Actual NBA basketball is officially back and while teams are getting ramped up, the window to bet futures as the regular season approaches is shortening. But don’t worry, we’ve been breaking down every team, division and player on the Buckets podcast (you can listen here).
I already broke down my betting approach to teams in the Southwest, Southeast and Northwest divisions, and now we’re moving to the Central, which has one of the most interesting teams in the NBA. Here’s a look at how I am betting (or why I’m not betting) each team in the division.
The market did what it does and overreacted to negative momentum. Yes, the Bulls will miss Lonzo Ball. Yes, you can expect some regression from DeMar DeRozan. Yes, the Bulls will likely be a play-in team instead of an outright playoff team.
But at 41.5, this is a number that suggests that not only will the Bulls not be as good, but they’ll be closer to bad. Bear in mind that there are books that have the Knicks at 39.5. A two-win differential between the Knicks and Bulls is just not accurate of their relative rosters. This number dipped to 39.5 after opening, and the market accurately rejected that figure, pushing it back to 41.5-42.5 across the board.
Key Trend: Chicago was second league-wide in the difference between their actual wins (46) and their expected wins (40.4) at 5.6. Teams at the 80th percentile (+1.6) in expected win over-performance (won more games than they should) have gone 12-9-1 (55%) to the over.
Bottom Line: The reality is that Chicago has three top-50 players, and their roster is stout in terms of depth. Ayo Dosunmu may make a leap, Coby White may eventually figure it out, and Patrick Williams may be more impactful off the bench. There’s good value here for the Bulls to be “not bad, a little above average” rather than stuck in true mediocrity.
The Cavs had great value at open at 41.5. The jump between where they ended up (42.5-43.5) and the post-Donovan Mitchell trade number is too high to really say this has good value. Mitchell, even in combination with the surrounding talent, just isn’t worth a five-game jump.
Key Trend: Teams that were in the 80th percentile in outperforming their win total are 24-20-1 to the under the next season over the last 10 years. That’s 53% which isn’t anything to write home about, but it does suggest some measure of regression.
Bottom Line: I lean over or nothing here, as the Cavs’ upside is considerable, but at this point, I do think the market has overreacted to the hype.
This is a good example of the value of preseason. The hype on Detroit was rising before the preseason arrived. Cade Cunningham with Jaden Ivey and some internal improvement sounds promising. But the preseason has shown how bad that offense truly is.
Detroit’s got too much momentum, and the market agrees, pushing their win total up to 29.5 after opening at 26.5 at one book and 28.5 at others. They’re a popular pick for a reason.
Key Trend: Teams that won 24 or fewer games the prior season with a total that’s seven wins or more higher than their actual win count the year before and with a win total below 41 (sub-.500) are 10-4 to the over the last 10 years.
Bottom Line: By the end of the year, they might pull themselves out of it and look halfway decent, but you could be scraping for six wins over the last 25-ish games with this number. I’m leaning under on this team.
The Bucks are a regular-season wins machine, but the number accounts for that. If the Bucks want to push for this, they can absolutely cruise over this number. But do they have the initiative to pursue it?
You only want to take 50-plus win total overs on teams that have something to prove or are setting up for a monster year. The Bucks have done that in the past and now have to prioritize health over everything.
Khris Middleton’s offseason wrist surgery is another reason to avoid it, as well as the Bucks going to Abu Dhabi for preseason. (Teams that travel overseas for preseason have their training camps interrupted, and that often results in unders.) But this team is still stacked with arguably the best player in the league.
Key Trend: We’ve learned through our win totals research that 50 wins is a key number. Teams with a win total above 50 are 31-16-1 to the under overall at 64.5% over the last ten seasons.
Bottom Line: Why bother with it? This is a team that has nothing to prove and everything to gain by resting but could still do that and go over. I’m staying away from the total. The Bucks are a solid title bet, and if you want to bet the under on their conference seeding at 3.5 (-120) that feels like a better bet.
The number is low, and the team may be good enough offensively to get there alone, but the defense is terrible, and the lingering carrot of pursuing losses to draft Victor Wembanyama is too much to make betting on this much fun.
Key trend: In the last 10 years, teams who won 27 games or fewer and then had a win total of 27 or fewer the following season are 11-6 to the over (65%).
Bottom Line: If you’re that good in one area of the game, you’re likely to go over vs. a low number. The Pacers may wind up punting on the season, though, and that simply puts this into the territory of not being worth a bet.