Predicting Every NBA Team's Win Totals For 2016-2017


Written by Mike Muskett (@statdance) on 25 September 2016   

My brother Doug and I continually bet each other on random NBA events. The wagers vary greatly, from individual matchups to season-long win totals for teams. The only caveat we have that differs from a normal wager is that money owed must be used to buy beer for the other, and that money owed to each other cannot cancel out. This year, we are betting on the win totals for each team.

The squares of the differences between the actual and guessed values are summed, and $1 is owed for each 10 games squared, with a maximum of $30. These aren’t high stakes, especially considering how much we keep track of the winnings afterwardsFor example, if the Hornets win 40 games, I am off by 3 wins or 9 wins^2. My brother is off by 5 wins, so 25 wins^2. Overall, I would gain 16 wins^2, or $1.60. 

Team by team, from the highest wins last year to the lowest, with comments.

Golden State Warriors (2015-16: 73 Wins)

Doug: 67 Wins
I think Golden State will be better eventually - but Durant will take some time to settle in on defense. I don't think they'll be as motivated to win 73, or be pushed like they were by San Antonio last season.

Mike: 70 Wins
Golden State likely has the greatest collection of NBA talent ever assembled. Joe Lacob’s “light years” comment aside, this team just won 73 games and added a top-5 talent to their roster. They lost some depth this off season, but still have a lot of talent on the second team. The chance of another team pushing them for the top seed is slim this year, but I don’t know if this team can help but win 70 games.

San Antonio Spurs (2015-16: 67 Wins)

Doug: 54 Wins
Maybe I'm too low on San Antonio. I think Pau is done, Pop has no chance to chase Golden State, and David West will be missed in his backup minutes. Defensively I think a big step back.

Mike: 50 Wins
Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are two top-15 players in the NBA. Other than that, they have a major shortage of talent. This team replaced David West, Boban Marjanovic, Timmy Duncan, and Boris Diaw with a 36-year-old Pau Gasol. That group played 71 minutes per game last year.
At guard, they still have Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (39 and 34, respectively) with Patty Mills, Danny Green, and Jonathon Simmons to fill out the rotation. We aren’t dealing with a stocked roster.

This 50 wins is more of an homage to the Spurs dynasty and Coach Pop than an assessment of their talent.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2015-16: 57 Wins)

Doug: 55 Wins
Losing Delly hurts a bit, but I expect more from Kyrie, and more pressure from Boston than from Toronto last season. Still no real reason for LeBron to push it in the regular season though.

Mike: 50 Wins
I had the Cavs as low as 45 wins at one point. This team lost role players from last year, has an inexperienced head coach. The stories about the coaching staff not being under contract seems like it should be a bigger deal. Most of all, I don’t think that a player, even LeBron, having final say on all decisions creates a positive culture. 

All that being said, LeBron is a beast and Kyrie and Love are great players. They still have a good enough supporting cast to be there in the finals – I just don’t think they will get there as the #1 seed.

Toronto Raptors (2015-16: 56 Wins)

Doug: 48 Wins

I just don't like Toronto. I don't like DeRozan, I don't like their schemes, and Lowry is older than I thought. Might be overrating the loss of Biyombo after his playoff role.

Mike: 45 Wins
Toronto lost some rotation pieces and replaced them with Sullinger (whom I like) and Poeltl – not a huge change except for the depth at the 5 if Poeltl doesn’t develop very quickly. I don’t actually think Toronto will take a step back, I just think they were a 45-win team that overachieved last year.

If Valanciunas grows into an offensive piece to take the pressure off their guards, and Norman Powell takes a step forward this year too, this team should be able to break 50 wins again. It just seems like they don’t have much room for injuries and are counting on too many guys to grow.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2015-16: 55 Wins)

Doug: 44 Wins
Ibaka and Durant were two huge pieces. I think Westbrook hero ball is going to be amazing to watch and bad for the team.

Mike: 42 Wins
The Thunder could be great defensively, but their offense won’t pull them up near 50 wins this year. There is a reason they moved Ibaka out to the 3-point line in recent years, and they don’t have enough good basketball players that can stretch the floor this year.

LA Clippers (2015-16: 53 Wins)

Doug: 53 Wins
Is Griffin healthy? Will Paul finally age? Less drama than last season, maybe. I don't know. OKC and San Antonio falling off slightly only helps them though.

