Let me address that statement with Table One.
Table One offers two projections of the Hornets. The first assumes that what the players on New Orleans did last year on a per-minute basis would be offered again this year (except Julian Wright who is a rookie this year). The second projects what we have seen so far to the end of the season.
The first projection indicates that Hornets should have expected to win 50 games this year. If Chris Paul – who was hurt last year – replicated his numbers from his rookie season, this projection goes to 53 victories. After 57 games in 2007-08, the Hornets are on pace to win 55 games (given the team’s efficiency differential and Wins Produced). The small improvement is due to Chris Paul — pictured below (and I stole the picture from the Associated Press although I am not sure I can do that) — actually improving a bit (which would have seemed impossible given how good he has been) and Peja Stojakovic playing better. The remaining players in the rotation, though, are basically right on target.
In sum, New Orleans should have been projected to make the playoffs. And before the season started, that’s what I said.
Of course, I also thought the Bulls would certainly make the playoffs, and clearly Chicago has not performed like a playoff team thus far. So it’s not like all of my projections proved to be correct. But I did think the Hornets were a playoff team, and indeed they have played like one this season.
A quick note on projections… The best predictor of an NBA player’s performance is what that player did in the past. That being said, player performance can change because of injury, experience (which causes improvement when a player is young and declines when he is old), minutes played, coaching, roster changes, diminishing returns (which we see with respect to rebounds, scoring, etc…), and schedule strength (which probably matters this year given the disparity between East and West). In sum, there are a variety of factors that can cause a player to improve or decline. Players are not robots, so projections are not going to be perfect. Still, I think – more often than we can in baseball or football – we can know in basketball what’s going to happen in the future by simply looking at what happened in the past. And the Hornets demonstrate this point in 2007-08.
Update: Right after I posted this column I remembered that Ryan Schwan predicted 48 wins for the Hornets before the season started (using Wages of Wins numbers). By the way, Schwan ended the blog where he made this prediction and now writes for Hornets247.
Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.