With great, giddy excitement, I'm so pleased to write the following words: The NBA season is underway.
What a magical time of the year. I do miss, however, the old opening night in the NBA. Instead of the two or three game slate of "marquee" matchups on a nondescript Tuesday, the league used to get things rolling full bore, with a complete docket of games on Friday night. Every team except one would play (because of the odd number of franchises). It was an assault on the senses.
In honor of the new season, I've cobbled together my leaguewide projections. These are generated by a spreadsheet-based system I call NBAPET (Projection, Evaluation & Tracking. I also use MLBPET and NFLPET. Sorry, there is no MLSPET or NHLPET.)
My system spits out a wins-added number for each player that is based on his efficiency in the regular box score stats (as opposed to play-by-play). In fact, the fuel for the whole system are the box scores for every game that I code up and paste in each day. Wins-added are adjusted for team pace factor and include a very strong defensive component.
To arrive at the team projections, I began with each individual player. I took the two years' of wins-added data I have, weighted last year more heavily, slapped on an age-adjustment and, voila, there was the player's wins-added projection. I then set up an anticipated playing time grid for each team, plugged in the players and added up the wins-added figures. Easy, pleasey, nice and sneezy. One caveat: the system for generating wins-added projections for rookies and one-year players is still in early development. So the greatest margin for error will be found on teams with young rosters.
Note: PROJECTIONS UPDATED ON 10/31 BECAUSE OF SPREADSHEET GLITCH!
Projections after the jump.
Chicago Bulls (50-32, 1st in East)
The Bulls may be better than my projection. NBAPET doesn't like them as much as it should because it's weak on projecting rookies and second-year players. The Bulls will be counting on Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah at power forward and Aaron Gray will get plenty of run as the backup center and primary low-post scoring threat. Still, the projection raises a few flags. Is Ben Wallace's non-scoring contribution about to be a victim of diminishing returns? The Bulls would look a lot more solid with Tyson Chandler back in the middle, assuming he would have improved in Chicago last season as much as he did with New Orleans. And the power forwards have plenty of ability but are also short on track record. The Bulls could be the best team in the East. But these question marks could also offset the anticipated ascension of Luol Deng to first- or second-team all-star status.
Boston Celtics (47-35, 2nd in East)
Frankly, I was surprised that Boston projected so well with really only three positive contributors. But, of course, those three (Kevin Garnett (12.3 projected wins added), Ray Allen (4.95) and Paul Pierce (2.22)) are awfully good. Danny Ainge's grand experiment looks good on paper but it has to work together on the court. Star-laden rosters slapped together like this in the past have almost universally underachieved.
Besides the obvious players to watch, key in on point guard Rajon Rondo. I LOVE Rondo, as Tom Heinsohn might say, but it wouldn't have been my choice to allow him to play such a crucial role this early in his career. Rondo is an excellent passer, a beast of a backcourt rebounder and excels in transition. He may well be the top perimeter defender in the league this year. But he can't shoot and will be counted upon to direct an offense led by three perennial all-stars. Pierce, Garnett and Allen can all serve as playmakers and hopefully they can keep Rondo from having to shoulder too much of an offensive burden. If they can, Rondo could turn out to be the neo-Quinn Buckner. Or maybe Lafayette Lever.
The Celtics' biggest hole is in the middle. Boston doesn't need lost-post scoring so much as they need Caldwell Jones -- a stud rebounder, defender and shot blocker. Kendrick Perkins can block shots but he's going to have to get a lot better on the boards, learn to stay out of foul trouble and be willing to completely quell any desire to score the basketball. Glen Davis will have foul problems but Big Baby looked pretty grown up to me in the preseason.
Brass tacks. Why I think this will work: The Big Three are all willing to keep their egos in check. That goes a long way in the NBA. But Doc Rivers is going to have to manage their minutes carefully. That means the bench is going to have to exceed expectations or the Big Three will wear out by March.
Cleveland Cavaliers (45-37, 3rd in East)
What was Danny Ferry doing in the offseason? A key to the success for any key sports executive is an ability to maintain a realistic perspective about the true quality of his roster. The Cavs made the NBA championship series last year, but that was not a championship team. It was a very good team but Ferry needed to add some pieces to get keep the arc swinging upward. Instead, not only did Cleveland fail to add a single quality player in the offseason, but they failed to get Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao under contract and now both are heading overseas. The loss of Varejao puts that much more pressure on the aging and fragile Zydrunas Ilgauskas (3.06). But the Cavaliers do have LeBron James (9.42), the league's best player, who is still getting better. That's enough to keep the Cavs in contention for the East crown. But it's not enough for them to challenge whoever comes out of the West.
