Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors had a great offseason. First, and probably most important for the longterm, they hired Masai Ujiri as their new GM. Ujiri has developed quite a reputation for being one of the league’s finest executives. As is often the case with what seem like great GMs, though, he’s made a lot his hay thus far by duping the New York Knicks into dumb trades.

First, the Knicks gave up a whole host of useful players- Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, and Timofey Mosgov –and a 2014 first round pick all to get Carmelo a few months earlier than they could have gotten him in free agency. That was all our man Masai.

Then, in the Raptors second great move of this summer, in his first few days as the new man at the wheel in T-Dot, Ujiri unloaded Andrea Bargnani’s albatross of a contract and convinced the Knicks to include a first round pick and a couple of second rounders with deadeye shooter Steve Novak and Marcus Camby’s contract, all for the right to be the team that eats the remainder of Bargnani’s turd sandwich of a contract. Gotta hand it to Masai, he knows which teams to call when it’s fleecing time. Usually, that means the Knicks- and Knick fans thought this would end when Isaiah was fired. Ha! What’s the result of all the Raptors maneuvering, according the Walker xRAPM projections and my minutes allocation and context adjustment?

Pretty good, Raps fans. Pretty, pretty good. The Raptors project to be just very slightly better than the new-look Pistons, but they both project to win 39 games- after adjusting the win totals so that they properly sum to 1230 leaguewide or, more accurately, so that total xRAPM sums to 0, as it must by definition. The Raps and Pistons project to finish 7th and 8th, respectively, in the East. Right on their heels should be Cleveland and Washington- though I projected Washington prior to the news of Emeka Okafor’s indefinite absence due to a neck injury, so maybe they’ll be out of the running, as he was one of their stronger expected xRAPM contributors. Looking at the injuries Washington has already suffered and the relatively injury prone Cleveland roster, I’d say that if I had to bet on it things, the Raptors and Pistons seem to be by far the best bets of these 4 teams to snag those last two playoff spots.

How do the Raptors look to get it done? Well, they’ve got a strong starting five lead by the unheralded, but dynamic xRAPM combo of Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry, who both project to be very, very good players. Rudy Gay projects to be slightly above average, as ever. Jonas Valanciunas projects to improve significantly, getting him close to average level xRAPM, at a very young age — which bodes well for his future. Landry Fields is also around, looking likely to be very average overall and remaining laughably overpaid for that very average play. I hope he’s sending a portion of those checks to a charity of Steve Nash’s choosing. DeMar DeRozan will help and he’ll excite with his flashy play, but he still projects to be a bit below average and he’ll probably never live up to his own rather large contract. It’ll be interesting to see if Masai Ujiri attempts to move either of those last two. Even if Ujiri makes no moves, though, this current Raptors roster has a very good chance at playing games in late April. Rejoice, Raptors fans!

Image via wikimedia commons.

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