Forecasting the Eastern Conference for 2007-08

Okay, the season starts this week so I better post my forecast.  Today I am going to give my forecast for the East.  Tomorrow I will talk about the West and give my projections for the playoffs and the post-season awards.

Before I get to the forecast, let me start with a list of assumptions and qualifications.

Assumptions and Qualifications

If you know WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes) and how many minutes a player plays, then you know Wins Produced. And as noted many times here, Wins Produced and actual wins are quite closely related (which is not surprising, since Wins Produced is based on the link between wins and offensive and defensive efficiency).

In looking at the past it’s easy to see a player’s Wins Produced (well, easy in the sense that it can be done). When we look towards the future, though, calculating Wins Produced becomes a challenge. First of all, we don’t know future productivity.  Yes, there is a strong link between past and future per-minute performance.  But it’s not a perfect link. In other words, players can get better (or worse).

Then there is minutes played.  I have not modeled minutes played, so for these I have to make an educated guess (with the emphasis on “guess” not “educated”).

All that being said, I did go through each team’s roster and made an effort to forecast the 2007-08 season.  This forecast assumes that past productivity equals future performance (although I did make an adjustment if I thought a player was going to change positions).  And I am assuming that I have some idea how many minutes a player is going to play.  No allowance is made for player performance improving or declining.  And no effort was really made to account for injuries that haven’t happened yet.  In sum, this forecast is designed to tell us where everyone is starting the season.  If nothing changes on each team, this is where they will finish.

Okay, I think I stated all the assumptions and qualifiers.  Here is the forecast.  Again, today I discuss the Eastern Conference. Not only will I report how I think these teams rank before the season starts, I also offer a very brief discussion of how I reached this conclusion.  For those who want more details on each team, please see the review of the 2006-07 NBA season.

1. Boston Celtics

The Celtics have added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.  But these are not the only productive players on the roster. Paul Pierce has always been a very good player (as noted last week, as productive as Kobe Bryant).  And beyond Pierce there is Rajon Rondo (most productive rookie in 2006-07), Tony Allen (a very good player before he got hurt last year), James Posey (another consistently productive player), Leon Powe (an above average player last year in limited minutes), and Scott Pollard (a player who has been productive in his career when he plays).  In sum, although people characterize this team as the Big Three and nothing else, there is actually quite a bit on this roster. Hence I think this team – if it stays healthy — will be the top team in the Eastern Conference.

2. Chicago Bulls

This all depends on injuries and the potential Kobe trade.  The other night the injury report told us that Ben Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, and Joakim Noah were each hurt in the same game.  It’s currently reported that Wallace and Noah are out indefinitely.  If indefinitely becomes “all season” then the Bulls have real problems.  Plus there are rumors that this team is going to be gutted to acquire Kobe Bryant.  If such a trade includes Luol Deng I can’t see the Bulls improving much (and if they give up too much the team actually gets worse with Kobe).  Still, if we assume this trade is not going to happen and the injuries are not serious (though out indefinitely doesn’t sound good), then this team should win 50-55 wins.  This is not good enough to catch the Celtics, but I think it’s good enough to win the Central.

3-4. Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons

Both of these teams got to 50 wins last year.  And both didn’t do much to improve.  In fact, if Cleveland doesn’t sign Anderson Varejao they will be a bit worse.  And as I noted last week, the same story can be told about the Pistons [who lost Carlos Delfino and (apparently) Chris Webber].  Certainly each of these teams could get back to where they were in 2007-08, but I think both have been passed by Boston and Chicago (again, assuming Chicago is healthy).

Okay, that’s the top four.  Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit look to be playoff teams in 2007-08.  After the top four in the Eastern Conference we have a large collection of teams that are likely to win between 35 and 45 games.   Some may do a bit worse then this range, and perhaps someone could do a bit better.  But in general, these teams are not contenders for the title and some will fall into the lottery.  I have divided these teams into two groupings.  The first grouping is a bit better than the second, although the difference is not that large.

5. Miami, Charlotte, New York, Atlanta, Toronto, and Orlando

Again I offer a few comments on each team.

Miami has lost Eddie Jones and James Posey. Plus Dwyane Wade is out due to injury and Shaq is another year older.  The Heat did manage to lose the persistently unproductive Antoine Walker (although it is hard to see Ricky Davis or Mark Blount really helping).  The net effect of all this is a team that’s not as good as the title team that won 52 games in 2005-06. 

Charlotte added Jason Richardson, which helps but then lost Sean May (which hurt).  But then right before the season started the Bobcats lost Adam Morrison to a season ending injury.  Morrison was the least productive player in the NBA last year, so his departure might be enough to vault this team into the playoffs.

