This week on the Tough Cover Column, I wanted to get a little bit ahead of things. I know that we’re heading into Week 5 of college football and Week 4 of the NFL. I also know that we are heading into the MLB postseason very soon with the Phillies in the thick of a pathetic Wild Card race. But… the NBA season is less than three weeks away.
Most people would wait a week or two to put out their NBA season predictions, but I want to get ahead of people a little bit to avoid groupthink and to keep true to my initial projection with minimal tinkering going forward. I’ll go into my Win Total Projections for each team and rank the teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences. I’ll also talk about my three favorite Overs and Unders in terms of Win Totals, as well as my season award predictions with some longshot values sprinkled in.
*Win Totals in parentheses provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
- Philadelphia 76ers 54-28(OVER 50.5)
- Milwaukee Bucks 53-29(OVER 52.5)
- Cleveland Cavaliers 51-31(OVER 46.5)
- Boston Celtics 51-31(UNDER 53.5)
- Brooklyn Nets 51-31(OVER 50.5)
- Atlanta Hawks 48-34(OVER 45.5)
- Miami Heat 47-35(UNDER 48.5)
- Toronto Raptors 45-36(UNDER 45.5)
- Chicago Bulls 38-44(UNDER 42.5)
- Charlotte Hornets 37-45(OVER 36.5)
- Detroit Pistons 32-50(OVER 29.5)
- Washington Wizards 32-50(UNDER 35.5)
- New York Knicks 28-54(UNDER 39.5)
- Orlando Magic 25-57(UNDER 26.5)
- Indiana Pacers 24-58(OVER 23.5)
- LA Clippers 56-26(OVER 52.5)
- Phoenix Suns 53-29(OVER 52.5)
- Golden State Warriors 53-29(OVER 51.5)
- Denver Nuggets 51-31(OVER 49.5)
- Dallas Mavericks 51-31(OVER 48.5)
- Memphis Grizzlies 48-34(UNDER 48.5)
- Minnesota T’Wolves 48-34(UNDER 48.5)
- New Orleans Pelicans 46-36(OVER 44.5)
- LA Lakers 42-40(UNDER 45.5)
- Sacramento Kings 37-45(OVER 33.5)
- Portland Trailblazers 31-51(UNDER 40)
- Utah Jazz 26-56(OVER 24.5)
- San Antonio Spurs 25-57(OVER 23.5)
- OKC Thunder 22-60(UNDER 23.5)
- Houston Rockets 21-61(UNDER 21.5)
TOP 3 FAVORITE OVERS
Cleveland Cavaliers Over 46.5
- Maybe I’m falling victim to giving the Cavs a big bump with their splash move in acquiring Donovan Mitchell.
- But this team has a Top 4 that rivals almost any team in the entire NBA in Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
- I think Donovan Mitchell has become a bit underrated. I think he’s absolutely capable of being a lead scorer on a very competitive team with 3 other Top 40-50 players in the NBA and a potential budding 2-way superstar in Evan Mobley.
- If Isaac Okoro can be the defensive stopper that the Cavs are hoping, he could fit in as a potential perfect Small Forward in a lineup with 4 other stars.
- The Cavs won 44 games last year and narrowly missed the playoffs. I don’t think it is at all crazy to think that they could improve by 7 games with the addition of Donovan Mitchell and the natural progression of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
Philadelphia 76ers Over 50.5
- This may be a bit of a homer pick but it feels insane that our preseason Win Total is at the same number this year that it was before last year while Ben Simmons was absentee.
- I’m willing to take the health risk that is inherent in betting on a Joel Embiid team to win regular season games because it’s been pretty consistently smart to do so.
- This team won 51 games last year with Ben Simmons sitting out until the Trade Deadline and having less than half of the season for the James Harden/Joel Embiid pairing to gel together. It feels extremely unlikely to me, barring serious injury, that they will win less games than they did last season.
- Not to mention, I feel much better about the surroundings around Harden and Embiid with the nice additions of depth and toughness with PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, Danuel House and Montrezl Harrell.
