We’re under a week away from the onset of the 2016-17 NBA season, meaning it’s time for everyone to make predictions that will make us all look like total idiots in about seven months. Westgate Sports Book in Las Vegas has released its over/under projections for all 30 teams, so Adithya and I are going to take a crack at win/loss prognostications of our own.
We’ll start with the Western Conference, because everyone knows it’s the more fun, intriguing and better conference. Don’t @ me.
Golden State Warriors: Over/under 66.5
Taylor: This is the highest over/under in the history of the league, and it obviously comes with good reason. It's easy to see Golden State winning 65+ games without even really putting forth max effort every night, but I imagine they learned a lot from last season's record run. You figure Steve Kerr will be more willing to rest guys as the year progresses, considering they seem to be a near lock for the No. 1 seed, barring catastrophic injuries.
I'll still take the over here, but I don't see them seriously challenging for 72+ wins again. They'll do what they have to do to ensure home court through the postseason, and then take it easy down the stretch. 67-15 sounds about right for the Dubs.
Adithya: Damn Taylor, stop cheating off my answers. I was gonna say 67-15 too, but now that you stole it from me I've gotta be contrarian and take the under here. People won't keep reading unless we're constantly at each others' throats disagreeing over minutiae (the First Take strategy). Gimme 66-16 on the Warriors.
In all seriousness, this line is set pretty well and I'm not going to bet any of my money on this (or any other line — because gambling is bad, kids!).
San Antonio Spurs: 57.5
Adithya: UNDER. UNDER. UNDER.
The Spurs won 67 games last year, but a lot of what they did probably wasn't replicable and would've regressed anyways, even before considering all the roster turnover and key guys aging. They beat up on the rest of the league with historically good defense and elite reserves, and they're bound to tumble in both categories after losing Tim Duncan, David West, and Boris Diaw.
We've been saying "this is the year" with the Spurs for almost a decade now. But believe me, this is going to be the year. Kawhi is great, but apart from Danny Green and Dewayne Dedmon his supporting cast looks better on paper than in practice (that includes you, LaMarcus Aldridge).
San Antonio will still probably be a top-3 team in the West, but they're not a true contender as they currently stand. 52-30, and at least 50 #FreeKawhi tweets from me this season.
Taylor: I'm taking the under with the Spurs, too, though I'm not as bearish on them as many seem to be. There's still a good bit of talent on this roster, especially on the offensive end. There's almost no way Danny Green, a career 40% three point shooter, shoots as terribly as he did all of last season. And Pau Gasol, on paper, looks like a solid fit alongside LaMarcus Aldridge in the front court.
The flaws with this Spurs team would clearly seem to be on the defensive end, where Gasol and David Lee are individual horror shows. Factor in likely-washed Tony Parker and San Antonio's defense is going to have to rely extra heavily on Green and Kawhi Leonard.
Despite Pop’s wizardry, it's nearly impossible to see this iteration of the Spurs knocking on the door of 60 wins again, let alone 70 as they were last year. I'll give them 55 wins, which even feels a bit generous.
Taylor: The Clips managed to win 53 games last season despite Blake Griffin missing over half the season. The only real tangible loss from last year's team to the 2016-17 version is Cole Aldrich (Jeff Green doesn't count). If this team is healthy they should be able to win 57-60 games, easily, so this seems like a no-brainer OVER for me.
Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Griffin are each entering a likely #ContractYear, too, which means this could be the last chance for the Clippers as we know them to get over the hump. With the West looking considerably weaker at the top - excluding the obvious future No. 1 seed - LAC has every reason to believe they can nab the No. 2 spot. Calling it now: 60-22 for the Clips.
Adithya: I don't think #ContractYear will really affect Blake or CP3 that much, since both are guaranteed max deals anyways. Maybe with JJ, but coming off a career year I don't see how much better he can be.
That being said, I'm a fan of the Clippers' depth, and when healthy that core 4 is going to run roughshod over 28 teams. The early vibes out of training camp seem promising that this is the year the Clippers are a Big Deal. I'm not sure if they'll go hard enough to get 60, but I have them as a rock-solid over with 56+ wins.
