Bookmakers in Vegas and offshore have set their regular season win-total over/unders for all teams in the NBA. The Spurs are at a consensus 57, which means that they have to win 58 games for the over to win.
Let's consider the Spurs' chances of winning 58 games next season. 58 wins represents a 70.7% winning percentage - a little better than 2 out of 3. The good guys have won a whopping 74% of their regular season games in the last three seasons.
Winning percentage: 75.8%
Winning percentage: 70.7%
Winning percentage: 75.6%
The Spurs win a lot of games and they've surpassed the preseason win total for the past four seasons. Here are the Spurs over/unders, their actual win number, and the percent difference since 2010-11.
Actual win total: 61
Percent off: +20.8%
Actual win total: 50
Percent off: +7.5%
Actual win total: 58
Percent off: +6.4%
Actual win total: 62
Percent off: +11.7%
Now let's look at the factors that could lead to the Spurs once again overachieving and, in this case, hitting that 58-win total, as well as a couple of things that could keep them under.
There's no question that the Spurs have, by far, the most continuity in the league on their roster. Their roster has played 71 combined seasons with the Spurs. On the court they are bringing back the entire playoff roster from their championship run and Pop is still running the show. That means that, just like last year, the Spurs are unlikely to lose more than a couple of games to teams that are clearly inferior to them. Pop runs a tight ship and San Antonio isn't likely to lose to non-playoff teams, even on a SEGABABA (second game of a back-to-back.)
Fans like to point to the schedule and complain about it, but the fact is that the Spurs really only lose to good teams. Last season they only lost SEGABABAs to OKC, Brooklyn, Houston and Portland to finish 15-4 in those second games. That's a winning percentage of 79%. Considering that the Spurs win less games than that in general I think that we can say that the team isn't really affected by back-to-backs as much as most people think. The team seems old, but it's just that their big names are old. Harvard Sports Analysis Collective showed that weighted to a team's minutes, the Spurs are the ideal age to win a championship.
Last season I did a quarter-season by quarter-season breakdown of the schedule, but after last season, I feel safe saying that the Spurs win games, and only lose to quality opponents. I don't see why this would change this season so I'm not really giving any thought to the schedule. It is what it is and they'll navigate it well, because that's just how the Spurs roll.
Rest and Injury
We have to start with the fact that the Spurs are going to be without Patty Mills for at least a couple months of the season. There isn't another player on the roster that can really fill his role. Cory Joseph will most likely absorb most of his minutes, but CoJo's skill set is quite different than Patty's. Joseph plays good D, brings consistent effort and can competently run the offense when needed, but he hasn't been a very good shooter in the NBA. Patty's a fearless gunner, a guy who has put up 25+ shots in a game and is a deadly shooter from deep where he can pull-up or work a ball-screen to get a good look because he has a very quick release.
Patty finished third for the Spurs in win shares per 48 minutes and while he didn't play that many minutes for the Spurs, he was integral for that second unit. That could cost the Spurs a win or two while he's out, but the team is deep. It wouldn't be shocking if they fill the gap and just roll through their early season schedule.
The Spurs navigated their schedule during the variety of maladies well during the last season. It helped that Big Tim remained healthy for most of the season. He only missed a game after suffering a chest contusion on opening night and remained healthy for the season and ended up playing in 74 games with Popovich resting him on occasion. With Splitter, Green, Leonard and Parker missing significant time, the veteran big man carried the team when they really needed him. While that was great for last season's team, he is 38 years old, and it's not a given that he'll be healthy for the whole season.
That said, I think that Timmy will be same ol' Tim this coming season. He's in phenomenal shape and even considering the fact that no one has kept up their overall production this late into their career the way that Tim has, I'm still not ready to predict any kind of significant per-minute decline for the GOATPUFF. The common comparison for Timmy's late-career excellence has been Kareem Abdul-Jabar. Kareem scored at an incredible rate late in his career, but his rebounding fell off of a cliff and his never great defense had really slid by the time he was Tim's age. What Tim has been able to produce over the past couple of seasons hasn't been seen before, so although history would suggest that Tim is due for a major slip, I just don't see it.