Mike: 47 Wins
This is the most disappointing franchise of the last decade – they could put it together this year and be the 2 seed in the west and put up a decent fight in the conference finals. I don’t think it happens though, and I’m predicting Paul or Blake is gone at the trade deadline.

Miami Heat (2015-16: 48 Wins)

Doug: 40 Wins
Bosh??? Bosh??? I'm just assuming he's not playing, I guess. I miss Joe Johnson and Luol Deng more than Wade. Whiteside has that contract - I didn't like him before, I like him less now.

Mike: 35 Wins
The Heat have no chance to compete for a title this year. With their 2019 and 2021 1st round draft picks having been traded away, they have every incentive to tank now before the loaded 2017 draft. They want to be good in 2018.

I don’t think Bosh plays enough to matter, and they move a couple pieces (ideally, Dragic) for long-term assets. Maybe the Celtics trade for him after Isaiah Thomas gets traded in a Boogie deal? They have an incentive to develop their young players and get a top 10 pick to run with Whiteside, Richardson, Johnson, and Winslow.

Atlanta Hawks (2015-16: 48 Wins)

Doug: 46 Wins
Howard simply isn't as good as Horford, and Schroeder is a big question mark. But I still thought they dramatically underperformed last year, and I like Howard as a fit.

Mike: 35 Wins
The only player that I know is good on this team is Paul Millsap, and he is nearly 32 with 24,600 minutes under his belt. No one would be surprised if Howard and Korver fell apart this year, physically. Do we know if Schroeder is more valuable than Rondo?
Bazemore is a good defender, but even shooting 36% from downtown his advanced metrics are really bad for a player making $16M this year. He was the 253rd best player last year by ESPN’s RPM, below average by PER, had his first positive year by BPM (0.3), was decent by VORP (1.2), and below average WS/48. He is a regression candidate that was barely a starting-level player last year.
I love the system and I really believe the sum is greater than the parts under Coach Bud, but I don’t see this team winning very many games next year.

Boston Celtics (2015-16: 48 Wins)

Doug: 52 Wins
Horford is a great add - but they already were a regular season grinding team. Potential for a big improvement (like always). I'll probably regret putting them this low, but I feel like Stevens has been overachieving with this team and I'm not sure how much that'll continue.

Mike: 55 Wins
With Al Horford filling the biggest need this team needed and this young roster given another year to grow, the Celtics will be contenders in the East this year. Stevens definitely overachieved last year, but there is no reason to think he won’t do it again this year.

There is always the chance Ainge snags a superstar as well, although it was more likely to happen near the draft - and if it happens at the deadline it is more likely to affect the playoffs than their regular-season win total.

I don’t think Isaiah Thomas works on a team with a real superstar though, so if he isn’t moved in the trade it is something to watch. He is the perfect complement to this Celtics roster – a fake superstar for a team that needs one.

Charlotte Hornets (2015-16: 48 Wins)

Doug: 45 Wins
A little bit older, a lot more expensive, and they'll miss Lin and Lee. Hate their additions, but love their coach. As I write this I think I may be too high on them.

Mike: 43 Wins
I actually like the direction Charlotte is going. Lots of positive talk about the culture from players. No reason to think Batum and Marvin Williams are going to see a decline due to age this year, and they have some young bigs ready to grow as well with Frank Kaminsky and Christian Wood. I also like the addition of MKG and Hibbert for this already-strong defense.

I think they will miss Lee and Lin and I don’t think Belinelli makes up for the loss of either of them, but he was a great add.
If everything goes right, I think 48 wins is repeatable, but I don’t think everything will go right.

Indiana Pacers (2015-16: 45 Wins)

Doug: 39 Wins
Loved Vogel, liked George Hill, still hate Monta Ellis. Ellis with Teague seems like a horrible idea.

Mike: 40 Wins
I don’t think Teague and Big Al are better than Hill and Mahinmi, but I do like Thad Young. The potential for a team with Paul George and Myles Turner is really high, but they have so many new parts I don’t see them starting very fast.

Barring injury, this team should be a lock to win more games in the second half than the first – but I see them dropping overall this year.

Portland Trailblazers (2015-16: 44 Wins)

Doug: 44 Wins
I like Ezeli. Henderson is better than Turner, IMO. I think they overachieved last season, and any time missed by CJ or Dame will hurt hard. But Dame so good! Emoji shrug.

