Thursday, October 26, 2006

Regular-Season Win Over/Under Predictions

I generally find that messing around with over/unders for NBA regular-season win totals is one of the most fun endeavors in the glorious, now-forbidden world of online sports wagering.

Betting on single games is fraught with peril - the spread seems to hinge on a random three-pointer which does or doesn't cut the deficit to 5 in the last seconds too often.

Forecasting who'll be up and down for the entire season, though, feels more like an exercise in skill (famous last words) and logic. I've generally had pretty good success with my prognostications on season O/U's in past years, but this season seems to be one of the toughest to predict that I can remember.

Normally, I have strong feelings about a few teams, but as I look up and down last year's standings, it seems like most *everyone* in the lottery and lower end of last year's playoffs has gotten better at first glance, doesn't it?

I mean, look at the West. Sure, Memphis should be down with Pau's injury (though the Czar has overachieved with undertalented teams in the past), but...
-I like the Lakers' moves of adding a couple shooters plus I think (call me crazy) Kwame can continue his play from late last season.
-SAC and SEA both finished strong after making trades last year, and I think they both have made solid coaching changes.
-UTAH and HOU had a zillion injuries last year, and should be better if they can just stay healthy.
-Golden State feels like it should be a tougher regular season team with the Nellieball style - that team just feels like it's in a better place after the coaching change.
-MIN added a 20-pt scorer plus a potential ROY to its backcourt (though I don't entirely feel like all these parts fit - but it's hard to imagine they'll win *fewer* than last year's 33).
-And then there's New Orklahoma City, who made the most celebrated FA signing, though I'm not as high on them as others.

But there you have every team from the #7 seed on down except Portland - I mean, which of these teams are going to be worse? Seems like a significant chunk of how the standings shuffle out will come down to health - tough to predict.

So, it's a frustrating year for O/U aficionados like myself, but I'll give it a shot and take a closer look.

Below are this year's O/U lines from, with last year's win totals in parens, plus my pick and how strongly I feel about it.
I feel like such a square (i.e. public bettor) b/c I have so many Over picks, when I like to fashion myself as a sharp (i.e. professional "observer").
Just stick to the ones in bold - my Solid and Strong picks

Note: since people tend to bet Overs more than Unders, the odds are generally a bit better for Unders.

In case you don't want to scroll through the whole thing, here are the ones I like best:
ATL Under 28.5
CLE Over 49.5
GOL Over 37
HOU Over 46.5
NOK Under 40.5
NYK Over 31
ORL Over 38.5

Without further ado (acme, for entertainment purposes only ;-}):
ATL 28.5 (26) - UNDER - Solid
I like the UNDER here - they lost Harrington for nothing, and didn't improve much, while most of the other East lottery squads did.

BOS 36 (33) - OVER - Mild
If they can get anything like improvement from Jefferson and production from Rondo, I think they make this number easy. I just wonder if Pierce can match the monumental effort of last year.

CHA 33 (26) - OVER - Mild
This team had a huge amount of injuries last season, most notably with Okafor missing 56 games. Consider that most of their best players are improving young guys, plus Ray Felton for a full year and maybe some production from Morrison (whom I'm not high on), and this team looks much better on paper. 26 to 33 is a big jump, though.

CHI 48.5 (41) - UNDER - Mild
Considering this is everyone's darling club, it shouldn't be surprising that the U odds are really good. I definitely think this team is better with Big Ben, but man, I still remember how bad he looked in May, and wonder *how much* of an upgrade he is over Chandler at the respective points in their careers. I think they'll be right around the number.

CLE 49.5 (50) - OVER - Strong
I mean, honestly, you're telling me this team is going to get worse??? Do you not remember that Larry Hughes missed 46 games and Andy Varejao missed 34 last year? If the health of LBJ holds up (knock on a redwood tree), this seems like a no-brainer.

