The Los Angeles Lakers made the biggest move of the offseason when they enticed LeBron James to leave his hometown of Cleveland for the glitz and glam of Hollywood, giving the franchise its first real hope of a playoff berth since 2013.
Still, the Golden State Warriors, featuring a rotation of Stephen Curry (two-time NBA MVP), Kevin Durant (2013-14 NBA MVP), Draymond Green (four-time all-NBA defensive team and 2016-17 defensive player of the year), Klay Thompson (four-time all-star), Andre Iguodala (two-time all-NBA defensive team) and, soon, DeMarcus Cousins (two all-NBA honors), remains the team to beat.
This year’s season-long projection uses a modification of Tom Tango’s WARcels simple forecasting system to project each player’s 2018-19 box score Plus Minus, a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player. These are then weighted for playing time to determine an estimated net rating, which is used to figure out how often a team will beat every opponent on its schedule in 2018-19. The final win totals displayed here are the average results from 1,000 of those simulated seasons.
The Washington Wizards, for example, are projected to win 44 games in 2018-19, but there was one simulated season which had them winning 60 and two others with a win total of just 31 games. Overall, Washington won 45 or more games 49 percent of the time — key information if you are interested in the team’s over/under total (45.5) offered at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas.
The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics have the best chance to be the beasts of the East.
The Celtics finally get to see what Gordon Hayward, who broke his leg in the first quarter of last year’s season opener, can do with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Hayward improved Utah’s net rating from 0.4 to 7.1 in 2016-17 and will be just as important to the Celtics, a team that finished sixth overall in net rating last season (plus-3.7) despite their offensive rating slipping from 108.6 to 105.2 year over year.
Toronto, meanwhile, needs to figure out how to remain competitive after coach of the year Dwane Casey was fired and all-star DeMar DeRozan was traded for Kawhi Leonard. One thing that shouldn’t change is the team’s renewed commitment to three-point shots: the Raptors increased their rate of long-range attempts from 29 to 38 percent last year, the fifth-highest mark in the NBA.
Coach Scott Brooks also wants the Wizards to change their shooting mix, especially when it comes to eliminating the long two-point shots.
“We want to shoot more threes,” Brooks told The Post’s Candace Buckner. “We don’t just want to jack up shots but we want to shoot more threes. We feel that we have a great shooting team. We shot 38 percent [last season], so we need more of them.”
As a team, Washington took 31 percent of its field goals from behind the three-point line (24th) and the fourth-most from midrange (25 percent), reducing the overall effectiveness of its offense (106.9 points per 100 possessions, 14th) — midrange attempts were worth 0.8 points per shot, on average, in 2017-18, significantly less than those in the restricted area (1.3) or beyond the arc (1.1). If they can limit their midrange shooting to open looks and boost their shots at the rim and behind the arc, Washington could surprise some teams this season.
The Warriors most-used five-man lineup last season — Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green and Zaza Pachulia — outscored opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions. This year’s iteration will swap in Cousins (when healthy) for Pachulia, an upgrade by most standards. Cousins scored more points per 100 possessions, had a higher rebound rate and dished out more assists, resulting in a net advantage of more than two points per 100 possessions for Cousins after adjusting for teammates and opponents.
The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, remain the most progressive team in the league, focusing on shots at the rim and behind the three-point line (82 percent of field goal attempts) more often than any other team. Fixating on these high-efficiency shots gives them one of the few NBA offenses (league-leading 111.6 points per 100 possessions in 2017-18) that can go toe to toe with the Warriors.
Even with James in Los Angeles, the Lakers likely won’t be in the same class as Golden State and Houston. The starting five of James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee and Lonzo Ball are projected to outscore opponents by four points per 100 possessions, a complete turnaround from last year’s most-used starting five units — the top three of which were outscored by at least 1.4 net points per 100 possessions — but still a far cry from the type of lineups the Warriors and Rockets can put on the floor.
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