Mike: 51 Wins
Sign me up for an exciting regular season and the first of 4 consecutive second-round exits for Portland. With Stotts, Dame, and CJ they have an incredibly strong leadership structure that is probably worth 5-10 wins every year.

Until they get another piece, they aren’t going to be good enough to move on in the playoffs. Evan Turner is not that piece. They have yet to draft that piece, and they aren’t signing him as a free agent.

Detroit Pistons (2015-16: 44 Wins)

Doug: 45 Wins
I don't know what to make of Detroit. I gave them a win for their team getting one year older. Ish Smith?

Mike: 45 Wins
I’m really high on Detroit, I just think they overachieved by a few wins last year. They have real continuity and a young core of promising players. Ish Smith!

Chicago Bulls (2015-16: 42 Wins)

Doug: 34 Wins
Rondo, Wade, and Butler has to be the worst combination of actually decent basketball players. What's the inverse of synergy? If Butler gets traded this could get way uglier.

Mike: 40 Wins
They have more basketball talent on their roster this year than they had last year. I also think losing Rose is an addition and an underrated Ewing Theory candidate. Lopez is good at basketball.

No team has a greater “no one believed in us” potential for this year either. I’m still picking them to win fewer games though, with the debacle they have in their backcourt. I don’t think it will be a dumpster fire – and if they can sneak into the playoffs they won’t be fun to play against.

Dallas Mavericks (2015-16: 42 Wins)

Doug: 42 Wins
I was so down on Dallas last season, I think Barnes is better than Parsons, I can't imagine Bogut staying healthy. I think they got better but won't be as fortunate.

Mike: 37 Wins
I think Barnes will have a great year and that Dirk will not enjoy earning the $50 Million Cuban gave him. I also have very high hopes for Seth Curry, but this team needs Dirk to get to .500 and eventually he has to slow down, right?

Memphis Grizzlies (2015-16: 42 Wins)

Doug: 46 Wins
I love the addition of Parsons, and they have to be healthier, right? Not sure what kind of Gasol we'll be seeing. Maybe too low, but I'm comfortable with them as the 6th team in the west.

Mike: 40 Wins
I wouldn’t be surprised if this team won anywhere from 35-50 games. If Parsons plays he’s a great piece to add, but I think the transition from Grit ‘n Grind will not result in a title contender.

Gasol could still be an All-NBA center, and the Conley/Parsons pairing is nice – but there are too many question marks for me to see anything other than a fringe playoff team this year.

Houston Rockets (2015-16: 41 Wins)

Doug: 40 Wins
Keeping them this high is based entirely on how good Harden is. D'Antoni with this team is just a bad idea. I hope I'm so so wrong about that - this team being good would be so much fun.

Mike: 53 Wins
The only ceiling on this team is in San Francisco. I’m on the bandwagon! I could write about their stars, the potential of all the guys on the roster, or how incredibly deep they are. I can’t think of any other team though that could finish with 30 or 60 wins and be healthy. It’s going to be a fun year in Houston!

Washington Wizards (2015-16: 41 Wins)

Doug: 43 Wins
Uggh. Healthier maybe? Not less healthy, surely?

Mike: 35 Wins
Time makes the heart grow fonder, but I’m still not sold on Brooks as an NBA head coach. I love Wall, and this team has some other mildly intriguing pieces, but I want no part of the Beal-Wall-Brooks soap opera.

Utah Jazz (2015-16: 40 Wins)

Doug: 53 Wins
Is a thirteen win improvement too much? Injury-ravaged last season, young team, right pieces.

Mike: 47 Wins
The Jazz improved this year. All their key players from last year should have gotten better; Exum is back; and Hill, Diaw, and Johnson give them great depth. This is going to be a really exciting team to watch next year.

Orlando Magic (2015-16: 35 Wins)

Doug: 38 Wins
Emoji shrug? I have no idea what Orlando will look like.

Mike: 35 Wins
Orlando has a lot of exciting players and a new coach with a proven track record. Making all the pieces fit together well is going to be tough. It seems that the front office is feeling pressure to improve now, which probably isn’t a good sign for the future of the franchise, but might mean they hit 40 wins this year.

I liked the Josh Smith – Andre Drummond – Greg Monroe frontcourt in Detroit, and that experiment failed so quickly I can’t pick this team to improve this year.

