It’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming NBA season. The early team win totals are out for every team, and smart bettors are already beginning to get their money in on the best bets. The East looks as bad and open as ever. The Bucks remain favorites at the top, but the Raptors take a step back and the Celtics, 76ers, and Nets all bring revised looks to the new season, while plenty of bottom feeders look for hope. So which East teams will go over and which ones are under?
Atlanta Hawks 33 – UNDER
For the first time in a long time, there is a palpable buzz about an Atlanta Hawks team. Even the 2015 team that won 60 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals didn’t capture the attention of fans like the many young players on this Hawks roster. Super sophomore Trae Young leads the way. Young exploded in the second half of last season and is joined by fellow sophomore Kevin Huerter in a dynamic backcourt with a ton of shooting, a sort of junior Splash Brothers in the making. Now Atlanta has added its two forwards of the future, drafting De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish both in the top ten picks this summer. The four make an intriguing quartet that gives Atlanta a bright and exciting future.
They’re also the reason Atlanta is an excellent bet to go under this season. Youth takes time, after all. There will be highlights and wow moments, but in between, this young team has to learn how to win. For all Trae Young’s highlights, his defense was very poor. So too Atlanta’s future All-Star John Collins, and that may be exacerbated even more at center where he figures to play more this season. An ‘over’ bet here means contending for the playoffs in the East, and there are still at least nine East teams clearly better. The Hawks should give lots of playing time to the youngsters this season, and that means taking their lumps – and losses – along the way. All the better that most of the money is going over so you get odds here too.
Boston Celtics 48.5 – OVER
It’s a new look Celtics roster after a major summer facelift. Gone are Boston’s two brightest stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Irving has been replaced by a new All-Star, Kemba Walker. Al Horford was arguably not replaced at all. His minutes will go to some combination of Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, and rookie Grant Williams. Both of those are downgrades, especially the Horford one, and the Celtics already won only 49 games last year. That makes under-48.5 a pretty easy bet, right?
Not so fast. Boston far outplayed its 49 wins last year, and that despite a year from hell filled with injuries and locker room discontent. A thinner roster could mean more minutes and better-defined roles for Boston’s best players. Walker joins Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart on Team USA’s roster, and that has been a boon in the past for giving players a boost heading into a new season. That’s almost the entire Celtics lineup, minus Gordon Hayward, who should have a much better season fully two years removed from his horrific leg injury. An under bet here would be the fewest Celtics wins since the 2014–15 season and fewest ever under Brad Stevens. Bet on him getting the most out of this roster and hitting 50 wins.
Brooklyn Nets 45.5 – OVER
Like the Celtics, the Nets have undergone a major summer makeover. It’s easy to forget after the huge Clippers moves late, but the Nets were free agency’s biggest winners this summer, adding Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant for nothing more than salary cap room (Technically Durant was signed-and-traded for D’Angelo Russell, but that was only so Brooklyn would receive a pick for DLo’s departure). Brooklyn already won 42 games a year ago, so does replacing Russell with Irving and adding Durant into the mix make 45.5 an easy over?
It’s not as easy as you’d think. D’Angelo Russell was really good last season and also quite durable, playing 81 games compared to the 63 games Irving has averaged over his past four seasons. And we have no idea what the Nets will get from Durant this season, if anything at all, coming off his Achilles tear. Still, Irving is a step up from Russell, and the Nets also added veteran depth in DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple. They might also get a breakout season from Caris LeVert, who was on the verge of an All-Star campaign a year ago before injuries derailed his season and left him playing only 40 games. This line is about right, but the Nets should do enough to get there.
Charlotte Hornets 23 – OVER
The Hornets over-23 might be the best early bet on the board for now. That 23 line is the lowest on the board, a win below the Cavs and a full 3.5 wins lower than the Knicks as the Hornets are expected to be the worst of a terrible trio of East teams. But Charlotte has a very different roster from those two teams. The Cavs and Knicks rosters are full of young players who will have the ball in their hands a lot.
This Hornets roster isn’t particularly exciting, but it’s also not that young. Charlotte still rolls out useful veterans like Nic Batum, Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Their younger players like Malik Monk and Miles Bridges fit roles more than featuring. This team won 39 games last year and 36 the two years before that, and the only major change is swapping Kemba Walker for Terry Rozier at point guard. Walker was the heartbeat of this team, but is he really worth 16 wins? The answer is no, not even close. Charlotte isn’t a market that can tank, and these veterans will keep this team from being too embarrassing. The Hornets might be the team that finishes furthest over its win total. The only downside is that bettors agree, already moving the over to -140, so you might want to wait for the line to move up before playing it.
