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ESPN’s ‘stat-based’ projections have Warriors finishing 8th in Western Conference

© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

How will the Warriors respond next season after their most surprising title win? Based on one ESPN projection, they’ll barely make the playoffs.

The projections come from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, who has the following preamble for his methodology:

“Nonetheless, statistical projections can be revealing. Mine are based on a combination of my SCHOENE player projections for box score stats as well as three-year, luck-adjusted Regularized Adjusted Four Factors (RAPM) from I estimate games played based on those missed over the past three years then make subjective predictions for playing time.

The result is an expected wins total based on average health luck. Because some teams will have better or worse fortune, but we don’t know which ones, the average totals will inevitably be closer to .500 than the actual final standings.”

The projected Western Conference standings using this methodology is as follows (number in parentheses is average wins):

  1. Phoenix Suns (49.0)
  2. Denver Nuggets (47.9)
  3. New Orleans Pelicans (47.6)
  4. Memphis Grizzlies (46.1)
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves (45.7)
  6. LA Clippers (43.6)
  7. Dallas Mavericks (43.1)
  8. Golden State Warriors (41.9)
  9. LA Lakers (36.8)
  10. Portland Trail Blazers (36.6)
  11. Sacramento Kings (36.5)
  12. Utah Jazz (34.9)
  13. San Antonio Spurs (31.2)
  14. Oklahoma City Thunder (26.9)
  15. Houston Rockets (26.7)

Pelton at least makes a comment about the Warriors, saying the method might not be accurate in their situation. Essentially, the two previous years of data before last season has skewed the projections.

Here’s his assessment:

“The two years Golden State spent in the lottery between losing in the 2019 NBA Finals and reclaiming the title in June have thrown this and many other stats-based projections off the scent of their true talent. Last year’s FiveThirtyEight projections opened with the Warriors at 37 wins on average, and even after Golden State reached the Finals, the Dubs were still listed as huge underdogs to the Celtics. A full season of contention helps the Warriors’ ratings, naturally, but losing Otto Porter Jr. and RAPM superstar Gary Payton II works against them. Despite those losses, I expect Golden State to outperform this projection and be back near the top of the West.”

It would be a major shock for the Warriors to find themselves anywhere near that range. They’ll kick off their preseason with a 3 a.m. game in Tokyo against the Washington Wizards on Friday morning.


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