Over? Under? Predicting Records for Every NBA Team Against Vegas Odds

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 30, 2017

Over? Under? Predicting Records for Every NBA Team Against Vegas Odds

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    In a few years, we might be allowed to encourage you to put your money where our mouth is. 

    "My sense is the law will change in the next few years in the United States," NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently explained about the potential legalization of gambling on professional sports, according to Sports Business Journal's John OurandBut it's not legal yet, so you should only use these pieces of wagering advice in friendly agreements with no stakes involved. 

    Nailing the over/unders for all 30 teams in the Association is still fun, right? 

    Now that the lines have been set by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, via Ben Fawkes of ESPN, we can see how they stack up against our record projections and point you toward the right (hypothetical) decisions. From the Golden State Warriors (67.5 wins) to the Chicago Bulls (21.5), we've got you covered.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 25.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 24-58

    The Bet: Under with marginal confidence

                   

    Try to name the Atlanta Hawks' five best players after the offseason departures of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard. It's not the easiest of tasks. And that would be fine if the franchise that has made the playoffs each of the last 10 seasons were overflowing with talent, as opposed to the current situation that's rather conducive to the dreaded "t" word. 

    Dennis Schroder is certainly part of the mix, as well as newly acquired big man Dewayne Dedmon. But who else? Kent Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova and Taurean Prince? Will Marco Belinelli or Luke Babbitt be in the mix if they can keep shooting as they did with the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat, respectively? Are we already prepared to throw John Collins into the equation? 

    This Atlanta roster might have some upside, but it's almost entirely devoid of established talent. Even the leading pieces have question marks, since Schroder hasn't served as the unquestioned leader of a team, Dedmon has yet to play more than 17.5 minutes per game and Bazemore is coming off a disappointing campaign. 

    Talent wins out in the NBA, and the Hawks don't have enough of it—or enough motivation to avoid the bottom of the Eastern Conference—to push toward the 26 wins necessary for the over bet.

Boston Celtics

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    Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 56.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 52-30

    The Bet: Under with confidence

                             

    We're operating under the same assumption that led Vegas to set the over/under at 56.5 wins: Kyrie Irving is now a member of the Boston Celtics, since the onus is on the Cleveland Cavaliers to veto a trade that's close to processing.

    Until that situation is resolved, we'll be factoring in a changing of the guard from Isaiah Thomas to Irving, as well as the departures of Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic. 

    Boston went through too much tumult this offseason to enjoy roster continuity. Few members of last year's squad remain, which is always problematic in a a league that has so many benefits gleaned from preexisting chemistry.

    Talented as Gordon Hayward, Irving, Jayson Tatum and the other newcomers may be, they'll go through an inevitable adjustment period that prevents them from running away with the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. 

    Plus, we can't forget what they lost. 

    Avery Bradley was a crucial piece on both ends of the floor. The best-case scenario for Boston is that replacing him with Marcus Morris is a wash. But there's no way to replicate what Crowder brought to the proverbial table; the C's were 11.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. 

    This squad will still be one of the best in the East, competing throughout the year for top billing. By the time the playoffs roll around, the Celtics could even be the favorites to advance to the NBA Finals and end LeBron James' reign of terror. 

    Just don't be surprised when they go through some tough times first.

    Editor's note: The trade for Irving has now been completed, the teams have announced.

Brooklyn Nets

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 28.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 28-54

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                      

    The Brooklyn Nets may be surprisingly competent with a healthy Jeremy Lin, an improved D'Angelo Russell and new wings appearing in the forms of Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll.

    Should everyone jell immediately, they could even surprise the basketball-watching world and break past the 30-win barrier, which is why you should avoid this bet at all costs. 

    Wagering on teams with upside is inherently problematic because youth is often so unpredictable. 

    The Nets are not deep. Jarrett Allen figures to play a prominent role during his rookie season. Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert will be thrust back into bigger assignments if either member of the starting backcourt goes down. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has too much responsibility at this early stage of his career. 

    But upside persists. 

    The most likely outcome remains floundering away and letting the youngsters learn while being thrown into the fire. That just means an explosion from one or two players isn't out of the question, and adding marginal victories is an easier task for bottom-feeders than true contenders.

Charlotte Hornets

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    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 42.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 42-40

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                      

    Expecting a bigger leap from the Charlotte Hornets, who went just 36-46 last year with a largely similar roster, would be possible if the team had addressed its biggest issue. 

