The NBA’s true offseason has arrived. While we wait for the Miami Heat to scrounge up enough assets to convince the Portland Trail Blazers to give up the ghost and move Damian Lillard to his South Beach dream home, we finally have some futures markets to start hitting out of the gate, specifically win totals.
The downside of betting into futures markets now is you’re tying up bankroll assets for 11 months. The upside is that you get softer numbers before most people have even begun to think about it, with most pros focused on NFL and College Football markets.
With that in mind, our Action Network writers Matt Moore and Jim Turvey have 10 NBA win total bets they’ve already made. You can also check out the latest episode of the BUCKETS podcast with Moore and Brandon Anderson to see their in-depth conversation on their favorite win totals.
Matt Moore’s Bets
It pains me to go against one of the best win total trends in recent history, but the moment has arrived. The Nuggets have gone over their win total every season under Michael Malone outside of the COVID-shortened 2020 season. They have consistently outperformed expectations. This is made all the more impressive considering that most sharp bettors and analytics favor them and so the numbers start at a high point.
But Denver has lost the margin for error, is dealing with a championship hangover, and is getting a postseason bump for a regular season number. I have the Nuggets’ true win total last year at just 49. Even during a season in which they secured the No. 1 seed, they wildly underperformed at the start the campaign and the end, effectively coasting into the playoffs.
Now, after a summer celebrating a championship, with potentially two of their players already on short rest playing in FIBA World Cup (Jamal Murray is committed to Team Canada, Nikola Jokic may play for Serbia), and with a bench that is now primarily made of youngsters, their margin for error has dissipated. Injuries will hit Denver harder than last year; the drop from Jamal Murray or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Reggie Jackson is greater than that to Bruce Brown.
Denver doesn’t need the No. 1 seed. Denver went under this number last year, and now they are worse with less motivation. And they may not get a nearly two-month stretch of home games to fatten up like they did this last season. It’s time to go under.
Milwaukee Bucks Under 52.5 (+110, DraftKings)
The market assumption is that the Bucks just ran it back so they’ll be above 52 again. But there are some key elements here. First, they had a Pythagorean expected wins number of just 51.9; they wildly over-performed. Teams that won two more games than their Pythagorean expectation (based on point differential vs. strength of schedule) and won more than 55 games are 5-1 to the under the following season.
Next, they did not just run it back; they fired their coach. Mike Budenholzer may have been too rigid and uncreative in the postseason, but Bud knows how to win regular season games. His teams both in Atlanta and Milwaukee were regular season wagons full of wins. Adrian Griffin is an unknown. He might be better than Budenholzer, even in the regular season. That’s certainly possible. But given the high degree of difficulty and how few coaches can just crank out 50-plus win teams, it’s fair to say the range of outcomes for Griffin in his first season skews towards less than 52.
The Bucks lost Jevon Carter. They added Malik Beasley, who has been inconsistent from stop to stop. Khris Middleton is 32 years old, Jrue Holiday is 33, Brook Lopez is 35. With how thin their bench is, injuries can derail the over, simple slippage due to age can derail them, and the rest of the roster simply isn’t made of players you want to give more minutes.
Milwaukee has Giannis Antetokounmpo, so they’ll always be a title threat as long as that’s the case. But this is too high a number for a team that was masking serious problems last year, and were able to blame a too-early exit on Antetokounmpo’s injury vs. Miami.
The Wolves won 42 games last year with Karl-Anthony Towns missing essentially the entire season, and a handful of bad injuries (including Naz Reid) late in the year. They struggled early on because the team was still basically moping about the Rudy Gobert trade.
But by the end of the season, they found something. They became a pretty resilient group of professionals, and a pretty tough team. Anthony Edwards is another year along in his progression, and Towns has a lot to prove this season. That’s a double-edged sword but if nothing else, more time with Gobert will help them figure out how to play together better. Plus, a full training camp with Mike Conley to settle things at point guard and some good young developing talent.
I have them projected at 47.5 wins based solely on getting Towns for a normal allotment of games. Even if the loss of Taurean Prince and Jaylen Nowell hurt and Conley regresses with age, there’s enough runway here for them to get three wins over last season’s total. This number is an overreaction to the conversation around the team largely centered around the Gobert trade discourse, and I’m fading that conversation with an over.
On Jan. 11, the Pacers were 23-19 with a Pythagorean expected wins count per 82 games of 39 wins. That same night, Tyrese Haliburton suffered an injury and missed the rest of the month. The Pacers subsequently lost six in a row and nine of 10 before he returned but by then, it was too late to recapture the momentum they found. But when Haliburton was healthy and the team was trying, they were on pace for somewhere between 39 and 41 wins, which easily clears this figure.
Indiana added Bruce Brown and Obi Toppin in the offseason. Brown is a veteran who can defend and makes winning plays; he’ll instantly boost their ability to stay organized offensively and to defend. Toppin is breakneck machine in transition, which fits perfectly with Indiana’s fast-paced style. Toppin consistently had great on-off splits in New York despite never being rewarded with playing time.
Buddy Hield could be traded as a $19 million expiring for a pure shooter, but he’ll fetch good return if so. Benedict Mathurin was one of the best rookies last season, maybe the second-best behind Paolo Banchero.
More than anything, it’s clear that Indy has intentions of returning to the playoffs. Owner Herb Simon has consistently wanted his teams to stay in postseason contention and all signs point to that again here. They will likely not be a 45-plus win team, but I have them projected for 44 if healthy.
