Those of you who listen to my show know that I am fond of placing the "occasional" friendly wager. While handicapping the day-to-day and week-to-week ebb and flow of a football, basketball, or (if you're really sick) baseball season can be enjoyable and, at times, lucrative (especially when betting against the bottom ten QB's in the NFL has turned into an ATM), where I have had the most success the last few years has been placing futures wagers on the over/under for total wins in a season. And when I say "most success," I mean that typically my season bets are so strong that they bail me out of six months' worth of game-to-game ineptitude at the end of each season.
I'm not sure why I've had more success with season wagers other than the fact that over a 16- (NFL), 82- (NBA), or 162- (MLB) game season, you can look at distinct aspects of that particular sport and with fairly decent accuracy say "I think X will happen," and taking it a step further identify a small handful of teams where "X will happen" in spades. Whereas the game-to-game wagering is a bit like day trading (highly volatile and likely a road to financial hardship), season bets are like long-term investing (less volatile, less grounded in emotion, more grounded in rules, and ultimately protecting you from yourself).
Now, season wagers on sports typically come down to "one thing" (raising my index finger like Curly in City Slickers) -- one thing that above everything else needs to make sense in order for you to pull the trigger. That "one thing" is different for each sport. In the NFL, it's the quality of the starting quarterback; in college football, it's a team's schedule; in baseball, it's starting pitching (although the answer to "Is Cecil Cooper prominently involved?" should be added as Thing 1-A); and finally, in the NBA, it's what I call the "Boss Factor," or just how good is a team's best player.
Here's what I mean ... for the following reasons, more than any other sport, the quality of an NBA team over 82 games is driven by the caliber of your star player:
-- Only five guys on the floor for each team (simple math)
-- Of any sport, the disparity between impact of players' talents to coaches' impact on a team is the biggest in NBA basketball (heavy advantage to PLAYERS)
-- Preferential treatment to star players by referees
I compare each NBA team to a mob family. In the world of organized crime, a mob family is only going to be as strong as the baseline that its boss sets for it. If I may illustrate (and yes, I am illustrating using entirely fictitious characters), Tony Soprano was such a decisive and forceful leader, his family was going to succeed whether his capos were supremely capable (Ralphie, Vito) or bumbling fools (Paulie, Carlo, etc). To be sure, there were ups and downs, but Tony's family always managed to survive and mostly thrive.
In the NBA, my feeling is that each team has a "boss," a player whose talents establish the baseline for how many wins that team can achieve. From there, you have the "consigliere" (second banana; Silvio Dante, for you Sopranos fans) and the "capos" (supporting cast; players 3 thru 6 or so), who can move the needle for an NBA team seven wins either way off the baseline. Then, you have the "soldiers," the rest of the guys who eat up minutes, crack jokes on the bench, and pay for hookers during All-Star weekend. Good soldiers are worth maybe 1-3 extra wins. Maybe. But the Boss is the guy that decides whether you're playing in June or fishing on April 15.
So here's an example, take Boss Player A, whose baseline is 50 wins; if you gave him consigliere/capos that are pretty sporty, you're looking at a 55-56 win team. A few good soldiers, 59 wins is a possibility. Surround Boss Player A with garbage, and he'll still find a way to win 43 games.
DISCLAIMER: This method of evaluating NBA teams is totally subjective, grounded in no scientific data, and is largely based on hunches. Now, they are the hunches of someone who watches basketball roughly six nights a week, but hunches nonetheless.
So without further ado, a Mob Style Overview of each NBA team ...
1. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Boss: (Baseline wins): F LeBron James (60 wins)
Consigliere: C Shaquille O'Neal
Capos: G Mo Williams, F/C Anderson Varajeo, F Jamario Moon, C Zydrunas Ilgauskas, G Anthony Parker
Mitigating Factors: Will Shaq really play second fiddle to LeBron, or will he try and give him the "swirly in the toilet" little brother treatment he gave to Kobe and Dwyane Wade (albeit while winning rings in both places)?
VEGAS SAYS: 61.5 wins ....SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 64 wins
2. ORLANDO MAGIC
Boss (Baseline wins): C Dwight Howard (58 wins)
Consigliere: G Vince Carter
Capos: G Jameer Nelson, F Mickael Pietrus, F Brandon Bass, C Marcin Gortat
Mitigating Factors: Vince Carter is the easy one here, but there will be no title in O-town if D12 doesn't continue to progress as a low-post scorer and (frequent) free-throw shooter. Cavs series last season was a start.
