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October 26, 2009
Looking Ahead
Our Final 2009-10 NBA Projections

by Bradford Doolittle and Kevin Pelton

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On the eve of the 2009-10 NBA season, Basketball Prospectus offers its statistical projections for what lies ahead. Our NBA analysts, Bradford Doolittle and Kevin Pelton, each have their own systems for projecting the upcoming campaign. Pelton's SCHOENE system was featured in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, along with complete explanations of the logic behind the projections, but is updated here to account for developments during training camp. Doolittle's NBAPET system is featured in its entirety for the first time.

In conjunction with SCHOENE's projections, we also used the Monte Carlo simulator developed by Erich Doerr to take into account the actual schedule and the variance in team performance (this is not specific to the team, but based solely on the length of the schedule) to estimate the odds of teams making the playoffs, winning their division and ending the regular season with the best record in their conference or the entire NBA. Because the West is stronger top to bottom than the East, each East team gains slightly by incorporating strength of schedule.

East Playoffs   Win%     W      L   Play   Div   Con   NBA    ORating      DRating
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Cleveland       .728   59.7   22.3  1.00   .99   .51   .39   112.9  (4)   105.0  (2)
Orlando         .724   59.4   22.6  1.00   .98   .47   .36   114.7  (1)   107.0  (5)
Boston          .621   50.9   31.1   .99   .78   .07   .04   108.4 (21)   104.4  (1)
Philadelphia    .515   42.2   39.8   .81   .15   .00   .00   108.8 (18)   108.6 (10)
Atlanta         .496   40.7   41.3   .74   .01   .00   .00   108.0 (23)   108.4  (8)
New York        .465   38.1   43.9   .58   .05   .00   .00   111.0 (11)   112.6 (27)
Milwaukee       .455   37.3   44.7   .54   .01   .00   .00   106.8 (25)   108.7 (11)
Miami           .450   36.9   45.1   .51   .00   .00   .00   106.6 (26)   108.8 (15)

After the three near-certain division-winners, the rest of the Eastern Conference is a mess. Certainly, SCHOENE has a different view of the likely playoff teams than conventional wisdom. The Bucks and Knicks are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in most predictions, but SCHOENE likes the Knicks' offense and the Bucks' defense. More to the point, it dislikes the other teams, since a win total in the mid-30s could make the playoffs in the East this year. The extent to which playoff spots are up for grabs is reflected in the fact that just five East teams are projected with better than a 60-percent chance of reaching the postseason.

East Lottery    Win%     W      L   Play   Div   Con   NBA    ORating      DRating
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Chicago         .441   36.2   45.8   .46   .00   .00   .00   106.2 (27)   108.4  (9)
Detroit         .420   34.4   47.6   .35   .00   .00   .00   109.0 (16)   112.1 (24)
Toronto         .411   33.7   48.3   .30   .01   .00   .00   109.9 (13)   113.0 (29)
Washington      .410   33.6   48.4   .30   .00   .00   .00   108.9 (17)   112.3 (25)
Indiana         .371   30.4   51.6   .16   .00   .00   .00   108.6 (20)   113.0 (28)
Charlotte       .365   29.9   52.1   .13   .00   .00   .00   104.8 (29)   109.9 (19)
New Jersey      .360   29.5   52.5   .13   .00   .00   .00   104.1 (30)   109.4 (17)

One of the big changes from the book is our projection for the Washington Wizards. Giving more playing time to Fabricio Oberto, especially after Antawn Jamison's shoulder injury, knocked the Wizards not only out of the playoffs but all the way to 13th in the conference. The Raptors are the other team SCHOENE is particularly down on, but even they made the playoffs nearly one in every three simulations.