DAL 56.5 (60) - OVER - Mild
I get nervous about going over numbers this high, but I think people forget how many injuries this team withstood last year due to superlative depth. If they get reasonable health, I think they make the number.

DEN 43.5 (44) - WHO THE HELL KNOWS
I have no feel for this ballclub. Melo seems like he's ready to take a step up, which could lift them above the number singlehandedly, but who knows what they're going to get, and for how many games, from Martin, Nene, and Camby. My favorite Bodog prop bet allows you to pick which one of those three will be the first to miss 5 straight games.

DET 50.5 (64) - UNDER - Mild
Most notably, this team was freakishly healthy last season, starting the same lineup for the first 73 games. Then they lose Big Ben, and Hollinger points out that Chauncey's season was fluky by historical standards, and I think this team is going down - but 14 games is a lot.

GOL 37 (34) - OVER - Strong
I just get a good vibe from these guys. I'm not ready to say they'll be a playoff team, with all of the competition in the West, but I think they're going to be a hot team - going up and down with that building going wild - and Baron Davis seems really in tune with Nellie, which is the most important thing. 3-game improvement? No doubt. Only problem is that I'm not the only one who thinks this, and the odds are much more in your favor on the under.

HOU 46.5 (34) - OVER - Solid
Man, I was hoping the oddsmakers would sleep on these guys, and underestimate last year's injuries, but they didn't, and set a nice, healthy number, making this a tougher play. I like their moves getting Battier, Bonzi and even Snyder and I still think they can get back to their 51-win total of '04-05, but this is still a risky play cuz it's all about the health of T-Mac and Yao.

IND 44.5 (41) - OVER but stay away
On balance, I liked their offseason, re-acquiring Harrington and grabbing Daniels for Croshere. And don't forget that J. O'Neal missed two months last year. On paper, I take the over, but this just feels like a team with bad mojo, punctuated by the Steve Jackson-Fingers Willford tete-a-tete.

LAC 46 (47) - UNDER - Mild
The first thing I wonder about this team is: how the hell did they only win 2 more games than the Lakers, what with Brand's career year, the addition of Big Sammy and Cat, Kaman getting a double-double, Livingston developing. I feel like this team will be better, and I want them to be, but the evidence tells me otherwise.

LAL 43.5 (45) - OVER but stay away
I thought they made good solid role-player pickups with Vlad Rad, Mo Evans, even Shammond Williams. I think Phil will continue to get a little more out of Kwame. They should be better, but considering we don't know if Kobe's going to be ready for opening day, I think it's too tenuous of a play. They need him for as close to 82 as possible to hit the number.

MEM 39.5 (49) - NO FEEL
Obviously, Pau's out, but as I mentioned above, the Czar got a lot out of minimal talent in CLE in the mid-90s, so I wouldn't put this number past him.

MIA 51 (52) - Again, NO FEEL
What do you do with these guys for regular season wins? They're aging, they figure to lack motivation, esp. the big guy, and Wade could be exhausted. But then again, they have Riles driving all season, they're the champs, and D-Wade is still D-Wade after all. Sorry, I have no clue.

MIL 41.5 (40) - UNDER - Mild
Another team I don't have a good feel for - MIL seems about as blah of a mediocre .500 team as you could ask for. Villanueva and Patterson were nice pickups but not thrilling. And now Bogut's out for a little. I guess I'd rate them U just b/c I think several of the East lottery will be more improved, making it tough for these guys to match last year's win total.

MIN 37 (33) - OVER but stay away
I mean, on paper, James and Foye make this team better, but I worry that they dominate the ball too much to mesh with KG, who thrived in Flip's passing game. There's too much of a chance that this whole thing implodes, esp with all of the other West teams improving.

NJN 47 (49) - OVER but stay away
I thought they made some subtle moves to help improve their bench, which was atrocious last year, but now guys like Eddie House and Josh Boone have gone down, and I think they're back in trouble. All in all, I prob have too much trouble trusting Vince to ever go with one of his teams... but it is a contract yr... stay away.

