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Win projections put Pelicans on brink of playoffs

Turns out the Western Conference is tough.

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season is off and running, so before the New Orleans Pelicans tip-off tonight, let’s check in with the computers. Last year, I took a look at three different models that projected between 35 and 39 wins for the Pelicans. Ultimately, they were all too optimistic as New Orleans managed just 34 victories.

Like the power rankers who have moved the Pels up, so too do almost all of the win projections I’ve found. Below I’ve included a handful of more prominent projections, which almost universally expect New Orleans to exceed the Las Vegas over/under line (39.5) and to be in playoff contention. Five Thirty-Eight’s projection is up from 35 wins last yet to 43 this season. Andrew Johnson’s PT-PM has the Pels rising from 37 to 40.5. Nick Restifo is not publishing his projections this year, in part I guess because he’s now working for the Minnesota Timberwolves according to his Twitter profile.

To make up for his absence I’ve added in projections from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton (built on RPM), SportsLine, and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projections. The total spread here is only four wins, which feels narrow enough.

Win Projections

Projector Win Total Seed in West
Projector Win Total Seed in West
538 CARMELO 43 9th
SportsLine 42.8 7th
ESPN's Kevin Pelton 42.1 10th
Nylon Calculus PT-PM 40.5 9th
ESPN BPI 39 10th

Despite largely seeing the Pelicans approaching or even exceeding .500, just one projection puts New Orleans in the playoffs. The Western Conference is simply that stacked. Kevin Pelton’s model has seven teams in the West with 46 wins or more and just over one win separating the Utah Jazz in 8th from the Pelicans in 10th with the Portland Trailblazers sandwiched in-between. Five Thirty-Eight’s model thinks 46 wins are necessary to make the playoffs in the West while just 39 are necessary in the lesser conference.

Toss it all together, and despite adding DeMarcus Cousins, four out of five computer models see Anthony Davis and company going fishing early. This is in line with almost every national writer I’ve seen project the playoff field. Zach Lowe put the Pelicans 10th in the West and he’s the most respected writer covering the NBA you could possibly find. If you dig deeper into Lowe’s writing, you can see he sees very little separating the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, putting all seven teams in the same tier. This is in line with the computer models as well.

Injuries, and the Pelicans already have a couple lingering, are going to play a big part. Pair that with the very reasonable concerns about depth on the roster, the questions of fit between two superstar big men and a go-go head coach in Alvin Gentry, and the absence of shooters to provide spacing for those big men to operate, it’s not difficult to understand the skepticism so many feel about this New Orleans team.

In mere hours we can move from projections to reality. Let’s see if these Pelicans can prove the computer models wrong.