Cleveland Cavaliers Over 50.5 (+100, BetRivers)
The Cavaliers absolutely disintegrated in the playoffs against the New York Knicks and you can bet I’ll be cautious of backing JB Bickerstaff after he was out-coached by the notoriously playoff-terrible Tom Thibodeau. But this team returns the core that won 51 games last season, will likely be healthier, and added shooting all over with Max Strus (on a terrible contract) and Georges Niang.
Evan Mobley is likely to take a step forward as most of his underlying numbers are great and suggest a leap and the market still underrates how impactful and elite Donovan Mitchell is. This is only a 2-unit (with a max of five in win totals markets), but I do think there’s value on the Cavs to once again finish above 50 wins. I have them projected at 53.5.
Jim Turvey’s Bets
Memphis Grizzlies Over 45.5 wins (-110, DraftKings)
Looking at this Memphis win total, I am having severe deja vu. Last August the books hung a Grizzlies win total in the mid-40s that was my favorite over, and they coasted to 51 wins despite suffering injuries to half their rotation. This season, they will have Marcus Smart in the mix while Ja Morant is out to start the season and inevitably misses a few games the rest of the season, and they should have Steven Adams back, at least to start the year.
Again, flashing back to 2022, I pegged the Grizzlies as a great regular season win total over team (to emphasize: This is not equivalent to liking them in other futures markets), because they had sort of become the modern day Spurs. With win totals, there can be so many unforeseen twists and turns that having a stable front office and coach who can navigate injuries, suspensions, rumors, etc. etc. is of the utmost import.
The Grizzlies have that in spades, and as such, this over is my favorite of the whole bunch out right now.
Sacramento Kings Under 45.5 wins (-130, Caesars)
Hoo boy, are the Kings ripe for regression. Not only did they make the jump from 28 wins to 48 in 2022-23, they also had the very best injury luck in the entire league last season.
Teams that make massive year-over-year win total jumps are often great candidates for unders the following season, and the Kings are no exception. This is a team that hadn’t reached 40 wins in well over a decade, and while nearly all of that 16-year gap is irrelevant to 2023-24, what is relevant is that De’Aaron Fox turned into Michael Jordan in the clutch last season.
The sixth-year guard literally won the Clutch Award thanks to shooting 56.3% from the field in the final three minutes of games within five points. Thanks in part to Fox, the Kings were 11-8 in games decided by one possession or overtime.
This should be an under if the Kings get any of: Standard big win-jump regression; a bit of bad injury luck; coming back to earth in clutch games.
Chicago Bulls over 37.5 wins (-110, DraftKings)
The Bulls are such an interesting case study. In 2021-22, they were a regular season breakout success story, winning 46 games and finishing in the No. 6 seed. In 2022-23, in part because of raised expectations, they were one of the most disappointing teams in the league, finishing in the 10th spot, with just 40 wins.
Guess which team was better by Net Rating … You guessed it, the 2022-23 team. In fact, the 2022-23 team finished with 44 Pythagorean wins, which are often far more telling when projecting forward than standard wins and losses. That was four wins higher than in 2021-22 when they won 46 games but only had 40 Pythag wins.
Of course, what really matters is that this line for 2023-24 is lower than all those numbers!
This Bulls team is very mediocre, but they are very high floor mediocre. They also are not a team that has shown no signs of wanting to tank whatsoever, even when it would have been incredibly beneficial to them. This team isn’t great, but they are solidly mid and should clear 37.5 wins.
Houston Rockets under 31.5 wins (+105, Caesars)
Yes, the Rockets appear to be “going for it,” but they are starting from such a depressingly low spot, there’s a lot of ground to be made up for just to get to this number.
The Rockets won 22 games last season (23 by Pythag) and that was with well above-average injury luck. And that’s the key for me. This is a starting five that, on paper, actually looks decent. Fred VanVleet is very steady; Jalen Green has potential (I guess); Dillon Brooks is admittedly pretty awful; but Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun are actually a pretty fun frontcourt pairing.
However, if there are any injuries to those three key players, it’s going to get ugly fast. Kevin Porter Jr. is an unmitigated disaster; Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore look super fun, but relying on rookies in the NBA just isn’t going to get you wins; and Jock Landale is the backup center. Aside from Tari Eason at the backup four, it gets really ugly really fast if there’s any bad injury luck whatsoever, which, in the modern NBA, is basically inevitable.
San Antonio Spurs under 30.5 wins (-115, Caesars)
The play here is a bit more simple. Many times an extremely gifted young talent comes into the league and makes his team respectable enough right away and it traps him in that treadmill of mediocrity.
I don’t think Pop is going to let that happen. I think he sees the big picture and realizes that with this actually pretty solid young core, if they can do one season in which Victor Wembanyama only plays like 40 games, they could scoop up one more top-six pick and really be set up to run the league if Wemby reaches his ceiling.
The Spurs showed no hesitation whatsoever last season to shut guys down to get that top pick, and I think they will be similarly approaching 2023-24. If this team wins 35 games, just misses out on the postseason and picks at No. 11 instead of No. 6, that’s a big difference in the long run. Pop knows that, and it’s why I think Wemby won’t make it to the necessary games to win Rookie of the Year and why I’m going to be on the Spurs under.