NOK 40.5 (38) - UNDER - Solid
I don't know, these guys made the big splashy expensive moves for Peja and Chandler, but I'm really not that high on those guys. Throw in the fact that they overachieved with a bunch of buzzer-beaters and the OKC honeymoon, and I just feel like these guys will be a little worse, not better. I think this number is set too high as an overreaction to their signings.

NYK 31 (23) - OVER - Strong
I mean, I know it seems to defy logic, maybe you're not a believer in Isiah, but it just can't be worse than what Larry Brown inflicted upon this team last year. Amazing how a guy could turn in one of the better coaching jobs I've ever seen in '03-04 and one of the worst I've ever seen in '05-06. This team flat-out has talent. I think they win 35 with even the most medicore coaching job.

ORL 38.5 (36) - OVER - Strong
There's really no way I *can't* pick these guys to improve by 3 or more games, after they finished last season like gangbusters following shrewd trades and developing young players. These guys not only finished the season 12-3, but beat DAL, DET, MIA, and SAS in doing so, the latter two on the road.

PHI 35 (38) - UNDER - Mild
It's so tough to go U on a team that lines up AI, C-Webb, Andre Iggy, and Sam Dalembert - they look good on paper. But the chemistry just doesn't work with these guys, they play no D, I don't trust Cheeks, and I doubt AI and Webb can match last year's performance.

PHO 55.5 (54) - OVER but stay away
I just don't believe Amare is back, period. So I stay away from these guys.

POR 24.5 (21) - OVER but stay away
I have a feeling that Zach Randolph is going to have a big year, and B-Roy should help, but by and large their offseaon left me nonplussed, and many of the teams above them got better. Still, I think they'll play hard for Nate, which might allow them to steal some games down the stretch. All of these things are big variables... i.e. stay away.

SAC 43 (44) - OVER - Mild
I just look at this team and the fact that they were 26-14 after the Artest trade, and I think that that - a circa 50-win equivalent - should be the benchmark instead of 44-38. Losing Bonzi hurts a lot, but I like Coach Muss a lot. I would say this is a "Solid" O, but of course let's not forget that you'd be betting on Ronnie A's sanity....

SAS 56.5 (63) - OVER - Mild
Again, it's a tough number to go over on, but lord, how did these guys win 63 last year with all of their injuries, plus subpar seasons from Timmy and Manu. You'd have to think this team will be better, though I am concerned that they are aging a bit.

SEA 35.5 (35) - OVER - Very mild
On balance, I think this team is headed in the right direction. I loved how they closed the season after the trades. I think that a full season of Bob Hill + Earl Watson will help their D, and they really have a lot of depth. That said, they seem to have too many variables - can Ray do it again at 31? will Wilcox be as motivated? will they have to deal Rashard? Now you have the Swift injury and of course the arena situation (I actually think Clay Bennett will stabilize the situation compared to last year, but still, who knows?). Stay away.

TOR 34 (27) - UNDER - Mild
What a weird offseason. I think that Colangelo helps this team long term, and I liked how they finished last year after a terrible start. I hated the Villanueva trade, and they lost a 20-point scorer (James) for nothing. I liked the Fred Jones pickup, I think Bargnani will be pretty good, and Calderon looked great this summer. I like the long-term prospects for this franchise, but I think this is a transition year.

UTA 40 (41) - Wanted to say OVER but...
I was all ready to anoint this club as one of my strong O's, considering all of their injuries, and the late-season development of Deron Williams, but Hollinger pointed out that this team was the biggest overachiever in expected wins last year - their pt diff said they should have won 32 instead of 41. That sort of negates their expected improvement, and now I'm torn.

WAS 40 (42) - OVER - Mild
Weird team - they were under expected wins by 5 last year, but they didn't have any major injuries. And they didn't do much in the offseason. But then again, this is a team that gave CLE all it could handle in the playoffs. All in all, I think they're right around the number, so stay away.

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