New York, with the substitution of Zach Randolph for Channing Frye, looks like a team that could win 40 games this year. And that might get Isiah Thomas into the playoffs (and probably keep his job). Of course that assumes Renaldo Balkman gets healthy and plays.

Atlanta drafted Al Horford, the player who should be Rookie of the Year.  He will not outscore Kevin Durant, so Horford probably won’t get the actual award.  But he will probably be the most productive rookie.  He certainly was in the pre-season (by a wide margin). With the addition of Horford, the Hawks might also contend for a playoff spot.  Yes, Horford could be that good.

Toronto made the playoffs last year and then went out and signed Jason Kapono and took Carlos Delfino from the Pistons.  Delfino is an above average shooting guard, but he joins a roster with a number of above average players at this position. So I am not sure how much Delfino plays or if he is going to add much to what the Raptors already had.  Kapono, on the other hand, is a below average small forward.  Hard to see how he is going to help much.  Basically this team has to hope Andrea Bargnani plays better, which might happen (and might not).

Orlando added Rashard Lewis.  The loss of Tony Battie, though, forces the Magic to put Lewis and/or Hedo Turkoglu at power forward.  Neither is suited for the four spot, so that’s a problem (a point I made last summer).  Consequently, the Magic are probably not going to be much better than what they were last year (which was good enough to barely make the playoffs).

11. New Jersey, Philadelphia, Indiana, and Washington

These four teams could be just as good as the six teams I just listed.  Again, the difference between these teams is fairly small.

If Richard Jefferson returns to what we saw in 05-06, then New Jersey will be as good as the Cavs and Pistons.  If not, the team might not make the playoffs.  The Nets do have the most productive player in the game in Jason Kidd and a very good shooting guard in Vince Carter.  But the remainder of the roster-as noted a few weeks ago — hasn’t been very productive in the past. Hence the key is the return of Jefferson.

Philadelphia took a major step forward when it traded Allen Iverson for Andre Miller.  But this team is still being dragged down by Willie Green and Rodney Carney, two players who are very unproductive.  And now they have added Thaddeus Young, another player who doesn’t look to be very productive in 2007-08.  Yes, Reggie Evans helps, but the un-productive players on this roster tend to actually reduce the team’s ability to win (as opposed to just not helping).

Indiana, as I noted a few days ago, looked to be an above average team before Jermaine O’Neal got hurt last year.  Supposedly he is now healthy, but clearly not happy.  If this team struggles early, O’Neal will probably remain unhappy. Even if O’Neal stays happy, the Pacers are probably no better than a lower playoff seed.

Washington lost Etan Thomas, their most productive big man in 2006-07.  So that’s going to hurt.  They still have Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Brendan Haywood.  But the shooting guard position looks weak and there is simply a lack of depth on this roster.

15. Milwaukee Bucks

Okay, every team I have mentioned thus far could make the playoffs.  And except for Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, I would not be surprised if any team misses the playoffs. In other words, the playoffs in the Eastern Conference are hard to predict.

The lone exception is the Milwaukee Bucks.  This team added Desmond Mason, who produce -2.3 wins for the Hornets last year. Then they drafted Yi Jianlian.  Even if Jianlian was as productive as an average player, I don’t see this team getting to 30 wins.  And given what he did in the pre-season, I am not sure we can expect an average season from Jianlian.  The Bucks did get above average productivity last year from Andrew Bogut, Michael Redd, and Maurice Williams. But those were the only above average players on the roster, and none of these players surpassed 0.150 in WP48 (average is 0.100).  In sum, this team lacks any really good players but does have several below average performers. Consequently, I see this team trailing the rest of the conference.

Looking at Divisions

This post has now surpassed the 1,700 word mark, so if you stuck with me this long you really need to get back to work.  But for those who have a bit more time, here is the breakdown by division.

Atlantic: Boston, then New York, Toronto, New Jersey, and Philadelphia in any order you like.

Central: Chicago, then Cleveland-Detroit, then Indiana .  Milwaukee takes last.

Southeast: This is anyone’s game.  Three of the top four seeds in this conference will come from the Atlantic and Central.  Someone from the Southeast gets to be the four seed and probably lose in the opening round.  Other teams from this conference might also make the playoffs and lose in the opening round.

Tomorrow I will talk about the Western Conference, which is much more clear-cut.  Quick preview: The West has more “really good” teams than the East.  They also have more “really bad” teams.  Consequently, who makes the playoffs in the West is much easier to figure out at the start of the season.

– DJ

For a discussion of other teams see NBA Team Reviews: 2006-07

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The equation connecting wins to offensive/defensive efficiency is given HERE

Wins Produced and Win Score are discussed in the following posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

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