The team that overachieved more than any other last year? Atlanta had a wins total of 40.5 on NBA odds entering the season and won a franchise-record 60 games. So which five teams are good bets to go 'over' their totals for the coming season?
Minnesota Timberwolves (25.5 On NBA Odds)
Minnesota finished with the fewest wins in the NBA last year at 16-66, including a season-ending 12-game losing streak. But that simply got the Wolves another potential franchise player in No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky. This team really has some exciting players now in Towns, reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, who will take a big leap in Year 2, guard Zach LaVine, point guard Ricky Rubio and young big man Gorgui Dieng. Nikola Pekovic is a pretty solid center. Kevin Martin is a decent guard. This team is going to be good in a few years. I think it can add 10 wins or so in 2015-16 even in the deep West.
Sacramento Kings (30.5 In NBA Betting)
This is about Year 3 of me expecting the Kings to finally be a fringe playoff contender in the West. But I actually think they could be now. They get a full year of a very good head coach in George Karl and have one of the NBA's most dominant players in center DeMarcus Cousins. Presumably Cousins and Karl have buried the hatchet on their issues. New starting point guard Rajon Rondo has every reason to have a huge season as he's on a one-year deal. But I really like this team because I think rookie big man Willie Cauley-Stein is going to be an absolute monster defensively and on the boards, which should only thus make Cousins better.
Charlotte Hornets (32.5 Wins On NBA Picks)
In the spirit of honesty, I fully expected Charlotte to be a playoff team last year following a 43-win 2013-14 season and postseason berth. The addition of Lance Stephenson looked great on paper. But they don't play basketball on paper, and Stephenson was maybe the most overpaid player in the NBA. He just sucked the life out of that team and the Hornets slipped to 33-49. That locker-room cancer has been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Hornets got some big-man depth in Spencer Hawes in that deal. They also traded for Portland swingman Nicolas Batum, who should have a huge bounce-back season with free agency on the horizon. And I like the low-risk, potential high-reward signings of guard Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb. Now Charlotte has a solid bench to go with a likely starting five of Kemba Walker, Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller (or rookie Frank Kaminsky) and Al Jefferson.
Indiana Pacers (42.5 Wins On NBA Odds)
You may not recognize the Indiana Pacers this season. This isn't the slow-paced, defense-first team that led the Eastern Conference in wins two years ago and made the Eastern Finals. No, these Pacers are going to play smaller and faster -- so basically try to copy what Golden State did so successfully in winning last year's title. Gone is Roy Hibbert, the clog in the middle.
The Pacers have added former Mavericks guard Monta Ellis as well as forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. But the key is the health of Paul George, who missed nearly all of last season. He's Top 10 player when fully healthy and appears to be. George, who is going to play a lot of power forward this season, says he thinks he can win NBA MVP honors. Not sure about that, but Indiana should be much better than last year's 38-win team.
Chicago Bulls (49.5 at 5Dimes)
Yes, I am well aware that the injury bug has struck Derrick Rose again -- it's like the former league MVP is made out of paper machete. Not even about 10 minutes into Chicago's first practice on Tuesday, Rose took an elbow to the eye area. It wasn't thought to be serious, but because this is Derrick Rose we are talking about of course he had a fractured orbital bone. He had surgery Wednesday. The good news is that it wasn't his knees and that Rose might not even miss any regularseason games. Should you trust Rose to play all 82 games this year? Of course not. But maybe 70 is doable.
I actually think Rose and the rest of the Bulls will thrive in new coach Fred Hoiberg's offense. Under dictator Tom Thibodeau, players had to literally look at the bench waiting on play calls. The "looser" Hoiberg is exactly what this franchise needed. The Bulls won 50 games last year with Rose injured some, Joakim Noah on one leg much of the season and Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy also dealing with multiple-week injuries (Dunleavy likely to miss first month of this season). In the East, this roster, if healthy, should win at least 50 games without much problem.