    Dwight Howard will help, though he'll also keep the tremendously underrated Cody Zeller off the floor. Lest we forget, the Hornets' net rating improved by 10.4 points per 100 possessions when the incumbent center played in 2016-17. Malik Monk should also provide a nice scoring punch off the bench. 

    But what happens when Kemba Walker sits? 

    He was the unquestioned engine for Charlotte throughout the previous campaign, but he wore down toward the middle of the season.

    Tasked with too many responsibilities on the offensive end and constantly asked to create his own shots, Walker needed the All-Star break to refresh and couldn't quite lead the charge back into the playoff picture during the season's second half.

    Perhaps the story would have unfolded rather differently if a competent backup point guard had graced the depth chart to mitigate the downfalls when Walker needed breathers. 

    Now, Michael Carter-Williams fills that role. The former Rookie of the Year is by no means a game-changing presence, and his inability to shoot could wreck the second unit's spacing. He's simply not a good fit from a personnel standpoint, and that'll place the same type of pressure on Walker once again. 

    Expecting six additional victories is reasonable as the team grows and fits in the new additions. Seven is pushing it.

Chicago Bulls

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    Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 21.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 20-62

    The Bet: Under with marginal confidence

                     

    Yes, our record projections only have the Chicago Bulls hitting the under by 1.5 games. They boast plenty of young talents who could break out in expeditious fashion, whether Zach LaVine returns from his ACL injury to average 20 points per game or Lauri Markkanen immediately proves he belongs in an NBA starting lineup. One of the point guards could even turn into a legitimate asset and make everyone's lives easier. 

    But the Dwyane Wade problem persists. 

    The prediction that Chicago will break out of the teens relies on Wade remaining with the team; he's currently on the roster, after all. No matter how much he has declined since his prime years with the Miami Heat, he's still a fairly valuable player who could serve as the Bulls' top contributor while the youngsters develop. 

    And that makes it all the more troubling that the 35-year-old could be gone sooner than later. 

    ESPN.com's Nick Friedell explained that a buyout is "inevitable" during an appearance on The Jump, and we've already seen the 2-guard tell TMZ Sports he'll be having dinner with LeBron James, where he will presumably discuss joining the Cleveland Cavaliers later in the year.

    Hassan Whiteside is getting in on the action and recruiting the future Hall of Famer back to the Miami Heat, as well. 

    Wade will not last a full season with the Bulls, which makes this thin team even thinner. 

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 53.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 55-27

    The Bet: Over with confidence

                    

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are somehow in an enviable position. 

    If the blockbuster deal goes through, they'll have a point guard in Isaiah Thomas who's coming off a year in which he outperformed Kyrie Irving (by a substantial amount) during the regular season.

    Even if the new acquisition's hip remains problematic, LeBron James will be capable of shouldering more responsibilities, while Kevin Love and Jae Crowder team up to keep the 2016 champions playing at a high level. Let's not overlook the impact of adding Ante Zizic as frontcourt depth, either. 

    If the trade is vetoed because of Thomas' health, the Cavaliers will either soldier on with a malcontent Irving or find a new taker for the All-Star point guard. In any situation, they'll remain loaded with talent. 

    This offseason will be deemed a failure if they can't find a massive return for Irving—and the Thomas swap certainly qualifies as such—because addressing their biggest problem (defense) wasn't exactly done with the additions of Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Jeff Green. But they can still score with aplomb, and that should make them heavy favorites to win at least 54 games. 

    James doesn't appear to have declined whatsoever as his age swells. Love enjoys more chemistry than ever with his superstar teammate, and Tristan Thompson is only improving. This may be an old roster, but it's one brimming over with talent, and most of the key pieces fit together nicely. 

Dallas Mavericks

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 35.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 36-46

    The Bet: Avoid but lean over

                    

    To be quite frank, I'd recommend leaning over no matter where the line is set for the Dallas Mavericks. And that's for one simple reason: Rick Carlisle. 

    The head coach is a genius at milking talent out of his players, routinely turning castoffs and unwanted pieces into quality rotation members. He's done so year after year, and 2017-18 should be no different.

    Except it is slightly different. Because while this team may be rebuilding during the final few seasons of Dirk Nowitzki's career (assuming the legendary 4 ever chooses to retire), it finally has distinct talent at quite a few different positions. 

    Dennis Smith Jr., Seth Curry, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes and Nowitzki makes for a potent starting lineup, and the Mavs can mix and match to get Yogi Ferrell and Nerlens Noel on the floor. That's far more talent and upside than the team possessed during the 2016-17 campaign, and it went 33-49. 

    Full seasons from the frontcourt pieces? Barnes with a year of experience in a leading role under his belt? Smith added into the rotation as a Rookie of the Year threat? 

