The Suns project to be our worst team in the Western Conference and after the trade of Marcin Gortat, possibly the worst team in the entire league. In the bid to capture the top odds for the 2014 draft’s first overall selection, the dumping of Marcin Gortat for Emeka Okafor’s contract and an additional 2014 first round pick represents a bit of a coup for the Suns. They were not going to be good this year, no matter what, but Gortat is an above average NBA center who figured to play a starter’s load of minutes for Phoenix. Instead, the Suns have traded him away for a player unlikely to play at all this year due to a scary neck injury and a possible second lottery pick in the best draft in ages. Great work by Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough. So how bad should the Suns be?
The Suns, with their old roster when I first ran these numbers, looked to be a 29 win club, adjusted for league average to a 26 win team. That projection, though, was with Marcin Gortat, Caron Butler, Kendall Marshall, and Malcolm Lee on the team. All of those players have been sent away with nary an NBA player brought in to replace a one of them. That’s roughly 4 to 4.5 wins lost, by our estimation here. So look for the Suns to hover right around 21–22 wins- unless, of course, they go even more totally all-in on the tank and dump Goran Dragic in a deal for further future assets. Such a trade seems at least a 50/50 proposition and probably more likely than that to occur. McDonough has shown no interest in winning too many games this year and damaging his odds at maximum ping-pong balls in May’s draft lottery. It’s a strategy that seems fairly sound given the talent that is available in the top 5 picks of this year’s draft. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether it will work out, but the logic is sound and the plan has been well executed and that’s really all you can ask for from your team’s executives.
The Orlando Magic this year have got promise and one of my favorite young players to enter the league in a while in Victor Oladipo. They also have a long way to go to be any sort of winning basketball club. Young players and thus young teams tend to struggle on the defensive end, and teams without an established star player to act as the center of the team’s solar system, allowing the lesser lights to settle into planetary rotation, tend to fall into offensive blackholes. The Magic tick both those boxes, and as a result, they probably won’t win very many games this year.
Relative to their likely low winning percentage, they should still be a fun watch, as Oladipo is the rare perimeter rookie who has the tools, determination, and awareness to make a positive impact on that end, and he has some playmaking ability on the other end. In addition, the continued development of Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic piling up double doubles is enough to make things interesting. So what do the numbers from Nathan Walker and my guesses on minutes suggest is a likely win total for this team?
After adjusting the projection for wider league context, the Magic look like a 25 win club. Not great, Bob! But this isn’t a team that’s interested in winning this year. Orlando is, as literally everyone you will read about this team will no doubt inform you, playing the long game. They’re adopting the rebuilding model of the former Sonics, now Thunder, along with fellow expected cellar-dweller, Philadelphia. No shame in that, really. They don’t have the means to go out and get much in the way of established veteran talent and the aforementioned trio of Oladipo, Harris, and Vucevic need developmental minutes. If Oladipo is as good as I think he will be and if the Magic are able to hit on their expected high draft pick in next year’s loaded draft, the future looks much brighter for Orlando than their record this year might otherwise indicate. This is a team that could be a sneaky fun League Pass team, if you’re into watching young players develop and get better, and just want to see Nik Vucevic grab ALL OF THE REBOUNDS.
I need some help. I have a really cool, interesting idea I’d like to make happen. The project is essentially this: I want to track the things the box-score doesn’t and the stuff that Synergy Sports- which I love- doesn’t cover or doesn’t cover exactly the way I’d prefer to see it done. I want to get some of the stuff the NBA teams are undoubtedly tracking out there for everyone to be able to read. In order to do track these things I need eyeballs. Maybe your eyeballs, if you’re interested. Oh and your brain, I’ll need that too. Well, you know what I’ll need your hands, too (for the data entry). If I can get enough volunteers, it should only require about 5 hours or so a week of your time. If you’re an NBA obsessive and want to learn more about your favorite game, tracking these things will be a lot of fun. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nbacouchside on Twitter if you want in- time is sort of short before the season starts, so please get back to me as soon as possible if you’re interested. Thanks!
I’m not going to tip-toe around this: the Lakers are going to be awful this season. Kobe will not be ready to start the season and may not be the same great player he has been. Even if he is, the rest of the roster the Lakers have assembled following the departure of Dwight Howard is so, so poor. Steve Nash is a husk of the player he was when he won the MVP trophy twice. Pau Gasol is still pretty great, but when you’ve got such luminaries as Wes Johnson, Nick Young, and Chris Kaman expected to play a major part in your team’s hoped for success, well you just shouldn’t expect very much success, even with a fully healthy Kobe Bryant- which the Lakers just are not even likely to have, at least not until at least sometime in December.
