Last week, Westgate released over/under betting odds for every NBA team’s win total during the 2017-18 season, along with a number of other lines to bet. From the over/under, to odds to make the playoffs, win the division, or win a championship, there are a lot of reasons for why the odds were released in this fashion. Las Vegas does a lot of projection of how they believe teams will finish this upcoming season, as well as what the public perception of that team will be. The over/under for a team isn’t a legitimate win projection, but merely a number meant to generate equal bets on both sides.

For example, the Minnesota Timberwolves currently have an O/U of 48.5, meaning that 49 wins would be considered OVER, and 48 wins would be considered UNDER. The T’Wolves won merely 31 games last season, but they acquired Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford during the offseason. Combine that with projected growth from Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and other young players on the roster, and Las Vegas expects the T’Wolves to be much better this season. They set an aggressive O/U line at 48.5 though, one that will be very difficult to hit. Still, Vegas believes that enough bets will come in at OVER 48.5 because of public perception, and they are likely correct.

For the Denver Nuggets, the O/U line is currently set at 45.5, meaning that 46-36 and better would be OVER and 45-37 would be UNDER. With the addition of Paul Millsap, Vegas is also expecting some growth from Denver, but the Nuggets have less of a public profile than the T’Wolves, even if it’s possible that they could be better than their divisional foe. The last two seasons, Denver’s O/U line has been set comically low at 26.5 in 2015-16 (won 33 games) and at 33.5 in 2016-17 (won 40 games). Vegas appears to have learned from mistakes in the past with the Nuggets, and they are projecting healthy improvement this season even with the loss of Danilo Gallinari.

It’s nice to see, but I remain bullish on Denver’s odds for the 2017-18 season. Here are five reasons why the Nuggets will beat the odds and post 46 wins or more this year.

The starting lineup has fewer questions this season

Before last season, the Nuggets tested out a twin towers lineup throughout camp, starting Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic together throughout the preseason and during the first eight games of the season. They had to try this for a variety of reasons, mostly due to the talent of both players, but when it didn’t work, Jokic was sent to the bench until December 15th. From the beginning of the season to 12/14 (25 games), the Nuggets put out 10 different starting lineups and posted a 9-16 record. Some of it was due to injuries, and some of it was due to tinkering from just being bad at the beginning of every game.

This season, the Nuggets don’t have those questions (as of now). Three starters are all but guaranteed to be in the opening lineup on October 18th: Jokic, Millsap, and Gary Harris. Wilson Chandler is likely in that group as well, though it’s possible Michael Malone might want Juancho Hernangomez in the lineup for extra floor spacing. The only true lineup question mark is who starts at point guard, but if this offseason is any indication, the Nuggets have full confidence in Jamal Murray taking the reins early.

After that 9-16 start, the Nuggets posted a 31-26 record, good enough for a 54.4 win percentage and a prorated win total of 44.6 over 82 games. Even if they hadn’t made any changes to the roster, it’s possible that greater continuity would put them above 45.5 wins anyway.

Young players are taking steps forward

Much of the hype around Denver is because of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, two top 30 players in the NBA. That being said, there are other young players who will be expected to make an impact. The Nuggets acquired Trey Lyles in a draft night deal with the Utah Jazz, and he has some nice potential offensively. Both Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez should continue to push for more playing time in their second seasons. Hernangomez is currently playing a complementary role on the Spanish National team, and he looks like he’s put in some work during the offseason.

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Emmanuel Mudiay received an opportunity to start games last year, but he was removed from the starting lineup in the middle of January due to injury and never returned. His performance has been below expectations the last two seasons, but it’s always possible things click and he becomes a better player. Jamal Murray, this past season’s first round draft pick, was eased into playing time this year (aside from early injuries putting him in the starting lineup). He showed enough for the Nuggets to basically take him off the table in any trade for Kyrie Irving, and him developing is one of the keys to the Nuggets’ season.

Harris is another key young piece, but he’s not just young. He’s the third most important player on the Nuggets.

Gary Harris will play more minutes and more games

Last season, Harris’ first half was marred by the injury bug, as he missed 25 of the 56 games before the All-Star break last year. The Nuggets were 29-28 in games Harris played last year, and during the second half, he only missed the final game of the year due to rest. In the other 25? Denver went 14-11. Harris averaged nearly 17 points per game on a flaming hot 64.8 TS% during that stretch.

If Jokic is the maestro of the Nuggets offense, Harris is his baton. The two have incredible synergy, and Harris’ propensity to cut, curl around screens, and make the right decision with the ball in OR out of his hands has helped Denver’s offense transform. It would be surprising to see Harris replicate those second half numbers over a full season, but he did put up 14.9 PPG on 61.2 TS%, so a step up is within the realm of possibility.

Harris played 57 games and just 1,782 minutes last season. Barring injury, he should eclipse 2,300 minutes easily in 2017-18, and the more he plays, the better the Nuggets will be.

Paul Millsap is a clear upgrade and better fit

The last time Danilo Gallinari played 2,300 minutes was during the 2012-13 season when he tore his ACL at the end of the year and missed the entire 2013-14 season. He crossed that threshold one other time, playing heavy minutes in his second season for the New York Knicks. Paul Millsap became a full starter seven years ago, and he has crossed the 2,300 minute threshold six times, the exception being a 2,100 minute season in 2011-12.

Millsap is one of the most reliable and consistent players during the past decade, consistently putting up 17 points and 8 rebounds a night. Last season, he shouldered more of an offensive role, tying a career high in field goal attempts at just over 14 per game. He has also turned himself into one of the best defenders in the NBA during this stretch, finishing 63rd, 43rd, 12th, and 14th overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus during the four years of its release to the public.

His ability to create for himself (9th most efficient player on Post Ups, 27th most efficient player in Isolations) will help make up for the loss of Gallinari on offense, as will his passing ability. Defensively, he will far surpass Gallinari, likely turning Denver into a better defense overall.

Nikola Jokic is still really, really good

How many players in the NBA can send the Defensive Player of the Year flying?

Or back down LeBron James in the post, the King of the NBA, like it was a simple mismatch?

Or grab a rebound in traffic and make a blind, overhead pass while being triple-teamed?

Jokic makes the highlight plays, but he also makes the simple plays: hitting the cutter, finishing in the pick and roll, spacing the floor for others, things of that nature.

There are things he has to work on though, namely becoming a better defender and asserting himself late in games. Much has been made of his defense during the last year, and he has to continue to improve on that end. His reputation on defense is worse than where he actually is, but bad is bad. He needs to be in better shape and not be a liability against elite offensive players.

With Danilo Gallinari gone, Jokic is also clearly the best scorer on the team now. This needs to translate into more aggressiveness in looking for his own shot. He should still operate within the flow of the offense, but he’s also very good at creating his own shot (3rd most efficient player in Post Ups, 48th most efficient player in isolations). Down the stretch of games, him and Millsap should be able to captain an offense to victory through solid ball movement, but if things break down, both guys produce efficient shots via self-creation. This will help Denver attack defenses in different ways at the end of games, an area in which they had issues last season.

What say you, Nuggets Nation? Over or Under? 45.5 wins is a good line for an improving team, but I think the Nuggets will surpass it. There are too many talented players at every position, and talent finds a way in the NBA.

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