    Vegas set the over/under aggressively for this roster, but reasons to believe they're sold a bit short still exist.

Denver Nuggets

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 45.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 48

    The Bet: Over with confidence

                       

    When Nikola Jokic re-entered the starting lineup on December 15, everything clicked. 

    From that point forward, the Denver Nuggets posted the league's best offensive rating (113.3). And though they were remarkably porous (league-worst 111.9 defensive rating), they still outscored their foes and asserted themselves as a legitimate threat to make the playoffs. 

    Now, they're better—by a lot. 

    Paul Millsap is a perfect fit next to Jokic, gracing the Nuggets with his defensive acumen and versatile offensive play. He gives the Mile High City a second top-25 player, and his presence immediately creates one of the NBA's most dangerous frontcourt pairings.

    How will opponents handle passing coming from so many different locations in 2017-18? How will they counteract the offensive excellence when a legitimate defensive stalwart is making Jokic's life easier? 

    And the frontcourt isn't the only reason for unmitigated optimism. 

    Gary Harris enjoys tremendous synergy with Jokic and is coming off a breakout season. He should continue emerging as one of the Association's better 2-guards, and he's joined by another high-upside backcourt member in Jamal Murray. 

    Losing Danilo Gallinari hurts, and the Nuggets largely failed to consolidate their many assets. But this is a deep team overflowing with talent at many different positions.

Detroit Pistons

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 38.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 41

    The Bet: Hammer the over

                      

    This isn't about the Detroit Pistons' upside. All signs point to these playoff contenders having one of the highest floors—relative to their over/under line, at least—and therefore becoming one of the league's safest over bets. 

    Everything went wrong during the 2016-17 campaign, and the Pistons still managed to squeeze out 37 wins from their troops.

    Now, they get to work with another year of improvement from Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson and the other young players, add perfect fits in Luke Kennard and Avery Bradley, get deeper in the frontcourt with the addition of Anthony Tolliver and should have a healthier version of Reggie Jackson leading the charge. 

    The beleaguered point guard can't play worse than he did last year, and we have little reason to believe that's his true level. As Duncan Smith wrote for Piston Powered: "The question now remains whether Jackson will be the player of a year ago or two years ago, or whether he’ll be somewhere in between. His priority this summer has been nothing but rehabilitation, eschewing on-court work to focus entirely on strengthening the knee."

    Even somewhere between the fringe All-Star of 2015-16 and the disaster of 2016-17 would leave the Pistons in far better position, and the deepening backcourt should allow them to rest him more and keep the knee tendinitis from flaring up again. Plus, that's not the best news of all. 

    The Pistons still play in the Eastern Conference, and it's weaker than ever.

Golden State Warriors

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 67.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 70-12

    The Bet: Avoid but lean over

                            

    In general, avoid betting on teams that need to have a historic season in order to reward supporters of the over.

    Though 67.5 victories might seem a bit low for a ridiculously talented roster that somehow got better after winning 67 games and earning its second title in three years, only six squads have emerged successfully from 68 or more regular-season contests in a single year: 

    1. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors: 73-9
    2. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls: 72-10
    3. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls: 69-13
    4. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers: 69-13
    5. 1972-73 Boston Celtics: 68-14
    6. 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers: 68-13

    This season's Golden State Warriors are every bit as talented as the aforementioned squads. After bringing back all their key pieces and adding Jordan Bell, Nick Young and Omri Casspi into the mix, they may well be the most talented team in NBA history. We're even comfortable projecting them to break past the 70-win threshold yet again. 

    But this high up on the scale, no margin for error exists. One or two major injuries would make reaching 68 victories impossible. One stretch of cold shooting could wreck their chances. 

    Stay away, no matter how confident you may be in this bunch. 

Houston Rockets

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 55.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 60-22

    The Bet: Hammer the over

                       

    Don't have any concerns about Chris Paul and James Harden's fit in the same backcourt. 

    Though it's an undeniable truth that only one basketball exists during any given game, both guards are tremendous shot-creators who also thrive as spot-up weapons.

    Paul scored 1.1 points per possession (PPP) in catch-and-shoot situations (77.3 percentile), while Harden put up 1.2 PPP (90.6 percentile). Complaining about those numbers is an impossible task, and they give head coach Mike D'Antoni the luxury of running with either one of the two or both in conjunction. 

    But this isn't just about always having one elite floor general playing. 

