An NBA Forecast

The NBA season tips-off tonight so I thought I would offer a forecast of this season. For the most part, this is a somewhat educated guess. And, as I note at the end of the post, hopefully at least some of this is wrong.

Before we get to my guesses, there are a few issues that need to be noted that will impact the accuracy of this forecast. The most important issue is player health. People often say injuries are no excuse. But we know if you change the people in the clothes you will change the outcomes we observe. As I have said before, not only are injuries an excuse, often they are THE excuse.

But injuries are not the only excuse. Although the best predictor of current performance is what the player did in the past, player performance can deviate from what we saw in previous campaigns. Some players will get better this year. Some will get much worse. And right now we do not know the identity of these players.

Finally, even if we know the performance of the player and he doesn’t suffer injuries, coaches ultimately have to decide to put the players on the floor. And as we argue in The Wages of Wins, sometimes coaches don’t evaluate players perfectly.

Okay, given the caveats, here are the forecasts. Oh wait, two more points. I did not actually forecast each player’s future production and then determine how many wins the team can expect. One can do this, I guess, but it would take time (which I don’t have). All I did was look at the rosters, thought briefly about what we know about these player’s past performance (and what we might expect of the rookies), and then guessed. Given this method, I am not going to forecast specific records, but I will note the expected playoff participants, with teams listed in alphabetical order in each category.

Eastern Conference

Home Court in the Playoffs: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat

On the Road in the Playoffs: Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards

Lottery Bound: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors

Comments: The top teams in the Eastern Conference are Miami and Chicago. I think Detroit and Cleveland can secure home court in the first round, but neither team should win as much as the Heat or Bulls. Of the remaining playoff spots I see New Jersey, Orlando, and Washington as likely post-season participants. Indiana is my choice for the 8th slot, over Milwaukee, Boston, or Philadelphia.

It is important to note that there are only eight slots. Barring injuries, many of these slots looked to be claimed by the teams I identified. For a team like New York – which I think hopes to make the playoffs under Isiah – one of the eight teams I identified has to slip. At this point I can’t see the Knicks making it past any of these teams.

Western Conference

Home Court in the Playoffs: Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs

On the Road in the Playoffs: Denver, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, New Orleans

Lottery Bound: Golden State, Memphis, Minnesota, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle, Utah

Comments: The Western Conference is much harder to forecast. Four teams I see as the Best in the West: Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Houston. Of these, Houston and Phoenix have serious injury issues to overcome.

After these four, there are four slots that can be taken by eight teams. The only teams that I doubt can make the playoffs in the West are Portland, Memphis (only because Gasol will not be there much of the season), and Golden State (although Baron Davis did look good in the preseason and Nelson is a good coach).

Now that I have forecasted the playoffs, I shall now make a guess at the playoff outcomes. As noted, I see the East as a contest between Miami and Chicago. At this point, Miami is the favorite to get past the Bulls and reach the NBA Finals.

In an earlier post I pointed out that although several teams are serious contenders out West, only one team gets to reach the Finals. My guess, and this is really just a guess at this point, is that Dallas represents the West.

So this means I am forecasting Dallas to play Miami again in the Finals. Okay, that is not an interesting forecast. All that work and all I am saying is that the Finals in 2007 will be the same as the Finals in 2006. That is boring, uninteresting, and completely lacks imagination.

Therefore I am going to go in a different direction. Let’s have Chicago take out Miami in the East. And out West, I am going to take Phoenix.

Had I gone with my first – very boring – forecast, I would take Dallas in the Finals. But with my new and more interesting forecast I am going to take… Chicago.

Obviously I am just guessing. Basically there are six contenders for the title – Miami, Chicago, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, and if they are healthy, Houston.

That being said, given that I am an economist (and prone to incorrect forecasts), the actual champion will probably be someone not on this list. Although basketball is not as uncertain as baseball and football, there is still uncertainty of outcome on the hardwood. This means that any forecast will have error, and that should be thought of as a good thing. If it were the case that someone could know with certainty the outcome of the season before it started, then this is no longer a sport, but rather something like professional wrestling.

UPDATE: There were a few comments yesterday, but no one pointed out the obvious flaw in my forecast. The NBA gives home court advantage to the three division winners and then the team with the best record who did not win a division. With respect to both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference I had three teams slated to earn home court advantage from the same division — Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland in the Central and Dallas, San Antonio, Houston in the Southwest. Given these rules, I am going to forecast New Jersey to take the Atlantic and Detroit to finish in third in the Central (although Cleveland taking third would not be surprising). In the West, Houston finishes third in the Southwest. I guess someone has to win the Northwest and I will guess that someone will be Denver. Actually, giving home court to a team in the Northwest is a shame. None of those teams are very impressive.

— DJ

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