The Lakers struggled badly to eke into the playoffs last year with one of the two best centers in the league on their roster. Yes, Dwight Howard was still that impactful, even with the injuries and the frustration and the disjointedness he seemed to suffer from in his lone year in Forum Blue and Gold. The Lakers replaced him with Chris Kaman, who is just not very good. He’s a below average player replacing one of the very best at his position. That’s, obviously, a huge deal. Wesley Johnson and Nick Young are also just not good at NBA level basketball. They have talent, to be sure. Young, in particular, has no problem creating shots for himself, especially off the dribble, which is a useful skill, but he has no interest in playing anything that might vaguely resemble defense and his propensity for difficult, off-the-dribble, contested jump shots- while entertaining- is just not winning basketball. Just how bad can we expect, by the numbers, for the Lakers to be?
After adjusting for the wider league context, the Lakers Net Rating is -5.6, which translates to a roughly 26 win team. That’s pretty awful, but it’s about right for what Lakers fans should expect from this season. If Kobe is able to return early and play more than 2200 minutes this year, they might scrape up to 30–32 wins, but honestly, what would be the point?
The incoming draft class of 2014 is being hailed as the best since the LeBron-lead class of 2003 and if the Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs- and they aren’t, Laker fans- why should Kobe rush back early or play extended minutes when he does return? Of course, this is Kobe Bean Bryant we’re talking about, so I would not be at all shocked to see him return to the floor and push himself to play 36–38 minutes a night as he tries, in vain, to drag this awful roster in the playoffs. The guy lives for a challenge and will absolutely want to try to prove all the naysayers like yours truly wrong.
It’ll be fascinating and cringe-inducing to watch him try, but I hardly think I’ll be able to look away- and it’s not like I’ll have much choice, as the Lakers are still going to be playing a staggering twenty-nine nationally televised games, despite their frankly pretty awful roster and irrelevance to the NBA’s big picture this season.
This offseason, the Boston Celtics blew it all up. As a result of that blow up, and to a lesser extent, Rajon Rondo’s absence to start the season due to the ACL tear he suffered last year, the Celtics will probably be absolutely dreadful next season. They lost two aging future Hall of Famers essentially for nothing of consequence on the court this year from a squad that won just 41 games last year, plus they’ll be without their best player to start the season. It all points to a pretty rough season in Beantown. Just how rough should C’s fans expect it to be, though? What do the numbers have to say?
After adjusting things to the projected league-wide context, the Celtics projected Net Rating is a bleak -5.24, which translates to about 27 wins. To make matters worse, I projected Rajon Rondo to play over 2000 minutes next season, which could prove wildly optimistic. If Rondo is out for more than the first month or so of the season, the Celtics projection gets much worse in a hurry. For an idea as to why, take a look at Rondo’s projected xRAPM relative to the other guards who are likely to fill in at point guard on the Celtics roster. He’s head and shoulders above all of them. Avery Bradley is Rondo’s replacement in the starting lineup and Rondo outpaces him by 4.4 points per combined 200 offensive and defensive possessions.For a frame of reference, that’s basically the same difference between Stephen Curry and Kirk Hinrich this past season. It’s just an enormous gap and the longer Rondo is out, the bleaker things will get for the Celtics.
That bleak outlook may be- and frankly probably is- precisely the point. The Celtics need more than Rondo to win anything of any import, and Danny Ainge knows that as well as anyone. He acquired 3 unprotected first round picks from Brooklyn in order to increase his odds of building a team from the ashes of the Celtics’ former juggernaut, and he’s almost certainly content to let this year’s iteration of the Celtics lose as much as possible to increase the odds of getting a top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, which should allow him to draft the franchise’s next All Star or flip the pick for an established star in a manner similar to the one in which he acquired Ray Allen in 2007. He could then attempt to parlay all of those Nets’ picks into a third star to pair with Rondo and mystery star #2. It’s a plan he’s executed before, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him try it again.
