Let me preface this by saying that I’m not much of a gambler. I’ll play some friendly poker games and every once in a while I’ll accept a dollar prop bet from a friend at a sports bar (“Dollar says he gets a base hit here!” “You’re on!”). I mean, you’re reading a guy who went to Vegas for a week-long trip to NBA Summer League two years running and didn’t manage to gamble a single penny either time.

But that said, I like fantasy games, and this is a fantasy game – by myself, to be sure, but a fantasy game. The premise on this one is that I am forced to spend $5115 on the NBA Over/Under Win Totals this year.

What the heck is the deal with $5115? I’ll get to that in a minute. But the idea is that I have to lay a bet on each of the 30 over/unders. Rather than allow myself to distribute the money completely freely, I’m going to play it like a pick ’em with confidence points. For instance, I think the line on the Sacramento Kings this year is really, really wrong. So I’m going to put $30 on them, then $29 on the line I think is next safest, and so on. Except $30 doesn’t really work great, because (as best as I can figure – remember, I’m not a big gambler) your typical over/under bet pays at +110, or in other words, wager $11 to win $10. So if I bet $30 and won, then I’d get the bet back plus $27.27272727. That’s just tough to deal with. So instead of betting $30, I’m going to bet $30*11 = $330, so that if I win, I get $300 on top. It just makes everything come out in whole numbers. And that means that the total I have to wager is $5115.

Hopefully, I’ll remember that I did this at the end of the season and come back and see if I made any money. If I know absolutely nothing, the expected return would be about $4882.50 (dammit, not a whole number!) – just a bit over 95% of my wager with the house taking almost 5% of my money for my trouble. See? This is why Michael Corleone wanted to RUN a gambling establishment. A 5% return on investment with very low risk (if you set your line right and get equal bets on both sides) is pretty much unbeatable. But a smart gambler (can’t say that’s what I am, but…) basically takes their money from the suckers. Let’s see if I’m any smart.

(Odds taken from Westgate Las Vegas Superbook 9/30/15)

Team O/U Wins My Pick Act. Wins Wager Return
Sacramento Kings 30.5 Over 33 $330 $630
Milwaukee Bucks 43.5 Over 33 $319 $0
Atlanta Hawks 49.5 Over 48 $308 $0
Oklahoma City Thunder 57.5 Under 55 $297 $567
Phoenix Suns 36.5 Under 23 $286 $546
Dallas Mavericks 38.5 Under 42 $275 $0
Orlando Magic 32.5 Over 35 $264 $504
Detroit Pistons 33.5 Under 44 $253 $0
Utah Jazz 40.5 Under 40 $242 $462
New York Knicks 31.5 Under 32 $231 $0
Portland Trailblazers 26.5 Under 44 $220 $0
Charlotte Hornets 32.5 Over 48 $209 $399
San Antonio Spurs 58.5 Over 67 $198 $378
Los Angeles Lakers 29.5 Under 17 $187 $357
Cleveland Cavaliers 56.5 Over 57 $176 $336
Toronto Raptors 45.5 Over 56 $165 $315
Miami Heat 45.5 Over 48 $154 $294
Philadelphia 76ers 21.5 Under 10 $143 $273
Golden State Warriors 60.5 Over 73 $132 $252
Denver Nuggets 26.5 Over 33 $121 $231
New Orleans Pelicans 47.5 Under 30 $110 $210
Indiana Pacers 42.5 Under 45 $99 $0
Memphis Grizzlies 50.5 Over 42 $88 $0
Minnesota Timberwolves 25.5 Over 29 $77 $147
Brooklyn Nets 28.5 Under 21 $66 $126
Washington Wizards 45.5 Over 41 $55 $0
Chicago Bulls 49.5 Over 42 $44 $0
Boston Celtics 42.5 Under 48 $33 $0
Houston Rockets 54.5 Under 41 $22 $42
Los Angeles Clippers 56.5 Under 53 $11 $21