Utah Jazz: 47.5
Adithya: I'm a big believer in the Jazz, and a very big believer in George Hill. Their depth is impressive, and their core guys are pretty good too. This might be the 2nd best starting frontcourt in the league, next to Cole Aldrich and whatever scrub he has to carry.
The Hayward injury makes me pause, but I think they can still hit 48-49 this year so long as they're even league-average in close games. Give me the over.
Taylor: I don't fully trust the Jazz to be able to score, but they have enough talent to be a 50-win team, so I'll take the over, slightly. I think you're right in that 48-49 wins seems to be the likeliest outcome for them.
Trey Lyles could be a total game-changer on that second unit, and he's versatile enough to play strong minutes alongside either Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors. I'm not the biggest George Hill fan, but he's fine. Definitely an upgrade over Shelvin Mack. Should also be interesting to see if Dante Exum has gained enough courage since his rookie year to actually enter the paint from time-to-time.
They won't necessarily finish in the top four, but the playoffs would seem to be a lock, at least.
Portland Trail Blazers: 45.5
Taylor: I don't really get what the hell Neil Olshey was doing this summer, but he effectively locked the Blazers into their current so-so core while also inexplicably shelling out $75 million for Evan effing Turner. Most of the rotation guys are young and there's plenty of room for improvement here, but Portland strikes me as an obvious regression candidate.
They'll be in the mix for one of the final playoff spots after finishing as the No. 5 seed last year, but I think 46 wins is a tall order. They won 44 last year and I think most of the bottom half of the West has improved. Something like 43-39 seems about right for them. Under.
Adithya: Ooh, this is tough. On one hand, I have all my Blazers schadenfreude; on the other, I think internal improvement could cancel out a lot of the natural regression they'll probably face. Only two more wins than last year isn't that tough when you consider they won 44 after starting 15-24. I'm torn, but I'm going to err towards the over, just barely. They won't actually be good, though.
Oklahoma City Thunder: 45.5
Adithya: I took the over on Portland so I'm going under on OKC. I'm not sure how they keep an above-average defense without Durant and Ibaka, and their offense will go as Russ goes — that is to say, inconsistent and wildly erratic from night to night. They were 45-37 in 2015, but 18-9 in games when Kevin Durant played that season (27-28 without KD, although that includes games where Westbrook and other players were injured too). I don't buy them, I don't see them being consistent enough on either end to beat the over.
Taylor: It's easy to be down on OKC, so give me the Thunder on the under, too. There are way too many unknowns here for me to feel comfortable predicting good things from them. Seems like the starting power forward is either Ersan Ilyasova or Domantas Sabonis, which...yikes. Outside of Enes Kanter, their bench looks shoddy, especially with Cam Payne starting the season on the shelf. Westbrook and Adams are obviously great, but Oladipo is another unknown.
The offense seems like it's going to be incredibly dependent on Russ, and we know how that can ebb and flow. Other teams in the conference have more depth and star power than the Thunder do now, which makes it tough for me to get excited about them.
Memphis Grizzlies: 43.5
Taylor: Health is obviously the key for them considering the mercenary unit they devolved into last year. Clipper training camp fodder Xavier Munford was playing relatively heavy minutes for the Grizz in the playoffs last spring. It's a miracle they even qualified.
Anyway, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are back, Zach Randolph is moving to the bench and Chandler Parsons and whatever's left of his knees is here now, too. They also hired David Fizdale away from the Heat, which seems like a smart acquisition on the surface. The starting unit looks strong, but that group of reserves outside of Z-Bo is a big ol' ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Regardless, 43.5 seems low for them, so I'll take the over and hope they get through the season somewhat intact.
Adithya: I like the Grizzlies' core starters, but not much else about their roster. They're injury-prone, possibly over the hill, and I have a lot of questions about their depth. They've had a knack of consistently outperforming their Pythagorean in previous years, but will that Grit'n'Grind magic hold this year? Ultimately, I can't trust them to be healthy and I'm not a big fan of the contingency plans. Dipping under here.
Houston Rockets: 43.5
Adithya: I'm tentatively in on the Rockets. James Harden is really, really good. They made the playoffs with a similar all-offense, no-defense approach back in 2013, and now they have an approximately equal supporting cast and a better Harden to lead the way. I'm not seeing the 50 wins some people project, but I do think they'll break 45. You do have to worry about injuries with all their major offseason acquisitions, but again: James Harden is really, really good. Give me the over.
