Revisiting NBA over/unders: How did Vegas do in projecting win totals?

Every NBA preseason, the folks in Las Vegas release their over/under for each team's win total. Let's see how those played out.

If you’re like me, your mother told you three things when you were a child: always make your bed, never put the Q-Tip all the way in and don’t even bother trying to beat Vegas. Well, my bed is neat and my ears are fine, but on the third point, I am a weak man.

Before the NBA season kicked off, as is their custom, the folks in Las Vegas gave us their over/under picks, which for the uninitiated and those who listen to their mothers, is the projected number of wins a team will have. You can put money on the over or the under. (Note: I don’t actually bet on the NBA.)

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What’s amazing is just how accurate the Vegas predictions are. As we head into the final night of the season, five teams are still within a half-game of their over/under projections and could go over based on their results Wednesday night: the Hawks (43.5), Nets (20.5), Warriors (66.5), Grizzlies (43.5) and Kings (32.5). Three other teams (the Celtics at 51.5, Sixers at 27.5 and Raptors at 49.5) are currently over by a half-game.

But the over/unders were pretty far off on some teams. As it stands, there are seven teams who underachieved by at least five games in the eyes of Vegas, but none so much as the Timberwolves, who were projected to win 41.5 games but are 10.5 games short of that number. The oddsmakers, like the rest of us, greatly overestimated the immediate impact of hiring Tom Thibodeau. Here are the teams that will finish below Vegas projections:

Team O/U Wins Diff.
Timberwolves 41.5 31 -10.5
Pistons 45.5 37 -8.5
Knicks 38.5 30 -8.5
Magic 36.5 28 -8.5
Mavericks 39.5 32 -7.5
Cavaliers 56.5 51 -5.5
Trail Blazers 46.5 41 -5.5
Hornets 39.5 36 -3.5
Clippers 53.5 50 -3.5
Pelicans 36.5 33 -3.5
Pacers 43.5 41 -2.5
Suns 26.5 24 -2.5

The Knicks, Magic and Pistons were also big-time disappointments, currently 8.5 games off their projections. Orlando did have the Serge Ibaka trade in February, but that’s no excuse for coming up short — their over/under was 36.5 wins, and they were on pace for 30 wins even with Ibaka. And, of course, the Knicks with an over/under of 38.5 was a stretch to begin with, except among their legion of delusional fans.

The Pistons, though, are a different case — they just plain stunk this year. Their projection was 45.5 wins, as Vegas obviously felt that Detroit was set for a breakthrough. Instead, the Pistons were beset with in-fighting, saw regression from youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond, and didn’t get much out of their underwhelming free-agent signings. Sure, Reggie Jackson was hurt, but the Pistons were only on pace for 36 wins when he played.

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OK, so what about the happy side of things? The obvious over/under champ this year was Houston, which was projected for 41.5 wins but now has 54 — the Rockets went over back on Feb.25. That’s a pretty nice bounce-back from last year, when the Rockets’ over/under was 55.5, and they won just 41 games in what was a generally miserable season.

The second-biggest beat was the Wizards, who have 49 wins after being picked to finish with 42.5. That’s especially impressive considering that Washington was 7-13 through 20 games. The Spurs and Nuggets were also undervalued by the oddsmakers:

Team O/U Wins Diff.
Rockets 41.5 54 12.5
Wizards 42.5 49 6.5
Spurs 56.5 61 4.5
Nuggets 34.5 39 4.5
Heat 36.5 40 3.5
Jazz 47.5 50 2.5
Bucks 39.5 42 2.5
Thunder 45.5 47 1.5
Lakers 24.5 26 1.5
Bulls 38.5 40 1.5

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