VEGAS SAYS: 58 wins .... SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 61 wins
3. BOSTON CELTICS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Paul Pierce (48 wins)
Consigliere: F Kevin Garnett
Capos: G Ray Allen, G Rajon Rondo, C Kendrick Perkins, F Rasheed Wallace
Mitigating Factors: Where to begin? Kevin Garnett's knees, Ray Allen's age, Rasheed Wallace's brain, Rajon Rondo's ego ... no shortage here.
VEGAS SAYS: 57.5 wins ... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 56 wins
4. CHICAGO BULLS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Derrick Rose (53 wins)
Consigliere: Luol Deng (I guess?)
Capos: G John Salmons, F Tyrus Thomas, C Joakim Noah, G Kirk Hinrich, C Brad Miller
Mitigating Factors: It's Derrick Rose's team, and what the bigs lack on the offensive end, they make up (somewhat) on the defensive end. Deng needs to fill in some of the scoring punch Ben Gordon took to Detroit.
VEGAS SAYS: 41 wins ... SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 50 wins
5. ATLANTA HAWKS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Joe Johnson (41 wins)
Consigliere: C Al Horford
Capos: G Mike Bibby, F Josh Smith, F Marvin Williams, G Jamal Crawford, G Jeff Teague
Mitigating Factors: Joe Johnson is in a contract year, which will either be the best or worst thing to happen to the Hawks. Starting lineup, in terms of pure talent 1-5 is as good as almost anybody in the league.
VEGAS SAYS: 45 wins .... SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 47 wins
6. MIAMI HEAT
Boss (Baseline wins): G Dwyane Wade (55 wins)
Consigliere: None to speak of
Capos: F Michael Beasley, G Mario Chalmers, F Udonis Haslem, C Jermaine O'Neal
Mitigating Factors: If there's a supporting cast that tests the limits of the "Seven wins worse than baseline" rule, this is it. It's D Wade and a bunch of garbage, as we saw in last year's postseason. Actually, you know what? Screw it, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is it. Even Dwyane Wade can't will this sorry bunch to 48 wins.
VEGAS SAYS: 40 wins ... SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 44 wins (somehow, some way)
7. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Caron Butler (40 wins)
Consigliere: G Gilbert Arenas
Capos: C Brendan Haywood, G Mike Miller, G Randy Foye, F Antawn Jamison (when healthy)
Mitigating Factors: When they're all healthy, this is one of the few teams in the league that has three legit, big time scorers. Problem is, they're all made of glass. Agent Zero needs to start earning his $111 million (and yes that sentence just made me throw up).
VEGAS SAYS: 41.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 41 wins
8. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Andre Iguodala (38 wins)
Consigliere: F Elton Brand
Capos: G Lou Williams, C Samuel Dalembert, C Marreese Speights, F Thaddeus Young
Mitigating Factors: I'm not a huge Andre Miller guy, but he was a pretty solid fit in Philly. Elton Brand, in what I think is his 8th career comeback, is the key to getting closer to 45 wins than 31 wins.
VEGAS SAYS: 41 wins...SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 39 wins
9. TORONTO RAPTORS
Boss (Baseline wins): F/C Chris Bosh (41 wins)
Consigliere: F Hedo Turkoglu
Capos: C Andrea Bargnani, G Jose Calderon, G DeMar DeRozan, G Jarrett Jack
Mitigating Factors: Yes, I have Chris Bosh's baseline as 41 wins, and yes that means I think unless he has a world-class supporting cast, he'll never be the best player on a 50-win team. Sorry, someone will spend $100+M on him next spring and regret it.
VEGAS SAYS: 41 wins .... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 37 wins
10. DETROIT PISTONS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Rip Hamilton (33 wins)
Consigliere: F Tayshaun Prince, but only because he's been there
Capos: G Ben Gordon, F Charlie Villanueva, G Rodney Stuckey, G Will Bynum
Mitigating Factors: Fun having Gordon, Hamilton, and Villanueva all on the same team if you're a UConn fan. If you're a Pistons fan, not so much. And that backcourt is smmmmaaallll. Have fun, D-town, the economy will turn around soon...sooner than your sports teams.
VEGAS SAYS: 41 wins ... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 35 wins
11. INDIANA PACERS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Danny Granger (39 wins)
Consigliere: G T.J. Ford
Capos: F Troy Murphy, G Dahntay Jones, C Jeff Foster, F Mike Dunleavy
Mitigating Factors: Danny Granger is a wonderful scorer, but after that it's kind of a mess. Does anyone have more meaningless double-doubles in NBA history than Troy Murphy?
