Pelton: Blazers in the playoff hunt, will finish 10th in the West
ESPN’s insider NBA writers have been doing an NBA season forecast in the lead up to the NBA season starting with the teams that Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE projection system projects to finish first in each conference. Today, it was Pelton’s turn to explain SCHOENE’s projection for the Trail Blazers, recap the offseason that was and determine what it all means.
SCHOENE predicts that the Blazers will finish with a 41-41 record, tied for 10th in the West, just behind Golden State who is projected to finish 9th.
In terms of improvement going forward, having a bench as bad as the Blazers’ last season is actually something of a positive. Merely bringing in new players off the street should have been enough to get Portland several additional wins, and Olshey has clearly done better than that with a mix of established veterans and promising young pieces.
The problem is most everyone else in the Western Conference has gotten better, too. Since the Blazers have little choice but to try to win now because of Aldridge’s contract, they would have loved for the rest of the conference to race to the bottom in anticipation of the 2014 draft. Instead, teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Pelicans also made the playoffs a priority. Suddenly, there are at least 11 and maybe 12 teams — depending on your view of the Los Angeles Lakers — competing for eight playoff spots.
SCHOENE sees Portland right in the middle of that race as one of five teams projected to have between 40 and 44 wins. With margins so thin, injuries and luck could play a major role in determining which teams get a chance to host two playoff games and which head to the lottery. For the Blazers in particular, the evolution of their defense is probably key. SCHOENE projects the offense improving into the league’s top 10 but the defense getting little better. If Stotts can turn around the defense with Lopez as an interior anchor and a more experienced Leonard, this could easily be a 45-win team.
Pelton’s forecast is full of information and can read the whole thing here. Another interesting bit from the forecast is that Portland’s bench last year was the second worst in the last 30 years, using Pelton’s metric WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), as they were only worse than the post-Jordan and Pippen 1998-99 Chicago Bulls bench.