On Aug. 10, Caesars released its NBA win totals for the 2022-23 season.
At the bottom of the list were the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Indiana Pacers. They all had a win total pegged at 24.5.
Fast forward two months and the Spurs and Pacers have fallen to 22.5, the Rockets to 23.5.
But we’re not done.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were at 26.5, and now they’re down to 24.5.
In short: The bottom four teams lost seven projected wins.
And not to be outdone, after the Utah Jazz dealt star guard Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sept. 1, their win total has cratered from 32.5 down to 23.5.
Why the precipitous drop for all these rebuilding teams?
The answer is simple: an 18-year-old French kid named Victor Wembanyama, who is breaking the models for what a tanking team might do to secure the best chance of landing the most coveted player in the NBA draft lottery.
There's going to be more tanking this season than in the Battle of Prokhorovka. https://t.co/uaOAVivywC
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 6, 2022
Worth noting: You can rearrange the letters in “Victor Wembanyama” to spell “Macabre Yawn Vomit,” which is highly descriptive of the type of basketball these Wembanyama-hopefuls are bound to present to their fans this year.
Betting the under?
Despite on-court skill leaving much to be desired for the tanking teams, their race to the bottom for Wembanyama — a 7-foot-4-inch center who moves like a small forward, which is about as descriptive as calling the sun “hot” — is clearly going to be one of the more exciting things to watch in the NBA this year.
37 points, 5 blocks and 7 made 3s for Victor Wembanyama in his first ever game on US soil. Showed exactly why he's considered a generational talent and the projected No. 1 pick in a loaded draft class. pic.twitter.com/DolqdnkAty
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) October 5, 2022
Of course, with Wembanyama hype reaching a fever pitch after his debut on U.S. soil a few weeks ago, a good question for the gambling public is simply this: Is there any value left in taking the under on the tanking teams?
The answer? Probably not.
“Man, the bad teams got hammered a few weeks ago,” said NBA analyst Mike Gallagher of Establish The Run. “The Jazz were going at 31.5 before the Donovan deal. Plus, a lot of other tank teams got hit pretty hard, so there’s probably not a lot of value at this point. We got a lot of them early, so we got some sweet Sklansky bucks.”
Andy Means, a noted NBA analyst who is director of premium content for our sister site Rotogrinders, more or less agrees.
“So I think we will have a handful of tanking teams this season, just like we have seen the past few seasons,” Means said. “Wembanyama is just so good, though, that the noise around the tanking is just going to be far louder. Do I still like some unders on tanking teams? Yes – see: Jazz, Utah – but I don’t think it is as pronounced as most are making it out to be.”
Means noted Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite is also going to make a hell of a consolation prize for whoever gets the second pick, as he as well is widely considered to be one of the best prospects in recent memory.
Bill Simmons, noted NBA nut, went all-in on Wembanyama on his namesake podcast.
“If I was Utah, if I was San Antonio, if I was Charlotte, if I was Indiana, if I was whatever team starts out slow and didn’t expect to have not that great of a season, maybe like a Washington, I don’t know, I’m tanking. I’m tanking away,” Simmons said, calling Wembanyama the best prospect since LeBron James, and possibly the best since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“I’m starting G-League guys, I’m doing weird s**t, I’m coming up with fake reasons guys aren’t playing, like COVID — ‘Oh, he got COVID again, yeah, test him’ — switching COVID tests. Whatever I have to do. I want to get in that lottery in the top four spots where I have a chance at this guy.”
Let the games begin
Right off the bat next week, there are some — ahem — marquee games featuring teams with legitimate lottery hopes. The Magic and Detroit Pistons (and their 30.5 win total) face off on Wednesday. So do the Wizards (35.5) and the Pacers. As do the Hornets with their 37.5 over/under taking on the Spurs.
Things really pick up Oct. 21, with the Spurs and Pacers facing off in a game neither of their general managers wants to win.
All in all, the Wembanyama subplot might end up being the whole story to the NBA this year, and those win totals are surely going to be watched by some of the sharper bettors out there.
Photo: Lucas Peltier/USA TODAY