VEGAS SAYS: 34.5 wins ... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 34 wins
12. NEW YORK KNICKS
Boss (Baseline wins): F/C David Lee (30 wins)
Consigliere: F Al Harrington
Capos: C Darko Milicic, G Chris Duhon, F Jared Jeffries. G Nate Robinson
Mitigating Factors: David Lee is a try-hard, all-out-effort guy who someday will get paid, but if he's your best player, well you're ceiling is probably 37 wins. Also, be sure to keep Braylon Edwards away from his friends.
VEGAS SAYS: 31 wins ... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 27 wins
13. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Gerald Wallace (24 wins)
Consigliere: C Tyson Chandler
Capos: G Raymond Felton, F Boris Diaw, G DJ Augustin, G Raja Bell
Mitigating Factors: Your best player is a major contract mistake from three years ago, and your second-best player was rejected by the OKC Thunder in a trade last year when they changed their mind -- errr, got nervous about his physical.
VEGAS SAYS: 35.5 wins ... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 27 wins
14. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Boss (Baseline wins): Michael Redd (27 wins)
Consigliere: C Andrew Bogut
Capos: F Kurt Thomas, F Hakim Warrick, G Brandon Jennnings
Mitigating Factors: This is a team that traded Richard Jefferson for a bag of dirty laundry and a sack of cow manure. Hope you enjoyed NBA basketball while you had it Milwaukee.
VEGAS SAYS: 26.5 wins ... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 22 wins (and that's being kind)
15. NEW JERSEY NETS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Devin Harris (30 wins)
Consigliere: C Brook Lopez
Capos: F Yi Jianlian, G Courtney Lee, F Bobby Simmons
Mitigating Factors: New Russian ownership paves the way for LOTS of Rounders jokes on the Sean & John Show. Sweet!!!
VEGAS SAYS: 27 wins ... SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 22 wins
1. LA LAKERS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Kobe Bryant (59 wins)
Consigliere: F Pao Gasol (until Ron Artest beats the snot out of him)
Capos: F Ron Artest, F Lamar Odom, G Derek Fisher, C Andrew Bynum
Mitigating Factors: Is the Staples Center gonna be big enough for Kobe's ego and Ron Artest's medicine cabinet? Are the seats in the front row big enough for Khloe Kardashian's ass?
VEGAS SAYS: 62 wins ...SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 64 wins
2. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Boss (Baseline wins): F/C Tim Duncan (56 wins)
Consigliere: G Manu Ginobili
Capos: G Tony Parker, F Richard Jefferson, F Antonio McDyess, G George Hill
Tim Duncan is their best player, Manu Ginobili is finally healthy, and Richard Jefferson can be the best fourth option in the league (which is what he should have been all along).
VEGAS SAYS: 54.4 wins ... SEAN SAYS: WAY THE HELL OVER -- 64 wins
3. UTAH JAZZ
Boss (Baseline wins): G Deron Williams (54 wins)
Consigliere: F Carlos Boozer
Capos: F Andrei Kirilenko, F Paul Milsap, C Mehmet Okur, G Ronnie Brewer
Mitigating Factors: Carlos Boozer should be motivated as he is entering a contract year, which means one more chance to swindle someone out of big bucks! Deep, talented team with a great sense of who they are (which, some would argue "yes, they know they are jackasses".)
VEGAS SAYS: 50 wins ... SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 55 wins
4. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Dirk Nowitzki (52 wins)
Consigliere: G Jason Kidd
Capos: G Josh Howard, F Shawn Marion, C Erick Dampier, G Jason Terry
Mitigating Factors: Dirk Nowitzki should be able to focus much better knowing he's not a father and that his Brooke Hundley-crazy girlfriend is behind bars.
VEGAS SAYS: 49 wins ....SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 54 wins
5. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Chris Paul (54 wins)
Consigliere: F David West
Capos: C Emeka Okafor, G Morris Peterson, F Peja Stojakovic, F James Posey
Mitigating Factors: Was the Emeka Okafor trade just one bad contract for another? How soon until they start dumping everything around Chris Paul (or dump Chris Paul??) because of finances?
VEGAS SAYS: 46.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 48 wins
6. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Brandon Roy (47 wins)
Consigliere: F LaMarcus Aldridge
Capos: G Andre Miller, C Greg Oden, G Rudy Fernandez, F Martell Webster
Mitigating Factors: This will be everyone's hot team again this year; I'm just wondering when they go from being a "young, exciting group" to a group that has to produce. Andre Miller and Brandon Roy has a weird vibe to it, too.