Chicago Bulls 31.5 – OVER
The Bulls are moving in the wrong direction. They won only 22 games last season after winning 27 the previous year, so getting to 32 wins would be a pretty sizable step in the other direction. That’s especially true for a team that returns most of its key components from a season ago. But those key components didn’t get to play that much. Leading scorer Zach LaVine missed 19 games. Future star Lauri Markkanen played only 52 games. Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. played just 44. The best player on the team now is Otto Porter, and he suited up just 15 times after the Bulls acquired him.
All four of those players should start for the Bulls this year, which means Chicago returns only 42% of its starters from a year ago. The Bulls also add grown men Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young to the rotation, plus rookie Coby White, who may need to earn his playing time. The Bulls will be much better than a season ago just by virtue of starting the season healthy, and they may even believe they have a playoff shot in the watered-down East.
Cleveland Cavaliers 24 – UNDER
It’s always tough to bet the under on a line so low, but the Cavaliers should be awful. They’re expected to give a bulk of the backcourt minutes to rookie Darius Garland and sophomore Collin Sexton. Garland is a virtual unknown against top competition after missing almost his entire freshman season at Vanderbilt. Sexton was horrible early in the season before a strong finish. The two will apparently take turns running the offense in what is described as an attempt at a new Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum type pairing. As ambitious as that is, even if it comes true down the line, it’ll take time.
Garland and Sexton are 19 and 20. They might be good in time, but young handlers almost always struggle in the NBA, and Cleveland is turning the team over to two of them. They’ll probably also give some handling duties to rookie Kevin Porter Jr., another talented player who missed almost all of his freshman season and looks very unknown. A year ago, Cleveland believed it could make the playoffs post-LeBron. There are no such delusions this year, even with a healthier season from Kevin Love, who is not the player he once was. The Cavs will owe their upcoming first-round pick to Atlanta if it falls outside the top 10. Let’s just say the Hawks are not counting on that pick.
Detroit Pistons 37.5 – OVER
The Pistons 37.5 line puts them right on the edge of the Eastern playoff race, and that feels about right. Detroit was the 8-seed this year, after all, and it makes sense for them to start the season in a similar position. Every team that finished ahead of them except Orlando and Toronto took a meaningful step forward. Only Miami behind them look sure to pass them by. That puts the Pistons right in this margin, and it’s right where they’ve been the past three seasons with 41, 39, and 37 wins.
Blake Griffin may have turned in his best all-around season last year, and his health will be the key to another successful season. So too the additions of Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris as real bench weapons. Detroit still doesn’t pack much punch on the wing but should have enough to stay in the mix and get over this number unless the injuries pile up. But at -135, the over is not worth it when you can just bet the Pistons to make the playoffs instead.
Indiana Pacers 48.5 – UNDER
The Pacers won 48 games last season, and they did it despite getting only 36 games from their superstar, Victor Oladipo. With a line of 48.5 then, this looks like an obvious bet to go over, since they should get Oladipo back for most of this season. Oladipo is rumored to be back in December or January, which means he’ll likely play something around 50 games. That’s not as big an improvement as you’d think, and the rest of the team got thinner and weaker.
Bojan Bogdanovic is gone after a career year, replaced by the Jeremy Lamb, a useful player but nowhere near the offensive threat. Malcolm Brogdon is an upgrade over Darren Collison, but can he give more than Collison and Cory Joseph combined? Thaddeus Young is a huge loss. That means more minutes for Domantas Sabonis but puts a strain on the defense. It also means a far weaker bench unit without Sabonis, Joseph, and Tyreke Evans. Indiana piled up wins last season with defense, depth, and grit, then lost a lot of those very components. They could struggle to hit the 49 wins they’d need here, though they should be in range. But be watchful of the juice. At +135, the over might be more tantalizing than a -165 under, even if the under feels more likely.
Miami Heat 44 – OVER
Miami 44 feels like one of the best lines on the board. The Heat won 44 games two years ago, bookended by 39 last season and 41 in 2016–17. The Heat return a lot of the same components from the last few seasons but upgrade Josh Richardson to Jimmy Butler. Dwyane Wade is off to retirement now, but he was mostly a super sub the last couple seasons anyway, and Hassan Whiteside’s departure may be addition by subtraction.
The Heat will expect a lot more from Bam Adebayo in Whiteside’s place this year. They should also get a lot more from Goran Dragic, who played only 36 games last year after an All-Star campaign in 2017–18. Both Dragic and Butler will likely miss some games to injury, but healthy enough seasons by each should see Miami safely in the playoff picture and put them just over the 44. All the better that you’re getting better than even odds at +105.
Milwaukee Bucks 57.5 – UNDER
The Bucks had the best record in basketball last season at 60–22 and return most of the core pieces. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and Eric Bledsoe are all back after signing big-time extensions. Giannis Antetokounmpo won the MVP and nearly led the Bucks to the Finals, then said this offseason that he’s only played at 60% of his capacity. The only key losses are Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, both of whom played muted roles last regular season.