In terms of potential bright spots for this year’s Celtics, Jeff Green, as ever, will tantalize with his highlight plays, but it’s also likely that he will continue to madden with his inconsistency and overall mediocrity, despite his natural gifts. Jared Sullinger, should he be able to get his back issues settled, projects to be a solid, average level NBA contributor. Gerald Wallace will likely win Boston fans over with his proclivity for hustle plays, while also driving the home crowd batty with the spacing problems his presence on the floor with either Bradley or Rondo will compound. Finally, despite a relatively average statistical projection for a rookie, Kelly Olynyk should be an interesting watch, especially if he’s able to continue to find ways to score over and around length, like he did in his head-turning Summer League performance, in the games that count. He’ll probably be a defensive sieve, judging from his college play, but then, most rookies are bad on that end. Celtics Nation should try not to worry too much about this season and should instead feel secure in the knowledge that the man at the helm (Ainge) has built a winner before, knows what he’s doing, and has a clear vision for the future.
The Sacramento Kings let their former rookie of the year, Tyreke Evans, leave in free agency. Despite losing Evans, though, the Kings had a pretty good offseason. How can I say that? Well, first, and most important, Sacramento got to keep its Kings, which was no sure thing. The threat of the team being stolen away from Sacramento and moved to, say, Seattle- who know a thing or twelve about stolen teams- was very, very real, so this offseason was a success if for no other reason than that the Kings remain Sacramento’s.
In addition, the Kings made some sneaky good moves. First, they were able to turn Evans’s departure into a sign and trade to land a quite useful player in point guard Greivis Vasquez. Then, the Kings were able to land a serviceable replacement for Evans’s wing slot by trading two second round picks for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Luc Richard is a disruptive defensive presence who struggled to convert inside last year, after a career of being pretty good at it. On the plus side, Mbah a Moute appears to have added some range to his arsenal as he hit 35%, right around league average, on his three point attempts, while firing one deep shot per 40 minutes. Previously, Mbah a Moute had been very reluctant to even try to shoot from outside, and seemingly for good reason, as he rarely made those shots when he did take them. All in all, Luc Richard is a pretty average wing, which is a pretty nice get for the relatively piddling price of two second round picks. The Kings must hope Mbah a Moute can return to the relatively strong finisher inside he has generally been, while retaining some of that added range to space the floor around center Demarcus Cousins. If he can do that, he might be even better than average, given how much he helps on the defensive end.
Finally, the Kings drafted Ben McLemore, who many scouts thought might be the best player in this year’s draft. I wasn’t as high on McLemore, simply because he didn’t do much statistically at Kansas that screamed dominant player, but he also wasn’t asked to do a whole lot and his own tendency to float was not sufficiently reined in by the Jayhawks’ coaching staff, so it’s tough to say just how good he will end up as a pro. In new coach Mike Malone, the Kings appear to have gotten a leader who will challenge McLemore to be the best version of himself on the court. McLemore will certainly be an interesting player to watch this season, to see which side of him wins out between his undeniable talent and his natural passivity on the court.
What do the numbers have to tell us about this year’s Kings squad?
After adjusting for the projected league context, the Kings’ projected Net Rating is -3.45, which would make them a 32 win team. That’s not great, but considering the Kings won just 28 games last year and lost a player of Tyreke Evans’s talent, it would be impressive for the Kings to improve their record by 4 wins. Most of the heavy lifting will be done, according to xRAPM, by Boogie Cousins. He has far and away the highest projected xRAPM at +2.3 and he projects to play a fairly high number of minutes.
It’s at this point that something about xRAPM as a stat should be pointed out- xRAPM uses boxscore stat based priors, but it also includes a prior for height on the defensive end, in order to increase predictive accuracy leaguewide. In general, this is a good thing to do, as big men tend to be much more important to team defense, so it’s unsurprising that adding a prior that grants big men proportionally more credit for positive offensive outcomes increases predictive accuracy. The problem occurs with big men who are decidedly bad defenders, so they get credit they don’t deserve. Boogie Cousins is just one such big man. Boogie is actually a double whammy of a problem for xRAPM. Cousins grabs a lot of defensive boxscore stats (read: defensive rebounds and blocked shots) and he’s very tall, as a result xRAPM thinks he’s a good defender– but he so, so isn’t. This almost certainly causes Cousins individually to be very overrated, but fortunately for the overall accuracy of the projections, the Kings return almost entirely the same roster with the exception of the previously mentioned Evans. If it were the case that Cousins was receiving defensive credit in xRAPM that Evans rightly deserved, it’s a very positive sign for the Kings that they acquired another strong wing defender, Mbah a Moute, to replace Evans in the rotation.
