We may be deep in the vacuum of the offseason now – stuck between the end of summer league, but not yet into training camps – but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.
In order to fill the deep, dark void in our basketball lives, ESPN was kind enough to run some predictions about the upcoming season. It’s never too soon to start thinking about another championship, so let’s see how everything is projected to shake out.
Like all projections, this process is as much art as science, but as far as these things go you could do a lot worse than the ESPN projections based on their Real Plus Minus (RPM) metric. RPM is an adjusted box score metric that tries to normalize the traditional box score stats in order to isolate a single player’s impact by adjusting for the effects of teammates and opposing players. In other words, it’s supposed to be pretty accurate. It’s not the best, but it is a good approximation for team-level projections.
So let’s dig in!
In a move that should mirror just about every preseason ranking that will come out prior to this upcoming season, ESPN has the top of the Western conference shaking out much as you would imagine: The Golden State Warriors are #1 (of course), followed by the Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs. I’m not a click bait kind of guy though, so here’s every word they wrote about the Warriors:
Despite being projected for four fewer wins than in last year's RPM projection -- which was the best on record and nearly matched their total of 67 wins -- Golden State is still projected seven games ahead of any other NBA team. The decline largely reflects projected aging by veterans Andre Iguodala and David West. Still, RPM backs up the notion that the Warriors are heavy favorites to win their third championship in four years.
“Heavy favorites” you say? I like the sound of that.
From there though, it starts to get really interesting. Rather than go through the line-by-line wins breakdown, here’s a quick little graphic I made to illustrate the teams’ win totals as forecast by RPM. Please click through to the ESPN article for more detailed team-level analysis.
As a Warriors fan these days, we don’t have much to complain about, so I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether or not you are offended by ESPN’s prediction that the team will win four less games than last season. According to article author Kevin Pelton, this 62 win prediction change is largely due to the age of key bench players Andre Iguodala and David West. Personally, I don’t have any major quibbles with their projected 62 wins, but I ascribe the cause to a more difficult conference, rather than our aging bench.
My biggest takeaway from these projections is that the gap between the Warriors and the next best teams is comforting. Winning the West by a nice comfortable seven games or so would be nice. And either the Wolves or Thunder sounds like a fun 4th seed to face off against before taking on the winner of Spurs/Rockets.
The rest of the West
Speaking of a difficult conference, the fight for the #2 seed looks to be increasingly intense in the 2017-18 season. The Rockets added Chris Paul and a couple of premier wing defenders, leaping over the San Antonio Spurs to become the presumed second best team in the west. It will be interesting to see how those two Texas teams matchup, but if the Rockets can outpace the Spurs this year, it would be a significant power shift.
Can anyone tell me how to do the Texas two-step?
The four/five/six seeding is going to be a bloodbath.
The Wolves added Jimmy Butler, an extremely capable two-way wing player that will serve as an excellent foil to dynamic young big Karl Anthony-Towns. They also swapped in under-rater ball handler Jeff Teague for Ricky Rubio which is something of a wash I think, overall, but makes them a really dangerous offensive team.
The Thunder somehow managed to corral Paul George as a running mate with Russel Westbrook and that makes them a tough team to cover. Westbrook gets an equally talented co-star again.
The Clippers are the surprise showing here in the ESPN projection. Generally you’d expect to see a team that traded a superstar like Chris Paul drop off a cliff, but they actually managed to recoup a fair amount of talent (plus bonus “addition by subtraction” as Jamal Crawford moved on to greener pastures ); that’s HEAVILY contingent here on Blake Griffin and Danillo Gallinari staying healthy, something that has been a struggle of late for both.
This next grouping has a common design flaw: they are all missing..something. They all have intriguing talent - and lots of it - but it’s tough to say that they are any better than the Wolves, Thunder, and (really?) Clippers. Only two of these teams are going to make the playoffs, so there’s going to be a lot of jostling going on for the 7th and 8th seed in the West. Should be fun. I guess I’m taking the Nuggets and Blazers here, but wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Pelicans sneak in over the Clippers.
The Eastern Conference
Celtics (49.4 wins) and Cavs (49.2 projected wins) are really the only challenge that is coming out of the East. I apologize for any offense this opinion (and the general closing of this article) may cause to our readers rooting for teams on that side of the country.
The Cavs / Celtics battles are going to be interesting! It was close last season, but the Celtics have managed to close the gap...either that, or the Cavs have slid back a bit to meet them in the middle. Whatever specific shift you want to attribute it to, I think it’s fair to say that the Cavs organization is reeling a little from the recent defeat in the Finals. It’s tough to put much stock into a detailed analyses at this point, because I’m not at all convinced that the Cavs are going to make any significant roster moves or not.
Kyrie Irving may want out, Kevin Love may have been attached to an unseemly number of trade rumors, but those guys are still on the team. A team that swept their way through the Eastern playoffs last year without breaking a sweat. Much like the Spurs franchise always being great, I have to keep banking on any LeBron-led team to come out of the East.
The (L)Eastern rest
You can read through the dregs of the East if you’d care to click though. For your convenience, the remaining playoff seeding is projected as: Wizards, Bucks, Hornets (wow, okaaaay), Raptors (6th seed because they lost Patterson?), Heat, and Pistons. Blech.
That means that the teams missing the playoffs in the East would be: 76ers, Magic, Pacers, Knicks, Nyets. Maybe one of those teams can put it all together and knock off the mighty Hornets! Who knows!?