All of that should mean plenty more wins for the Bucks, who look a clear favorite atop the East and a good bet to finish with the league’s best record. So why the under bet? Because 58 wins is a lot, no matter how good you are. Only four teams won 60 games the last three seasons, and none of them repeated. The Bucks should win a lot again, but they might not even have to, and they’ll have their sights set on bigger targets this season anyway.
New York Knicks 26.5 – UNDER
Death, taxes, and the New York Knicks line being set way too high because the public will always bet it. Why exactly do people think the Knicks will be good this season? New York went into the offseason hoping for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Zion Williamson. Instead, they got R.J. Barrett, Elfrid Payton, and a bunch of veteran power forwards. Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, and Marcus Morris are all fine, competent players, but the heart of this Knicks team is still a bunch of unproven young guys.
Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. were terrible last season but make up the core of this team’s future, so they’re sure to get a lot of minutes again. They’ll be joined by Barrett, a talented player who makes a lot of bad decisions and will need a lot of time to grow. DSJ and Barrett should have the ball in their hands a lot, and that should keep the Knicks losing plenty. New York won only 17 games last season. What exactly about this roster is 10 wins better? Grab the +110 odds and thank bettors for deluding themselves into the Knicks yet again.
Orlando Magic 41 – UNDER
Unlike most of the NBA, the Magic return mostly the same team as a year ago. They’ll likely start the same five guys, and the only real addition of note is veteran Al-Farouq Aminu. Orlando won 42 games a year ago after a huge closing stretch, with an improved defensive effort and a monster year from Nikola Vucevic. They bet on themselves after making the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, re-signing Vooch and Terrence Ross to big contracts.
They probably shouldn’t have. Vucevic will have a hard time replicating his breakout numbers, and D.J. Augustin is coming off a career year too. The truth is a lot of things clicked late for Orlando but so did a weak schedule and a floundering East that opened the door for the Magic to look much better than they are. Maybe they’ll see young players like Jonathan Isaac or Mo Bamba take a step forward, but a second straight season over .500 feels more hopeful than expected.
Philadelphia 76ers 54.5 – UNDER
This is a Goldilocks line. The Sixers could win a bunch of games and go way over this line. They could also struggle to mesh and play through injuries and fall well short. And so the 54.5 seems perhaps just right. For the umpteenth time in the past few seasons, the 76ers have undergone some major changes. Jimmy Butler is gone no sooner than he came, and J.J. Redick has left too. Josh Richardson takes his place now on the wing, and Al Horford was the surprise summer signing in what will give the Sixers a pair of twin towers in Horford and Joel Embiid.
Embiid is an MVP talent that still hasn’t put everything together for a full campaign, and we’re still waiting for Ben Simmons to add a jumper or take the next step forward. The Sixers bench also remains a significant question mark, as they’ll be relying on youngsters Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle to be the main difference makers there. Philadelphia won 51 and 52 games the last two seasons. A full season together should mean a step in the right direction, but it may take some time to gel and get on the right path. Philly has the talent to get to 55 wins, but there are more viable paths for them to hit the under.
Toronto Raptors 46.5 – UNDER
The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions. But that “are’ will very quickly become “were’ once the games start and the Raps have to play without their superstar. Kawhi Leonard is gone, and so is Danny Green. Toronto didn’t sign or draft anyone of note, which means they’ll rely on OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet to step into much bigger roles. They’ll get a full season from Marc Gasol after trading for him at the deadline, but is that enough?
The Raptors won 58 games last season, so just how many wins is Kawhi Leonard worth? With all the recent player movement, we have plenty of data on superstar wings leaving teams. Jimmy Butler left the Bulls and saw them drop from 41 to 27 wins, and his Wolves departure saw them drop from 47 to 36. Far more telling is the Spurs, who themselves lost Kawhi and dropped from 61 to 47 wins his injured season with them. These wings are worth around 12 to 14 wins, and that’s not even accounting for the loss of Danny Green. Toronto may stay in the playoff race, but 47 wins is a bridge too far, and don’t count out a firesale and a reset if things start to go south.
Washington Wizards 28.5 – UNDER
How many Wizards players can you name outside of Bradley Beal? This is a really weak roster and not even a particularly young one. The John Wall contract and injury hang heavy over the entire franchise. Wall is expected to miss the entire season, with Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas vying to replace his point guard minutes. Youngsters Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, and Thomas Bryant should get big minutes too.
The Wizards are a big steaming pile of meh. They won 32 games last year and actually played well late with Wall out after a Beal leap. But don’t forget they actually got 32 games out of Wall last year, so they’re losing those too. This team has no shot at the playoffs and might pull the plug and tank, especially if the long-rumored Bradley Beal trade finally comes to fruition. They’re not a particularly winning under bet at -160 but could be worth it if the line drops.