Taylor: I'm definitely taking the over on the Rockets, and I low-key think they could sneak into the top four. This is easily the best roster D'Antoni has had for what he wants to do offensively since his Suns days, and Harden is a perfect fit to run everything. Their defense will almost surely be trash, but they should be able to score so much that it may not even matter. That obviously isn't something that tends to hold up come playoff time, but we've seen it's a formula for winning plenty of regular season games. The injury prone new guys are clearly a concern, though. Also, viva Clint Capela.
Minnesota Timberwolves: 41.5
Taylor: At first glance this struck me as insanely high for a team that won a grand total of 29 games last year. They upgraded their head coach with Thibs and added some strong veterans around the awesome young core, but I'm not sure I can talk myself into this one.
I'm wondering about their spacing on offense with so many non-shooters in the starting five, and Andrew Wiggins has built a house of bricks (6-for-24!) already during the preseason. I'd love for them to get it all together quickly and make the playoffs, but I think they may still be a year away. Give me the under, but not by much.
Adithya: I like the Timberwolves but I think our expectations on them are a little high at the moment. They're still going to have to go through some growing pains, and I'm a little shaky on how effective their bench will be. Muhammad is a bit of a black hole offensively, and Dunn looks like he'll be an inefficient high-usage guy as a rookie.
The Wolves played great defense for the first month of the season last year, which bodes well for sustained improvement under Thibodeau. But most of that was because of Kevin Garnett, who even at age 39 was still an elite rim protector. I think they'll be better on both ends this year, but I don't know if it'll be enough to make it into the playoffs...
Ah what the hell, give me the over. I've talked myself into the hype. Even if Wiggins isn't great, KAT still is, Rubio might have discovered his shot post-ASB last season, and LaVine is just a really good shooter and scorer. Most importantly, they've got All-NBA-caliber center Cole Aldrich leading the second unit. I'll take 45 wins and a playoff berth.
Dallas Mavericks: 39
Adithya: I like the Dallas roster (they've got some underrated bench pieces), but they look a little better on paper than they will on the floor. The players they're relying on are all some combination of aging, injury-prone, and/or unproven. We still don't appreciate how good Dirk is, but he's getting older and closer to the end with each passing year.
Injuries will probably be their undoing. I don't think Dirk and Carlisle have enough magic in them to will the Mavericks to yet another low playoff seed (and first-round exit). Let's say 35 wins or so. Under.
Taylor: I was driving the anti-Mavs hype train bus last year, only to see them win 42 games and make the playoffs on the shoulders of Ray Felton and Zaza. The Harrison Barnes signing was as inevitable and cringeworthy as we all expected, but people seem to be underrating how they just got Andrew Bogut essentially for free. I'm not sure I can doubt a Carlisle team again.
Somehow, they're going to be better than expected and challenge for the No. 8 seed. I'd imagine that'll require at least 40 wins, so I'll begrudgingly take the over with the Mavs.
Denver Nuggets: 36.5
Taylor: Denver won 33 games last year with a less healthy and experienced roster, so I'm gonna bite and give them the benefit of the doubt, too. Jusuf Nurkic being back is going to be a big boost for them, and they have enough versatile pieces to give other teams problems with some funky lineups. Still need to trade Kenneth Faried already, though. Also, how's Mike Miller still here? Dude could barely even run like 5 years ago.
Over 36.5 wins for the Nuggets.
Adithya: My biggest qualm with Denver is that their roster is deep to the point it's imbalanced. They're overloaded in the frontcourt and it's tough to see them figuring how to give everyone PT, especially when you pencil in guys like Gallinari for smallball 4 minutes. They'll be relying a lot on young guards, and it's fair to question whether the likes of Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray will be good enough for the Nuggets to reach their full potential.
That being said, they're deep, talented, and probably underrated by dint of being the team/roster most irrelevant to casual fans. I don't see them making the playoffs yet, but I'm willing to bang the over too. Nikola Jokic is gonna spread his wings and fly this year.
