After months of feeding data into complex and scientific calculations (and by months I mean hours) I have finished this year’s regular season win projections for the NBA.
Click here if you want to see a precise listing of all 30 teams and their projected records. In this post I will deliver an explanation of why each team got their specific projection.
#1 HOUSTON ROCKETS: 61-21
I don’t think people realize that even last year, Houston improved greatly as a team when they traded away Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, and Cole Aldrich, and then gave more minutes to players like Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith. Now add to what was already a very strong 8-seed Dwight Howard, who is not far removed from being the second most dominant player in the league. Howard + James Harden + a strong supporting cast = the best regular-season team in the league.
#2 MIAMI HEAT: 55-27
I still consider Miami to be the favorite to win the championship despite not getting the best regular-season win projection. The reason is because Miami now has two of the worst players in the NBA: Norris Cole and Michael Beasley. If those players combine for 3,000 minutes, it will be an anchor that drags Miami’s regular-season success down. In the playoffs the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh should play more minutes at a higher intensity, and that will make the Heat more formidable than the Rockets.
#3 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: 55-27
On paper it seems like bringing in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley should be a good thing for the Clippers – it gives them two shooters to play alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. However, RSPM isn’t a big fan of either player. The result is a Clippers team I think will be about the same as it was last year as far as regular-season success goes. Hopefully adding Doc Rivers as coach will get them further into the playoffs.
#4 BROOKLYN NETS: 55-27
I was surprised to see a projection this high because Brooklyn is relying on an old roster. What makes Brooklyn’s projection so high anyway is that they’re just loaded. When Paul Pierce goes out of the game, Andrei Kirilenko will come in. They have Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett. They have Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. It’s just a great team… but they had better win the title this year before age catches up to Pierce and Garnett.
#5 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: 54-28
It’s unclear how long Russell Westbrook will be out because of his knee injury. For the purposes of this projection, I’m assuming he’ll be out for about six weeks. I see the Thunder being a formidable team anyway because Kevin Durant took his game to another level last season and Serge Ibaka is still a shot-blocking force. I also like the addition of rookie Steven Adams. This team isn’t going away.
#6 SAN ANTONIO SPURS: 54-28
It seems like people want to dismiss the Spurs as being old every year, but with the rise of players like Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, it’s clear that the Spurs will remain a good team for quite a while. The only reason I see San Antonio falling a bit short of last year’s success is expected regression from Tim Duncan, who was crazy good as a 36 year old player last year.
#7 DETROIT PISTONS: 52-30
Say hello to my first “shock” ranking of my projections. RSPM thinks Andre Drummond is already Dwight Howard Jr. RSPM loves the addition of Josh Smith and thinks he’ll greatly improve the Pistons. RSPM thinks Brandon Jennings is a significant upgrade over Brandon Knight. Not to mention that Greg Monroe is an excellent player as well. As long as Smith/Monroe/Drummond can fit (and that’s an open question), Detroit will be a very good team this year.
#8 INDIANA PACERS: 52-30
Before you think that I’m somehow slighting the Pacers by ranking them 8th, consider that they won 49 games last year. I have them winning three more this year thanks to a stronger bench and the return of Danny Granger. If Roy Hibbert can continue the strong play he showed in the postseason then I expect Indiana to beat this projection.
#9 MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: 49-33
In an offseason in which so many teams bolstered their rosters, the Grizzlies didn’t do a whole lot. It’s pretty much the same team except now they have Kosta Koufos instead of Darrell Arthur (and I like Koufos a lot). That’s why I have Memphis going backwards – not because they got worse, but because so many other teams got better.
#10 CHICAGO BULLS: 48-34
A lot of people have Chicago rivaling Miami as the best team in the Eastern Conference. I have them #10 in the NBA. There are two primary culprits. One is coach Tom Thibodeau, who has no understanding of what effect playing 40 minutes a game has on his players. The other is a bench that is secretly not very good apart from Taj Gibson. If Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah stay healthy, the Bulls easily beat 48 wins, but Noah is already having injury issues.
#11 DENVER NUGGETS: 48-34
After losing Andre Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos for J.J. Hickson it doesn’t seem like the Nuggets should be this high. They may not have anybody as good as Rose or Noah but they have much better depth than Chicago. Faried, McGee, Gallinari (when he returns), Lawson, Miller, Hickson, Robinson, and Chandler all have decent RSPM numbers. The result is a decent regular-season team that will likely be bounced from the playoffs in the first round.
#12 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: 45-37
I think the problem here is that most people envision the Warriors as if nothing bad will happen to them. Has everybody forgotten Stephen Curry’s foot/ankle issues and Andrew Bogut’s injury history? Besides that, RSPM seems to think that most of the players on this team are overrated, including Curry (whose projected RSPM of +2.98 is still good). I could easily see the Warriors beating the expectations of RSPM but it will take further improvement from some of the roster.
#13 MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: 45-37
This team is a total wild card. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic are a great core, even if Pekovic is a bit overrated. Kevin Martin is a nice addition and a good fit. At the same time, Love and Rubio both have an injury history and the team lacks quality depth (they have QUANTITY of depth, just not quality). This is a team with a high ceiling and a low floor.
#14 NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: 45-37
Two words: Anthony Davis. Davis had a better rookie season than people think and should only improve as a 20-year-old player. Bringing in Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans doesn’t hurt although I think they overpaid for both players. If the Pelicans don’t suffer too many injuries I see them as a fringe playoff team in the Western Conference.
#15 NEW YORK KNICKS: 43-39
I didn’t intend to make injuries a theme of this preview, but so much of a team’s success or failure depends on them. It’s the primary reason I think the Knicks will be a disappointment – they can’t count on Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, or anybody else playing close to 82 games. If the Knicks ever trot out a lineup of Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin, and Andrea Bargnani… you know they’re in trouble.