Detroit Pistons (43-39, 4th in East)
I'm still a litte surprised that the Pistons didn't re-up with Chris Webber. I know the thinking is that Jason Maxiell is ready to step into an expanded role in the frontcourt and he's a capable player but Webber would have helped hedge against a regression by Rasheed Wallace, who is going to need to carry a reduced load one of these days. The backcourt of Chauncey Billips and Richard Hamilton is still one of the best but Nazr Mohommad is going to have to learn to avoid some massive foul difficulties or Detroit will come up short in their supply of bigs.
New Jersey Nets (43-39, 5th in East)
With improving Marcus Williams out for six weeks, that takes some of the luster off a re-energized bench that includes Williams, Josh Boone and Bostjan Nachbar. But the good news is that Richard Jefferson appears to be 100 percent again. The Nets will still play Jason Collins way too much but they're contenders in the East.
Orlando Magic (43-39, 6th in East)
The Magic are contenders primarly because of Dwight Howard's emergence as one of the NBA's most dynamic players. But the addition of Rashard Lewis doesn't hurt, either. I have to agree that Orlando overpaid somewhat for Lewis but, hey, if you want to play, you got to pay. The Magic also have a nice point guard tandem in Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo. But they really need a big to step up and pair with Howard and I fear that they'll regret the departure of Darko Milicic. The Magic would do well to find more minutes for Trevor Ariza.
New York Knicks (43-39, 7th in East)
The Knicks have a deep and talented frontcourt, with Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry's offense, the still-underrated David Lee, Renaldo Balkman and Quentin Richardson. It'll be up to Isiah Thomas to fit all the pieces together, which is kind of scary. The backcourt play is the key to the Knicks' season. Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford are still an ill-fitting duo, though Crawford was greatly improved last season. Nate Robinson's minutes need to fall. All in all, I'd like the Knicks to surprise people -- if there was somebody else calling the shots.
Miami Heat (40-42, 8th in East
A healthy Miami Heat roster is one of the best two or three playoff squads in the East. So if Miami can squeeze in, they'll be dangerous even if working from a low seed. Every win in the first two months will help towards that end and, for that reason, I like the trade for Mark Blount and Ricky Davis. But the sooner Dwyane Wade gets right, the better. That's really going out on a limb, huh?
Charlotte Bobcats (40-42, 9th in East)
The backcourt of Raymond Felton and Jason Richardson looks pretty good if Felton continues to get better and if a healthy Richardson plays better than he did last year, when he got a little too caught up in Golden State's three-point frenzy. Emeka Okafor is a borderline all-star and really has been underappreciated as a pro. Gerald Wallace is pretty nice at the three spot, as well. But the 'Cats are in trouble at the big forward slot. They pick up a win or two because of Adam Morrison's injury (Morrison is horrible) but the loss of Sean May will sting. I guess the idea will be to play Primoz Brezec more and use Okafor at power forward. That's a passable starting five but the Bobcats were messing around with Ryan Hollins at center in the preseason. The key to Charlotte's playoff hopes will be the production they get from reserves Matt Carroll, Jared Dudley and Walter Herrmann.
Washington Wizards (39-43, 10th in East)
The loss of Etan Thomas to a heart ailment is a crippling blow to a team already deficient in interior talent. What the Wizards need to explore is a deal to move Antawn Jamison for a rebounding/defending big, which I realize is much easier said than done. Gilbert Arenas is one of my favorite players but Washington would be a lot better if rookie Nick Young steps forward to displace DeShawn Stevenson to pair with Arenas. Caron Butler, of course, is stalwart at the three spot.
Indiana Pacers (38-44, 11th in East)
New coach Jim O'Brien (fresh off the retread merry-go-round) is installing an up-tempo attack. I don't know if that will turn out to be the best tactic for this roster but, what the heck, the Rick Carlisle slowdown didn't work and this will certainly be more aesthetic. Jermaine O'Neal (6.95 ) is far and away the best player on the Pacers and he was grumbling a bit about moving on after last season. Without O'Neal, this is at least a 50-loss team. with him, they will do well to squeeze into the playoff bracket. O'Brien has been raving about Mike Dunleavy. We'll see.
