One of the best ways to see what the consensus view of a team going into the NBA season to consider where oddsmakers set the win total over-under line. This can be a little misleading for some teams with huge fan bases, whose outsized propensity to aim high may push those lines to a bigger number than warranted. But for normal teams — not the Lakers, not the Knicks — it’s a solid indicator of where the majority thinks a team will end up.
Of course, no one really knows. The NBA is ruled by injuries and trades: huge in-season shakeups that tilt the expectations game until it (often) topples over. As such, it’s risky to think you know what’s going to happen in an unpredictable setting. But since injuries happen nearly at random and in-season trades typically have minimal immediate on-court effects, baking in assumptions about those events is impossible. So you just roll with it.
After looking at the current win total over-under lines, here are five teams that look poised to exceed their numbers — barring one of those critical injuries or a surprising trade.
Pistons (37.5 wins)
Why they’ll beat the line: Detroit won 39 games last season despite having Blake Griffin for only 25 games. He’s the best player on the roster, and if healthy, one of the best players in the weakened Eastern Conference.
The Pistons went 8-4 down the stretch once Reggie Jackson returned from injury, with Griffin missing most of those games. Of course, this is not the first time the Pistons finished strong with Jackson after the season was sunk in part due to a Jackson injury. It’s kind of a thing the Pistons do.
The Pistons also have a new coach in Dwane Casey who just might be able to break the spell of mediocrity that has set in. He did it in Toronto years ago. Detroit would beg for that type of playoff disappointment, because it would mean they were back in the playoffs regularly.
What could go wrong: Griffin has missed at least 15 games every season since 2013-14, and he’ll turn 30 last this season. Jackson has suffered costly injuries in each of the past two seasons. Andre Drummond is reliable in terms of health, but it remains to be seen whether a frontcourt starring him and Griffin can be effective in 2018. There is like no shooting on this team. There’s not much depth after the Griffin trade, either.
Rockets (55.5 wins)
Why they’ll beat the line: Houston won 65 games last year! They didn’t need to — they ran away with the No. 1 seed — but they did. And that was with James Harden missing 10 games and Chris Paul missing 24.
If those guys miss more games, then the under on this 55.5-game line is in play. But that’s a big assumption. Otherwise, they won 65 games last year! Trevor Ariza wasn’t that important.
What could go wrong: The other risk to worry over here is complacency. That 41-41 season that preceded Mike D’Antoni’s arrival in Houston — that began with an offseason Harden injury and never got on track — is the stuff of nightmares. Something tells me CP3 won’t let the Rockets wallow in their own regrets if things get difficult, but we’ve seen it happen to Harden-led teams before. It’s something to keep an eye on.
The other risk here is that by the time March rolls around, the Warriors are so far ahead in the race for No. 1 and no one is in sight of No. 2 (like last season), that Houston coasts down the home stretch and finishes with 53, 54, or 55 wins. That’d be tough to swallow.
Spurs (44.5 wins)
Why they’ll beat the line: This is the craziest line of all. The Spurs haven’t failed to win more than 44 games since 1998-99. That’s 20 years of winning well more than 44.5 games, including 47 last season. Yes, the team traded away Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, lost Tony Parker in free agency, and lost Manu Ginobili to retirement. But Leonard played just nine games last season, the Spurs picked up an All-NBA guard in DeMar DeRozan in the trade, and San Antonio still has a core of effective veterans in LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills.
Plus, there’s the Gregg Popovich factor. He could get a G-League team 45 wins in the NBA.
What could go wrong: If DeRozan struggles to find his flow in San Antonio, without a veteran point guard and trusted co-star to help him along, that could be rough. Aldridge could regress; Gasol could finally look old. (He’s 38.) The point guard situation is a little troubling, though Mills is really quite effective. The Spurs’ margin for error has clearly decreased. The West is even stronger.
But come on. It’s the Spurs!
Grizzlies (33.5 wins)
Why they’ll beat the line: This is a pretty low projected win total for the Grizzlies, but it’s still 11.5 games higher than Memphis’ actual win total from last season. A persistent Mike Conley injury and a locker room implosion turned into a legit tank job for the Grizzlies last season, resulting in a 22-win campaign. Conley is back, though, and everyone seems to like promoted coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
Memphis had 22 wins last season, but had exceeded 40 victories in each of the previous eight. Given the relative roster stability — at least when it comes to the team’s two stars — which do you think is the aberration? The beautiful part about taking the over on Memphis is that they don’t even have to get to 40: only teams that flat-out tanked and the Brooklyn Nets finished with fewer than 34 wins last season. A lot would have to go sideways for the Grizzlies to tank again.
What could go wrong: Marc Gasol is 33, Conley is soon to be 31, and unless Chandler Parsons is back (unlikely), there’s like almost no other offensive firepower on this roster. (They even lost Tyreke Evans!) An injury to one of the stars is devastating on a level bigger than for most other teams in Memphis’ range. So that’s a concern.
Bulls (28.5 wins)
Why they’ll beat the line: The Baby Bulls won 27 games last year while trying to tank. They added Jabari Parker and perhaps the most NBA-ready rookie in Wendell Carter Jr.. Chicago will have a full season (we think) of Zach LaVine. They have Lauri Markkanen! The Parker signing in free agency was a tell that the Bulls aren’t interested in competing with the Hawks for the worst record in the league. The East playoff race is pretty open, and historically the Bulls would rather make the playoffs as a low seed than get a lottery pick. And 29 wins is a really low hurdle to clear.
What could go wrong: What if getting LaVine back for the full season isn’t a net plus? What if Parker continues to struggle to stay on the court? What if the LaVine-Parker combo with Kris Dunn at the point is just a little too anachronistic to work in today’s NBA? What if the Fred Hoiberg era blows up and we get 65 games with an interim coach? What if the start is so rough that this ends up being another tank year? What if Carter plays like a rookie, and Markkanen has a sophomore slump with LaVine and Parker sucking oxygen away?
What if the Bull don’t actually know what they’re doing?