Jason Thompson returns as the starting 4 man alongside Cousins and should contribute well, too. It’s also possible that Thompson is a better defender than he’s been given credit for by xRAPM, due to playing with Cousins. But, because Thompson will be around again to play with Cousins, that shouldn’t effect the overall picture much. Finally, Former Mr. Irrelevant, the confusingly named Isaiah Thomas projects to be slightly above average. Thomas is a wonderful offensive dynamo, running as expert a pick and roll as you’ll find in the NBA. The averageness comes from his weakness on the defensive end. Most of Thomas’s defensive problems can be fairly attributed to his small stature. Thomas is simply too physically limited, both due to his height and his short wingspan, to help much on defense. He’s a good and useful player, though, and it’s a testament to his work ethic and skill that he has been able to make himself into a better player than the Kings’ lottery pick of Thomas’s draft class, Jimmer Fredette. Fredette’s also a pretty solid offensive player, but his defense makes Isaiah Thomas look like prime Gary Payton. Fredette is one of the absolute worst defensive players in the league. If he can get somewhere closer to average, he could really help the Kings, but these projections don’t see that happening. Ben McLemore projects to be an above replacement, but below average player, which is pretty average for a rookie, but if it happens that way, would surely represent a disappointment for the Kings. It is unsurprising, though, that a statistical projection would look harshly at McLemore’s only season at Kansas as he simply didn’t stand out.
The Kings have an interesting future with a new owner, a new face of the franchise, and a new, energetic head coach. This season is just the beginning of that future and there should be plenty of fun to be had, whether it’s the pure joy of watching little Isaiah Thomas run that pick and roll to perfection or the pure hilarity of watching Demarcus Cousins “try” to defend the opponent’s pick and roll. After facing an existential threat to their team, Kings fans have plenty to which to look forward.
The Charlotte Bobcats got a bit better this offseason when they signed Al Jefferson. Big Al is no worldbeater, but he’s an above average player who commands a double team pretty much anytime he touches the ball on his beloved left block. He’s a good offensive player who struggles defensively due to his relative lack of lateral quickness. He blocks a lot of shots and grabs a lot of defensive rebounds, so he helps from time to time, but overall he hurts his teams defensively with his, frankly, woeful help defense. Modern NBA defenses simply require so much intelligent, agile help from the men manning the middle, and Al, despite his best efforts and his self-awareness about his defensive flaws, just can’t get things right on that end. All in all, though, Jefferson is a player worth having, especially for a team as bad as the Bobcats were last year and have been since they became a franchise. Charlotte also drafted Cody Zeller, a player who I liked a lot prior to this year’s draft and continue to like.
How much, based on the numbers, should we expect the Bobcats to improve with Big Al and Zeller on the roster?
After adjusting for the projected league-wide context, the Bobcats projected Net Rating is -3.44, which translates to approximately 32 wins. Thirty-two wins is not a season to write home about, but it would represent an 11 win improvement over last year’s Charlotte squad and 11 extra wins is something worth smiling over. Charlotte won’t be good, but they’ll be better.
There’s another way in which they could be even better and that’s if they simply don’t play Ben Gordon, who projects to be absolutely terrible next season after several seasons of being awful. If GM Rich Cho is able to find a taker for Gordon’s hefty expiring contract and the team is able to simply play Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist more minutes, they could even climb as high as 36–38 wins. For the long-term health of the franchise, though, shooting for a few extra wins at the cost of reduced lottery odds in the mythical 2014 draft seems unwise. It will be interesting to see which way Charlotte decides to go. Given that they have already chosen to try to get better by signing Jefferson, that might indicate they will go all in on winning as many games as they can. It would be hard to fault them for wanting to win as many games as they can, given how bad they have been the last two years, but if they can resist the urge to squeak out 4 or 5 extra wins, they might be rewarded in the draft lottery.
Charlotte has a near handful of projected above average players, namely: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo, and Al Jefferson. Cody Zeller also projects to be nearly average as a rookie, according to the Hickory-High rookie projections, which is really pretty great for a rookie. There are no stars on this club, which is the primary reason they won’t win a lot of games, but there’s a lot of slightly above, slightly below, and right at average talent. It’s a team that will probably look great some nights, when Kemba’s hitting his jumpers, Jefferson’s working at the peak of his post powers, and Kidd-Gilchrist is slashing and dunking and hounding the opponent’s best wing, and there will be other nights where they can’t throw it into the ocean and their spacing issues come home to roost. They’ll be better, though, and that’s not nothing. Enjoy the ride this year, Charlotte; maybe that franchise savior is just around the corner in next year’s draft and, hey, now he might actually have a decent supporting cast to join.