The Stupid Lines

Last year the Kings went through what feels like unprecedented turmoil.  After a solid start their all-star center got viral meningitis, and missed a ton of games (almost 30% of the season, and then wasn’t fully healthy or happy once he came back).  Following that, dysfunction in the front office came to the forefront and a decent (though not great) coach was canned in favor of a pretty lousy one.  The team, missing its best player and angry about the firing, basically shut down, Rudy Gay missed over 15% of the season, and by the time the front office finally hired George Karl the team had lost its starting PG (Darren Collison missed 45% of the season) and was forced to rely on Ray McCallum…and that team still won 29 games.  Now this year, they’ve replaced their Mickey Mouse front office with basketball whisperer Vlade Divac and company, they have a full training camp with Karl, a healthy Cousins and Collison…oh, and they added Rondo, Koufos, Belinelli, and Caron Butler as well as rookie defensive stalwart Cauley-Stein who should be able to contribute right away…and Vegas thinks they’ll get two more wins?  Laughable.  I’d take them for the over at 40, and right now I think they’ll make the playoffs.  That may be some purple-colored glasses, but let me say this – I never pegged us for the playoffs last year, before the shit hit the fan.

The Bucks are another terrible line.  They looked great at times last year, they played .500 ball on up-and-coming players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, and they added Carter-Williams at the deadline.  Keep in mind that they lost Jabari Parker for most of the season, and they signed Greg Monroe in free agency.  That’s going to easily be worth more than three lousy wins in the Eastern Conference.  It’s like betting with house money.

The Hawks won 60 games last year.  This offseason they basically lost DeMarre Carroll and added Tiago Splitter.  How in the world does that translate to 11 fewer wins?  I’ll tell you how – it doesn’t.

The Iffy Lines

58 wins is a lot in the Western Conference.  Kings fans will remember that in one of our championship-challenging years we pushed hard to get to “60 before 20”.  The Thunder are a talented team, but injury has been knocking on their door since I can remember – Westbrook seems perpetually injured and now we have to worry about Durant’s health.  I know they ought to be in for an uptick, but 13 extra wins seems a bit much with an untested NBA coach in a strong conference with numerous injury concerns.

The Suns felt like an unsustainable Cinderella team all last year – and made their way to 39 wins.  Replace most of a season of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas with Brandon Knight, subtract Marcus Morris, look real hard at a disgruntled and potentially-in-legal-trouble Markieff, and consider that their big acquisition was to sign a 33-year old athlete in Tyson Chandler.  I don’t think that’s enough.

Nowitzki is now entering “ancient” range, and the Mavs’ big acquisition this summer was a SG coming off of an achilles tear.  On top of that, this team has no depth.  This team is basically Ancient Dirk, Hurt Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Over The Hill Deron…and nothing.  They’re going to be 20 games worse next year, and the line only dropped them 12.

The Magic have put together a nice core: Vucevic, Harris, Oladipo, Payton – and we can expect improvement from Aaron Gordon with newcomer Hezonja and veteran Fournier giving them a lot of opportunity to slot Harris down as a tweener PF, and I think this team is simply better than 32 wins in the east.

The Pistons lose Greg Monroe and are projected to win two more games?  Mmmm – no.

Similarly, the line is projecting the Jazz to gain three games and they really haven’t done much this offseason except lose their starting PG to injury.  Nobody is going be surprised by Gobert or Hood this season, and Burke is terrible.  The Jazz are taking a step backwards, not forwards.

And, you know, nothing against Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo, but the Knicks were terrible last year and I just can’t see them adding 15 wins.  They’ll be better, but 15 wins?

The Blazers are due for a big, big fall after the team basically fell apart before everybody’s eyes this summer.  The only question is how far?  It’s really hard to tell.  But since the dregs of the West were at 16/21 wins last year, I don’t see Portland getting 27 this year.

The Hornets swapped Gerald Henderson to get Nicolas Batum, pulled off an addition-by-subtraction by getting rid of Stephenson, and improved their big slow white guy depth with Hawes and Kaminsky.  I just can’t see them taking a step back, especially in the East.

The Tough Calls

The remainder of the lines seem pretty good to me, which is what you’d want if you were a sportsbook, right?  Still, the lines are predicting about ten more wins than are available, so they’re a bit optimistic.  I’ll try to “under” a bit more than I “over”, especially with the Kings, Bucks, and Hawks probably sucking up a ton of wins themselves.