VEGAS SAYS: 53.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 47 wins
7. DENVER NUGGETS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Carmelo Anthony (49 wins)
Consigliere: G Chauncey Billups
Capos: F Kenyon Martin, F Chris Andersen, C Nene, G JR Smith
Mitigating Factors: A lot went right for this team to get to the conference finals last year; Billups as the "glue" to the group kind of fell apart when possessions started to matter in May and June. I'm feeling a backslide.
VEGAS SAYS: 52.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 45 wins
8. PHOENIX SUNS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Steve Nash (45 wins)
Consigliere: F/C Amare Stoudemire
Capos: G Jason Richardson, F Grant Hill, G Leandro Barbosa
Mitigating Factors: Nash is still the guy, but he's not the killer he was a few years ago in Mike D'Antoni's offense. Interior defense is a huge issue, too.
VEGAS SAYS: 40.5 wins ...SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 42 wins
9. HOUSTON ROCKETS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Luis Scola (28 wins)
Consigliere: G Aaron Brooks
Capos: F Shane Battier, F Carl Landry, G Kyle Lowry, F Chase Budinger, F Trevor Ariza
Mitigating Factors: Nobody knows what the Rockets will get out of Tracy McGrady, if anything. But this team does have the biggest bump from their supporting cast to their Boss player. Effort won't be an issue.
VEGAS SAYS: 36 wins ... SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 37 wins
10. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Boss (Baseline wins): F Kevin Durant (39 wins)
Consigliere: G Russell Westbrook
Capos: F Jeff Green, C Nenad Krstic, G James Harden, F Nick Collison
Mitigating Factors: Everyone's favorite "young team who will surprise people a little bit" this season. Kind of like Portland a couple years ago.
VEGAS SAYS: 34 wins ...SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 35 wins
11. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Boss (Baseline wins): G O.J. Mayo (32 wins)
Consigliere: G Allen Iverson
Capos: F Rudy Gay, F Zach Randolph, G Mike Conley, C Hasheem Thabeet
Mitigating Factors: One of the most intriguing teams in the league, if for no other reason than to bet on who will spontaneously combust first -- Iverson, Gay, or Randolph.
VEGAS SAYS: 27.5 wins .... SEAN SAYS: OVER -- 30 wins
12. LA CLIPPERS
Boss (Baseline wins): F Blake Griffin (28 wins)
Consigliere: G Baron Davis
Capos: G Eric Gordon, F Al Thornton, C Chris Kaman, C Marcus Camby
Mitigating Factors: It was actually starting to look somewhat promising in Clipperland ... and then Blake Griffin's knee injury arrived early. Why can't I get action down on that in Vegas? GRIFFIN KNEE INJURY -300. Dammit.
VEGAS SAYS: Off the board .... SEAN SAYS: Screw Vegas! - 28 wins
13. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Monta Ellis (24 wins)
Consigliere: G Stephen Jackson
Capos: C Andris Biedrins, F Corey Maggette, G Stephen Curry
Mitigating Factors: Don Nelson does know that Stephen Jackson likes to play with guns, right?
VEGAS SAYS: 34 wins ...SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 27 wins
14. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Boss (baseline wins): C Al Jefferson (34 wins)
Consigliere: None to speak of .. G Jonny Flynn, maybe?
Capos: F Ryan Gomes, G Ramon Sessions, F Corey Brewer
Mitigating Factors: This would've been an interesting team if Ricky Rubio didn't hate Minnesota so much.
VEGAS SAYS: 26 wins .... SEAN SAYS: VEGAS IS RIGHT! - 26 wins
15. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Boss (Baseline wins): G Kevin Martin (23 wins)
Consigliere: None, this is a terrible, terrible team
Capos: G Tyreke Evans, F Andres Nocioni, C Spencer Hawes
Mitigating Factors: When Kevin Martin is your best player .. well, you're the Sacramento Kings.
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VEGAS SAYS: 24 wins ...SEAN SAYS: UNDER -- 18 wins
MVP -- LeBron James, Cavaliers
ROOKIE -- Blake GriffinN, Clippers (Yes, even missing 6 weeks, he'll still win it)
COACH -- Gregg Popovich, Spurs
MOST IMPROVED -- Aaron Brooks, Rockets
DEFENSIVE -- Dwight Howard, Magic
NBA FINAL FOUR -- Cleveland vs Boston and LA vs SA
NBA FINALS -- SA over Cleveland in 6