#16 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: 43-39
This team is even more of a wild card than Minnesota. Andrew Bynum could play anywhere between zero and 2400 minutes. Anderson Varejao gets hurt every year, but maybe the team can squeeze 60 games out of him this time? Kyrie Irving continues to improve and I like the acquisition of Jarrett Jack. With that said the Cavaliers are relying on far too many injury-prone players to be comfortable with any projection.
#17 TORONTO RAPTORS: 40-42
I’m a bit bullish on the Raptors and see them sneaking into the playoffs as the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course, I thought that would happen last year too. Even so, this is a team with Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson, two players I think are very underrated. They also have a greatly improved general manager in Masai Ujiri, who I believe already made a good decision to unload Andrea Bargnani on the Knicks. It’s not a great team but the Raptors should at least be competitive.
#18 DALLAS MAVERICKS: 39-43
The free-agent acquisitions of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis are too little, too late for this team. The whole plan was to get Dwight Howard or Chris Paul… and Mark Cuban struck out. The result is a team that will have deep, serious issues defensively and with little depth in the front court. Meanwhile Dirk Nowitzki is suddenly 35 years old. Maybe the Mavericks can squeeze one more great year out of him but I think his days of being an MVP contender are over.
#19 ATLANTA HAWKS: 39-43
On paper I like who the Hawks have 1-8. There are no superstars but Al Horford and Paul Millsap are both very good. The problem is that injuries to Louis Williams and Gustavo Ayon have left the bench very thin. I expect the Hawks to be forced to play guys like Dennis Schroeder and John Jenkins way too much. The result will be a team that falls just short of postseason play.
#20 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: 38-44
A perfect example of why stars are needed to win in the NBA. I like LaMarcus Aldridge a lot if he’s my second-best player. As the clear best player on the team it’s hard to see Portland going very far. Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews… all useful players but none of them are putting the Blazers over the top.
#21 MILWAUKEE BUCKS: 37-45
The Bucks are this year’s “Las Vegas surprisingly hates them a ton” team. Their regular season over/under win total is just 27.5. When something like that happens I’m usually very suspicious – it makes me think Las Vegas knows something I don’t. If I had to make a bet I would go under 27.5 for that exact reason. But when I do the RSPM analysis I see an excellent rim protector in Larry Sanders and useful players in Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, and Zaza Pachulia. The result is 37 wins but again, my gut feeling is they crash and burn after seeing the Vegas line.
#22 WASHINGTON WIZARDS: 36-46
A very tricky team to project after the trade that sent Marcin Gortat here from Phoenix. I would like to think that the great depth Washington has will prevent them from giving too many minutes to players like Kevin Seraphin. However, based on past usage I have to assume the Wizards will do exactly that. If they’re smart about who plays and who sits then Washington can be a playoff team for sure.
#23 CHARLOTTE BOBCATS: 31-51
Signing Al Jefferson means the Bobcats are officially not trying to be the worst team in the league anymore. It still leaves them far from the playoffs unless Michael Kidd-Gilchrist blossoms and Cody Zeller is ready to be an impact player right now. There are reasons to think this team has potential to be decent in the future but for now, there just aren’t enough good contributors beyond Jefferson and Kemba Walker.
#24 SACRAMENTO KINGS: 30-52
I want to like the new culture coach Mike Malone will install in Sacramento, but I also distrust the front office for making DeMarcus Cousins the franchise player. For the time being the roster is a total mess – a bunch of mediocre players who all expect to be given prominent roles in the rotation. Some trades need to happen here for sure.
#25 UTAH JAZZ: 29-53
This team won’t be good but I think there are too many quality players to really tank with the likes of Philadelphia and Phoenix. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward are both very solid, Enes Kanter is rapidly improving, and I think Jeremy Evans is the league’s best-kept secret as a potential impact player. The rest of the roster needs serious work but it’s enough to make the Jazz at least somewhat respectable.
#26 ORLANDO MAGIC: 25-57
If Tobias Harris continues to play the way he showed he can last season, then Orlando should stay out of dead last in the Eastern Conference. Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, and Victor Oladipo should combine to be a nice young nucleus. Of course, none of them are stars and most of the players on this team are just bad. It won’t be a good season.
#27 BOSTON CELTICS: 25-57
I won’t put it past this team to win 35 games just because head coach Brad Stevens is a warlock. But let’s be honest – Rondo won’t be back for a while and he’ll probably be traded at some point anyway. Jeff Green is inconsistent. Too many minutes will go to players like MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford, who are just plain bad. I also think Avery Bradley is wildly overrated. It’s rock bottom in Boston but things will turn around.
#28 LOS ANGELES LAKERS: 20-62
Say hello to my most shocking ranking on this list. This, coming from a person who said the Lakers would win 58 games last season. Outside of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash, this roster is unspeakably bad. It’s just atrocious – players like Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson, and Nick Young are expected to play prominent roles. Now consider that Bryant, Gasol, and Nash are all old and injured. At some point this year, the Lakers will have a lineup of Jordan Farmar, Young, Johnson, Williams, and Gasol. It’s going to get very, very ugly for this team.
#29 PHOENIX SUNS: 20-62
They just traded four players to the Wizards for Emeka Okafor, who might miss the whole season, and a first-round pick. Need I say more?
#30 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: 17-65
Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes both rate as positives according to RSPM, so at least Philadelphia has that going for them. They also have a roster so bad that they pretty much have to give Kwame Brown, Tony Wroten, and Darius Morris a lot of minutes. They’re holding Nerlens Noel out for the whole year so he can “learn the NBA game.” If this team doesn’t make the NBA change the draft to stop tanking then nothing will.