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October 29, 2008
NBA Season Preview 2008-09
Wrapup and Awards Picks

by Kevin Pelton

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When I introduced my SCHOENE projection system two weeks ago, I explained that a key part of the goal was coming up with meaningful team projections in addition to being able to project at the individual level. Over the course of the division-by-division previews (which will wrap up Wednesday), I've explored some areas where the system still has some shortcomings. I'm certainly not quite as confident in Golden State's chances as is SCHOENE. However, I think the results are generally very reasonable and interesting.

With my spreadsheet updated to include the latest in terms of injuries, projections for virtually every player and expected rotations, it's time for the final team predictions. To generate these, I used a Monte Carlo simulator provided by APBRmetrician Erich Doerr to simulate 1,000 seasons based on the actual schedule (Erich's method even takes into account team rest). What I don't yet have is a good way to account for the uncertainty of individual teams. Any changes from one simulation run to the next are simply the result of the randomness of the 82-game schedule.

EAST              PW      PL     WIN%    DIV%    PLAY%    
Philadelphia-AT  53.6    28.4    .653    .571    1.000
Detroit-C        53.0    29.0    .646    .788     .997
Boston           52.6    29.4    .641    .419     .998
Miami-SE         47.4    34.6    .578    .506     .961
Cleveland        48.0    34.0    .585    .209     .966
Orlando          46.8    35.2    .570    .447     .935
Toronto          43.0    39.0    .524    .009     .769
Washington       39.1    42.9    .477    .034     .439
Indiana          37.9    44.1    .463    .004     .313
Charlotte        36.6    45.4    .446    .010     .215
Atlanta          34.4    47.6    .419    .004     .090
New Jersey       33.5    48.5    .408    .000     .066
Chicago          31.7    50.3    .387    .000     .038
New York         24.5    57.5    .299    .000     .000
Milwaukee        23.0    59.0    .281    .000     .000

WEST              PW      PL     WIN%    DIV%    PLAY%    
L.A. Lakers-P    62.3    19.7    .759    .992    1.000
Houston-SW       54.8    27.2    .668    .795     .995
Portland-NW      50.6    31.4    .617    .587     .957
Utah             49.3    32.7    .601    .404     .942
New Orleans      48.2    33.8    .588    .115     .903
Dallas           47.3    34.7    .577    .081     .870
Golden State     47.2    34.8    .575    .007     .851
Phoenix          43.6    38.4    .532    .002     .618
San Antonio      41.8    40.2    .510    .009     .431
Minnesota        38.4    43.6    .468    .009     .147
L.A. Clippers    34.2    47.8    .417    .000     .037
Denver           32.2    49.8    .393    .000     .009
Sacramento       30.5    51.5    .371    .000     .003
Oklahoma City    23.5    58.5    .286    .000     .000
Memphis          21.4    60.6    .261    .000     .000

Worth noting in looking at the projections: In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland comes out ahead of Miami, but would be bumped to the fifth seed because the Heat projects as division champs (ever so narrowly over Orlando). The Cavaliers would still have home-court advantage, so this would not be a big deal.

The top of the Eastern Conference is essentially a crapshoot by this method, with three teams separated by a single game. In the West, the Lakers are clearly dominant, though things get very interesting after second-seeded Houston.

The simulator also records the best and worst seasons for each team. The Lakers won as many as 72 games and as few as 43 (that seems tough to believe even if everything were to go wrong with the frontcourt; maybe if Kobe Bryant gets hurt they would be a 43-win team). At the low end, Memphis, Milwaukee, New York and Oklahoma City never got to 40 wins, while the Grizzlies won just nine games in one run, which would tie the worst record in NBA history.

The Eastern Conference is projected to improve dramatically and win 47.7 percent of interconference matchups, up from 42.7 percent a year ago. That's a big jump, though more conservative than John Hollinger's projections, which have the East outperforming the West.

Largely Subjective Finals Pick: Lakers over Pistons

If I were breaking down each conference individually, I would probably take the defending champs, Boston and Los Angeles. While that pick makes sense, it's also tremendously boring, and I'm not sure I want to take the top two projected teams (the Lakers and 76ers) either. Detroit is the forgotten team of the three, and with a little luck and another strong postseason from Rodney Stuckey it's no stretch to suggest the Pistons could break free of their Eastern Conference Finals jinx and face the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Ultimately, the Lakers are too far ahead of the rest of the league to pick anyone else to win it all.

Awards Picks

MVP - Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers. Well, this isn't entirely going out on a limb either. If the Cavaliers claim home-court advantage, the voters might easily decide LeBron James is overdue for his first MVP. The rest of the field doesn't come out particularly well in these projections; it's hard to see anyone from Philadelphia, Detroit or Houston winning MVP, and Chris Paul's team is in for a slightly disappointing season if these projections are to be believed.

Rookie of the Year - Michael Beasley, Miami. This figures to be the most entertaining ROY race we've had in the while. My numbers don't like Derrick Rose to be an instant star, but do confirm the conventional wisdom on Beasley and belated rookie Greg Oden. Neither Beasley nor Oden actually comes out as the most valuable of the rookies; that's Minnesota's Kevin Love. Love will surely have a more difficult time selling the voters even if he plays as well as the numbers suggest, which is no certainty. Both Beasley and Oden could benefit from much-improved teams. I suspect Beasley's scoring numbers will make the difference.

Coach of the Year - Nate McMillan, Portland. If Portland wins the Northwest Division, McMillan is going to be virtually impossible to beat out for this award. I'm not sure how much else we can say at the start of the season about an award that is largely about exceeding expectations that are set at the start of the season.

Sixth Man Award - Louis Williams, Philadelphia. With Manu Ginobili missing the first month and a half of the season, this award could be up for grabs. I actually still have Ginobili projected as the most valuable likely reserve, but Williams is within striking distance and voters could be eager to reward a member of a contending Sixers squad. (Surprisingly, Ramon Sessions is the next most valuable projected reserve, followed by darkhorse candidate Rudy Fernandez.)

Defensive Player of the Year - Ron Artest, Houston. Kevin Garnett is a good bet to repeat with this award, and I'd wager he'll get my (mythical) vote. However, I always forget how highly-regarded Artest remains as a defender. I participated in ESPN the Magazine's poll asking people from various groups (players, coaches, GMs, fans, statistical analysts) different questions, including best defender, for their NBA preview. Artest didn't make my top five defenders, but he finished tops by coaches and fans and second by his peers. Take that reputation and add it to a defense already amongst the league's best and you've got the recipe for a DPOY award.

Most Improved Player - Amir Johnson, Detroit. This is always a challenging award to predict because the criteria are so murky. One simple rule does generally apply: demonstrated ability plus opportunity equals MIP. Johnson's got the former in spades and enough of the latter to pull it off.

Executive of the Year - Kevin Pritchard, Portland. It's all about the new guys. Pritchard, in his second year as the Blazers' GM, might get rewarded for the process of rebuilding a Portland team that was in disarray not long ago. Ed Stefanski, entering his first full year in Philadelphia, deserves plenty of support for maneuvering to create the cap room that landed Elton Brand in the City of Brotherly Love. The other top contender has to be Houston's Daryl Morey, entering his second year on the job.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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