Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Washington Wizards

I’ve addressed the biggest problem with the xWARP projections by doing my exhaustive look at each team’s schedule using probability to project an expected number of wins. As a result, all of the projected wins data is already out there for you to look through, but I enjoy writing about each team and, I think, people like to read these looks at each team through Nathan Walker’s projected xRAPM. Plus, in writing about each team’s makeup, it’ll be more apparent how I arrived at the relative predicted strength of each team. This was represented as “Net Rating” in the big spreadsheet, but on the team posts, its the summation of Contribution per Game (“Cont. / Gm.” in the charts). I still think this is a useful exercise, so I’m going to continue doing it. Today, I’ll be taking a look at a team many people have pegged for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards look pretty much as expected, at first blush. They’ve got a Net Rating or Total Cont. / Gm. of -.88 which makes them roughly a 39 win team, all else equal. All else is, however, not equal. It never is in the NBA. Strength of schedule does matter somewhat, especially for teams on the cusp of a playoff spot. The Wizards projected win total using the log5 method with the net ratings of their opponents projects them to win only 37 games. 2 wins may not seem like a lot, but, again, it matters a great deal for teams jockeying for those final couple playoff spots in each Conference.

John Wall projects to be quite good, by the projected xRAPM numbers, basically repeating his performance from last year, only with more minutes played. If Wall can actually make a leap ahead of his performance last year, the Wizards will more firmly entrench themselves as a playoff team. Two of Washington’s more important players, Nene and Emeka Okafor, both project to either regress and/or decline, with Nene having the bigger expected dropoff. These declines somewhat offset the expected increase in minutes for Wall, and here we are. The Wizards may find themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs, again.

Subjectively, my initial thought was that Bradley Beal will prove to be much better than his projected xRAPM suggests, and with Wall’s potential for improvement, this 37 win projection may prove much too low. Beal is so young and the talent is so clearly there that it’s hard to believe he won’t be a better than league average player next year by xRAPM. On the other hand, Beal’s xRAPM last year was -2.0, owing mostly to subpar defense, so a -.7 total xRAPM would represent a pretty large improvement, on its own. Maybe Nathan Walker’s on to something with his numbers. In any event, the statistical projection game is fraught with caveats galore, so as always, take these pieces for what they are: a fun exercise in educated guessing at what next year’s season holds.

Image from Keith Allison via Flickr

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