What 2022 NBA Futures Do Computer Projections Love And Hate?

Written By Mo Nuwwarah on October 19, 2021

The time for prognosticating has nearly ended, and the time for NBA basketball has arrived. With the dawn of the NBA season has come the publicly available 2022 NBA projections, and as usual, hoops junkies have plenty of fascinating pieces of information to parse before considering NBA win totals, futures and other available wagers.

Cross-referencing the projections against the betting market expectations can help you try to identify market inefficiencies — and models’ blind spots. Which teams do the computers like that the betting market doesn’t, and vice versa?

To find out, TheLines compared projection systems from FiveThirtyEight and DARKO (featured in The Athletic) against the numbers from the market. We’ll look at five teams the computers love, five teams they hate, and one interesting case of split opinion.

5 Teams Computer Models Like More Than Betting Markets

Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

It may surprise you to find the Milwaukee Bucks here. After all, they just won the title. Usually a team like that will be the darling of bettors everywhere. Particularly so when they bring the band back.

But that’s exactly what has happened and yet…the computers are much bigger fans of the Bucks than the market. At least one book even opened them behind the Warriors, coming off a season where they got bounced in the play-in tournament.

Obviously, the Kyrie Irving vaccine situation has played in the Bucks’ favor, significantly weakening their biggest East rival, the favored Nets. If Irving doesn’t go, these teams should be pretty closely matched. The projections probably have a hard time figuring a minutes distribution for Irving, while the sportsbooks are on record with TheLines saying they expect him to get vaccinated eventually.

Still, many likely remember how even a Nets team with just Kevin Durant and Irving thoroughly dominated Milwaukee before Irving left Durant by his lonesome. That’s likely the root of the market’s skepticism.

LA Clippers

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

Again, we have a situation where a critical injury has created uncertainty. In this case, the player in question is obviously Kawhi Leonard. Leonard suffered a torn ACL in the playoffs, and it’s anyone’s guess what he brings to the table if anything this year. He could come back during the season and be his normal self in the playoffs, or he could miss every second his team plays.

The rest of the team did perform well without him for awhile in the playoffs as they gave the Suns a run and actually finished off the Jazz in two straight games. How sustainable is that for an 82-game season?

We’re likely about to find out, according to the market.

However, while both projections agree this looks like a middling team in the regular season, FiveThirtyEight thinks this is the second-most likely champion. And not by a small amount — their 13% title odds are well above the third-ranked team at 9%.

That’s quite a proclamation and it simply comes from the expectation Leonard will return and make this team a powerhouse again.

Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

Once more, uncertainty around a key player means the 76ers are a difficult team to project. This time, of course, it’s Ben Simmons. The erstwhile point guard has reportedly rejoined the team, so there’s a glimmer of hope that he may play after he had threatened to sit out.

How important is Simmons? Well, it obviously depends on what sort of return the team could get for him. But, the stats paint a pretty clear picture, per Cleaning The Glass:

  • Simmons and Joel Embiid on: +15.9 per 100 possessions
  • Embiid on, Simmons off: +1.2 per 100 possessions

Ugly playoff performance notwithstanding, Simmons made a massive difference to this team.

Interestingly, both projection systems are significantly higher than the market on 76ers win totals. Perhaps the projections are most optimistic on Embiid’s shaky health?

Boston Celtics

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

Here we have the first of this bunch that made significant roster moves in the offseason. The Celtics are still built around their two star wings, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum.

However, the supporting cast skews a bit larger now. They’ve shipped out Kemba Walker and brought in Al Horford. They may play some double-big lineups with Horford and playoff standout Robert Williams III.

The market actually came in with some support on the Celtics in futures markets but bettors are still nowhere near as high on the C’s as FiveThirtyEight, which considers them a fairly legit title contender and loves the over on their NBA win totals.

Another wild card: what effect will the exit of Coach Brad Stevens, now in the front office, have? Most considered Stevens among the best tacticians in the league. Ime Udoka is a well-respected league veteran but a rookie in the top job.

Portland Trail Blazers

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

This one’s interesting because the market actually didn’t touch the Blazers in the futures markets, judging from the price crashing from +5000 to +8000.

And while the FiveThirtyEight projections agree with the original price, it’s not like they’re recommending emptying the wallet.

The big disagreements here come in the NBA win totals market. Both projection systems are smashing the over here, while the market sees a team fighting just to avoid the play-in race and likely losing.

If you dive deeper into the projections, you can see both models view Damian Lillard as an apex superstar. FiveThirtyEight has Lillard as the fifth-most impactful player — ahead of the likes of LeBron James — while DARKO rates him 11th.

His defensive shortcomings have held the team back come playoff time, though. History has shown pretty clearly that size does matter in the playoffs as wings and big men usually take over games. Small lead guards generally lose value in comparison.

The regular season could be a different story, though. We’ll see if new Coach Chauncey Billups can shore up this defense in the mean time.

5 Teams Computer Models Like Less Than Betting Markets

Brooklyn Nets

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

We already referenced the thorny issue with trying to project when and if Irving will get onto the court with this team.

That manifests in the computers by both models pointing at the Nets being among the most overrated teams. FiveThirtyEight loves the under on their NBA win totals. DARKO has a tad more optimism but still thinks they finish under.

Interestingly, that number has actually nudged upward since open despite the bad news that Irving won’t play for the foreseeable future.

As for their chances in the playoffs, Durant obviously showed last year he’s probably the single most formidable force in the league now. That carries much more weight in the playoffs where stars can increase their minutes and usage.