The Utah Jazz won 43 games last year, which — in a stacked Western Conference — got them the privilege of finishing 9th, missing out on the playoffs, and placed them in the no man’s land of the late lottery. This offseason, the Jazz allowed their best player, along with another of their better ones to leave for nothing in return. I’m speaking, of course, about Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, respectively. Millsap went to Atlanta where he figures to make it back to the playoffs. Jefferson, bizarrely, was able to grab more years and money per year than Millsap, despite Millsap’s overall superiority. Jefferson, though, will have to accept not making the playoffs this year, and the strong possibility that he won’t see the postseason at all in the 3 years he’s now signed to play for Charlotte. The Jazz weren’t interested in committing the sums of money needed to retain either player, especially when the ceiling of that team was the Western Conference playoff bubble.
Utah also, understandably, wanted to use this year as an opportunity to find out exactly what they have in their young big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, whose minutes were limited playing behind Millsap and Jefferson. The Jazz also declined to use their cap space to sign any free agents, instead opting to acquire assets to rent their cap space to the Golden State Warriors. The result is that the Jazz should be a fair bit worse on the court this year but have a clear plan for escaping their current state of non-contention. The plan is clearly to develop their young talent and acquire assets and then use that talent and those assets to form a group worth betting on. In the meantime, though, just how bad should we expect the Jazz to be- by the numbers?
After adjusting for next year’s projected league context, the Jazz’s projected Net Rating is -3.05. Such a projected Net Rating would make them, roughly, a 33 win team. It should come as no surprise, but Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and, rising star on the wing Gordon Hayward figure to do most of the heavy lifting for next year’s Jazz. Alec Burks figures to be a slightly below average, but well above replacement option at guard, but it remains to be seen whether Tyrone Corbin plays him the minutes he deserves. I’ve projected Burks to get less minutes than his relative talent on the team would suggest is optimal, but Coach Corbin has generally not played him as much as he deserves, surely much to the consternation of Utah faithful.
I’ve also projected rookie point guard Trey Burke to play quite a few minutes, as I suspect that the use of a lottery pick to draft him and the Jazz’s complete organizational lack of incentive or desire to win games this season make betting on Burke to play a lot of minutes a good idea. Burke figures to be solid for a rookie, with a projected -1.7 xRAPM, he should be solidly above replacement level. As a starting point guard, this year’s iteration of Burke will likely leave something to be desired, but this is a year for learning on the job and I expect Trey will eventually be a pretty good player.
The Jazz will be bad this year, but they should be a fun watch, especially for hoop heads who enjoy watching guys as they progress from prospect to their fully-formed, best selves. The Jazz feature players in various states of development, but most of them are closer to the prospect end of that particular spectrum. That reality will lead to some inevitably ugly basketball, but the talent level that Favors, Kanter, Hayward, Burke, and Burks possess should lead to some genuinely fun basketball at times. For now, those fun moments and the knowledge of the plan in place will have to be enough for Jazz fans.
Derrick Rose is BACK. He looks just as fast as ever and if he’s to be believed, his leaping ability has risen to new heights. His shooting touch hasn’t quite returned yet, as he went 0 for 7 outside of the area 5 feet from the basket, but he was 5 of 6 inside and he was just blowing by everyone on the floor. As a Bulls fan, I’m very, very excited about this. I figured he would be the same old Derrick after taking his time with his recovery, but it was nice to see that optimism rewarded in a big way.
Taj Gibson looks like an absolute monster. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com reported that Gibson had gained 15 pounds of muscle to bulk up to 240 pounds and Gibson looked every bit of that. On top of that, Taj looked more confident in his post moves, as he made his decisions more quickly, without hesitation, to great effect. His jumper was also WET. He seemingly couldn’t miss on the midrange jumpers that he’s traditionally been merely average on. Now, it’s obviously one game in the preseason, so it’s both a small sample and a meaningless game, but if this Taj is the one the Bulls get over 82 games and the playoffs- watch out. Oh, Taj also did this (spoiler: it was awesome):
Luol Deng is officially on #contractyear watch. Deng took 16 shots in just 25 minutes of floor time to go with an additional 8 free throw attempts. Not only did he get a lot of shots up, but he also looked Derrick Rose off on a potential alley oop lob that would have blown the roof off the arena, despite it being a home game for Indiana. I really, really hope this isn’t a sign of selfish things to come for Lu. If it is, I’ll be the first one aboard the trade Deng train- especially since I think there’s just no way the Bulls re-sign him this offseason.
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.