I mentioned in my last post that I would be re-doing my projections for the 8 teams that I had already done with new, better numbers courtesy of Nathan Walker. The other day, Nathan posted his projected xRAPM numbers for just about every player in the league (save for the incoming rookies, for whom I will still be using the Hickory-High projected numbers). Now that I have the numbers from Nathan, I have gone ahead and re-done the projections on the previous 8 teams I had finished working on and posted about. The numbers don’t change too much, although, it’s notable that Miami is now tops in the East, with the Thunder and Rockets duking it out atop the West. Here are the projected wins totals for the 4 teams I had done out East:
Each team’s name contains a link where you can see the projected xRAPM and minutes for each player, so you can make whatever quibbles you might have with those. I feel these win totals seem like better bets as far as getting things right from a big picture perspective, because they don’t have the wildly optimistic 60+ win projections for anyone. Now that I have all the numbers I need, I will be continuing the projections. Tomorrow: the New York Knicks.
* For the Bulls, Derrick Rose did not have a projected xRAPM from Nathan, owing to his absence for the entire season last year, so I just used his xRAPM from his last season played (11–12) of +4.3. That may prove too optimistic and if that’s the case, you can discount the Bulls accordingly.
Continuing my seriesprojecting the 2013–14 NBA regular season using xRAPM and minutes projections, today I’ll be discussing the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers had a very strong starting group last year. According to Basketball-Reference, the Pacers starting five-man unit was fourth in the entire league in Net Points per 100 possessions among lineups that played at least 300 minutes together, clocking in at a sterling +12.1 points per 100 possessions. Over the course of an 82 game season, a +12.1 MOV translates to a roughly 72-win team. The Pacers’ five of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert played over 1200 minutes together, ranking them as the second most played 5 man unit in the entire league, trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starting five of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder’s starting five only managed a (still incredible) +10.7 Net Points per 100 possessions. Basically, the Pacers’ starting five players was arguably the best in the entire league, given the relatively large sample of minutes they played together and their excellence when they were on the floor.
The Pacers’ problem was that their bench was pretty terrible. They gave pretty significant minutes to sub-replacement level players like D.J. Augustin, (-3.68 xRAPM), Gerald Green (-3.21), Orlando Johnson (-3.36), Sam Young (-4.94) and Dominic McGuire (-2.93). Well, this coming year that will no longer be the case. With the exception of Orlando Johnson, all of those guys will not be on the team next year. Instead, they’ve been replaced by C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, a returning Danny Granger, Donald Sloan (another below replacement player, but hey, you can’t win them all), and rookie Solomon Hill (who projects to be just above replacement level at -2.3). In addition, Orlando Johnson projects to be better this year, as he progresses upward in his career trajectory, though he’ll still likely be below replacement level. The Pacers starting five has gotten significant reinforcements. How much better will this make the Pacers?
Well, there’s one more thing to worry about and that’s just how good will Danny Granger be when he returns to the floor. I have no way of knowing what Granger will look like in xRAPM should he return healthy. I don’t know if he will be the roughly +1 xRAPM player he was in just 5 games this year or if he will look more like the +2.5–3.0 player he has been over the two years prior. Tendinosis is a scary injury. So, I ran the projections using Granger’s bad numbers from last year and then again with a possession-weighted average of Granger’s last few seasons adjusted for his 30 year old age. Up first, what the Pacers look like with a significantly reduced (like last year) Granger playing about 63 games.
Next year, the Pacers with a less-than-peak-effectiveness Granger look like a 55 win team. Given that they won 49 games last year, this might seem like a disappointing improvement considering how much better their bench has gotten this offseason. But a six-win improvement is very significant. That’s a 12% increase in wins. In addition, Paul George’s minutes projection is lower than his actual minutes from this past year by a shade under 400 minutes. So if George is able to play as many minutes as he did last year, the Pacers could be even better. Speaking of the Pacers being better, what would they look like if Granger comes back and plays like he did at his peak effectiveness?
The Pacers now look like a 57 win team. This may be understating things for the Pacers, too. If Granger is playing like he did 2–3 years ago, chances are that means he’s basically healthy, so he’d likely play more than the 63 games he’s projected to play here. That would push the Pacers win total even closer to the very top of the Eastern Conference. The Pacers, with their revamped bench and the return of Danny Granger to the rotation, look to be a team firmly entrenched in the top 4 of the Eastern Conference. It looks more or less like a four way toss up for which team will be the East’s best in the regular season. For Pacers fans, the more encouraging part of this exercise is looking at how much better their bench now is, to complement their returning starting five, which was the league’s best last year. In the playoffs, the Pacers’ ability to shorten their rotations and play their best five players for longer periods of time is the reason, along with their superior interior play, that the Pacers were able to take the Miami Heat to the brink of elimination. The Pacers now have a bench with competent players to play minutes in the playoffs and not be totally overwhelmed. That change could be the difference between their falling short this postseason and an NBA Championship in the 2013–14 season.
The Indiana Pacers signed free agent power foward David West to a 3 year, $36 million deal today, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. The soon-to-be 33 year old power forward was never considered a serious threat to leave Indiana but that lack of surprise doesn’t make this signing any less important for the Pacers, coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
West was, arguably, the Pacers most important player this season, both from an on the floor perspective and, perhaps more importantly, as a leader in the locker room and beacon of professionalism for a relatively young playoff team making its deepest playoff run since the days of Reggie Miller. The Pacers were significantly better with West on the floor versus when he was on the bench – an eye-popping 8.9 points per 48 minutes better. It’s no wonder, then, that the Pacers were eager to hold onto the veteran 4-man, whose mid-range shooting opens things up for Roy Hibbert’s emerging post-game and Paul George’s slashing attacks towards the rim. It will be interesting to see if West will be able to live up to his contract towards its end, as he will be 36 years old in its final year.
As it stands now, West has shown no signs of decline. Last year, he posted a Player Efficiency Rating and WinShares per 48 minutes which outpaced his career averages, while at the same time playing more than his career average in minutes for the year. West’s jump shooting should keep him from losing too much of his effectiveness as his athleticism wanes but its worth keeping an eye on as West is a player who was never terribly explosive to begin with and is undersized at his position. Fortunately for Pacers’ fans, the Pacers are competing to win this year and West should be well equipped to keep them in the mix near the East’s top tier, nipping at Miami’s heels. Additionally comforting for the Indiana faithful should be the fact that Andrea Bargnani’s albatross contract was able to be moved, and given the short duration of this deal, it’s exceedingly unlikely West’s deal will become a millstone, should his play somehow careen off a cliff.