The exercise of handicapping the NBA Over/Under season wins market is an important part of evaluations that will be used in game-by-game betting as we start the season. Here are the three teams for which my numbers most disagree relative to the market (BetMGM odds listed).
Atlanta Hawks Under 34.5
This is the biggest discrepancy between my numbers and the market. I make the fair total for the Hawks 26.5, and I am struggling to understand what the market sees in this team that warrants such a significant upgrade from 2019-20. The Hawks managed only 20 wins in their 67 games, a winning percentage that would extrapolate to about 22 wins in a 72-game season. In terms of Pythagorean win expectation, the Hawks actually were overachievers and should have managed only 16 wins based on their scoring differential. Their big free-agency moves included signing Bogdan Bogdanovic and Rajon Rondo, neither of whom addresses the team’s key weakness — defense.
The Hawks’ defensive rating of 114.8 was fourth worst in the NBA last season. The lower-tier Eastern Conference teams are very weak, so it’s possible the Hawks could distinguish themselves from the true bottom. However, expecting them to perform to a near-.500 level is unrealistic, barring a major acquisition to improve at forward and/or center.
Brooklyn Nets Under 46.5
It’s understandable that the Nets have been darlings of the betting market this preseason. We finally get to see Kevin Durant in a Brooklyn uniform after he missed all of last season recovering from a torn Achilles. If Durant returns to form, the Nets clearly will be Eastern Conference title contenders as peak Durant is on the same level as two-time defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Two main factors are separating my numbers from the market on the Nets: I have tempered expectations for how well Durant and Kyrie Irving will play early in the season as they adjust to a new system and define their roles and responsibilities. And to a certain degree, the market is pricing in the potential that a third superstar (namely James Harden) will be added at some point this season. I do not expect Harden to be traded from Houston this season. So, as currently rostered, I am projecting the Nets to win 40 of their 72 games, leading to an Under play on their win total at 46.5.
Charlotte Hornets Under 26.5
The Hornets’ roster continues to evolve, and the franchise finally may turn the corner if rookie LaMelo Ball becomes a star. The problem for this season, however, is that the Hornets’ youth and inexperience will be thrown into the fire after a disrupted 2019-20 season and a shortened offseason.
It is unrealistic to expect young players such as Ball to contribute much early on, especially considering his role as point guard. Plus, the Hornets need a lot of help, particularly offensively, as they had the second-lowest offensive rating in 2019-20, scoring 106.3 points per 100 possessions. Charlotte was painfully poor in late-game situations last season and still lacks a true crunch-time scorer (sorry, Gordon Hayward fans). This alone likely will cost the Hornets wins this season. Based on their Pythagorean wins expectation, they overperformed more than any other team in the NBA last season, winning 23 games when their expected record was 17-48. This overachievement may be anchoring expectations too high in the market as this young squad will experience growing pains. My fair total is 22, so another Under is in play at 26.5.
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