Everyone knows that Boston dealt with the devastating season ending injury on opening night to Gordon Heyward, arguably their best player going into last year (with Horford and Irving), as well as the late season injury to Kyrie Irving, and then overcame that to the tune of 55 wins and reaching game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. That was truly remarkable, and now they bring back Heyward and Kyrie, plus everyone else that mattered, and should benefit from an extra year of seasoning of talented young players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Semi Ojeleye. That all seems to point to the Celtics becoming a 60+ win team that should be the favorites to make it out of the East. I do have some hesitancy though, mostly due to concerns about there only being so many minutes and of course only one ball for all of these players. This is the type of team that can certainly use Kyrie’s one on one scoring ability in late clock and late game situations, but otherwise would benefit from more of a Chris Paul approach, which I remain skeptical of Irving’s ability and willingness to excel in that role. The other issues with Irving are his defense and durability, neither of which is awful, but they are things to give pause to going over on Boston along with potential fit issues with implementing him and especially Heyward back onto the court. That all said, they have a fantastic coach piloting an elite and extremely deep roster, so give me the over.
Orlando Magic O / U 31 Pick: Under
This is a team with a collection of already good and promising bigs with Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic being the former while Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac the latter. That may be something that they can work with long-term, especially if they can work out a beneficial trade for a perimeter player, but it does not bode all that well for this season. Gordon will hopefully make another leap as he continues to expand his game, but the young guys likely will not be that good this season and there is a playing time and fit issue with them plus Gordon and Vucevic anyway. Nikola may end up sacrificing the most in order for the younger players to have more opportunities, but that will be to the detriment of their record so with that in mind and their lack of good players elsewhere on the roster, I will go under.
Philadelphia Sixers O / U 53.5 Pick: Under
The Sixers are a very fun team to watch and follow and have the potential to move up into the mid or even high 50’s this year based on their young stars improving and some other internal improvement, most notably from Markelle Fultz, last year’s first draft pick. While I do think that Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Fultz (pretty low bar) will improve this year, I have too many concerns to go over. First off, Embiid’s health is something anyone choosing the over would surely and rightly fret over. Secondly, they did lose their mid-season acquisitions in Ilyasova and Belinelli, who while limited, were keys to their remarkable finish to the regular season. Thirdly, speaking of that 16 game win season to finish the year, it was great, but even with that they only won 52 games and some of their flaws were exposed in that Celtics series. Lastly, there are some fit issues on this team, which are largely caused by Ben Simmons’ inability to shoot from beyond 10 feet. With all that said, if Joel stays healthy and becomes a legit superstar and Fultz becomes a good player in his second year, which is certainly possible, this team should go over, I just wouldn’t bet all that happening.
Washington Wizards O / U 44.5 Pick: Over
The Wizards won 43 games despite only having John Wall on the court for half of their games, and they parted with an aging player that was causing a lot of chemistry problems due to friction with Wall. On top of that, they replaced Gortat with an eight time all-star, added an off the bench scoring threat that put up 15 points per game last season, and kept everyone else from a solid core led by all-star Bradley Beal. Seems like an easy over bet, right? Well pump the breaks, the eight time all-star is oft-injured and well past his prime Dwight Howard, and the bench threat is Austin Rivers. So it is far from clear that team chemistry will improve and the production of two of the more divisive players around is very much in question, especially with Howard already dealing with injuries. Even though I am concerned with Dwight, who now has a strong history of being on teams that end up under their win total, I will go against that trend based on the expectation of a bounce back year for John Wall.
Brooklyn Nets O / U 32 Pick: Under
I don’t know. The Nets actually have a collection of decent players and I still am kind of a believer in D’Angelo Russell so I can easily see them going over this year and maybe even competing for a playoff spot in a conference that lacks 8 good teams. However, they control their first round draft pick for the first time in forever; therefore, it makes sense for them to tank so with the slightest amount of confidence, give me the under.