Studying NBA Win Totals

Our hoops expert takes a look into the most intriguing win totals of the upcoming NBA season
Jonathan Macri
Wed, September 4, 1:53 PM

Think about the last casual conversation you had about sports.

At some point, someone probably mentioned a player or team that isn’t very good. Just after that, someone else in the group (maybe even you, you little deviant) likely chimed in with a little something extra.

“That dude sucks,” perhaps, or maybe the simple but always popular, “they’re the worst.”

Now think about the joy you get from being the one who throws the extra helping of dirt on this poor soul. It feels good, doesn’t it? Of course it does. Schadenfreude is like crack for the soul.

When it comes to betting though, this mentality is less than helpful. As a society, but especially as sports fans, we live to call out other for being terrible at life. Pooping on the Hornets for paying Terry Rozier like he was actually good last year? Sign me up! Killing Cleveland for drafting two guys who play the same position in consecutive years? Yes ma’am! Spewing hate might be the only thing we enjoy doing more than heaping praise.

Hold that thought for a moment while we go back to that conversation with your buddies. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had an exchange like this at some point this offseason:

Yo dude, I really like the Jazz this year.

Right?!? I loved their offseason. I’m really high on them. Like, really high.

[scene]

Here’s the thing …you know who else is really high on the Jazz this year? Literally everyone else. The sooner you know this, the better off you’ll be, just like knowing you’re not the only one who thinks Charlotte will revert to Bobcat-era tomfoolery in the year ahead.

Repeat after me: I am not a unique, beautiful flower.

And with that, we arrive at our first over/under column of the 2019-20 season. We’ll be doing a few of these over the next several weeks, looking at past trends to help us predict where the value lies in the year ahead. Today, we start with the most basic premise of all: when it comes to the very best and the very worst, it’s usually smart to go against the grain.

Let’s start at the bottom. This season, the aforementioned Hornets are pegged to finish with the worst record in the league, and have a corresponding over/under of 23.5 wins.

At first blush, 24 wins is a lot to ask from a team that lost its two leading scorers and replaced them with Scary Terry, one of four men to take at least 650 shots last season and shoot less than 39 percent from the field. Their first rounder, PJ Washington, is something of a project who missed Summer League with the same sore foot that bothered him at Kentucky. Tony Parker retired rather than spend another year in Charlotte.

Boy, I had a blast writing that last paragraph! Just like you had yourself a good little chuckle reading it (unless you live in Charlotte, in which case, totes j/k).

It’s for this reason that it’ll cost you a sweet vig to bet the under on the Hornets this year, whereas you can get the over for +110. Again: everyone loves throwing gasoline on the trash fire.

Guess what though? History says that betting the under is just about the most foolish thing you can do here.

Over the last 14 years, the team that entered the season with the lowest over/under win total has hit the over 11 times. That’s not bad.

What about if a team is supposed to be terrible, but just not the most terrible? The same principal holds true. Over those same 14 seasons, 25 teams have had their over/under numbers set at below 25 wins (or the equivalent winning percentage in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season). Of those 25, 18 hit the over.

Looking at this year’s crop, one other team besides the Hornets – those bumbling Cavs – has a total below 25, at 24.5.

On that note, only once in the last 14 years have two teams in the same season each failed to hit the over despite Vegas setting their totals below 25: in 2010-11 when both the Nets and Wolves failed to cover, with the Nets missing by just a half game. Meanwhile, in six of those 14 years, the two worst teams by preseason odds have both hit the over.

It might go against every fiber of your being, but history says to show some confidence in both of these bottom feeders.

As for the opposite end of the spectrum, for every time you’ve thought to yourself “there’s no way that team doesn’t win 50 games,” a seemingly really good team doesn’t win 50 games.

Every year, there’s roughly a handful of teams with an over/under set above 50 (or, again, the equivalent winning percentage in 2011-12). Over the last dozen years, only once have more such teams hit their over than haven’t, yet in nine of those 12 seasons, more teams with over/unders above 50 have failed to hit their total than not. Twice it broke even.

To illustrate this a little more clearly, let’s use last season as an example, when five teams had over/unders above 50. Of those five, only one – the world champion Raptors – exceeded their number. The rest – Golden State, Boston, Houston and Philly – fell short, and by a combined 21.5 games at that.

This phenomenon – more predicted 50-game winners not hitting their over than those that do – has happened eight other times in the last dozen years. Thus, if you’d have taken the under on all predicted 50-win teams in every one of those seasons, you’d have made a profit nine times and broke even twice.

That one time when more overs hit than didn’t? That would be 2016-17, when it took three teams winning their final game of the season to bring the total to four teams hitting the over and just one not making it.

Applying this to 2019-20, Vegas has set the line for six teams – the Nuggets, Rockets, Clippers, Jazz, Sixers and Bucks – at over 50 games. History says at least four will fall short. Which four (or five…or six) will it be? Why even try to guess? Play it safe and hit the under on all of them.

If you need a little nudge, keep in mind that every one of these teams save Denver is either integrating important new pieces, lost some key players, or both. It’s not a stretch to see a bunch of them falling short of expectations.

It might feel odd, but just remember: these teams are getting love from everywhere else. Don’t be another fan who follows the crowd.

Independence will never have felt so good.

Thanks to SportsOddsHistory.com for providing the data referenced throughout this story.

 

By Jonathan Macri

Jonathan Macri
JCMacriNBA
Dean of Knicks Film School, host: KFS Pod, co-host: Pick N Pod. There isn't much about Knicks basketball than Jonathan doesn't know and he's here to break down the big games each and every week.
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