Updated Win-Loss Projections for Every NBA Team in 2016
Even though plenty of truths about the 2015-16 NBA season are now blindingly obvious, so much is still up in the air.
Will the Philadelphia 76ers manage to break into double digits in the victory column, or are they destined to go down as one of the worst teams in the history of this sport? Can the Los Angeles Lakers keep pace with their futility while trying to avoid parting with their first-round draft pick?
Will the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards figure things out after starting the campaign in such miserable fashion? Are the Dallas Mavericks for real? Can the Houston Rockets break out of the pack of teams that are competing for a playoff spot in the Western Conference?
Will the Golden State Warriors shoot their way past the hallowed mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls? If they do, can the San Antonio Spurs join them north of 70 victories?
There's no shortage of storylines to talk about when going over the projected records of each NBA squad.
It's also worth noting that we'll lean on my FATS model while making these prognostications. FATS, which stands for factor-adjusted team similarities, looks at the Four Factors for each team and compares them to every squad throughout league history, using the best matches to spit out an expected number of victories.
If you're curious about all the nuances, you can find the model explained in full here.
For each team, we're taking the FATS projection and adjusting for factors it can't account for—injuries, improvement, strength of schedule, etc.—to come up with the final prediction that appears in each slide's header.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
FATS Projection: 16-66
With Ish Smith running the show, the Philadelphia 76ers have actually managed to put something together that kind of resembles an NBA offense. Though his meager six appearances force us to work with a small sample, it's nonetheless notable the Sixers score 98.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor—still the league's worst mark but close enough to the No. 29 Los Angeles Lakers that there's not a yawning chasm between the two sputtering units.
Even as Smith continues to gain chemistry with his new teammates, Philadelphia will be the underdog virtually every time it takes the court. That will remain true if Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Nik Stauskas make massive strides, since this team is working with an unavoidable talent deficit each and every night.
The recent surge of competence should prevent the Sixers from setting a new historical mark for futility, but not by much.
It's important to remember that the FATS projections have an artificial floor and ceiling, as they draw from historical comparisons. There are only so many other teams in NBA history that have been this bad, so emerging with an even lower score is nearly impossible.
Final Projection: 11-71
14. Brooklyn Nets
FATS Projection: 23-59
Jarrett Jack isn't an All-Star. He's not even close to earning that designation.
But losing him to a torn ACL is still a massive blow to the Brooklyn Nets, who don't have a strong replacement option at point guard. Now, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan must take the reins of the offense, which doesn't bode well for the Nets' chances of avoiding a spiral down toward the very bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
"The Nets' P.J. era—not Carlesimo, but post-Jack—got off to about as ugly a start as possible, with out-of-sync offense, terrible turnovers and an early hole too deep to climb out of," Brian Lewis wrote for the New York Post after the Nets fell to the Boston Celtics by nine points on Jan. 4.
This shouldn't be particularly surprising, and it's not likely to change anytime soon, unless the Nets manage to use a disabled player exception on a hidden gem who is still bounding around the free-agent market.
The early portion of the year was tough enough for Brooklyn, especially because it was playing with full knowledge that it would convey the fruits of its losing efforts to the C's in the form of an unprotected first-round pick.
Now, it's just going to get brutal.
Final Projection: 20-62
13. Milwaukee Bucks
FATS Projection: 32-50
Until the Milwaukee Bucks figure out what went so horribly wrong on defense this offseason, they're not going to make any strides toward reclaiming their relative glory of 2014-15. And thus far, there are no signs that a "Eureka!" moment is nigh approaching.
The team's defensive rating remains in an unsightly state, just as it has throughout the campaign:
|Month||Defensive Rating||Hypothetical NBA Rank|
Granted, we're working with a two-game sample in January, but hemorrhaging 123 points in a slow-paced game against the San Antonio Spurs isn't exactly a good sign. Dominant as the Spurs may be, that's still far too gaudy a total in a contest that saw plenty of San Antonio starters on the bench during the second half.