New Orleans Pelicans: 36.5
Adithya: This team is super-frustrating to peg, and the recent Anthony Davis ankle sprain certainly didn't make things any clearer. I really like the offseason acquisitions they made, although they mostly came at the defensive end. I'm not a fan of their depth up front, where they're still relying on Omer Asik for some reason. AD's defensive reputation in the past has been overstated, but he needs to make a leap there this season if the Pelicans want to return to the playoffs. They have solid defenders at the guard and on the wings, but without effective rim protection in the middle they'll stay mediocre.
What used to be an offense-heavy team now looks pretty depleted on that end. Without Jrue Holiday and with Tyreke Evans still injured, points will be difficult to come by. Overall, I'm just not convinced that they have the ability to pull all the pieces together (Gentry's coaching last year left much to be desired, and their organization is only a few steps removed from Sacramento-level mediocrity). As much as I want to believe in them, I'm going under here.
Taylor: Yeah I agree with just about everything you said about these guys. They were even more sad than the Xavier Munford/Briante Weber Grizzlies last season, which says A LOT. I also don't trust Davis to be able to play more than like 65 games, which definitely puts a pretty hard cap on their ceiling as a team. Their offseason was good, but I'm not at all convinced they're moves that move the needle enough to realistically vault them back into the playoffs.
There are just too many teams in the West that look straight-up better than the Pels do, sadly. Starting the season without Holiday, Evans and (potentially) Davis sure doesn't help in the optimism department, either. Under.
Sacramento Kings: 32.5
Taylor: The Kangz managed to win 33 games last year despite their superstar publicly hating their coach and Rajon Rondo being there. They added some okay fringe guys like Arron Afflalo and Matt Barnes, which theoretically makes them deeper and more well-rounded than they were before. It's also easy to see Dave Joerger being a 100% upgrade over half-assed, win-counting, keep gettin' dem checks George Karl.
This is still the Kings we're talking about, of course, so it's straight-up irresponsible to actually expect them to finally have gotten things right. It feels like something will go horribly wrong along the way, but there's actually some reason for optimism with them this year. I'm not saying they're going to sneak into the 8 spot, but I think they're better than they were last year. Let's go over.
Adithya: My gut tells me that the Kings are going to do something horribly wrong and blow everything to hell yet again, but I'm not quite buying what it's putting out this time. Like you said, this coach and roster paired with any rational organization seems like a lock for the over, but the Kings have been totally inept when it comes to letting the good times roll (Exhibit A: firing Mike Malone midseason two years ago).
I'll take the over, though — mostly because I desperately want DeMarcus Cousins to taste some NBA success for once. The team around him is middling to not bad, outside of the giant question marks at the 1. I don't think Boogie gets to the playoffs this year, but I do think he can beat the over for the second year in a row, even if just barely.
Phoenix Suns: 28.5
Adithya: I like Phoenix, we're forgetting that this team was pretty damn decent less than a season and a half ago (after finishing the previous year 48-34, they were 28-20 at the end of Jan. '15 before the wheels totally came off). There's a lot of question marks, but a few of the core guys from those teams are still around, most notably Eric Bledsoe. Provided he's healthy for a full season, that alone sets the Suns' baseline at around 20 wins or so. They have a decent amount of young talent (Devin Booker, TJ Warren) coming into their own, so if the rest of the roster holds out we could see Phoenix scraping 30.
I'm gonna go just under though, I have a feeling there will be stumbles along the way and they'll end up tanking the last month+ of the season after being mathematically eliminated. Mark 'em down around 26 wins, and hopefully a real breakout campaign next year.
Taylor: I'd like to take the over with the Suns, just because they could be really fun to watch if things break the right way. It's just tough to imagine it happening. They're like a really poor man's version of the Timberwolves. Lots of fun, young talent, but I don't think they're quite ready to be making any real leaps.
I'm going under. Though Devin Booker is going to establish himself as a superstar as a 20 year old. And that is insane.
Taylor: I'll take the over. I know they only won 17 games last year, but that was just about the worst case scenario. Byron is gone, Kobe is gone, and there isn't any reason (so far) to believe that Luke Walton won't be a major step up. Some of the players' quotes from last season sounded like they were coming from actual prisoners. It sounds like they're actually enjoying things these days, and that should help their overall performance.
They'll still suck, of course, but 26 wins shouldn't be too hard to come by.
Adithya: It’s the Lakers. Take the under every time.