Betting the Wolves Over Is Free Money

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not a gambler. I’ve been to Vegas once, and I spent my time playing penny slots waiting for the waitstaff to bring me free beer. I figure if I lose $15 and get two or three free drinks out of it, I’ve come out ahead. But sometimes I see a betting line in sports that has me questioning whether this is the year that I dive head first into sports betting. This year, for the first time in a long time, the Minnesota Timberwolves win total over/under looks like as sure a bet as anyone could get.

Sure, betting the Wolves over is typically a great way to lose money. Somehow the Wolves managed to underperform their preseason Vegas odds in eight out of the last 10 seasons.

Year Preseason O/U Actual Win Total
2022-23 48.5 42
2021-22 34.5 46*
2020-21 29.5 23
2019-20 35.5 19
2018-19 44.5 36**
2017-18 48.5 47***
2016-17 41.5 31
2015-16 25.5 29
2014-15 26.5 16
2013-14 41.5 40

*First-ever play-in champion season and the second-greatest Wolves season of all time in my opinion

**This is the Jimmy Butler saga season. Had Jimmy actually played for the team the Wolves would’ve probably hit the over. Hell, if Jimmy hadn’t made himself such a menace to the team (and in turn, the league), maybe Minnesota could’ve gotten more in return for his trade than Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Jerryd Bayless and hit the over!

***First Jimmy season. I would consider this the second-greatest Wolves season in history, but the team really crapped the bed while Jimmy was hurt. I was also in the audience when the Houston Rockets hung a 50-piece on the Wolves in one quarter, and I will never be able to wash that stink off of me. 

But this season feels different. Vegas has set the betting line at 43.5 wins. That’s a surprisingly low number considering the Timberwolves won 42 games last season without Karl-Anthony Towns on the court for most of it. But the Wolves transformed after the trade deadline. Although it didn’t necessarily amount to more wins in the aggregate, the team looked like it was starting to make some sense. Anthony Edwards ended his season with a continued his ascension into super-stardom, looking like one of the best players in the league against the eventual champion Denver Nuggets. Then he took that show on the road and looked like one of the best players in the world during the FIBA World Cup.

Mike Conley brought cohesion and steadiness to the team that desperately needed it. Jaden McDaniels was one of the best defensive players in the NBA last season. There’s a mountain of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this line is way too low. There is also at least a little bit of statistical evidence to back up what I’m sure many Wolves fans feel: This team will be better this season.

The likely starting lineup of Conley, Edwards, McDaniels, Towns, and Rudy Gobert barely got time to play together last season. Cleaning The Glass tracked 156 non-garbage time possessions those five played together. That’s not a very large sample size, but the group had a +5.8 net rating when they played. For reference, the Cleveland Cavaliers had a +5.8 net rating last season and won 51 games. Obviously, an entire team’s net rating goes beyond the starters, but it’s also a measure of how well the bench plays.

Minnesota’s current group of bench players looks pretty solid. The top eight in the rotation feels pretty set barring any unforeseen circumstances in training camp. Naz Reid just inked a new three-year, $42 million extension. Kyle Anderson was fourth on the team in minutes played with 1,957 minutes logged. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was up and down when he joined the team after the trade deadline. However, the Wolves shunted him into a much larger role in the postseason after McDaniels broke his hand. His performance in the play-in and playoffs makes him a likely candidate to sop up plenty of minutes off the bench.

The limited data doesn’t like that bench unit quite as much. Using NBA.com’s lineups tool, NAW, SloMo, and Naz were one of the Wolves’s worst 3-man lineups with a -18.4 net rating. The good news is that the sample size here is also incredibly small; they only played 87 minutes together.

It is likely that the rest of the rotation will be won during training camp and throughout the season. Minnesota has plenty of options and some interesting depth to fill in the gaps — especially at guard. Injuries can be a surefire way for a team to hit the under on their betting line, but the Timberwolves seem to have enough talent on the roster before the season start to be able to withstand all but the most disastrous of injury luck. If Minnesota’s season goes according to plan, they should finish well above the 43.5-win total. Even if the team hits some very Wolvesy bumps along the way, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota not scraping together just two more wins than they did in a borderline disaster season last year.

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