The Spurs have a lofty total to beat – getting to at least 59 wins in the West – but they added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West.  Age is going to start to take a toll, but they look like a 60-win team to me.

If I believed that the Lakers would get a full-strength Kobe Bryant back, well, maybe.  But I doubt that, and while I like D’Angelo Russell, I think the growing pains here are going to be pretty severe.

I don’t even care if the Cavs don’t get Tristan Thompson to sign – I’m not really high on him and we’re talking about LeBron/Kyrie/Love here.  In the East.  With a year to have gelled.  They’re a good bet to push 60 wins, even if they didn’t last year.

The Raptors basically swapped Amir Johnson for DeMarre Carroll and picked up a really-underrated athletic combo guard for their bench in Norman Powell.  They should hold steady, and the under says they lose four wins.  I say no.

Wade/Bosh/Dragic should spell playoffs.  In fact, they might even finish above the Raptors, despite the lower line.

The Sixers added Jahlil Okafor, but they traded away Carter-Williams and they don’t have a real PG.  Can they really get that much better?

61 is a scary number, and the Warriors are a jumpshooting team that could go cold at a moment’s notice, but then again, they’re really really good.  I’ll take that risk.

Emmanuel Mudiay? Michael Malone?  The Nuggets won’t be good by any means, but I think they’ll be a bit better than their line.

With the Pelicans – Holiday has spent the past few seasons not being healthy – you think he’s going to be well now?  Davis is good, but I think they struggle a bit this year.

Paul George is back for the Pacers, but the front line is atrocious.  I can’t spot them 43 wins.

The Grizzlies lost Koufos, which is pretty big, but they picked up Matt Barnes.  Are they going to drop 5 games for that?  I don’t think so.

Wiggins, Towns, Dieng?  The ‘Wolves won’t be good, but I think they can sneak up to 26 wins.

A line of 28.5 wins says there’s not much room for optimism with the Nets.  I agree.  Under.

Sure, they lost Pierce, but Beal should be healthy and they do have John Wall and Marcin Gortat.  They should do a bit better than last year, I think.

The Bulls won 50 games last year and bring back basically their entire team outside of Thibs.  Rose broke his face, but should be ready to start the season, right?  I’m optimistic, kind of.  That’s why these are hard.

The Celtics, Rockets, and Clippers lines look pretty dead on to me – I’m pushing towards the under due to the above-mentioned optimism in the lines, but I don’t want to wager too much on them.

We’ll see how this goes…in 7 months.

The Results…

“I’m not dead yet!” says me, with one week left in the season.  I’m up to $4284 on 14/22 shooting so far.  That leaves me 8 picks to go and just under $600 to win at chance, and $831 to break even.  With over $3000 left on the board, you’d think it would be an easy climb.  But $1680 of that is basically toast.  On the other hand $714 of it looks really good (random chance, here I come!) and the remaining $630 is probably better than a 50% chance.  The next question, of course, will be whether my confidence ratings hurt me…

…and that $714 has come in, so I’m up to $4998 – better than random chance!  (But still not breaking even…I love how that works, Vegas.)  Six picks are still alive as none of the by-a-threads have snapped yet, though there’s no margin for error for three of them.  Two of the remaining three are only one win from coming in, which means that the Jazz are the only team that will definitely still be alive after their next game…and the Heat come in to actually make me money!  $5292 and counting…

And now the Cavaliers have come in to give me $5628 with only the Jazz left to decide on the final day of the season.  And the Jazz?  Well, the Kings lost big to the Rockets earlier in the day, meaning that the Jazz game was meaningless, so they just let Kobe score 60 on them and took the under.

Which means that I came out at $6090 on my $5115 wager – a 19% return on investment!  Wow.  I got 19/30 picks right.  The funny thing is that I would have made $6184.50 had I bet the same amount on every team!   The mean confidence rank of the calls I missed was 15.1, while the mean rank of the ones I got was 15.7.  So I’m good enough to beat the oddsmakers, but not myself.