When last we left the NBA, the Golden State Warriors were wrapping up their third championship in four years and staking their claim as perhaps the game’s greatest dynasty. Then a bunch of players switched teams, including LeBron James (to the Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (to the Raptors), FiveThirtyEight stat-namesake Carmelo Anthony (to the Rockets) and DeMarcus Cousins (to — who else? — the Warriors).
Now that the league has settled into a period of relative calm with a little more than two months to go before opening night — and now that the full season schedule has been released — we thought we’d run an early preseason version of our CARM-Elo team ratings and season projections.
A few notes before we get to the numbers: The depth charts that drive the projections are from ESPN.com, up-to-date as of Aug. 9. We didn’t scale the raw Elo ratings to an overall league average of 1505 (it’s about 1514 instead), so the ratings you see are very slightly inflated relative to what they will be when we do our proper projections in the fall. (But the average number of wins across the league does come out to a 41-41 record.)
Now that all that’s out of the way, here are our way-too-early, extremely preliminary 2018-19 projections:
In a completely shocking result, the Warriors are No. 1 in our CARM-Elo rankings for next season. OK, fine — that’s not very surprising. The Warriors project to win a league-high 64 games, and they have a 42 percent probability of winning yet another championship, which would make them only the third team to win four titles in five years. Perhaps that’s getting a little bit ahead of things, given how close the Houston Rockets were to eliminating the Warriors in the playoffs, but the CARM-Elo gap between No. 1 Golden State and No. 2 Houston (105 points) is greater than the gap between Houston and the No. 13 Milwaukee Bucks. Needless to say, it’s the Warriors’ ring to chase once again.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t still interesting storylines to keep us tuned in. The Lakers are the most improved team in the league according to our model — thanks mostly to that LeBron guy, but also to some of the improving young talent around him. (Although all those improvements have simply brought them up to the Denver Nuggets level of Elo.) Our ratings also think pretty highly of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, at least when compared with other gauges such as the Vegas over-unders. And contrary to what Jaylen Brown might think, the Leonard-led Raptors — and not the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers — look like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, with a 28 percent chance of making the NBA Finals. (Then again, our numbers were bearish on the Celtics last season as well, only to have Brad Stevens laugh in the face of the predictions like he usually does.)
For all of the projections that went into this early forecast (including team-by-team playing-time allocations), check out our projections Google doc here. Also, you can break down detailed future projections for every player in the league using our CARMELO player projections.
Jay Boice contributed research.
Joining the 1949-54 Minneapolis Lakers and the 1960s Boston Celtics, who won 11 titles in 13 years.