Are the Warriors championship favorites? Adjusting for playoff rotations says yes

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It no longer matters how the Warriors played with Andrew Bogut (injured), how the Bulls played with Luol Deng (traded) or how the Heat played with Michael Beasley (out of the rotation).

Most playoff projections analyze full-season information, but teams have changed since October. Those changes will increase when rotations shrink for the playoffs.

I think it’s important to account for that, and I’m again running a model I used last season:

In an attempt to get better data, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only the lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s post-season rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for opponent or weigh lineups based on how often they’ll be used in the postseason, and it’s impossible to precisely predict a team’s playoff rotation.

I’ll add one more major caveat: nba wowy! appears to be missing some plays this seasons. I’m hopeful the included plays are representative, but I can’t guarantee it.

Last season, filling out the postseason bracket using my rankings yielded better results (11 of 15 series correct) than using straight seeding (9 of 15 series correct).

OKC OKC Seeds MIA MIA
HOU MIL
OKC MIA
LAC LAC BRK BRK
MEM MIA CHI
OKC MIA
DEN DEN IND IND
GSW ATL
SAS NYK
SAS SAS NYK NYK
LAL BOS
OKC OKC Me MIA MIA
HOU MIL
MEM MIA
LAC MEM BRK BRK
MEM SAS CHI
SAS MIA
DEN DEN IND IND
GSW ATL
SAS NYK
SAS SAS NYK NYK
LAL BOS

A full outlook follows, but here are a few takeaways from this year’s projections:

  • Eastern Conference standings remain largely unchanged. The only predicted upset through the conference finals is Wizards over Bulls.
  • The West, on the hand, gets turned upside down. Warriors over Clippers and Trail Blazers over Rockets are both projected as first-round upsets.
  • In fact, Golden State has the best adjusted net rating in the league. However, the Warriors face the biggest loss in the playoffs in Bogut, meaning their results are highly volatile. These numbers say Golden State is the favorite. An added dose of logic says they are not. As always, use models like these only as a piece of evaluation – not definitive projections.
  • The Wizards are the East’s big riser, moving from the No. 5 seed to third in the projections and barely behind the Heat. Because the Pacers and Heat remain 1-2, though, that projects only one series win for Washington. The Wizards have played very well when healthy, and considering they’re healthy now, it makes sense their projected playoff rotation rates highly.
  • The Thunder take a big tumble, but the model does not include a large number of Russell Westbrook minutes. I suspect Oklahoma City will fare better in real life by playing Westbrook more.
  • The Clippers also fell substantially. They have struggled mightily when Danny Granger and/or Glen Davis – two players I, perhaps mistakenly, included in Los Angeles’ rotation – see the court. Doc Rivers can avoid the downturn by managing his rotation well.
  • The Clippers, Thunder and Mavericks each have lower adjusted net ratings than overall net ratings.
  • The Nets, Bobcats and Hawks each make solid gains, but considering all three were outscored this season, they still remain at the bottom of the East.

Here are the full results of each team, with its overall ratings adjusted to include only lineups comprised completely of players in its playoff rotations:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 106.0 to 110.4
  • Defensive rating: 101.1 to 101.9
  • Net rating: +4.9 to +8.5

2. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 110.9 to 111.8
  • Defensive rating: 106.2 to 105.4
  • Net rating: +4.7 to +6.4

5. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 106.2 to 109.5
  • Defensive rating: 104.3 to 103.2
  • Net rating: +1.9 to +6.3

4. Chicago Bulls

  • Offensive rating: 103.0 to 106.7
  • Defensive rating: 101.0 to 100.7
  • Net rating: +2.0 to +6.0

3. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 109.5 to 111.6
  • Defensive rating: 105.4 to 106.1
  • Net rating: +4.1 to +5.5

8. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.5 to 116.9
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 113.1
  • Net rating: -0.2 to +3.8

6. Brooklyn Nets

  • Offensive rating: 106.4 to 108.0
  • Defensive rating: 108.4 to 105.1
  • Net rating: -2.0 to +2.9

7. Charlotte Bobcats

  • Offensive rating: 103.9 to 105.2
  • Defensive rating: 104.3 to 102.8
  • Net rating: -0.4 to +2.4

WESTERN CONFERENCE

6. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 107.6 to 118.4
  • Defensive rating: 102.5 to 106.8
  • Net rating: +5.1 to +11.6

1. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 112.3 to 114.9
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 104.8
  • Net rating: +8.5 to +10.1

5. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 114.3 to 118.5
  • Defensive rating: 110.1 to 112.0
  • Net rating: +4.2 to +6.5

4. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 111.8 to 115.5
  • Defensive rating: 107.5 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +4.3 to +5.0

3. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 114.0 to  116.4
  • Defensive rating: 106.1 to 111.8
  • Net rating: +7.9 to +4.6

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 108.7 to 107.9
  • Defensive rating: 103.0 to 103.9
  • Net rating: +5.7 to +4.0

7. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 116.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.8 to 112.4
  • Net rating: +1.8 to +3.7

8. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 111.9 to 112.7
  • Defensive rating: 109.4 to 112.3
  • Net rating: +2.5 to +0.4

Clippers’ Jerry West: ‘I did not want to leave’ Warriors

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A report emerged last spring that Jerry West was nearing a deal to stay with the Warriors as a consultant. Instead, he took the same job with the Clippers.

West, via Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Frankly it was very sad, OK? It really was. A place where I thought that if I was going to work another year or if somebody wanted me to work another year, I thought I could contribute; I did not want to leave. I did not want to leave. I was very happy there.

But those things happen sometimes. Obviously to be around a bunch of players that were as together as any I’ve seen and I think more importantly the talent that was on that team and to see the joy. There’s a lot of joy there. I think those are the kind of environments where people really prosper.”

“It was time for me to leave. I’m in Los Angeles again. For me, I’ll have a chance to go in the office a little bit and watch some of the people that have been hired, to watch our coaches coach. I’ve often said I’ve done some crazy things in my life because of the timing and maybe the timing was right.”

The Clippers’ appeal appeared to be their salary offer – reportedly $4 million-$5 million annually. And maybe that factored.

But it sure sounds as if there’s more to the story.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-

Reports: Lakers, Pacers both confident in tampering case

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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The Lakers reportedly expect to be cleared of the tampering allegations brought by the Pacers over Paul George.

As for the Pacers?

Bob Kravitz of WTHR on The Rich Eisen Show

They feel very strongly that there were correspondences between Lakers executives and Paul George’s representative. They had heard those rumors for quite some time. They think there’s some there there.

Wishful thinking by both sides? It sure looks like it.

The Lakers probably tampered, because everybody tampers. But teams are rarely punished for it, so they can also believe they did nothing egregious enough to become an exception.

A paper trail between the Lakers – Magic Johnson or any other executive – and George’s camp would go far. But even that must be more specific. George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, also represents Lakers forward Julius Randle and former Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell. So, he’d have good reason to communicate with the organization.

I don’t know what the NBA will do here. Tampering rules are rarely and arbitrarily enforced. That gives each team plenty of room to believe it’s right.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?