Milwaukee Bucks (2015-16: 33 Wins)

Doug: 36 Wins
Love the additions of Delly and Tele. Still don't think Kidd can coach. I guess I don't expect to see much from Jabari.

Mike: 40 Wins
The Bucks have too much talent to win less than 40 wins. I’m definitely not sold on Kidd yet, but this is going to be a really fun team oozing with talent and athleticism. Dellavedova and Teletovic will fit in great.

If Jabari and Giannis take an extra step forward and the Bucks are healthy, there is no reason they can’t win a playoff series.

Sacramento Kings (2015-16: 33 Wins)

Doug: 28 Wins
This organization is a dumpster fire.

Mike: 30 Wins
I like the Joerger hire and the possibility of an engaged Boogie is always intriguing. Those are the nicest things to say about this roster.
Definitely a strong “no one believes in us” possibility. I really believed in Lawson last year, and I would expect great things from Willie Cauley-Stein and McLemore if they were traded to the Spurs.

All that being said, Vivek and Vlade are still in charge and I will not expect much out of them for as long as that continues.

Denver Nuggets (2015-16: 33 Wins)

Doug: 36 Wins
They got a year older?

Mike: 35 Wins
I’m not sure why they gave away Lauvergne for two seconds, but they have so many young players with potential it will be a lot of fun watching this team grow.

I’d like to see them trade Gallinari and Faried and double-down on the future, but this team should be a contender in a few years under Malone.

New York Knicks (2015-16: 32 Wins)

Doug: 30 Wins
I dunno. Rose was just bad last year, Noah is old. If they stay healthy and synchronize, they'll make this look dumb. I don't see that happening.

Mike: 40 Wins
I like their new PG tandem with Rose and Jennings. Carmelo is one of the 10 best players in the NBA. I expect Porzingis to take another step forward next year, he seems to have a great work ethic. They have a bit of big man depth now too, but a lot of question marks.

The trio of Rose, Melo, and Porzingis alone should win 40 games, but this team has some depth and possibilities beyond that. It’s not saying a lot, but this is by far the most exciting Knicks team in a while.

New Orleans Pelicans (2015-16: 30 Wins)

Doug: 32 Wins
I instinctively wanted to make them better because of Davis. But then when I looked at their offseason moves, why? Still somehow gave them two more wins. Davis?

Mike: 35 Wins
Anthony Davis should be a basketball god. They probably got worse this year, but maybe another year under Alvin Gentry and more luck with health will get them a few more wins.

Minnesota Timberwolves (2015-16: 29 Wins)

Doug: 38 Wins
Got a better coach, added a nice piece, got older. The West didn't get any easier though.

Mike: 49 Wins
At times, this team played like a contender last year; it seemed they were as likely to beat good teams as bad teams. This roster has significantly more talent than last year’s Celtics team and now the Wolves have a coach that can maximize their potential too.

I love the Aldrich signing. As long as they have better health luck than last year, they are as deep as any other NBA team. Towns, Wiggins, Lavine, and Rubio could all be All-Stars this year.

This team should be a title contender in a year or two.

Phoenix Suns (2015-16: 23 Wins)

Doug: 30 Wins
Nice pieces, figure they'll be better. The West is still tough, though.

Mike: 30 Wins
With another high draft pick in the 2017 draft, this team should start to compete for a playoff spot in a year or two. If this team hadn’t overachieved two years ago maybe they would be further along in their rebuild process, but they have gems at every position right now.

Brooklyn Nets (2015-16: 21 Wins)

Doug: 18 Wins
Flips table.

Mike: 20 Wins
Such a sad state of affairs for this franchise. No draft picks and very little talent.

Los Angeles Lakers (2015-16: 17 Wins)

Doug: 26 Wins
Mozgov and Deng might be nice in the first year. Losing Kobe is worth 9 wins alone.

Mike: 25 Wins
Better coaching and younger players getting older. No reason this team couldn’t win 35 games, either. I just don’t think that is the goal before the 2017 draft.

Philadelphia 76ers (2015-16: 10 Wins)

Doug: 28 Wins
They don't deserve to get an extra 18 wins just based on potential. But 10 wins was ridiculously low. Love the pieces.

Mike: 31 Wins
For the first time in recent history, I believe the Sixers are going to try to win basketball games. So excited to watch the three presumptive favorites for rookie of the year play together!


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