NBA Win Total Odds & Pick: Believe the New Orleans Pelicans Hype
Sean Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: CJ McCollum #3 and Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans Pelicans Win Total Odds
The Case for the Over
- Zion Williamson's Return
- Head coach Willie Green
- A set of unknowns that all lean towards variant over
There's a key question surrounding the Pelicans entering this season: How better will they be as a team? There’s a lot of variance here, but it all leans towards the over. That doesn’t mean over a bet to be made, but it does effectively make it the only bettable action.
The Pelicans need to improve by nine wins year-over-year to clear this number. That’s no small feat, and not a jump I take lightly. Perhaps you're thinking “well, sure, but look how different they were by the end of the year.”
So let’s actually look at that.
If we take out their horrendous 1-12 start, the Pelicans went 35-34, with an 82-games projected pace of 45.5 wins. Their Pythagorean pace after the 1-12 start was 40.2. After trading for CJ McCollum, the Pelicans went 14-14 for a 41-win pace, 44.8 on the Pythagorean expectation.
Of course, the Pels had injuries in that stretch. In games where the Pels were able to play McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valanciunas together, they went 8-6 with a +4.8 Net Rating.
If we try and focus on who were the real Pelicans (read: as they were intended to be constructed) then the answer is that they were roughly a 41-win, .500 team.
A key here is that they actually outperformed their Pythagorean expectation, both for the entire season, and after the poor start.
This may seem like a bad thing — common thought has been that a team's Pythagorean expected win total is a more true indicator of who they are — however, in the past 10 years, the opposite has been true. Teams with a positive Pythagorean differential — teams that outperformed in record based on point differential vs. strength of schedule — actually went over slightly more often.
The over rate increased based on how much they outperformed their expected record. But even at 41 wins, that gets us most of the way home.
Williamson is obviously the biggest reason to take the over. You take a playoff team and add one of the most impactful offensive players in the league, that seems like pretty simple arithmetic.
In 2020-21, among players who played at least 1000 possessions, Stephen Curry was the most efficient halfcourt player, averaging 1.155 points per possession. Williamson was No. 2 at 1.151. He ranked second in post scoring, (minimum 200 possessions) behind Joel Embiid. He was the most efficient scorer on putback attempts (minimum 100 attempts). He had the most rim attempts of any player that season, and his efficiency was second only to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Add that player to a Pelicans roster that improved with more veterans from the last time he played, and arguably an upgrade in coaching, and that pretty easily gets you the four wins you need for the over.
Equally notable is that the defense was a weak point for the Pelicans last season, as they were 19th in Adjusted Defensive Rating per DunksAndThrees and 18th in raw Defensive Rating. After the trade for McCollum, a guy who isn’t known as a plus on defense, the Pels actually ranked 13th. Williamson isn’t a defensive positive either. In fact, he’s a considerable negative: He struggles in drop coverage, at the level, in isolation and in the post.
However, they have an absolutely otherworldly defensive talent in Herb Jones, who may honestly be a top-10 defensive player right now in the NBA and I do not say that lightly about a 24-year-old player in his second season. His combination of athleticism, physicality, and instincts are all indicators that his chances of being the best defensive player in the league next season are high.
Is that enough to make up for Williamson, McCollum, and Ingram who are all defensive negatives? No, but it may make up enough for the offense to get the job done.
So let’s give them two more wins on the 41-win pace based on internal development of Jones, second-year pest Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III, and whatever Dyson Daniels provides. That gets them to 43.
Can Zion provide two more wins?
All of the negative scenarios — injuries, young player stagnation, defensive woes and poor on-court chemistry, which is a real concern given how big of a role Brandon Ingram has had with Williamson out — would all have to hit in tandem for them to wind up with an under, and even in that case it’s close.
The Case for the Under
- Injury risk
If the Pelicans hit the under, it’s not going to be by much. The chances of this being a sub-35 win team are low; there’s too much NBA veteran talent.
There also isn’t a lot of variance in the market at this point. There aren’t any 46.5 lines, but there are 44.5 totals consistently at the sharper books. I’m open to playing against the hype in situations like this, but the books are still grading this team like a mid-level squad with very little factor for the possibility of them being great.
An under starts with the increased injury concern for this team. Williamson was drafted three seasons ago and has played 85 games. He’s unlikely to play 70-plus and is very likely to play fewer than 65.
The Pelicans' lost VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) per season the last three seasons, NBA rank: second, 12th, fourth. Williamson obviously makes up the bulk of that. But Ingram has missed time as well. The Pelicans’ depth is good, but not great. They were 21st in bench Net Rating last season per NBA.com.
Having Devonte’ Graham as a backup guard is good, and Jaxson Hayes can fill in at power forward and center, though those minutes will still be spotty especially at center. The Pels are stocked with wing depth between Murphy, Nnaji Marshall, and the rookie Daniels. But their depth talent has exceeded their depth impact. Finding lineups that win their minutes has been a challenge.
The defense is a bigger concern. The Pels were 14th in Defensive Rating from Dec. 1 2021, which is promising, but it fell off after the trade for McCollum, dropping to 18th. With Williamson, the Pelicans may struggle vs. teams with high-efficiency offenses. They ranked 25th in Defensive Rating after trading for McCollum in 10 games vs. top-10 offenses, per CleaningTheGlass.
However, a more consistent factor to consider has been performance vs. bad teams, and vs. bottom-10 offensive teams after trading for McCollum, the Pelicans went 9-2.
Ultimately, the only real case I can make for the under is the random variance baked into the NBA combined with more bad injury luck. That’s not enough to actively bet the under even if caution is warranted when betting the over.
Pelicans Win Total Bet
I’ve put three units on the over. Not one of my strongest plays but it’s worth playing.
A stronger bet, however, is on the Pels to win the division at +410 or better. There’s a strong chance of the Grizzlies regressing this season, and while I think Dallas may maintain, they’re unlikely to be considerably better as a whole this season in terms of regular season record. The Pelicans are not so far behind the other two as to have a 20% chance at winning the division.
I came in expecting to find a more complicated case for what seems like an obvious over, or a way to play a contrarian angle against the hype. But the market honestly hasn’t reacted to the hype yet around the Pelicans.
If this gets north of 46.5, it’s at least a stay-away, but at 44.5 there’s good value for the Pelicans to make a leap to the mid-40’s if not higher.