    Even though the Houston Rockets parted with some crucial pieces to land Paul, they managed to replace them and add even more depth to their coffers. Acquiring P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute shouldn't be overlooked, and the same is true of the decision to re-sign Nene for the next few seasons. 

    These Rockets are loaded with top-end talent and high-quality rotation members to supplement the work of the stars. They may only have the league's third-highest over/under at this stage of the offseason, but they're a solid choice to become the NBA's second-best team with room to spare.

Indiana Pacers

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 31.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 30-52

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                      

    Spoiler alert: Losing Paul George is a big deal. 

    According to NBA Math's total points added (TPA) metric, the haul—if you can call it that—brought back in return couldn't quite match his production during the 2016-17 season. Whereas the superstar small forward finished with 150.42 TPA, Victor Oladipo (minus-58.86 TPA) and Domantas Sabonis (minus-159.61) fell just a bit short. 

    Of course, the Pacers bought into these youngsters for their long-term potential. They should improve throughout the 2017-18 campaign, and the same is true of Myles Turner, who's a solid bet to become a first-time All-Star during the upcoming season. This roster does have some upside, especially when factoring in Cory Joseph and T.J. Leaf. 

    But is that enough to overcome the departures of George and C.J. Miles? Probably not, which is why a steep dropoff should be expected after the Pacers somehow exceeded expectations to finish with a 42-40 record lest year. 

    These players will all be learning in featured roles, and losses will occur quite frequently. But that's not a bad thing. Let the up-and-comers develop, maximize the potential of draft picks during the 2018 prospect pageant and reap the benefits down the road. 

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 43.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 42-40

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                      

    How you feel about this over/under likely depends on one crucial question: How easy is replacing Chris Paul? 

    The Los Angeles Clippers did a fantastic job reloading after learning that Paul desired a departure to the Houston Rockets. Not only did they manage to pry some assets away from his new home in a trade after he opted in, but they also convinced Blake Griffin to re-sign before adding Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic into the fold. 

    This is a talented roster with ability and upside at just about every position. It's far deeper than it's been in previous years, though head coach Doc Rivers surely didn't want to acquire depth at the expense of his team's best player. 

    And that's the enduring problem. 

    Paul wasn't just the engine that made the Clippers run; he essentially was the Clippers. 

    Patrick Beverley and Teodosic should be solid replacements at the 1, but they can't replicate his ability to run the offense perfectly.

    Whether Paul was calling his own number or setting up teammates, he controlled the flow of the game as well as anyone. It's the reason LAC was a staggering 19.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor in 2016-17, as well as the reason he finished No. 2 overall in ESPN.com's real plus/minus, behind only LeBron James.

    His work simply can't be replicated. 

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 33.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 31-51

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                          

    The Los Angeles Lakers just aren't ready yet. 

    Adding Brook Lopez will make this team better. So, too, will the inclusion of Lonzo Ball in the starting five and continued improvement from Brandon Ingram, who looked so much better during the second half of his rookie campaign than he did during the first.

    We also can't overlook the upside of—takes a deep breath—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant. 

    But even after the additions of established contributors with NBA experience such as Lopez and Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers will be handing far too many minutes to young players still cutting their teeth in the NBA.

    The Vegas line still has the Purple and Gold improving by more than seven games after last year's 26-56 finish, and that's a big ask. 

    Could it happen? Of course. 

    Ball could break out and win Rookie of the Year. Randle could make good on the enduring hype and post triple-doubles more frequently. Caldwell-Pope could finally shoot at a jaw-dropping clip from beyond the arc. And that's why you should avoid this bet. 

    But, if you had to pick, too much about this roster is still in flux to bet on an eight-game leap. 

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 37.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 37-45

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                    

    The Memphis Grizzlies are baffling. 

    For years, they've outperformed their underlying metrics because their grit-and-grind style allowed them to win close games more frequently than other squads. That commitment to defensive excellence and physical play became synonymous with these Beale Street residents. 

    But what happens now? 

    Vince Carter and Zach Randolph have departed to the Sacramento Kings. Tony Allen and JaMychal Green remain free agents, and there's no telling whether they will return to their old stomping grounds for 2017-18. The roster feels more depleted than it has in previous years. 

    And yet, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are still present. So long as the team's two best players remain in the same uniform, they will be undeniably competitive on both ends of the floor. Each deserves to be in the All-Star mix year in and year out, and they've taken over as the Grizzlies' true leaders. 

    With the Western Conference improving, is that enough? Can Memphis supplement the two stars' efforts with a healthy Chandler Parsons? 

