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Wolves Wednesday: UNDER Promise and OVER Deliver

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Las Vegas dropped it’s recent win total projections for the 2018-2019 season. How do the Wise Guys think the Wolves will perform next season? Let’s find out.

Via Instagram: Jimmy Butler (@jimmybutler)

Over the weekend, the Westgate Las Vegas released its annual over/under win projections for all thirty NBA franchises, triggering most (if not all) fan bases by insinuating that their team would only win “X” amount of games, despite drafting “Player Y” and signing “Player Z.”

One of the biggest arguments against the Westgate’s projections? “It’s only August, how can you predict my favorite team’s win totals before we even hit training camp?” While this sentiment does contain elements of truth (my office calendar supports the take that it is indeed August), it should also be noted that the various mausoleums that line a portion of the Nevada desert weren’t financed and built simply off of hopes and dreams (at least not those of the people working inside the buildings).

So what does Vegas know that the casual fans (myself included) maybe do not? Which teams offseason provided enough hype to inflate their upcoming win total? And which teams does Sin City think will take the biggest step back in 2019? Let’s examine some of the more interesting ones, starting with our very own Minnesota Timberwolves:

Minnesota Timberwolves: 44.5 wins

Let’s start by reminding readers that the Wolves went 47-35 last season, despite Jimmy Butler playing only 59 games (his lowest total since his rookie season). The obvious counter to this is that both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns played in all 82 regular season games, a feat that while extremely rare for modern NBA players has become the norm for the two young franchise players.

Factoring in what appears to be a more well-rounded bench (Anthony Tolliver, Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, and a full season from Derrick Rose) and the fact that Minnesota will be one of only a handful of teams to return all five starters next season, one would think the Wolves win total trajectory should take a small step in the positive direction. However, with all of the star additions to the Western Conference (most notably LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, and Isaiah Thomas) as well as four of the top five lottery picks landing in the West, it’s clear that expectations for the Wolves are severely tempered.

Nevertheless, with the addition of two rookies—both of whom displayed first-round talent during their stint in NBA Summer League—to a team that is coming off their first playoff trip in over a decade, excitement and expectations should remain high for Minnesota, even if it’s primarily just around the 612 area code.

My betting advice: if you’re an anti-Thibs guy or gal, take your second September paycheck and hammer the OVER. If the Wolves do outperform expectations, you get some additional spending cash for the 2019 summer. If the Wolves fail to hit the 45-win mark and thus (likely) miss the playoffs? Then you probably lose some of your hard-earned money, but not nearly as much as Glen Taylor will when he fires Tom Thibodeau despite two more guaranteed years on his contract.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 50.5 wins

If we’re being honest, this win total may be the most difficult of all the thirty teams to figure out. The Thunder finished last season 48-34, good enough for 4th in the Western Conference. In addition to re-signing Paul George, their 2018 offseason was clearly highlighted by the addition of Dennis Schroder and removal of Carmelo Anthony.

It can’t be denied that Carmelo was about as valuable last season as an empty bottle of wine, so flipping him for a positive asset like Schroder is a big deal (despite what off-the-court concerns he may bring). Add in a healthy Andre Roberson, Patrick Patterson, and (possibly) motivated Nerlens Noel, and on paper you have the makings an upper-echelon team in the Western Conference.

And yet… I just don’t see it. If the Western Conference did indeed get harder this summer, then it got harder for everyone involved, including the Thunder. While Melo was truly abysmal last season, he did represent over 20% of his team’s three-point attempts, and the Thunder will now replace that with Schroeder, who shot 29% from three last season. Will Russell Westbrook and Paul George continue to excel as a 1-2 punch? Maybe, but it’s the pieces around them that have me worried.

My betting advice: you could simply flip a coin on this, but I’ll take the safe bet and go UNDER. If Westbrook and/or George miss even a small amount of games (8-10), there is no way the rest of this roster can sustain a 50-win pace in the juggernaut that is the West.

Los Angeles Lakers: 48.5 wins

Here is a list of the players the Lakers signed this summer: LeBron James, Michael Beasley, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Lance Stephenson.

My betting advice: OVER. The Lakers signed LeBron James.

Portland Trailblazers: 41.5 wins

Outside of Cleveland and Houston, no team is projected to regress more next season than the Blazers. While this regression reflects what Cleveland lost (LeBron) and what Houston apparently added (Carmelo), the projection for Portland to fall 7.5 games behind their 2017-2018 record is pretty notable. Due to financial mistakes of the past (most notably delivering multiple Brinks trucks to Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless), the Blazers were extremely restricted this summer in how they could improve their roster.

The result of that lack of flexibility was adding Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas – two journeymen guards who play the same position as the team’s two franchise players – while losing fan favorites Ed Davis and Pat Connaughton. None of the four names just listed really jumps off the page, and that’s essentially the point here. While other teams in the Western Conference continued to take a step forward, the Blazers were forced to jog in place. Of the five teams in the Pacific Northwester division, the Blazers clearly hadthe least exciting summer, and that is very troublesome.

My betting advice: For only the second time during the Terry Stotts regime, the Blazers will fail to reach .500 (despite Damian Lillard having another All-Star season). Bet all your Voodoo donuts on the UNDER.

Miscellaneous Thib-bits

Need some NBA excitement in your life? Well, according to Woj, today is your day:

Will the Wolves be on Adam Sillver’s naughty or nice list this Christmas? Tune in to find out!