Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Curious as to why a team is too high or too low? Here is the detailed explanation for each category.
A straightforward ranking of how good the teams were last year, based on wins.
How many games did the team miss the playoffs by last year. There’s a difference between the competitiveness of the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, fair or not.
It’s a lot tougher to make it to the playoffs in the West. That means a better Western Conference team might have a lower chance than a worse Eastern Conference team.
Utilizing this thorough breakdown by Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders, I ranked the teams by how much cap space the team had to spend in free agency. The more money the team had, the higher they scored. I used his best guess for player and team options.
This was assessing next year’s rosters. How good is the core? How likely are players to return? These questions aren’t just important because they show close a team is to the playoffs. They also indicate how attractive teams will be to free agents.
For each team, the number of minimum returning players is listed, but that doesn’t include team options or count the quality of those players. Those things were included in the teams ranking, though there’s no universal way to quantify them.
Until the lottery occurs, we won’t know for sure where anyone is picking, so for now they’re ranked according to lottery balls, with a slight tweak.
Some teams have multiple picks. For instance, the Phoenix Suns have the 14th, 18th and 27th pick.
The question was how to balance those who have multiple first-round picks with those who have better odds. It seemed a reasonable solution was to estimate: what is the best possible pick a team could get if combing their selections and trading up?
Could the Suns combine their three picks to move up to 13? Absolutely! Could they get the No. 1? Probably not. The highest it seemed reasonable to me is No. 7, so I gave them the same score as the owner of that pick, the Sacramento Kings.
I didn’t factor in second-round picks, since it’s a crapshoot.
One note of caution here: Even great rookies have a limited impact on a team. Last year, Kevin Durant and LeBron James combined for 35.1 win shares. All drafted players combined notched a total of 33.9.
Additionally, a higher draft pick doesn't guarantee success. Last year the top-10 picks combined for 7.4 win shares. Those taken 11 through 20 had 9.3. The last 10 of the first round totaled 11.6. Granted, last year had some unique circumstances, but it’s still intriguing.
Last season there were 15 players with at least 10 win shares. None were rookies. Getting 10 win shares isn't that rare, but it's extraordinary for a player in his first year.
There have only been 28 rookies in NBA history to eclipse that mark, and the last three are Chris Paul (2005-06), Tim Duncan (1997-98) and Shaquille O’Neal (1992-93).
It’s highly unlikely that there’s an instant Durant or James waiting in the wings. There probably isn’t a generational player such as Paul, Duncan or O’Neal, either.
Drafts matter, but rookies take time to develop. Even Durant and James did.
Finally, how much potential is there on the existing roster for improvement?
This includes potential coaching changes and player development.
If a team was badly coached last year, and either have already had, or may soon have, an upgrade at the helm, they were given a better score.
If they have a coach who has already shown he can develop players, the team was also given a better score.
The age and health of players and improved (or potentially improved) composition of the roster were also considered. Does the team have returning players who were injured? Is it losing players in free agency? Are its stars on the downside of their career? For example, it’s doubtful that Kobe Bryant will have the best year of his life next season.
All stats for this article were from Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com/STATS unless otherwise stated.