The ESPN Forecast panel had their two weeks of glory come to a close on Friday. Take a look at the 210 different people whose opinions you now either love or hate for a moment. The voters include a lot of people you might read around the internet, around ESPN's websites (including Grantland and Five Thirty-Eight), or even folks you hear or see on the radio/television. Many of the voters are contributors to the TrueHoop Network, ESPN's team specific equivalent to what we do here at SBNation.
I cannot tell you the exact methodology behind how they predict the records of teams; the other things (ROY, MVP, Teams Turning Around or in Turmoil, etc) appear to be a simple vote. Teams will over or under perform, no prognosticators are going to be perfect.
However, do know that their standings for last year's Western Conference predictions were pretty accurate. They picked six of the eight playoff teams (including all four who had homecourt advantage in the first round). The biggest misses were Phoenix (+26 wins from prediction), Portland (+26 wins from prediction), Dallas (+10 wins from prediction), and the Lakers (-9 wins from prediction).
The Pelicans are projected to finish 10th in the Western Conference with a record of 39-43. Many Pelican fans feel that number is low. I understand it when you look at the nine teams ranked ahead of them. Every team the ESPN panel picked ahead of New Orleans won at least 14 MORE games last season.
Yes, injuries. We all know. Then explain how Denver, who won more games than New Orleans last year, is predicted to be worse than the Pelicans this year. Want to talk about injuries with a Nuggets fan? Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, and Ty Lawson missed a combined 179 games last year. Plus they added Arron Afflalo for practically nothing.
This is not to say the Pelicans cannot exceed expectations, I made that argument two weeks ago for #NBATheme day. These expectations make sense considering the reality of the past.
Since Chris Paul was traded New Orleans basketball fans could just skip over this section. Not anymore. Down in the fine print you find that Anthony Davis received 10 votes as a possible MVP THIS SEASON, just six votes behind Blake Griffin. Good for sixth place. You may notice that Davis is the only player receiving votes currently on a rookie scale contract.
Remember (just above) that the Pelicans are predicted to improve just from 12th to 10th in the Western Conference? Well, when asked which team would have the greatest turnaround only the Cleveland Cavs (expected to add both LeBron James and Kevin Love) received more votes than the New Orleans Pelicans. While the Western Conference standings expect the Pelicans to improve by "just" 5 wins there is other data to consider.
Only the Cavs (+23 wins) and Bulls (+6 wins) were expected to increase their win total more than the Pelicans. Both of those teams are expected to add legitimate MVP candidates in LeBron James and Derrick Rose. New Orleans added Omer Asik. The rest of their improvement is either from health or internal development.
New Orleans did not receive a vote. That is a bit surprising. 23 of the 30 NBA franchises received at least one vote, spanning the entire spectrum from championship contenders (Cleveland) to deliberate losers (Philadelphia).
The teams who did not receive a vote are the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz. It is not a surprise that five of these seven teams (San Antonio, Atlanta, New Orleans, Orlando, and Utah) are all run by products of the Spurs system.
Bradford Doolittle also came out with his WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) projections for all five positions. Point Guard, Shooting Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward, and Center can be found behind the ESPN Insider paywall. Anthony Davis is projected to be the top PF with a WARP of 14.3. LeBron James 20.0 (#1 SF), Chris Paul - 17.8 (#1 PG), Kevin Durant 17.1 (#2 SF), and James Harden - 16.2 (#1 SG) rank higher throughout the league.
Interestingly enough, Tyreke Evans clocks in as the #6 SG with a WARP of 6.3. Shooting Guard is by far the worst position in the league according to Doolittle's system; a 6.3 WARP would not place in the top 10 at Point Guard, Small Forward, or Power Forward.
This is, of course, just one "catch-all" statistic and one man's mathematical projection. It is good to remember that Tyreke Evans finished 6th among Small Forwards in PER last year; the position Dell Demps expects to see Evans at this season a lot.
For a small forward, I think we’ll have an opportunity to see Tyreke play some there. I thought he did well when he played there last year. When you look at some of the games he’s had and what he did playing at the small forward position, I thought he’s a little undersized there, but with all the intangibles and things he does, I think that will be a bright spot.
Beyond Davis and Evans three other Pelicans showed up in the rankings. Ryan Anderson was listed in the 11-15 block of power forwards. Both Jrue Holiday and Omer Asik were listed in the "also notable" category, presumably 16th or worse at their position.
WARP, like most all "one number" statistics measuring NBA players does not accurately account for defense. Holiday, for instance, is the third best defensive point guard according to ESPN's "Real Plus-Minus". Omer Asik is ranked 6th by the same metric. Is that statistic the be-all, end-all for defense? Of course not. It is just another data point. The focus here is on WARP projections because it is the most recent data point, not because it is the most accurate.
Nine different Western Conference teams are represented in the top 6 of their positions. The Clippers lead the way with three players (Paul, Griffin, and Jordan) while Oklahoma City (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook), Houston (James Harden, Dwight Howard), Portland (Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge), and New Orleans (Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans) all have two players represented.
More Black and Blue Notes
Dell Demps pushed back on some of the anti-Team USA Basketball reporting that accompanied Paul George's gruesome injury.
It’s tough because guys are going to work out in the summer. There are two arguments on it. One argument is ‘do you want guys playing pick-up basketball’ and if that injury happens playing pickup basketball, you don’t have the medical attention needed. I thought the medical group got there pretty quick, and that’s one of the advantages of having it. Two is to say do you not want the guys to play all summer. Or three, do you want to play in a controlled environment like USA Basketball? There’s an argument for each. We’ve got half of our guys playing around the country right now in different areas. It could happen to anyone. I don’t think it happened just because of USA Basketball.
Dell Demps expanded a little on the decision to acquire Omer Asik
Well we had to make a choice. There are a couple choices we could have made. Do you allocate all your resources to the center? Do you allocate it all to the small forward position? Or do you do a combination? We elected to go in and get Omer Asik, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. He’s a top three forward/center in the league, one of the best defensive centers in the league. When we looked at our team and did the overall evaluation of our group, we figured the places we wanted to improve the most were defense and rebounding. He checks that box the moment he steps onto the floor. He was down in New Orleans three days prior to going with the Turkish national team right now. I got to spend a lot of time with him. And as good of a basketball player as he is, he’s a better person. It was unbelievable, the time, spending with him and talking with him and getting to know him. It was incredible. People told me before ‘he’s a good guy’ but this guy, he’s a great guy. I think he’s really going to fit into our culture and that the people and our fans are going to fall in love with him. He plays so hard and plays so smart and he does all the intangibles. He’s going to be our dirty work guy and he’s going to be the anchor on our defense. Monty’s excited to have him. And another guy, who might be more excited, is Anthony. He knows that he has him so it works out there.
Dell Demps sounds happy with the roster he has constructed. More importantly Monty Williams sounds happy as well. Hopefully we will see more Tyreke Evans at small forward than Monty relying on the "veteran" presence of John Salmons.