Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Philadelphia 76ers

Projecting the 2013–14 Sixers is a nightmare. The Philadelphia squad looks, quite clearly, to be tanking the season. Nearly all of the players on their roster are being thrown into roles for which they are terribly ill-suited. Thaddeus Young: Best player on an NBA team? James Anderson: anything more than on an off-the-bench guard? Michael Carter-Williams: starting point-guard in the NBA? These are not questions that any of these players should be asked to answer, but the Sixers aren’t trying to win and here we are.

The trouble is, when projecting future performance in xRAPM, most players tend to occupy similar roles from year to year and thus it’s much more likely that their rating by xRAPM- or any flavor of adjusted-plus minus, for that matter- will look pretty close to the prior year, but when you ask players to do radically more than they have traditionally been asked to do, then their overall impact is very likely to suffer. As a result of this, I would take the win projection that Nathan Walker’s numbers with my minutes estimates produce (shown below) with a giant helping- like a dried up ocean’s worth- of salt. Additionally, the Sixers weird roster construction inevitably throws off what would be more accurate wins projections for the rest of the league. As a result, at the end of all my projections, I will probably write a post with my own subjective- but informed by the stats — guesses as to where teams will come out in terms of records next year. In any event, what do the (probably very wrong) numbers look like?

After adjusting for the wider league context, the Sixers’ projected Net Rating is -3.22, rather than the -2.11 shown above. A -3.22 Net Rating results in a projected 32 win team. Frankly, I would be shocked if the Sixers were able to win even half that many games. It seems that Vegas agrees with my subjective assessment, as the Over/Under for this year’s Philly squad is set at 16.5 wins.

The reason the Sixers rate out so well in this analysis is that they have a team full of guys that in their prior, less demanding roles were fully capable of being replacement level or above. These Sixers have very few players who would have projected as sub-replacement level, had they stayed in their prior roles, and their rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel- both of whom will likely be expected to play heavy minutes — actually project to be near average level players. Oh, and Thad Young, as it turns out, is pretty darn good, though certainly not someone you’d want as your best player. It’s worth watching whether xRAPM’s relative love for this Sixers team is as off as Vegas, the rest of the basketball-watching world, and I, subjectively, think it is. I’ll also be watching to see if the Sixers trade Thaddeus Young, in order to go with the full-on, totally unabashed tank.

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