The Las Vegas Over/Under odds for win totals on the year were recently posted and the Timberwolves came in at 41.5, just the right sweet spot for us to debate here at Canis. We have accumulated our thoughts on where we believe which side of the betting line the Wolves will fall.
[Ed. Note: Eric in Madison was kind enough to reward all of his hard-working Canis Writers with several thousand Hoopus dollars to bet on the Timberwolves]
David Naylor: I think you have to take the under here. I've been on the optimistic side of the offseason prediction game, but 41 wins is the line I picked. A .500 season and a 12 win improvement would be a great success for the first year of Tom Thibodeau's tenure in Minnesota and another good step towards world domination. While 41.5 is only a half-win higher than that, I still think the chance of the Wolves going just under rather than just over are pretty high.
In addition to the big jump needed to hit 42, the Wolves have have only hit the over three times (last season, 29 over 26.5; 2011-12, 26 over 15.5; 2007-08, 22 over 20.5) in the last nine seasons. It's not common for our woebegone franchise, and 41.5 might just be a bit too far this season.
Josh Clement: I’m going to be the first optimist of the bunch and take the over. While I am concerned about how thin the Timberwolves will be if Ricky Rubio or Karl-Anthony Towns misses any sort of time (knocks on all of the wood), I believe that we should be competing for the 8th seed in the West this year, which puts us right in the range of 42 wins.
However, my bet is more against the quality of the West this year rather than the expecting an Oklahoma City Thunder styled jump from the Wolves, as the relative strength of the remaining competition has been consolidated in one with Durant joining the Warriors and diluted with the prior stalwarts of the Western Conference slowly fading away as the previous generation of NBA stars gets older. If there is any time to be an unrepentant optimist about the Wolves' prospects, it’s now with our rising stars and heralded new head coach.
Dane Moore: I'm going to take the historical approach in looking at what a jump from 29 wins to 41.5 wins would be. It is very rare that a team is projected to finish over .500 and have a projected increase of 12.5 or more wins. Since 2012, this has happened three times.
2013-14 win total: 33 wins
2014-15 Vegas over/under: 58.5 wins
The Cavaliers, obviously, added LeBron that season. He’s one of the only players who could justify this size of a jump.
Oklahoma City Thunder
2014-15 win total: 45 wins
2015-16 Vegas over/under: 57.5 wins
2014-15 was the season that Kevin Durant suffered a Jones fracture in his foot, so the Thunder were also essentially adding an MVP-caliber player back into the mix.
2012-13 win total: 29 wins
2013-14 Vegas over/under: 42 wins
This is probably the closest possible proxy to this season's Wolves narrative. The Wizards were coming off of John Wall's impressive second season in the league and had just added another young talent in rookie Bradley Beal. That example is most similar to the Andrew Wiggins and Towns story. That season the Wizards hit the over, winning 44 games and were the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference.
If you want to convince yourself into the over, this has to be the storyline you look for. Young talent moving into the beginning of their primes. People will cite the Thunder's jump earlier this decade or even Anthony Davis leading the Pelicans to the playoffs two years ago, but the reality of the situation when betting the over/under is asking, what is most likely to occur?
There is reason to believe both the over and under can be hit, but historically the type of jump required to hit the over is rare. This requires having landed an elite talent to the roster from the previous season. The Wolves have not done this. I'm taking the under, and it isn't that tough of a question.
Drew Mahowald: Uff da, 41.5 is a lofty line. As much as I want to be optimistic about this, realism is better than optimism when betting an over/under. Simply, a 13-win jump is a lot to ask for a team this young that still has a lot of questions, particularly surrounding the bench. Sure, Cole Aldrich will make a big difference on the defensive end. But will Shabazz Muhammad improve enough defensively? What kind of growing pains will Kris Dunn experience as a rookie? There are still many questions to be answered. This isn't to say the Wolves can't win over 42 games, but if I'm a betting man I'm taking the under here.
John Meyer: 41.5 is certainly the type of provocative win total Vegas uses to elicit bets. I’m always amazed at how close they are with these over/under lines after all is said and done, so this number definitely says a lot about expectations.
It’s not difficult to envision scenarios where they go under — and that’s probably smart money for gamblers — but September is the month for unbridled optimism in my world, so I’m going with the over. I realize that seems like a lot of wins but I thought the team underachieved a little bit last season. Better in-game adjustments, improved late-game execution, and more sensible rotations — one’s that don’t allow all five bench players to log minutes together — would have resulted in about five more wins or so. That probably would have made 42 victories seem more realistic to folks.
People tend to forget last year’s team lost 18 games by 5 points or less. The whole Zach LaVine early-season flip-flopping between guard spots really hurt the team as well. Once the coaching staff went to the Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Dieng-Towns starting five for good they were pretty solid (12–16 post All-Star break) and had impressive wins over Golden State, Oklahoma City, Portland, and Washington.
The team was also horrible defensively (their defensive rating was 110.1 — 28th in the NBA) and Thibs’ calling-card happens to be building elite defenses. They will take a big step on that end under his leadership. Thibs has a track record of bringing out the best in players with his magical #ThibsDust.
The bench will certainly be better with the additions of Kris Dunn, Cole Aldrich, Brandon Rush, and Jordan Hill. Then there’s Nemanja Bjelica, who is poised to make noise in year two (I’ll have more on this soon enough). Shabazz Muhammad could also be really good off the bench now that he should get run with a competent point guard while being surrounded by better defenders to help protect him a bit and let him focus on what he does best, getting buckets. The bench was truly atrocious last season — the second Mitchell started rotating bench players in everything would just blow up in front of our eyes, as the opposition would immediately go on major runs — and while it still has a lot to prove moving forward, it can’t get worse than what they had.
With better defense, the internal development of the young core — namely Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine — and an elite coach roaming the sidelines, the Wolves are in for a monster jump. Perhaps it’s the Kool-Aid talking but my money is on the playoff drought ending this season. In other words, I’m going with the over.