- I thought Tobias Harris did a great job adjusting his game to what it needed to be in a lineup with Maxey, Harden and Joel and I expect him to continue to do so.
- Tyrese Maxey is also a budding star and is only getting better while James Harden is healthier than he has been coming into the year in a few years.
- The Sixers also won 49 games in the 72 game season, which would’ve been on pace for just under 56 wins. In fact, they’ve played at a 51+ win pace in 4 of the last 5 years of the Joel Embiid era and I think that this is the best team that the Sixers have ever put around Joel Embiid.
Sacramento Kings Over 33.5
- I can’t believe the Sacramento Kings are one of my favorite three Overs of this season. Generally, I would say that you don’t get rich betting on the Sacramento Kings.
- The Sacramento Kings have, by far, the longest NBA postseason drought dating back to 2007. If you count making the Top 10 in the conference and playing in the play-in as making the playoffs, I think that drought ends this season.
- Even though they only won 30 games last season, they would’ve hit this Over in the 3 seasons previous in terms of Win %.
- There are four teams in the Western Conference that are pretty blatantly not trying to compete with the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets all entering the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes early.
- This means that there’s only 11 teams really attempting to make the playoffs and I think Portland has much more of a mandate of improving their young players as opposed to the very clear mandate of making the playoffs that Sacramento has.
- New Head Coach Mike Brown has an interesting roster to work with. Even though they lost Buddy Hield, they gained Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk and NBA-ready 22 year old Keegan Murray.
- The Kings are one of the 10 best teams in the West, which will account for at least 34 wins.
TOP 3 FAVORITE UNDERS
Portland Trailblazers Under 40
- Portland has failed to play at a 40+ win pace in two of the last three years and this Portland roster much more closely resembles their 27-win roster from a year ago than their Lillard/McCollum teams in the past.
- Portland selecting a total project in Shaedon Sharpe at #7 overall tells me a lot about how they view their organizational direction.
- They are trying to build a longterm roster that can compete in the coming years with an eye on development of their younger players much more than they are going all in on trying to win and appease Lillard right now.
- I just don’t see an argument that this Portland team is as good as the Minnesota/New Orleans/LA Lakers/Sacramento teams that will be competing for the play-in. I think this is a lottery team for the 3rd time in 4 years.
New York Knicks Under 39.5
- The Knicks have played at a 40+ win pace precisely one time over the last nine seasons.
- As a Villanova fan, I’m as big of a Jalen Brunson guy as anyone. But Jalen Brunson was in a perfect situation in Dallas to be a supplemental piece for Luka. I don’t see him as the type of guy that is going to level the Knicks up.
- Julius Randle came crashing back down to earth last year just after the Knicks gave him an ill-advised contract.
- Speaking of ill-advised contracts, R.J. Barrett is officially one of the most overrated and overpaid players in the National Basketball Association. He is the type of player who is not very good off the ball, so he needs the ball in his hands to succeed. The problem with that is, if R.J. Barrett has the ball in his hands as often as he needs to to justify that contract, your team is not going to be very good.
- This team will very much regret not doing whatever it took to get Donovan Mitchell to the Mecca. He is exactly what the Knicks are missing and he would’ve given them a legitimate #1 scoring option.
- 39 wins would be surprisingly successful to me and that would still hit the Under here.
- Is this just a classic “inflate the very popular team’s win total”? If so, I’ll fade the New York fans. Fuhgeddaboutit.
Chicago Bulls Under 43.5
- The Bulls have won 44+ games once in the last seven years and it was last year.
- DeMar DeRozan had a career year last year at age 33 and I don’t see that repeating.
- Lonzo Ball has given some SCARY quotes about his recovery from his knee injury.
- I think that they are the obvious regression candidate in the East given the acquisitions made by other teams in the Eastern Conference and the lack of acquisitions made by the Chicago Bulls.
- They will still make the play-in games but I think this is a team that goes below .500.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Cade Cunningham(+3000)/Evan Mobley(+4900)
COACH OF THE YEAR
You can follow Mark Henry Jr. on Twitter (@MarkHenryJr_) and listen to the Tough Cover Radio Show every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fox Sports Radio The Gambler.