Moore: Which 2019-20 NBA Win Totals Should You Buy, Sell Before Free Agency?

Moore: Which 2019-20 NBA Win Totals Should You Buy, Sell Before Free Agency? article feature image
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Photo credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kyrie Irving

  • Sportsbooks posted next-season NBA win totals early this year ... before free agency has ramped up.
  • Matt Moore (@HPBasketball) gives 5 buys and 5 stay-aways for NBA win totals bets based on his free agency projections.

We are on the verge of NBA free agency, a complete reshaping of the league with so many teams having cap space, uncertain futures and star players for whom they need to maximize windows. Throw in the uncertainty with the Warriors’ injury situation, and even with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson likely off the market… things are going to get nuts.

So knowing that, and given the tea leaves we’ve been reading for months about various players’ plans, is there value in getting in on win total bets? Or is it better to wait until we see how the money shakes out?

Here are five early go-gets and five early stay-aways from the NBA win total market for 2019-20.

All win totals are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook and PointsBet. If not designated, the total is the same at both books.

GO GETS

1. San Antonio Spurs over 44.5 DK/45.5 PB

The Spurs hit the over last year despite a mid-40s number. They get Dejounte Murray back and another year for Derrick White and their other young players.

The Spurs’ floor is 45 wins, barring major injury. If they were to trade DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge for a competent 3-point threat as primary ball-handler, their ceiling goes way up as well.

The Spurs won 48 last year, going 26-15 vs. teams under .500 — their tried-and-true model. There’s no reason to think that they’ll take a step back in free agency, and they may find some better rotation players.

This number fails to recognize 1) the organizational stability of the team, 2) how good Dejounte Murray is and how important he is for adding spacing to the team and 3) how the Spurs consistently game the regular-season schedule to produce wins.

2. Toronto Raptors under 52.5

This one’s more dangerous, but it’s the best number you’re going to get if you want to play the under. Possible causes for the under:

  • Kawhi Leonard leaves in free agency with Marc Gasol and Danny Green also potential departures, making this year more of a Mavs 2011 kind of title.
  • Kyle Lowry turns 33. Danny Green is 32. Serge Ibaka turns 30. Marc Gasol turns 35.
  • There’s a definite chance that, after a long playoff run and a long championship celebration, this team doesn’t compete at a high level for the first few months of the year.
  • Load management, again, for Leonard, which would put them within range of this total.
  • The Raptors won’t feel like they need home court next season, knowing they can go on the road and win anywhere. They won in Philly, Milwaukee and Golden State.

I took the under on Toronto last year due to not knowing how the Kawhi situation would play out. Whoops. I also had positions on the Celtics and Bucks to win the East but not the Raptors. Whoops.

So I’m not thrilled to go back to the well against them, but even if Leonard re-signs, I think the championship hangover will cost them enough the first few months of the season to get them to just under 52. I’d take them over at 48, but the value on 52.5 is solid.

3. Philadelphia 76ers over 52.5


Their closing under was easy at 54 last year, even before the trades. Those trades made the team better but also created a lot less continuity. It’s hard to win when you don’t know each other.

But here’s the thing. They were at 51 last year regardless. Joel Embiid missed with various ailments, they added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris mid-season, they didn’t really have an identity for much of the year and they still hit 51. They were honestly better by year’s end than I thought they would be, even if I thought they’d win 53.

Now, there’s a decent chance that both Butler and Harris leave in free agency… but I don’t know if that gets me off the over.

Two things. First, they have $62 million in cap space if those two leave. There are value options who could help optimize the players they have. If Embiid makes another — even incremental — leap and they put shooters and slashers around them, the Sixers could surpass this by 4-5 wins.

Second, a lot of this is tied to Embiid, of course. Any bet on the Sixers has to be gambling on Embiid’s health. He missed five of the team’s final seven and a prolonged stretch in February due to knee soreness.

But Embiid was so impactful last year that 65 games of Embiid is worth more than even 75 games of a lot of stars. Essentially, what I’m trying to get at is that if you’re willing to just make a call on Embiid and say, “I’m willing to gamble on him being healthy,” then the over on this has value even if they lose those free agents.