What is likely is that Pop will rest Duncan a little more than last season and play him a little less per game. He played in 74 games in 2013-14 and racked up 2158 minutes. Barring injury, I think we can expect at least 70 games and 2000 minutes at the same on-court Duncan-production we've always seen. The man's not a robot, but man...what he's been able produce consistently warps the mind.
Ginobili will get his rest and he'll probably suffer a couple of injuries along the way to April. He had a phenomenal bounce-back year in 2014, but even I, the eternally optimistic fan, don't expect him to stay healthy for an entire season. I think this really is likely to be Manu's last season and while I don't think he'll play more than 70 games, I do think that he'll be very good in his ~24 minutes a night.
The good news for Spurs vets is that Tony Parker took the entire offseason off and appears to be fully healthy and in top form. That's great for the team's chances. A fully healthy Tony is still the league's best all-around point guard and a borderline MVP candidate.
Health is paramount to the Spurs repeating as champions, but as we saw last year, the team is so deep that they can suffer those setbacks in the regular season and keep on winning. The playoffs are a different story and we'll just have to hope that the boys are right when it really matters.
I know I presented the Spurs as a team that just wins, but to be honest, I'm not thrilled with the number being 57. It's hard to win 58 games in the NBA. I previously predicted that the Spurs would win 59 games this season, and I think that they will, but I don't have the confidence about the over that I had during the previous three or four offseasons. It wouldn't shock me if the Spurs won 65 games, but it also wouldn't shock me if they won 55. Complacency isn't really a thing that I think will happen to the Spurs, but like Pop, I'm definitely worried that the Spurs will drop a game or three because it's January and they just won't have the fire that they had last season. They're humans. After all, it's nice to be a champion, it's nice to trust your moves.
57 is a good number for the good guys this year.
The Spurs are currently 4-1 to take home the Larry O'Brien in June. That implies a 20% chance. For simplicity, let's take the Spurs at 40% to come out of the West and 60% to win over the team that comes out of the East. That gives the Spurs a 24% chance of being the last team standing. Last season I said there was good value in taking the Spurs at 14-1 before the season started. That implied a 6.67% chance of winning it all. If it were 5 or 6 to 1 right now, I'd probably jump on it, but 4-1 seems just about right.
For the first time in three years I don't think there is any value in taking the Spurs to win the championship. Vegas and the public seem to have finally caught up to the Spurs.
The Spurs are currently -130 to win the Southwest division. That means you would win $100 on a $130 bet and implies that the Spurs have a 56.5% chance of winning the division. Last season a $100 bet would have won $130 which was much more interesting. I don't think there is another team in the division that is going to finish with a better record than SA, but that payout isn't particularly enticing.
Finally, Gregg Popovich is currently +225 (bet $100 to win $225) to win the Coach of the Year award. That implies a 31% chance that the legend will pick up his fourth CotY award. That seems completely absurd to me. How many wins would San Antonio have to rack up for that to happen? If 57 is the prediction, it seems almost impossible for Extraneous G to lead his team to enough wins to pull the votes to win. Not only has no coach won it back-back, but only four coaches have won it more than once and only Pop has won more than one in the past 20 years. Honestly, if I could take the field at even 1-5, I would. Pop isn't going to win back-to-back which would make three out of four for him. If the award was given to the best coach, maybe I'd be interested, but it's a game of overachieving with this award, and the Spurs are expected to be great. Stay away at all costs.
To recap, it seems that although the Spurs should be great this season, the public and Vegas have finally caught up to the Spurs. Unfortunately, as a result. there is little value in taking the Spurs this season on anything.
A couple of random picks from around the league that I do like.
I'm high on the Hawks and think that their 40 1/2 win total appears really low to me. Mike Budenholzer at 100-1 to win Coach of the Year also seems low. It's certainly very unlikely that Bud will end up with it, but if every coach had an even shot it would be 29-1. The Hawks should exceed expectations, and there's a chance that they exceed them by far. If they do, who's getting the credit? Jeff Teague? Milsap? Horford? They don't have sexy names, but they will have a good team. That's what I'm saying.
[Even thought the Spurs have pretty much printed money for their backers betting in the preseason for three seasons, there are no locks in gambling despite what your buddy may have told you. If you are going to wager on anything this season, please make sure you are comfortable losing it. Sports are played because no one really knows what is going to happen.]