Toronto Raptors (36-46, 12th in East)
Beside the Bulls, the Raps are probably the team that NBAPET underrates the most. I love watching the Raptors just from a stylistic standpoint but they're pretty good, too. I suspect they overachieved somewhat last season so the Plexiglass Principle may be in play for them. But some of that should be mitigated with a good season from Andrea Bargnani, who could contend for the NBA's Most Improved Player award. He's a lot stronger this season and was looking good working on the blocks in the preseason, taking the ball to the basket and getting to the line at a much greater clip. But his face up game was still there, as well. He should be a focal point for the Toronto attack. However, I'm concerned that Sam Mitchell may give too many minutes to Anthony Parker and Jason Kapono at the swing positions.
Atlanta Hawks (35-47, 13th in East)
There's a quagmire of teams in the East that could win anywhere from the mid-30s to the mid-40s and the good news for Hawks fans is that Atlanta has stepped into the muck. The Hawks haven't made the playoffs this century and this season marks the 50th anniversary of the only championship in franchise history. The team was in St. Louis in those days and Bob Pettit was the superstar, averaging 25 points and 17 boards in '57-58. By the way, nobody in Atlanta cares about the Hawks so they might as well move to Kansas City.
Joe Johnson (2.63 wins added) and Josh Smith (2.11) would be excellent as a team's second- and third- best player. That they are Atlanta's top two underscores the fatal flaw of this edition of the Hawks: Despite a decade of incessant losing, they haven't been able to secure a franchise player.
Point guards Acie Law, Tyronn Lue and Speed Claxton are not the answer to run this young team. Law will be Atlanta's latest draft bust. But another "disappointing" pick, Shelden Williams, should play more. The guy can rebound. Also, Zaza Pachulia isn't the worst center in the league.
Speaking of busts, Marvin Williams (-0.26) was a blown pick in 2005. I mean, here's a point-guard starved team selecting a college reserve right in front of Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Yikes. Still, the Hawks have accumulated enough athletic young players to be mediocre. If Atlanta was right about its two early picks this year (Law and Al Horford) -- and I am wrong -- they'll make the playoffs.
Philadelphia 76ers (35-47, 14th in East)
Well, Andre Iguodala is fun to watch but the new A.I. is probably not quite as effective as his raw numbers suggest, certainly not good enough to be a winning team's top player. Andre Miller is always solid but really seems out of place on this roster. Samuel Dalembert is good and gets better every year but is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. He may be ready for the start of the season, though. The pick of Thaddeus Young may work out in the long term. It may not. But I'm certain it won't help them this season. The real key for Philly's hopes to overachieve is improved productivity from Rodney Carney.
Milwaukee Bucks (25-57, 15th in East)
Some are touting the Bucks as a sleeper squad but I just don't see it. There really are only two above-average producers, Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, and Redd is very weak defensively. Yi Jianlian has generated a lot of buzz but I suspect he'll be a win drag during his rookie campaign. It's hard to believe the Bucks went out of their way to retain Charlie Bell.
Phoenix Suns (58-24, 1st in West)
The Suns could win fewer games than this projection because I don't think they'll be any better than they were last year and heaven forbid that Steve Nash finally starts to show some age. Grant Hill is an improvement at the small forward spot but at this point in his career, he's an ancillary player.
San Antonio Spurs (54-28, 2nd in West)
Blech. I wish to hell that Phoenix had won that series. I wish Amare Stoudemire wouldn't have left the bench in retaliation for that cheap shot. I wish the NBA hadn't shot itself in the foot by suspending Stoudemire. Alas. A Phoenix Suns championship, which surely would spawn imitators of their style, would have been a great boon to the league. I greatly admire San Antonio's precision and execution. But I hate watching them play.
Dallas Mavericks (53-29, 3rd in West)
Dirk Nowitzi is likely to take a step back after his uber season a year ago, trimming a few wins off the Mavs' total, but Dallas is still a top-flight contender to win the NBA title. Besides, Nowitzki, Devin Harris and Josh Howard did not really get enough attention for just how good they are. Throw in Jason Terry, Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse and Dallas is once again loaded. It'll be a long regular season, though, because no matter what they do, it won't mean anything until their success translates into playoff wins.
