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Revisiting the Vegas preseason over-under projections for the Western Conference

Some were right, some were wrong, and one in particular was very wrong. Can you guess who?

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rockets game against the Spurs on Monday, all Western Conference teams have now played at least 20 games, essentially one-fourth of the 82 game season. That should be enough games to separate the wheat from the chaff, though I have no idea what chaff is. It is also enough games to re-visit my preseason predictions of how the teams would fare against the Vegas over-under projections.

For everyone except the Rockets, I have taken the win total for each team through 21 games (even those who have played more) and multiplied it by 4 to get a rough idea of how many wins that team will have at the end of the regular season. For the Rockets, I will use their record through 20 games. (I recognize 4 times 21 equals 84, and 4 times 20 equals 80, neither of which are 82, but it is the best we can do.) I will then compare that number to the Vegas projection and test my preseason prediction.

Starting at the top:

Denver Nuggets

Vegas projection: 52.5.

Record through 21 games: 14-7

Projected win total: 56

I took the OVER, so this looks like a win for me so far. Remarkably, the Nuggets have out-performed their projection despite having their second-best player, Jamal Murray, for only 10 games. They also beat the Clippers in a game without having either Murry, Nikola Jokic or Aaron Gordon. Fortunately, that was the only game Jokic has missed. In the games he has played, he has averaged 28.4 points, 13 boards, and 9.6 assists. No Joking. Wow.

Phoenix Suns

Vegas projection: 51.5

Record through 21 games: 11-10

Projected win total: 44

I took the the UNDER, so another win for me. As many predicted, the Suns both score and give up a lot of points. The Suns have had trouble staying healthy, with Bradley Beal and Devin Booker taking turns on the DL. The oldest member of the Suns’ Big Three, Kevin Durant, is shooting a remarkable 52% overall, 50% from three, and averaging 31 per game. He has also played in more games than Beal and Booker combined.

Golden State Warriors

Vegas projection: 48.5

Record through 21 games: 10-11

Projected win total: 40

I took the OVER but said, “I don’t feel very confident about it.” I also said, “Lots of questions.” So even though this is a loss for me, I should get partial credit. My friends who are Warrior fans are quite frustrated and very critical of Steve Kerr’s use (or lack of use) of the Warriors’ younger players. Interestingly, Draymond Green is shooting better from three (45%) than either Klay Thompson (35%) or Andrew Wiggins (27%). The last two aren’t shooting much better from two, a big reason why the Warriors are underperforming their fans’ expectations and the Vegas projection.

Los Angeles Lakers

Vegas projection: 47.5

Record through 21 games: 12-9

Projected win total: 48

I took the OVER, so I squeak out the win here — not even counting the last two In-Season Tournament wins. Those games don’t count in the standings but do count in the players’ checking accounts. In my pre-season comments, I noted that the Lakers needed to keep their best two players healthy — and they have. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have only missed one game each. I would not bet on either keeping up that pace of staying healthy, which will presumably also drive the win total down. LeBron has been remarkably good — the best old player ever. (The last comment was for my Laker fan friends here in LA.)

Dallas Mavericks

Vegas projection: 45.5

Record through 21 games: 13-8

Projected win total: 52

I took the UNDER, so this projects as a big miss by me. Remarkably, Luka Doncic has continued to improve. He’s averaging 31.9/8.4/8.6 and continues to complain to the officials whenever he misses a shot. Dallas is presently in third place in the West, but I still don’t believe they will end up that high. Of course, no one projected that the teams in first and second would be Minnesota and OKC.

Los Angeles Clippers

Vegas projection: 45.5

Record through 21 games: 11-10

Projected win total: 44

I took the UNDER, so a close win for me. Who would have predicted that the Clippers would play worse after acquiring James Harden? Checking my notes, it appears that the answer to that question was “almost everyone”. Though the Clippers have slightly improved in the last two weeks, I would still take the under, especially once they inevitably start to lose players to injury.

Memphis Grizzlies

Vegas projection: 45.5

Record through 21 games: 6-15

Projected win total: 24

Uh oh — I took the OVER. Yikes. The Grizzlies have been terrible without Ja Morant, though he should be back soon if he doesn’t do something stupid in the next week. (I take the OVER on that too.) Trading the best back-up point guard in the league (Tyus Jones) for Marcus Smart didn’t help either — Jones was the team’s security blanket during all the previous Ja absences. Losing a bunch of their bigs has really hurt too.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Vegas projection: 44.5

Record through 21 games: 17-4 (!!!)

Projected win total: 68 (!!!)

I described the pre-season Vegas projection as “relatively optimistic” and took the UNDER. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Last season, many described the trade for Rudy Gobert as the worst NBA trade ever. While still a small sample size, the team’s performance this season may force us to reconsider that stance. While the Timberwolves gave up a lot of talent and draft picks for a long and big contract, their record forces us to consider them as actual contenders. Also the fact that they give up the fewest points in the NBA.

New Orleans Pelicans

Vegas projection: 44.5

Record through 21 games: 11-10

Projected win total: 44

I took the UNDER, so I squeak out yet another narrow win. In a game that did not count in this total because it was the in-season tournament semi-final, the Pelicans lost to the Lakers by 44 points. Yes, in a game they should have cared about ($$$$), the Pelicans got blown out, which does not reflect well on this mis-mash of players. In that loss, Zion Williamson had only 13 points, 2 boards and 3 assists and was minus 33 in his 25 minutes.

Sacramento Kings

Vegas projection: 44.5

Record through 21 games: 13-8

Projected win total: 52

I took the OVER. Many criticized the Kings trade of Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers before last season, and Haliburton has in fact been transcendent this year. But so has De’Aaron Fox, the player the team essentially chose to keep instead of Haliburton. Most likely, neither would have ascended to their present heights without the trade.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Vegas projection: 44.5

Record through 21 games: 14-7

Projected win total: 56

I took the OVER, so this looks like a good pick by me — by a lot. I reasoned that adding Chet Holmgren to a team led by from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a bunch of other good players could only help a solid young team. And Chet is battling for Rookie of the Year with the guy the Spurs drafted.

Utah Jazz

Vegas projection: 35.5

Record through 21 games: 7-14

Projected win total: 28

I took the UNDER, and the Jazz have come through for me. Last season they were a feel-good story, with ex-Spurs assistant Will Hardy getting a lot of credit. This year? Not so much.

Houston Rockets

Vegas projection: 31.5

Record through 20 games: 11-9

Projected win total: 44

I took the UNDER, saying this: “I think it will take Ime (Udoka) more than one year to root out all the bad habits the Rockets have developed over the past few years.” It turns out that having an excellent coach such as Ime and adding some toughness in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks (boo!) may have just accelerated the Rockets’ future beyond what I, and others, predicted. (They also rooted out bad apple Kevin Porter, Jr.)

San Antonio Spurs

Vegas projection: 28.5

Record through 21 games: 3-18

Projected win total: 12

This was my entire pre-season analysis: “OVER, OVER, OVER.” Yes, that is not aging well. To get to 29 wins, the Spurs need to go 26 - 35 for the rest of the year. Hmm.

Portland Trail Blazers

Vegas projection: 28.5

Record through 21 games: 6-15

Projected win total: 24

I took the over, so another loss for me. I could blame my bad prediction on Scoot Henderson only playing 12 of the first 21 games, but he didn’t play that well in those 12 games: 9.1 PPG on 33% shooting, 18% from three, with only 2.7 boards and 4.1 assists.


Adding it all up, I am on pace to be correct on 8 of my 15 predictions and wrong in 7. Not a great record, to be sure, but certainly a better record than my favorite team.