    Betting on the Grizzlies falling entirely out of the playoff conversation would be foolish, no matter where they end up in the Western hierarchy. But the odds seem far longer this time around. 

Miami Heat

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 43.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 43-39

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                          

    Figuring out the Miami Heat is a difficult proposition. 

    Calling their 2016-17 campaign a tale of two extremes would still be selling the roller-coaster ride short. According to NBA Math's rolling team ratings, they actually spent one day apiece functioning as the league's best and worst squad, based on data from the previous 20 games in each situation. 

    Head coach Erik Spoelstra showed off his coaching acumen yet again with a midseason shift to a drive-and-kick offense, and his team reaped the rewards to the point that it nearly vaulted back into the Eastern Conference playoffs.

    It should almost assuredly make the postseason this time around, but at what level can we expect the team to play? 

    After the All-Star break, the Heat posted a 5.6 net rating, which left them trailing only the Golden State Warriors (11.0). During their final 15 contests, that number dipped to a more reasonable 3.1.

    Can they maintain even that number? They retained most of their key players and added Kelly Olynyk into the fold, but the scouting report will be out on their new offensive style.

    Further regression should be expected, though the level at which Miami played during last season's concluding segment should still scare off bettors. 

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 47.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 45-37

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                       

    To give over bettors a payout, the Milwaukee Bucks would need to win six more games in 2017-18 than they did during the 2016-17 campaign. That's not an unreasonable jump for such a young and talented team, but it's still a bit unrealistic—even in the weakened Eastern Conference. 

    Upside pervades this roster. Just imagine how good the core of Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Thon Maker could become. Now throw D.J. Wilson, Tony Snell and Greg Monroe into the equation. 

    But questions persist. 

    Parker might not return to the lineup until after the All-Star break as he rehabs the second torn ACL of his basketball career, and that places an inordinate amount of pressure on either Antetokounmpo or one of the unproven youngsters to shoulder minutes at power forward.

    Maker is by no means a lock to be valuable in 2017-18, and regression could hit Brogdon after his Rookie of the Year campaign. 

    The Bucks will be fun. They should be considered a playoff lock. But their development might not be as quick as some expect unless all the key pieces remain healthy and don't force the coaching staff to rely on a less exciting bench. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 48.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 44-38

    The Bet: Under with marginal confidence

                           

    The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to be vastly superior to previous iterations this year. 

    They can count on internal improvement as Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins learn how to fill defensive roles more effectively. They're bringing Jimmy Butler into the fold after engaging in a blockbuster trade with the Chicago Bulls.

    Replacing Ricky Rubio with Jeff Teague is, at worst, a lateral move. Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford are in town to provide more depth, and any production from Justin Pattonthe team's first-round selectionwould be gravy on top. 

    But Vegas' over/under line is egregiously high. 

    Winning 49 games would be 18 more victories than the Timberwolves earned while going 31-51. That's an astronomical leap for a team that only added a single enduring All-Star during the offseason, sacrificed a key contributor in Zach LaVine and is integrating a new starting point guard.

    Internal improvement can only do so much, and Minnesota will be dealing with the ill effects of lost roster continuity. 

    Only 59 teams in NBA history have experienced year-to-year increases of at least 18 games, so the odds aren't exactly in Minnesota's favor. But despite projecting the Timberwolves to finish significantly below the over/under line, exercise caution. 

    A lot of talent is present in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and the shooting woes are a bit overblown because so many different players are far better in spot-up situations than off the bounce. 

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 39.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 37-45

    The Bet: Under with marginal confidence

                       

    Rarely does the stars-and-scrubs strategy get deployed quite like this in professional leagues. 

    Most commonly used in fantasy sports, the thinking goes that you can overcome a distinct lack of depth and quality secondary players by top-loading a roster. Spend a lot on a few guys, then hope for mere competence around them. 

    The New Orleans Pelicans are now one of the greatest examples of the strategy taking root in reality, because they're surrounding Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday with practically nothing. Rajon Rondo remains a shell of his old self—a useful shell, but a shell nonetheless—and Solomon Hill's torn hamstring could keep him out for up to eight months. 

    Who else is notable? Take a look at every other man under contract and see if you can identify the fifth-best healthy player, assuming the aforementioned four are the top quartet: Alexis Ajinca, Omer Asik, Ian Clark, Jordan Crawford, Cheick Diallo, Frank Jackson, E'Twaun Moore and Quincy Pondexter.

    It's probably either Clark or Moore. And that's a problem, particularly when the two bigs are still trying to suss out chemistry. 

New York Knicks

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 30.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 28-54

    The Bet: Under with marginal confidence

                          

    Rinse and repeat. 