Now, on the other side, if they lose both Harris and Butler, and they don’t land a major star with their space, then there’s a great chance this number drops to the high-40s, and then the over’s margin for error increases substantially.

There’s been a growing confidence from league sources that Butler is going to fully vet free agency. That doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign in Philly, but he’s testing waters.

I, however, don’t think the over is tied to Butler the way the Wolves’ total was last year. There are multiple paths to 55 wins for this team, including simply “Joel Embiid goes King of the Monsters” on the league.

4. Indiana Pacers over 47.5 DK/46.5 PB

This number is bonkers. The Pacers’ over/under was 48 last year. I had them pegged for 48 on the dot. They finished with 48 on the dot.

That was with Oladipo out for the final three months of the season. They were cruising to the over before that.

Now, for the bad news. Oladipo’s supposed to be out until “December or January,” according to Kevin Pritchard. Can they survive two months? They have the following key players as free agents: Bojan Bogdanovic (expected to get a big offer), Thaddeus Young (same, to a lesser degree), Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Wesley Matthews. That’s a lot of starters.

However, the core of Oladipo, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis is great to build with and Pritchard has proven he can find value additions. I’m high on second-year point guard Aaron Holiday, even if they need to find an upgrade on the market.

The key for this team has been their defense. Defense is mostly systemic, and they have a DPOY candidate in Turner. The addition of TJ Warren gives them some offensive firepower to get production to balance that out, and Oladipo could very well return like a house on fire.

The other key here is that Indiana’s relatively low standing as a market helps them in some ways. You can’t draw stars to small markets no matter how much you win or what kind of culture you build. (It is not, in fact, “all about winning,” no matter how many times analysts toss out that trope.) However, if you need to pull in value players who make your team better, you can offer more while the bigger markets are pitching big stars.

I have a lot of faith in this front office to put together a 50-win team provided Oladipo is back by early January.

5. Milwaukee Bucks under 55.5

I was among the first in line for the Bucks’ over last year. Being around the team in a limited capacity in preseason was revealing for how much that team was locked in. (RIP Bucks 15-1 to win the East. Two games short; you flew too close to the sun.)

However, right now the under has the value here. Milwaukee has Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton all coming up in free agency. There are concerns that their trades before the draft signal a concern over the luxury tax. That’s not great when one of the biggest strengths for the Bucks last year was how they crushed teams when Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t on the floor.

They won 60 games last season, but my operating feeling is the variance between 55 and 65 wins is significant. They were almost entirely healthy throughout the season (in part thanks to that excellent depth). A small slide with some injuries, a few coin-flip losses and a natural level of regression gets them within range… before you factor in the free agency implications. Losing Middleton would be catastrophic for this total, and losing Brogdon would be major damage, particularly with Tony Snell gone.

This is a team built on 3-point shooting around Antetokounmpo, and three of their four leaders in 3-pointers are on the market next month. I believe you’re getting the best of this number now.

STAY-AWAYS

1. Boston Celtics 48.5 DK/45.5 PB

I was so hopeful this number would come in lower, and I’m hopeful after free agency with the official departures of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving that the number will drop significantly. The PointsBet number is within range of where I want it.

I am prepared if this thing gets to 44.5 to jump all over the over. The Celtics still have really good young talent that will now be super-motivated.

The biggest reason I want the over, though? Brad Stevens has shown he is a master when making it work with pliable pieces of an underdog. It’s when faced with a contender full of stars and a complicated set of egos that things fell apart… and the Celtics still hit 49 wins with that combination last year.

They will most likely still be a top-10 defense, even if Horford departs. But losing Aron Baynes hurts in that regard. Unless the Celtics trade for Clint Capela, rim protection and pick-and-roll containment is going to be a problem. If they roll into next year with “Time Lord” Robert Williams as primary center, that’s an issue.

I remain bullish on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and I think Terry Rozier (if they retain him) likely has a bounce-back season without Irving.

However, I can’t get to this number. I like the scrappy underdog Celtics to be above .500 and pesky in the East. I do not like them that close to 50 in a division with three other playoff teams, including the Nets, who might get Irving, and the champion Raptors.