West Playoffs   Win%     W      L   Play   Div   Con   NBA    ORating      DRating
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
L.A. Lakers     .662   54.3   27.7   .96   .87   .33   .11   112.6  (5)   107.0  (4)
San Antonio     .635   52.1   29.9   .94   .39   .21   .05   114.0  (2)   108.7 (12)
New Orleans     .628   51.5   30.5   .92   .35   .18   .05   111.9  (8)   106.9  (3)
Dallas          .601   49.3   32.7   .86   .21   .10   .02   111.2 (10)   107.5  (6)
Portland        .599   49.1   32.9   .85   .38   .10   .02   113.9  (3)   110.1 (20)
Denver          .593   48.6   33.4   .83   .34   .09   .02   111.6  (9)   108.1  (7)
Utah            .579   47.5   34.5   .79   .27   .06   .01   112.4  (7)   109.2 (16)
Memphis         .527   43.2   38.8   .54   .04   .01   .00   110.1 (12)   108.8 (13)

Based on these projections, the Northwest should feature the most fascinating division race in the NBA this season, with Portland, Denver and Utah all having better than a 25-percent chance of emerging as division champs. (Note that the percentages for this, as many others, add up to slightly more than 100 percent because of the possibility of ties. We did not bother to break those.) The big surprise, as those of you who have read the book already know, is Memphis in the playoffs. Needless to say, if that proves the case, it will be a major feather in SCHOENE's cap. We discussed the Grizzlies' offense last week, but the projection is also positive about the Memphis defense despite poor projected shot defense. The Grizzlies come out strong in each of the other Four Factors, including terrific defensive rebounding and a surprising ability to keep opponents off the foul line.

West Lottery    Win%     W      L   Play   Div   Con   NBA    ORating      DRating
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
L.A. Clippers   .501   41.1   40.9   .39   .06   .01   .00   109.2 (15)   108.8 (14)
Phoenix         .495   40.6   41.4   .36   .05   .01   .00   112.5  (6)   112.5 (26)
Houston         .470   38.5   43.5   .24   .01   .00   .00   108.8 (19)   109.5 (18)
Golden State    .459   37.6   44.4   .21   .02   .00   .00   109.5 (14)   110.5 (22)
Oklahoma City   .412   33.8   48.2   .08   .01   .00   .00   107.6 (24)   110.3 (21)
Minnesota       .378   31.0   51.0   .03   .00   .00   .00   108.2 (22)   112.1 (23)
Sacramento      .230   18.9   63.1   .00   .00   .00   .00   105.8 (28)   114.5 (30)

The big change in the West is Golden State tumbling from a legit playoff threat (just ahead of the Clippers) to near the bottom of the pack of teams that legitimately aspire to make the playoffs this year. Alas, this owes less to the general dysfunction in the Bay Area than Brandan Wright's long-term shoulder injury. Minnesota also lost about a win and a half from what is in the book because of Kevin Love's injury and some other changes in projected playing time. Still, barring a catastrophic injury to Al Jefferson, it is difficult to see the Timberwolves finishing behind the Kings in the standings.

NBAPET

There are two main differences between NBAPET and SCHOENE when it comes to forecasting teams. First, NBAPET utilizes box score data collected over the past five years to project individual defensive ratings. Thus there are many more differences in the systems' projections for team Defensive Rating than there are for the offensive side of the ledger. Second, rather than relying on SCHOENE's robust similarity scores to generate individual player projections, NBAPET uses weighted averages for the past four seasons to generate player Offensive and Defensive Ratings. Past statistics are regressed to the league mean according to playing time (or lack thereof) and standard aging modifiers are applied.

The obvious comparison between the two systems in a baseball context is this: NBAPET's projection method is akin to Tom Tango's MARCEL forecasts, while SCHOENE is the hoops version of Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system. They are dissimilar methods to look at similar problems. The comparison falls a little short, though, when you consider that the two systems are generated using very different data sets. Rather than run through a simulator, NBAPET's team forecasts are simply adjusted for strength of schedule.

