Isaac Newton may have had physics in mind when we wrote his famous Third Law, but the principles apply just as neatly to the NBA, where the success of one team often comes at the expense of another. Every game demands winners and losers, and every year we see some teams ascend to spectacular new heights, while others hit rock bottom and just keep on digging.
The 2017-18 season is still four weeks away, but we already know precisely which teams will regress most this year. Unsurprisingly, most are not going to surpass the preseason win-totals set by Vegas (in our humble opinion). Let’s look at the five teams poised to slip the most this season, and contrast their preseason O/Us with our more realistic win-total projection.
The race to the bottom begins now!
Chicago Bulls: 19-game regression
Momma always said that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, so we’ll keep this one quick. The Bulls have great jerseys and… uh… ummmm… they’re going to be more unwatchable than a Pauley Shore movie marathon.
Sorry, Momma. We just couldn’t do it. The Bulls are too bad not to trash. The team traded Jimmy Butler for five jockstraps and a ball bag, and Dwyane Wade already has one foot out the door after his first (and likely only) season in Chicago. The team’s marketing flacks will try to sell you on the upside of Kris Dunn and the untapped potential of Lauri Markkanen, but make no mistake about it, this team has been built to lose. Chicago is praying that the NBA holds off on retooling their draft lottery system just long enough for them to lose 60 games and luck into Michael Porter or Marvin Bagley. It won’t make this season worthwhile, but it will go a long way towards making the Bulls relevant again.
Vegas over/under: 28.5 wins
SBD projection: 22 wins
Atlanta Hawks: 14.5-game regression
You have to make a concerted effort to be among the worst teams in the East, and that’s precisely what the Hawks have done. Over the past three years, the team has traded All-Stars Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and Dwight Howard, and allowed Al Horford and Paul Millsap to leave in free agency without compensation. The last time we saw an exodus that big it was being led by Moses.
The Hawks will almost certainly miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007, but what’s unclear is how long it will take before they’re playing meaningful games in May again. The roster suffers from a major talent shortage from top to bottom, and Denis Schroder has yet to prove he can make anyone around him better. That’s a damning indictment for any franchise player, but especially when he’s your point guard. It could be a long time before the Hawks fly high again.
Vegas over/under: 34.5 wins
SBD projection: 29 wins
Indiana Pacers: 11.5-game regression
The Pacers are about to find out just how valuable Paul George really is. Indiana traded its franchise player for pennies on the dollar during the offseason in a move that was about as popular as a 50-year-old woman at a Hollywood party. We appreciate the team’s desire to trade PG13 before he left the team in free agency, but surely they could have done better than Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
The decidedly undynamic duo will become the new faces of the franchise along with up-and-coming center Myles Turner. Indiana’s roster isn’t terrible per se, but we can’t help but feel that Kevin Pritchard could have come away with more young prospects and draft picks in exchange for his four-time All-Star.
Indiana snuck into the playoffs with a 42-40 record last year, but with George now in OKC they’re likely headed to the draft lottery.
Vegas over/under: 31.5 wins
SBD projection: 31 wins
Utah Jazz: 11-game regression
Put your hand up if you’re excited about the arrivals of Nate Wolters, Royce O’Neal, and Ekpe Udoh. Anyone? Anyone at all? Utah will have a dearth of household names on their roster this season after Gordon Hayward, George Hill, and Shelvin Mack were all allowed to slip away in free agency. The loss of Hayward hurts the most, as the do-everything forward had just been named to his first All-Star team after posting career highs in points and rebounds per game. His ability to create for himself and others kept Utah’s offense efficient and was a big reason the team won 51 games during the regular season.
Utah’s D is still rock solid, but the team will struggle to score points efficiently. Rodney Hood is a high-volume chucker, Rudy Gobert’s moves are rawer than a plate of chicken sashimi, and Ricky Rubio’s shooting is so gruesome it should come with a parental warning. Those deficiencies should lead to an 11-game drop-off and a whole lot of long nights in Salt Lake City. This is one team where Vegas is actually more pessimistic than we are.
Vegas over/under: 37.5 wins
SBD projection: 40 wins
Memphis Grizzlies: 7-game regression
Let’s have a moment of silence for the Grizzlies’ Grind House Era. The fiercely physical, smash-mouth style of ball favored by Memphis wasn’t always pretty, but it sure was effective. The Grizzlies went to the playoffs seven consecutive times from 2011 to 2017 and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
Alas, Grind House ball is officially dead following the departures of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, both of whom were allowed to walk away in free agency. Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol are still around, but the rest of the roster prompts more questions than answers. Will Chandler Parsons bounce back following his third knee surgery? Will Ben McLemore be able to revive his career after four forgettable years in Sacramento? Are Brandon Wright’s ears large enough to hear conversations from 500 miles away? Okay, we might be the only ones asking that last one, but we’re legitimately curious.
The Grizzlies won 43 games last season, but the emergence of the Nuggets and the Wolves makes it unlikely that they’ll return to the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year.
Vegas over/under: 40.5 wins
SBD projection: 36 wins