ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton released his NBA projections for the 2016-2017 season. You can check out the original article and an explanation of the methodology to the rankings here. As expected, the Golden State Warriors stand atop the Western Conference with a projected 66.8 wins.
This lofty projection reminds me of an article that came out shortly after the Warriors acquired Kevin Durant. Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated reported that one NBA front office ran simulations for the 2016-2017 season and projected that the Warriors would win 83 games in an 82 game season.
Statistically impossible projections aside, although Kevin Durant is a world class talent, as recently proved at the 2016 Rio Olympics, an expectation that his inclusion on a team that just achieved the all-time best regular season record of 73-9 will yield 74 or more wins is a bit far-fetched. Barring injury, the Warriors should be the favorite for almost every game they play this year and while a 67 win projection is amazing, it is not out of reach. If the Warriors are able to complete the upcoming season with that record — the same record they posted during their 2014-2015 championship season — they should be able to secure home court advantage for the playoffs for the third straight year.
Pelton’s analysis of the Warriors’ projection provides an interesting note, comparing the 2016-2017 Warriors to the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. He writes:
“Within the context of the conservative nature of win projections, which tend to be regressed heavily to the mean, a 67-win projection is remarkable. The Warriors' projection is two wins higher than the next best in the seven years I've gone back to do projections using this method: 64.9 for the 2010-11 Miami Heat, who actually won just 58 games because of the time it took their version of the Big Three to build chemistry on the court.”
The stars of that Heat superteam, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, had to significantly rework their games in order to play with each other. James and Wade had to hash out how to reconcile the overlapping aspects of their play while Bosh was required to get used to playing without the ball constantly in his hands. In addition, the team itself had no established offensive system and Coach Erik Spoelstra tinkered with lineups and offensive schemes in order to figure out how to utilize the new personnel.
By contrast, three of the Warriors’ starters, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, and two of the key bench players, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, have been playing together for several seasons. Steve Kerr’s offense, predicated on motion and ball movement, won’t have to be completely reworked as Kevin Durant should complement their existing style quite well. The team will definitely require an adjustment period but the talent is there to get them through the early growing pains. The biggest question mark is how Curry and Durant will coexist on the court together, but on paper it should be beneficial for both players. Durant should get a number of quality possessions and easier looks than he got in Oklahoma City, where he played with the ball dominant Russell Westbrook. For Curry, he will have someone to share the offensive burden, one that was oftentimes placed solely on his shoulders. Both are efficient scorers and if they make the most out of their opportunities, their individual numbers shouldn’t suffer significantly. But only time will tell how quickly and how difficult it will be for these players to gel.
Not surprisingly, the next two highest win projections belong to the San Antonio Spurs (54.5 wins) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (52.1). As such, it is altogether possible that we will see another rematch between the Warriors and Cavs at the end of the upcoming season, thus providing the Warriors with a golden opportunity to break the 1-1 championship tie.