    In 2013-14, the New York Knicks' 37-45 record couldn't quite match their over/under of 49.5. In 2014-15, they came 23.5 games short of reaching their over/under of 40.5. In 2015-16, they had their over/under set at 31.5 and won 32 games. In 2016-17, their 31-51 record fell well shy of the 38.5 over/under.

    Every year, Vegas provides a realistic expectation, listens as the public works itself into a frenzy about the diminished expectations for a major-market team and then (probably) collectively laughs as its prediction either turns out accurate or too optimistic. 

    The last time New York exceeded the projection by more than a single game was 2012-13, and the roster was quite a bit different. So should this season break the mold?

    Yes, Kristaps Porzingis is talented. Yes, Tim Hardaway Jr. could inject more offensive firepower into the lineup. Yes, Madison Square Garden will probably be filled with cheering fans, even if some (many?) of them will be rooting on the opposition. 

    But Carmelo Anthony is still on the roster, and there's no end in sight to the never-ending will-they-won't-they trade saga. Ramon Sessions, Frank Ntilikina and Ron Baker comprise the point-guard rotation. Convincing depth exists at zero positions. 

    Please. Don't bet on the Knicks to win more than 30 games. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 51.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 52-30

    The Bet: Avoid but lean over

                           

    As Kyle Wagner broke down for FiveThirtyEight, the addition of Paul George immediately vaulted the Oklahoma City Thunder back into contention in the Western Conference: 

    "The top-5 of Westbrook, George, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are worth 53 wins all on their own. But CARMELO thinks so little of the Thunder bench that the rest of the roster is worth -2 wins. That bench was bad this past season, but young players like Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott may improve with an additional season with the team, and this season’s first-round draft pick Terrance Ferguson has potential as a spot-up shooter on the wing, which the team desperately needed last season. Still, with Taj Gibson likely leaving in free agency, the Thunder will be thin. But while their projection doesn’t put the team nearly at the level of the Golden State Warriors, or even the newly minted Chris Paul Houston Rockets, acquiring George should have an outsize effect on the Thunder."

    The TL;DR version here is that even without factoring in the upside that stems from potential internal improvement, the Thunder already should've been expected to win 51 games. And this was written before OKC inked Patrick Patterson—a power forward who fits perfectly with the other expected starting pieces—to a bargain of a deal.

    Improving much beyond the 51-win benchmark is a difficult task as the Thunder try to weave in new players seamlessly. But after watching Russell Westbrook serve as a one-man show throughout his MVP-winning campaign, they now get to place so much more talent around him. 

    Expect big things. 

Orlando Magic

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 33.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 31-51

    The Bet: Under with marginal confidence

                 

    During the 2016-17 campaign, the Orlando Magic made 32.8 percent of their three-point attempts, which left them ahead of only the Oklahoma City Thunder (32.7 percent). They also took just 26.1 treys per contest, once again finishing in the league's bottom half (No. 16). 

    These numbers aren't conducive to success in the modern NBA, which places more and more of an emphasis on shooting from beyond the rainbow every year.

    So naturally, the Magic addressed their most glaring flaw by adding the following players, most of whom struggled from downtown in 2016-17: 

    • Marreese Speights: 37.2 percent on 3.4 attempts per game for the Los Angeles Clippers
    • Jonathan Isaac: 34.8 percent on 2.8 attempts per game for the Florida State Seminoles (with a shorter arc)
    • Shelvin Mack: 30.8 percent on 2.2 attempts per game for the Utah Jazz
    • Jonathon Simmons: 29.4 percent on 1.3 attempts per game for the San Antonio Spurs
    • Adreian Payne: 20.0 percent on 0.8 attempts per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves

    Speights' presence might help, but the team's enduring frontcourt logjam could make it tough for him to earn too many minutes. 

    So why are we supposed to believe the Magic will win five more games this year and hit the over?

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 42.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 40-42

    The Bet: Hammer the under

                          

    The Philadelphia 76ers appear on track to one day become the best team in the Eastern Conference. But let's not create an air of disappointment by expecting too much, too soon. 

    Vegas, likely capitalizing on the excitement that surrounds all the future stars, is already doing so. Now, betting under is one of this year's easiest sports bets.

    Joel Embiid isn't guaranteed to stay healthy. Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons have played in a combined zero games. The rest of the roster is laden with upside, but they're by no means guaranteed to break through and produce strongly positive results in 2017-18. 

    Lest we forget, the Sixers went 28-54 during the 2016-17 season. If you bet the over, you're counting on a minimum of a 15-game improvement, and that's quite a lot to ask. 

