Bill Simmons, alongside Joe House, Kevin O’Connor, and Jason Concepcion recently released their podcast discussing over/under predictions for the Western Conference. Is Bill Simmons the most reliable guide to placing O/U bets? The answer is probably not, however Simmons and The Ringer staff bring up interesting takes that I want to discuss in further detail.
The podcast starts off with the lowest projected o/u total which is Sacramento at 27.5. All four of them take the over and argue that all the players they brought in (Hill, Randolph, and Vince Carter) are better than the players that left last year’s 32-50 team (Collison, Afflalo, Tolliver). Surprisingly, they forgot to mention the trade of DeMarcus Cousins who played 55 games for the Kings last year with a 37.5% usage rate. Although losing Cousins may be better for the Kings long-term, the loss of a premier go-to option will definitely affect the Kings win total. The Ringer staff also seemed sure that the Kings are not going to tank this year. I find that hard to believe as they have their own draft pick and their focus seems to be on the youth movement. O’Connor mentions that the Kings have, “a good mix of rookies and vets”. Unfortunately, to win in the NBA, I’d rather take players in their primes over rookies and “vets” aka old players who are more professional development coaches than players at this point.
When it comes to the Dallas Mavericks (33.5), all four members took the under. O’Connor says, “If you’re taking the over, you’re relying on Dennis Smith Jr. to be spectacular right away”. Clearly DSJ is going to play a huge role in how this team performs, but he is already a better player than Yogi Ferrell who led PG duties for last year’s 33-win team and they forget to mention a full year with Nerlens Noel. Mark Cuban has been publicly against tanking for a long time and admitted last year was the first year they talked about it as an organization due to their terrible first half record (started season 3-15). I can’t see them tanking again, especially in light of Dirk’s 20th and final year with the franchise.
The Memphis Grizzlies caused some debate as Jason Concepcion said he would “smash the under” of 37.5 while O’Connor likes the over. KOC argues the Randolph and Allen departures are “additions by subtraction” and allow the Grizzlies to finally space the floor like most modern NBA offenses. I have to agree and I believe head coach David Fizdale does too as he comes from a space-orientated Heat tenure and will cherish not having to play Zbo. Simmons brings up the possibility that the Grizzlies are a possible trade candidate as Conley and Gasol are both coveted players. However, the Memphis organization has shown that they prefer making playoff revenue over starting a youth movement.
Following popular opinion, all four members took the over for the Utah Jazz (41). KOC cites that Rodney Hood’s numbers were awesome when Gordon Hayward was off the floor and after winning 51 games last year, 41 is too low. I agree that the Jazz should finish better than .500, however, Quin Snyder pulled off a miracle winning 51 games with last year’s oft-injured Jazz squad and I’m unsure if he can craft another masterpiece this year. Having a healthy Derrick Favors should help and the Jazz will probably double down on their defense-first mentality this year.
When it comes to the Clippers (43.5) talent, both Simmons and House agree that they have “50+ win talent” yet House takes the under, citing Doc Rivers as the cause. Personally, I think Rivers is going to be why the Clippers go over 43.5 wins as he has better personnel fits for his equal-opportunity offense and now he doesn’t have to worry about any front office duties. Also Simmons is a LA Clipper season ticket holder, and he consistently bashes Chris Paul for his “body language” in previous podcasts. Losing an all-time great is tough, but without the presence of Paul, I think Blake, Doc and gang are refreshed to attack their individual and collective goals.
Everyone unanimously went under for the Timberwolves (48.5) who finished last year going 31-51. As KOC mentions, they could be the most improved team with 15 more wins than last year and still not reach their O/U. One of the biggest obstacles the Wolves face is how they’re going to split ball handling duties when all their perimeter players are best with the ball in their hands (Teague, Butler, Wiggins). I don’t see Thibs going into a free motion, share-the-ball offense anytime soon and the addition of Butler doesn’t justify the over.
Facing a similar challenge, Billy Donovan has the task of coaching 3 ball dependent stars in Oklahoma City. The Ringer staff seems optimistic as they took the over on 52 wins with Simmons mentioning “there is no way this team isn’t 8 wins better than last year”. Talent-wise, this year’s team is absolutely 8 wins better, but that doesn’t translate to 8 more wins in real life. Last year’s team was on a vengeance with the KD departure and I think Donovan and staff come into this year with a different attitude. Donovan and Co. will probably have a long-term mindset coming into the year and spend a good amount of the regular season tweaking lineups and rotations in preparation for the playoffs. KOC is the only member to take the under and mentions that the Thunder may start off hot, but have chemistry issues arise later with players wanting more shots (specially referring to Melo). Whichever part of the season it may be, it is hard to imagine the Thunder having a seamless year without some hiccups and over-performing like they did last year.
Death, taxes, and thinking this is the year the Spurs (54.5) decline. We’ve all thought it before, and Simmons is no different, claiming that this is the year the Spurs’ age will show. Simmons takes the under citing the aging Gasol and Tony Parker, but I think having those two play less will actually lead to more regular season wins. At this point, Patty Mills is a better basketball player than Parker and less minutes for Gasol means more time for Aldridge at the 5. The Spurs can comfortably play small ball now as Rudy Gay is a prototype small ball 4 and Kawhi can stick to his natural position. Having this versatility allows Pop to match up better with different styles of teams during the regular season. After their disappointing finish to last season, the Spurs still have the Warriors on their minds and we've all seen what a motivated Pop can do.
When it comes to the Rockets (55.5), Jason Concepcion is the lone under while KOC even mentions 60 wins for the Rockets, claiming that they will have “48 minutes of Hall of Fame Point Guard Play”. His point is valid as Chris Paul and James Harden might be the two best PNR players in the NBA today alongside the the maestro of PNR himself, Mike d'Antoni. Simmons does raise some concerns about the two superstars' chemistry, but I think those concerns are over-blown. Yes, they are both ball dominant players, however they have the all-forgiving ability to shoot from perimeter and I think they will quickly find a nice equilibrium. The spacing they displayed in their pre-season games have been eye-opening and it seems like they’re going to take Daryl Morey’s crazy analytics project to the next level.
Even with the Warriors having a ridiculous O/U of 67.5, all the members took the over easily. Simmons even remarks that he would take the over if it was at 70. Simmons may seem hyperbolic, but the Warriors biggest obstacle is health and I think even with an injury to their core four, they can reach 68 wins. The Warriors are so deep that missing one of their four all-stars shouldn’t be too big of an issue. The Warriors won 67 games last year with Kevin Durant missing 19 of them, and now they have Nick Young and Omri Casspi to replace him in case of such injury compared to Matt Barnes. The team should also improve from another year of continuity where they brought back 12 players from last year’s title run.
The last team the Ringer crew covers is the Los Angeles Lakers (33.5). Simmons takes the over, banking on the young team to go around .500 at home and having no incentive to tank. He also cites the solid additions the team made, with a special focus on Brook Lopez who was in “basketball purgatory” with the Nets. I understand the excitement building in Los Angeles and I also agree that Lopez could have nice year with Lonzo (see Jiri Welsh); however, expecting the buzz to translate to wins is foolish. It is hard to imagine the Lakers splitting their home games and I think the hype is one year too early for the Lakers.
The Ringer crew always brings an entertaining perspective on their sports betting podcasts while also covering some interesting factors for each team. I highly recommend giving the podcast a listen and hearing their conversation about the most competitive conference in a long time.