The 2016-17 NBA regular season tips off on October 25, and oddsmakers have already started amping up for another exciting year on the hardwood. On Tuesday, September 20, the Westgate SuperBook released regular season win totals for all 30 teams, with the reigning Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors leading the way.
Despite winning an NBA-record 73 games last season and adding Kevin Durant in free agency, oddsmakers are expecting a serious regression from the Warriors. Many bettors may be surprised to see Golden State’s win total at 66.5 games, but it may take some time for their new rotation to find their rhythm. Management has already indicated they will rest their star players throughout the season, so this number seems fair. For what it’s worth, the Warriors are +550 to win 74 or more games during the 2016-17 regular season.
Since these win totals were released last week, there have already been several major line moves. Last Wednesday it was announced that Khris Middleton would undergo season-ending surgery after suffering a torn left hamstring, which immediately caused the Bucks win total to drop from 39.5 to 37.5. That correlated perfectly with Middleton’s VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which has been 2.0 and 1.9 over the past two seasons, respectively. Following that initial adjustment, money continued pounding the Bucks under, causing their total to slip to 36.5.
In another major announcement, Pat Riley informed reporters that Chris Bosh’s tenure with the Heat is likely over after the All-Star forward failed his physical. Last season Bosh posted a 1.8 VORP in just 53 games, yet the Heat win total only dropped from 36.5 to 35.5. According to Jeff Sherman, Sports Assistant Manager at the Westgate Superbook, these past health problems were already built into their opening win total.
VORP, like many other statistical rating systems, is largely flawed. The value of a replacement player varies from year to year, and can only be established at the conclusion of a season. It’s also unable to accurately account for a player’s defensive ability. That said, it’s a much better metric than other supposedly all-encompassing statistics like PER (Player Efficiency Rating), Win Shares and Defensive Rating. Basketball is too complicated and nuanced for one catch-all statistic that will accurately rank every player, however, statistics like VORP and real plus-minus (RPM) provide valuable insight.
On Saturday, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton released 2016-17 NBA regular season win projections which were calculated using ESPN’s real plus-minus. Many people are familiar with plus-minus (+/-) which calculates the score differential while a player is on the court. If the Cavaliers outscore their opponent by 20 points when LeBron James is on the floor, he’s probably doing something right. Similarly, if the Bucks get outscored by 20 points when Greg Monroe is on the floor, he’s probably doing something wrong.
The problem with this statistic is that it’s heavily influenced by the performance of teammates, and it doesn’t account for playing time. Real plus-minus estimates how many points each player adds or subtracts, on average, to his team’s net scoring margin for every 100 possessions. RPM is also unique because it’s meant to be predictive. Rather than looking at what a player did in the past, it projects how well a player will perform in the future. That’s very valuable for analyzing win total for the upcoming season.
The table below displays the opening and current win totals at the Westgate, along with the win projections from Kevin Pelton.
|Team||Westgate (9/20)||Westgate (9/26)||Projections||Difference|
|New Orleans Pelicans||36.5||36.5||37||0.5|
|Golden State Warriors||66.5||66.5||66.8||0.3|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||45.5||45.5||45.6||0.1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||46.5||45.5||44.5||-1|
|Los Angeles Lakers||24.5||25.5||24.3||-1.2|
|San Antonio Spurs||56.5||57||54.5||-2.5|
|New York Knicks||38.5||40.5||34.7||-5.8|
|Los Angeles Clippers||53.5||53.5||46.3||-7.2|
Although there’s largely a consensus on the league’s top teams, there are some notable differences at the bottom of the standings. Oddsmakers have set the Brooklyn Nets win total at 20.5, which is five games lower than any other team. However, Pelton’s projections have the Los Angeles Lakers (24.3 wins) as the league’s worst team.
Based on these figures, there are five win totals providing value to bettors. The list below displays every team with at least a five-game discrepancy between the Westgate win total and Kevin Pelton’s latest projections.
- Brooklyn Nets Over 20.5 (8.3)
- Los Angeles Clippers Under 53.5 (7.2)
- New York Knicks Under 40.5 (5.8)
- Sacramento Kings Over 32.5 (5.7)
- Indiana Pacers Under 44.5 (5.6)
It’s interesting to note that public money has already caused the Knicks win total to increase from 38.5 to 40.5. It’s even more curious when you consider the legal troubles concerning the newly acquired Derrick Rose. The former Bulls star has been accused of rape, and his impending trial could easily derail the team’s season. Management still insists on running the triangle offense and, even if Rose avoids punishment, New York does not have the personnel to run the system effectively.
Across town, the Brooklyn Nets quietly had a productive offseason. New general manager Sean Marks was able to kick start the team’s much-needed youth movement — even without their own top-three draft pick. The team waived veterans Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack, traded Thaddeus Young for a first-round pick (which was used on Michigan’s Caris LeVert) and signed the underrated duo of Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker. With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson entering training camp at full health, this team may surprise fans. They won’t be great but, unlike other cellar dwellers like the 76ers, Lakers and Suns, the Nets don’t have any incentive to tank for a draft pick.
It’s also worth noting that the Denver Nuggets have already seen some sharp money on the over, causing their win total to increase from 34.5 to 36.5. If that total had not moved, their over would have been our third ranked play. If your book has been slow to react, there’s a lot of value on that over. Denver may not have a true franchise player, but they have a deep roster and tons of promising young talent — particularly at the center spot.
Statistics like VORP and real plus-minus are inherently flawed, but there is value examining the largest discrepancies. Last season after losing 80% of their starting lineup, oddsmakers set the Portland Trail Blazers win total at 26.5. Kevin Pelton’s numbers were far more optimistic, projecting 40.7 wins for the Blazers. Portland went over their season win total in early February, finishing the regular season with a 44-38 record.
Furthermore, if you had bet every positive differential on the over and every negative on the under last season, you would have gone 20-10. If you bet every difference of more than five games, you would have had six wins (POR Over 26.5, ATL Under 49.5, MIL Under 43.5, BKN Under 28.5, BOS Over 42.5, SAC Over 30.5) and just one loss (MIA Under 45.5).
The table below compares last season’s NBA win totals from the Westgate with Kevin Pelton’s projections.
|TEAM||Proj||Win Total||Diff||2015-16 Wins||Paid Out||Pelton Pick||Outcome|
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