    Of course, arguments exist to the contrary. Philadelphia had so many turnover issues last year that counting on two rookie playmakers to lead the charge isn't really an issue. It won 28 games with Embiid only suiting up 31 times, and both numbers are likely to trend up going forward, especially with more depth surrounding the talented center. 

    But incremental improvement is still far more likely than a monumental leap from deep in the lottery to above .500.

Phoenix Suns

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 28.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 26-56

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                          

    The Phoenix Suns are oozing with potential, which makes this a terrifying bet. Even if you can reasonably expect the team to finish with no more than 28 wins (and you can), you don't want to be caught by a breakout from Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson, Devin Booker or T.J. Warren. 

    Individually, it's tough to expect huge strides from any one player.

    That's even true of Booker, who has a long way to go on the defensive end before he can have the value of a top-50 contributor, no matter how many points he might be able to score in a single farcical game. And yes, when you're fouling to create extra possessions and pump up the score during a contest in which the margin wasn't particularly close, it qualifies as farcical. Fun and undeniably impressive, much like Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point outburst, but farcical. 

    Collectively, however, the Suns' ability to exceed expectations is scary. Marginal improvement across the board could make our win projection laughably low, regardless of how tough it may be to compete in the Western Conference. 

    Over just isn't the safe bet. The smart play remains expecting only a few extra wins upon last season's mark (24-58) as the young guys get their feet wet and the team likely explores the trade market for Eric Bledsoe.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 42.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 43-39

    The Bet: Avoid but lean over

                       

    The Western Conference is brutally difficult, and the Portland Trail Blazers' previous cap missteps will end up costing them, as they didn't have too many routes with which they could improve their roster.

    They even had to give up on Allen Crabbe as part of a cost-cutting sequence, trading him to move closer to avoiding luxury-tax penalties and future interactions with the dreaded repeater tax. 

    But Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are still in Rip City, and they'll team up with Jusuf Nurkic to keep this squad in playoff contention. Right now, it's tough to oversell just how important that last part is. 

    The big man, who was acquired from the Denver Nuggets in a midseason trade, broke out in a big way once he found himself in a new environment. He was more focused on the defensive end than before and flashed some facilitating flourishes that never showed up in the Mile High City.

    While the Bosnian was on the floor, Portland outscored the opposition by 9.2 points per 100 possessions—far better than the minus-1.9 net rating earned without him. 

    However, is that sustainable? Only time will tell, though opponents will have a scouting report on Nurkic this season. Conditioning concerns could also pop up as he's tasked with playing extensive minutes for the first time. 

    Especially with little convincing depth on the wings, don't expect the Blazers to take massive strides forward. Nurkic should help the star-studded backcourt maintain its playoff-caliber level, but the team's ceiling still feels fairly capped. 

Sacramento Kings

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    Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 28.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 28-54

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                     

    If any over/under mark seems right on the money, it's the one set for the Sacramento Kings. But we'll still lean ever so slightly toward the under, largely for reasons explained by ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton as he forecasted the Western Conference bottom-feeders to win just 27.4 games: 

    "Despite adding veterans Vince Carter, George Hill and Zach Randolph as free agents, the Kings are projected as the league's second-worst offensive attack by RPM. Although this isn't part of the projection, few teams will have more incentive to improve their draft pick, as Sacramento won't have its first-rounder in 2019 due to trade."

    That incentive to tank is big, and it may not even be as impactful as the potential loss of Randolph. Explaining a situation that could soon apply to the veteran power forward, Ronald Tillery wrote for The Commerical Appeal: "The league's collective bargaining agreement with the players' association says a player will be dismissed and disqualified from the NBA if he is convicted of, or pleads guilty, no contest or nolo contendere to, a crime involving the felony distribution of marijuana."

    Losing Randolph would thrust even more minutes upon the Kings' ever-expanding collection of young, inexperienced players. And that's the theme of this roster, as management has done a praiseworthy job of building up their coffers after the departure of DeMarcus Cousins. 

    That strategy just won't turn into many wins quite yet. 

San Antonio Spurs

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    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 54.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 55-27

    The Bet: Avoid but don't ever bet against the San Antonio Spurs

                        

    The San Antonio Spurs feel more vulnerable than they've been in quite some time. 

    Tony Parker and Rudy Gay are both working their way back from major injuries, while Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili re-signed for an opportunity to continue their fights against Father Time in the same uniforms.