Utah Jazz (51-31, 4th in West)
OK, the Jazz are my favorite team. Let's get that out of the way. Suggestions that the Jazz overachieved last season are just plain wrong. And many of their key players are either at their peak or still on the upswing. Deron Williams is money. Andrei Kirilenko has been working on his jump shot, under the hopefully gentle tutleage of Jeff Hornacek. But the real reason for further improvement by the Jazz will be the emergence of two-guard Ronnie Brewer, who fills the only weak spot in Utah's starting lineup. The Jazz playoff roster will put them into position to knock off the West's Big Three.
Houston Rockets (49-33, 5th in West)
The Rockets may be the most complete team in the West this side of San Antonio. NBAPET short changes them mostly because it doesn't know what to do with Luis Scola. But the reports on him are outstanding and what I saw of him in the preseason made me a believer. Yao Ming is my preseason pick for MVP.
Denver Nuggets (46-36, 6th in West)
NBAPET does not recognize either Allen Iverson or Carmelo Anthony as elite players primarily because of defensive shortcomings last season. I have a suspicion that will turn around this season and Anthony, especially, is on the short list of players who could snag the MVP trophy. The Nuggets are still weak at the two-spot. A wild card would be the return to form by Kenyon Martin. If that happens, look out.
Los Angeles Lakers (43-39, 7th in West)
The quality of teams in the West really drops off at this point, leading me to believe that the East has passed by the West in terms of depth of talent. But the West still boasts the best four or five teams in the league. As for the Lakers, the vehicle is spinning out of control. with Kobe for the full season, they squeeze into the playoffs. Without him, they're the worst team in the league.
New Orleans Hornets (41-41, 8th in West)
The Hornets probably need a healthy season from Peja Stojakovic to hit this projection and, for that matter, from David West as well. But Tyson Chandler continues to get better and better, Chris Paul is a first-team-caliber player and Hilton Armstrong will make an impact off the bench.
Sacramento Kings (38-44, 9th in West)
Mike Bibby is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks from the season's outset which really undermines a renewed sense of optimism in Sacramento. Brad Miller is in better shape, Kevin Martin and Ron Artest are solid but, after that, Kings fans may see way too much of Mikki Moore and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Besides, the Kings need a new arena. Hey, look: there's a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in downtown Kansas City!
Los Angeles Clippers (36-46, 10th in West)
The Clippers may be able to hang close to playoff contention because of the combined contributions of fair players like Sam Cassell, Corey Maggette and Tim Thomas plus a possible post All-Star break return from Elton Brand. But they could lose 60 or more games, too. Chris Kaman needs to play better than he did last year.
Golden State Warriors (36-46, 11th in West)
NBAPET hated the Warriors last season and it hates them this season. We'll see.
Minnesota Timberwolves (34-48, 12th in West)
For all the much-deserved criticism of Kevin McHale, the Timberwolves actually have a pretty interesting mix of young talent. All the better that they bought out Juwan Howard's contract. Now they just need to unload Antione Walker and things will be looking up. Randy Foye and Al Jefferson make a nice starting point as an outside-inside combo. Corey Brewer should be a premier perimeter defender even if his offense is slow to develop. Craig Smith needs to get more minutes than he did last season.
Memphis Grizzlies (31-51, 13th in West)
I'm not surprised Memphis didn't project well but the addition of Mike Conley, Juan Carlos Navarro and Darko Milicic to go with Kyle Lowry, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay and Mike Miller should make the Grizzlies fun to watch again.
Seattle SuperSonics (30-52, 14th in West)
The Sonics have their centerpiece player and that's a great place to start. But it's only a start and Kevin Durant is only 19 years old. Besides, no one in Seattle cares about the NBA. Hey, we need a team in Kansas City. Come on and visit the Sprint Center, Mr. Bennett.
Portland Trail Blazers (27-55, 15th in West)
It's painful to think what could have been with Greg Oden. But, for now, the keys to the season are improvement from LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy.
Bulls over Heat
Pistons over Nets
Magic over Cavaliers
Celtics over Knicks
Suns over Hornets
Jazz over Rockets
Mavericks over Nuggets
Spurs over Lakers
Bulls over Pistons
Celtics over Cavaliers
Suns over Jazz
Mavericks over Spurs
Bulls over Celtics
Suns over Mavericks
Suns over Bulls