2019 nba draft-rj barrett-new york knicks
Photo credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Adam Silver with Knicks 2019 Draft pick RJ Barrett

2. New York Knicks 28.5

Usually, this is a great chance to drop the hammer on the Knicks as they continue in their epic malaise of the last two decades. However, they have $72 million in cap space, and even if Durant stays with the Warriors and Irving chooses Brooklyn, there’s a chance they land one of the other stars. If they just go full max for Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris, that team is pretty good at probably 40 wins.

After that, the chances of them signing difference-makers is small… but the number’s also not going to get much lower. This number won’t drop to the low-20s most likely, given the RJ Barrett hype. It’s better to wait for them to make some sort of desperation move in free agency; either the number shifts upward on hype, or they swing out completely and then you have fewer outlier hail mary’s.

Scott Perry and Steve Mills have done a pretty good job of not making typical Knicks moves in their tenure. I don’t want to bet against them with this kind of blank canvas until the variables are defined.

3. Portland Trail Blazers 45.5 DK/46.5 PB

Unlike the Celtics, where I was hoping to get it at a lower figure, I was hoping to get Portland a little higher to hit the under. Going to the Western Conference Finals without your starting center gets you no hype bump from the books, apparently.

The Blazers are ripe for small regression, but they’ve been undervalued the past two years and hit near 50 or more. That said, the over isn’t the play here, either. Jusuf Nurkic will likely take the full year to get back, and like most players coming back from a fracture, he won’t be himself for another offseason.

The Blazers are very limited in what they can do to upgrade the team because of their cap tie-ups. Even trades of expiring deals likely only clear room for them to keep players like Seth Curry and Enes Kanter, who are going to hit the market.

It’s worth waiting to see if free agency or some of the more conservative books tick this number up to closer to 48.5. If it stays in this range, it’s a no-brainer no-bet.

4. Brooklyn Nets 47.5

You can’t play the under because they have too good of a team that’s getting better with too good of a front office and too good of a coaching staff when they have that much cap space ($48.5 million).

And here’s why you can’t go over:

  • Kyrie Irving is an irrational actor when it comes to “what is best for his basketball career.” He can have personal preferences and feelings of happiness of comfort all his own, that’s fine, but he left playing next to LeBron James on a championship team and a stocked and stacked Celtics team in play for Anthony Davis. You cannot count on him signing no matter his signaled intentions, nor on him sticking if things don’t work out how he wants.
  • They are theoretically in play for Kevin Durant if he decides to leave the Warriors. That will mean tying up a max $35 million-plus slot on a player who will miss the whole season. They would still be competitive with Irving and the remaining core, but probably not at that number given what they’d have to lose.
  • If they swing out in free agency, they’re likely bringing back last year’s team at increased values in an inflated market. Ed Davis had great impact numbers last year, and he’s a free agent. D’Angelo Russell is going to command a big contract no matter what. Jared Dudley may go elsewhere. There are several scenarios where they don’t upgrade much at all, while keeping “the powder dry” for the future.

If they land the superstars, the figure’s probably going to go way up and you’ll want to reassess. The variance in outcomes for Brooklyn in free agency are as wide as any team’s in the league.

5. Los Angeles Lakers 54.5 DK/53.5 PB

I want to hammer this under. It’s exceptionally tempting.

The same front office that signed Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee as their difference-makers around LeBron last year now have to fill out 11-13 full spots. There are so many ways this can go.

They can sign a third star by trading the remaining three minimum contracts on the books and then sign a similar cavalcade of aging or flawed players, leaving them too top-heavy with a 35-year-old LeBron James and an injury-prone Anthony Davis.

They can simply pay too much for role players they think are perfect or that James recommends. (All Klutch clients, no doubt.)

They can make all the right moves and have James miss time (again, he’s 35 years old) or Davis, or both.

So is the under the play? No, because James and Davis with anything competent may be enough to get to 55. James has just suffered the most ignominious season of his career. The odds of him returning like Beatrix Kiddo in “Kill Bill” to start crossing off names are significant. You at least want to get a sense of what they do with their flexibility around two top-five players before banking on disappointment.

If there were half-season odds? If I could get over/under 27.5 for mid-season? I’d hammer the under. But not at this figure, not yet.