East (PO)  W    L    Pct  ORtg (rank)  DRtg (rank)
-------------------------------------------------
Celtics   56   26   .685   110.9 (12)   103.5 ( 1)
Cavaliers 54   28   .654   113.9 ( 4)   107.9 ( 7)
Magic     49   33   .596   112.9 ( 6)   109.4 (15)
Bobcats   45   37   .547   110.9 (11)   109.3 (14)
Bulls     45   37   .547   109.6 (17)   108.1 ( 9)
Heat      44   38   .538   109.8 (15)   108.5 (11)
Pistons   44   38   .533   107.5 (24)   106.5 ( 4)
76ers     40   42   .492   107.6 (23)   108.0 ( 8)

Orlando's forecast is held back by the introduction Vince Carter into the Magic mix. NBAPET isn't a fan. The Bobcats' projection has remained surprisingly strong ever since the Tyson Chandler-Emeka Okafor deal. At the top of the list, Boston's re-ascension to the top of the East is predicated on health from their aged core. As such, there is a lower degree of confidence in the Celtics' projection than there is in that of Cleveland.

East (Oth) W    L    Pct  ORtg (rank)  DRtg (rank)
-------------------------------------------------
Nets      40   42   .487   106.5 (27)   107.1 ( 6)
Pacers    38   44   .459   110.1 (13)   111.7 (22)
Raptors   38   44   .457   109.1 (18)   110.7 (20)
Knicks    31   51   .379   107.9 (20)   112.3 (25)
Hawks     30   52   .370   107.8 (21)   112.5 (26)
Bucks     26   56   .318   106.7 (26)   113.3 (29)
Wizards   26   56   .313   111.7 (10)   118.8 (30)

The two biggest surprises are probably the forecasts for Atlanta and Washington. NBAPET sees a big step back for the Hawks on both ends of the court, but it's hard to pinpoint where the decline is going to come. Mike Bibby is due for a regression and is getting old and Jamal Crawford can take a chunk out of any team's projections, but there is enough youth on the Hawks' roster to make that severe of a drop unlikely. As for Washington, the dire forecast comes from a god-awful defensive projection. We've got more on that coming later this week.

West (PO)  W    L    Pct  ORtg (rank)  DRtg (rank)
-------------------------------------------------
Spurs     57   25   .693   114.5 ( 1)   106.5 ( 5)
Jazz      53   29   .652   111.9 ( 7)   106.0 ( 3)
Lakers    53   29   .642   114.4 ( 2)   108.8 (12)
Mavericks 50   32   .614   114.2 ( 3)   109.8 (17)
Rockets   50   32   .614   108.1 (19)   104.0 ( 2)
Blazers   50   32   .611   113.7 ( 5)   109.6 (16)
Hornets   44   38   .536   111.8 ( 9)   110.6 (19)
Nuggets   42   40   .518   109.8 (16)   109.2 (13)

NBAPET does not like the Ron Artest addition to the Lakers much at all with a surprisingly negative effect on L.A.'s Defensive Rating. NBAPET always likes the Jazz but is almost certainly overstating Utah's defensive upside. Also, the Rockets' projection is a bit of a shocker. As we wrote in Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, NBAPET recognizes the collection of solid collection of individual defenders the Rockets have collected. However, it'll be interesting to see how much the good defensive track records that Houston's players have compiled will be negatively impacted by the absence of shot blocking due to Yao Ming's injury.

West (Oth) W    L    Pct  ORtg (rank)  DRtg (rank)
-------------------------------------------------
Suns      38   44   .466   111.8 ( 8)   113.2 (28)
Warriors  35   47   .421   109.8 (14)   112.7 (27)
T-wolves  32   50   .395   104.4 (30)   108.1 (10)
Thunder   32   50   .393   107.8 (22)   111.7 (21)
Grizzlies 30   52   .372   107.4 (25)   112.1 (24)
Kings     30   52   .364   105.2 (29)   110.1 (18)
Clippers  27   55   .335   105.8 (28)   111.7 (23)

NBAPET likes the Kings better than SCHOENE because it loves the defensive impact of Tyreke Evans. That said, out of this tier of teams in the West, it'll be interesting to see who develops the most from the ugly duckling quartet of Sacramento, Oklahoma City, Memphis and Minnesota.

Tomorrow, Basketball Prospectus' 2009-10 NBA season preview continues with subjective predictions, awards picks and more from Bradford and Kevin.

Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.com. See our PBP 09-10 page for more details and to purchase your copy in printed form or as a downloadable PDF.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Around the Rim (10/26)
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On the Beat (10/27)

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