    With LaMarcus Aldridge moving further away from stardom, Kawhi Leonard is the lone player who enjoys true celestial status, and he doesn't actually have the luxury of too much depth around him. 

    Sure, the likely opening quintet of Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, Leonard, Aldridge and Gasol is a dominant one. But the primary backups—while Gay and Parker are rehabbing, at least—are Patty Mills, Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans and Joffrey Lauvergne. 

    That's not particularly inspiring. Not by Spurs standards, at least. 

    But one figure is. As Adam Spinella noted for NBA Math, head coach Gregg Popovich is one persistent reason for optimism, even as the dynasty looks like it's on the decline:

    "In lieu of that certainty, we’ll watch anxiously as Pop tries prove us wrong and make those subtle changes to his roster. We’ll hope for one last run of great basketball from an unbelievably stable franchise. We’ll look to see how this team of offense-first big men and over-the-hill cast members constructs yet another top-ranked defense."

    Never bet against Popovich: just don't. 

Toronto Raptors

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    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 48.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 48-34

    The Bet: Avoid but lean under

                      

    Though the Toronto Raptors' offseason could be deemed a positive because they managed to retain Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, they didn't escape scot-free.

    Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll were traded away to new locations, which puts a lot more pressure on Delon Wright and new signing C.J. Miles to fill the shoes of the departed contributors. 

    Fortunately, they should be able to. 

    Joseph wasn't particularly successful in Toronto, and Wright has significantly more upside as Lowry's primary backup. And after Carroll proved a bust on his new contract, Miles should fit in with his spot-up prowess and willingness to do the little things so well.

    These are strong but largely lateral moves, containing high floors but little more than hints at loftier ceilings. 

    The Raptors went 51-31 last year, and that was an accurate representation of their abilities.

    But regression is coming—not because of roster moves, but rather players sliding down in the leaguewide pecking order. Lowry is another year removed from his 30th birthday (bad news for a point guard), Ibaka is no spring chicken and the team is relying on even more youth for its depth, which could lead to some inconsistent showings.

    Toronto should still finish near the top of the Eastern Conference; our projections have them at No. 4. But pushing for 50 wins might be asking a bit much.

Utah Jazz

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    Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 40.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 44-38

    The Bet: Hammer the over

                       

    The Utah Jazz went 51-31 last season. So how in the world are they expected to win just seven fewer games after losing their best player? 

    Well, the answer is simple: They didn't actually lose their best player. 

    Gordon Hayward's departure to the Boston Celtics stings, and the Jazz will have a tough time replacing his versatile production. Even a dynamite rookie season from Donovan Mitchell can't possibly fill the void, and the small-forward depth chart looks a bit more uninspiring with Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson leading the charge. 

    But Rudy Gobert is still patrolling Salt Lake City, ready to prove to the world he's indisputably one of the NBA's 20 best players.

    Whereas Hayward finished Nos. 29 and 24, respectively, in ESPN.com's RPM and NBA Math's TPA, Gobert sat at Nos. 8 and 12 last season. He's arguably the league's best defensive player, and his incredible finishing ability around the rim makes him immensely valuable on the offensive end. 

    There's also the fact that the Jazz's net rating dipped by 5.7 points per 100 possessions without Hayward, but it fell by 11.3 without Gobert. When the "Stifle Tower" suited up sans his now-departed teammate, Utah still posted a 5.5 net rating, per nbawowy. In the reverse situation, the net rating stood at minus-6.9.

    Utah will be worse this season. That much is clear. 

    But they're not dropping below .500. Frankly, they shouldn't even be particularly close to that mark. 

Washington Wizards

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Vegas Over/Under: 47.5

    Fromal's Record Projection: 50-32

    The Bet: Over with marginal confidence

                       

    Why expect a decline from the Washington Wizards? 

    The three-headed monster of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. is still trending up. Each man is moving toward his athletic prime and building chemistry with the other members of this triumvirate while seeking to assert himself as a premier talent at his respective position. Wall is already there, and the other two aren't far behind. 

    And if you're concerned about the bench, don't be—just not for the reason you might expect.

    Last year's second-stringers were atrocious. They routinely squandered leads and dug inescapable holes for the starters. This season's bench collection shouldn't be much better, as Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Mike Scott aren't exactly marquee additions. And that's almost irrelevant. 

    The non-starters are bad. We know that much. However, the starters are still in place, and the Wizards posted an 8.1 net rating last year when Wall, Beal, Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat were on the floor together. Even with the putridity behind them, they dragged their troops to 49 wins. 

    So again, why should we expect anything else this year, especially when the team was better in the second half than during the season's opening salvo? 

                     

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com.