Still, this team has numerous questions about defense and rebounding. They skew very small with Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, neither of whom is a plus defender or rebounder at this point, likely to play a lot of center.

This team had an off-the-charts offense, though. With James Harden and Kevin Durant sharing the floor without Irving, they had a +19.8 differential per Cleaning The Glass and scored a scorching 128.7 points per 100 possessions.

LA Lakers

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

Again, the market respects star power more so than the models here.

Interestingly, the two models actually differ significantly in their estimations of LeBron James’ value. DARKO has him as the third-most impactful player, while FiveThirtyEight’s system barely judged him to be top 20 last year.

Regardless, both models seem very skeptical of this shooting-light collection of players. Russell Westbrook has long been a favorite punching bag of the models. They don’t respect his stat-stuffing near as much as they ding him for his defense and lack of long-range accuracy.

Both computers are piling all of their fake money onto the under here. FiveThirtyEight thinks this is barely a playoff team while DARKO considers them a middle-of-the-pack group. It’s a little shocking to see the models projecting their title chances around teams like the Blazers and Pelicans.

LeBron James has proven over and over in his career that he’s an automatic ticket to contention but this might be his most interesting test yet. The Lakers skew very old and very shooting-challenged. They have a massive downside but also a huge upside if everything clicks and Anthony Davis stays healthy.

Golden State Warriors

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

Another monster disagreement from the computers comes from another longtime title contender. Again, recall that at least one market opened the Warriors as third in the title chase, ahead of the Bucks.

The models do not see a rosy return for Klay Thompson in particular here. Coming off both a torn ACL and an Achilles tear, it’s anyone’s guess what level the former star can reach, but the computers have set the bar staggeringly low. DARKO estimates Thompson is barely a net positive, while FiveThirtyEight places him in the “scrub” category and thinks he’s a negative.

Bettors and market makers remember that this is the same core that won a league-record 73 games and appeared in back-to-back Finals.

Still, 2016 was a long time ago. It’s not hard to see the downside for this team. If anything happens to Stephen Curry, this is a lottery team for sure. The bench looks awful again. Last year, they had a -8.6 per 100 differential when Curry sat, a 15th percentile number.

FiveThirtyEight has them missing the playoffs while the market sees a solid title contender. The battle lines are drawn. So we’ll see who winds up correct.

Miami Heat

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

The Heat are yet another veteran-laden team with some players that appear to be potential stars on paper but have fairly significant downside.

Does Kyle Lowry still have star-level play left? He turns 36 this season and the massive contract the Heat gave him could potentially turn into an albatross in a hurry. FiveThirtyEight was not a huge fan of his work last year but projects a significant bounce back in 2021-22 before a steep decline.

Jimmy Butler had an injury-plagued season last year, appearing in only 52 games. His numbers looked great when he did play. But, he has shouldered a huge minutes load in his career and has reached the tail end of his prime.

The market has been high on this team, moving them up the futures board and nudging their NBA win totals up by one, but the models see a very fringe contender in the middle of the Eastern Conference picture.

Chicago Bulls

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

One of the most made over teams, the Bulls feature a star-laden lineup with new additions DeMar Derozan and Lonzo Ball joining last year’s trade piece Nikola Vucevic.

How does it all fit together? The big worry on paper is that this team has too many players at their best handling the ball. Combining those three players with Zach LaVine puts multiple unreliable shooters on the floor, especially with fifth starter Patrick Williams and probably sixth man Alex Caruso being low-volume deep threats.

Defense figures to become an even bigger problem. Williams looks like the only plus defender in the starting lineup. Vucevic and Derozan are large minuses and LaVine is below average on a good day. How will this team stop anyone?

The Bulls have been among the most bet teams in the NBA win totals market, one of just three teams to see a two-win move. However, both models are big fans of the under here and FiveThirtyEight sees their title chances as non-existent.

Pelicans An Interesting Split Opinion In NBA Projections

NBA Title July OddsOpening Night Odds538 PriceWin Total538 WinsDARKO Wins

One of the other biggest movers in the NBA win totals market has been the New Orleans Pelicans. Unlike the Bulls, the market was not a fan of this team, dropping their total to 38.5 while seeing their title odds go from +8000 to +11000.

DARKO is on board with this move, seeing a team on the fringe of the play-in race.

Much of the Pelicans skepticism also stems from the lack of defense on the roster. They posted a bottom-10 defensive efficiency last season and replaced Steven Adams, a solid defender, with Jonas Valanciunas, another player known for his offense. They have multiple solid defenders on the bench, but the starting lineup could allow league-worst levels of scoring.

However, the team’s offense looks potentially potent. They took off on that end when Zion Williamson shouldered a large share of ball handling.

Likely due to Williamson’s efficiency, FiveThirtyEight actually loves the Pelicans, projecting them to very easily clear their season total and seeing them in the same tier of contention as the Lakers.

The big disagreements appear to stem from Devonte’ Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart. FiveThirtyEight projects all as positive contributors while DARKO sees Graham as a tick above neutral and the others as sizable negatives.

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Mo Nuwwarah

Mo Nuwwarah got his start in gambling early, making his first sports bet on his beloved Fab Five against the UNC Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament. He lost $5 to his dad and got back into sports betting years later during a 15-year run in the poker industry. A 2011 journalism graduate from Nebraska-Omaha, he combines those skills with his love of sports and statistics to help bettors make more informed decisions with a focus on pro football, baseball and basketball.

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