There are no midseason saviors set to regain their health and make a difference in Milwaukee. This team must solve its problems out internally, and it's tough to have confidence in such a young squad that is experiencing a massive turnaround with a fairly new head coach at the helm.
Final Projection: 32-50
12. New York Knicks
FATS Projection: 40-42
Don't be put off by the fact we're projecting the New York Knicks to finish 12th in the Eastern Conference. This half of the NBA is vastly improved in 2015-16, to the point that there's no shame in finishing behind 11 other solid squads.
Additionally, it's the improvement that we should focus on, not the further strides that are still needed as this downtrodden organization attempts to regain its former competitiveness. The Knicks won just 17 games during the 2014-15 season, so a 38-44 campaign would give them one of the biggest year-to-year jumps throughout the entire Association.
This season shouldn't be about getting to .500 or entering the postseason as the No. 8 seed, only to be swept out of the playoffs at the hands of one of the conference powerhouses. Instead, progress is the goal, and it's easy to see it in Madison Square Garden.
Kristaps Porzingis must focus on breaking out of his shooting slump while continuing to grow more confident operating out of the post. The Knicks must continue handing Jerian Grant minutes, even if he's looked overmatched on both ends of the court during his first go-round out of Notre Dame. The veterans must continue working on their own roles, because they'll be even more important when this team grows sturdier in 2016-17.
The future is still more important than the present here, even if the present is already a lot better than the past.
Final Projection: 38-44
11. Orlando Magic
FATS Projection: 41-41
Credit goes out to head coach Scott Skiles, who was named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month after leading his Orlando Magic to a 10-5 record in December. The month began with an eventual five-game winning streak still in progress, and it showcased an unyielding commitment to playing strong defensive basketball.
But even if Skiles continues pushing all the right buttons and getting his players to buy into their roles (see: Victor Oladipo as a sixth man) it's tough to see this level of success as sustainable.
The Magic are a youthful organization, and growing pains are unavoidable as Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic continue their maturation processes. There will be dry spells for this team, especially because the Magic have still been a below-average offensive outfit, scoring only 104.4 points per 100 possessions on the season.
For example, look at what's already happened in January. Following Skiles' heroic exploits in the last month of 2015, the Magic dropped three consecutive road games to the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers. Beating strong squads is a tough endeavor, and there are plenty of them in the Eastern Conference this year.
Thus far, Orlando has had the luxury of playing one of the Association's five easiest schedules. As the slate grows tougher, expect a bit of regression—just enough to counteract the inevitable improvements of the young contributors.
Final Projection: 39-43
10. Charlotte Hornets
FATS Projection: 43-39
Even though Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum have improved to the point that both should receive heavy consideration for All-Star slots in the Eastern Conference, they're not quite enough to carry the Charlotte Hornets into the postseason. There's not a sufficient amount of depth on the honeycombed court, especially as the injuries continue to mount.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist remains out for the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, but now Al Jefferson is joining him on the inactive list while Batum deals with a minor toe malady. Sadly, Jefferson's injury is anything but minor, as he's set to undergo arthroscopic surgery that should repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.
Even if he returns after missing an estimated six weeks of action, that could put Charlotte in a hole it can't dig its way out of. Cody Zeller and Spencer Hawes can't do nearly as much heavy lifting as the typical starter, which is already starting to show.
The Hornets have dropped each of their four games since Jefferson's knee injury, and they're 5-10 on the season when he doesn't play.
Final Projection: 40-42
9. Washington Wizards
FATS Projection: 36-46
Bradley Beal still hasn't recovered from his latest stress injury, and he's working without a definitive timetable. It's troublesome that he's missed his expected return to on-court activities, since that makes it unlikely he'll be back in the lineup anytime soon.
But the Washington Wizards aren't dealing with only one injury.
Gary Neal's right quad has been bugging him. Alan Anderson has a balky ankle, which isn't exactly a positive development after he underwent ankle surgery in the offseason. Nene has already missed one month recovering from a calf injury, and it doesn't seem like he's close to returning. Drew Gooden also has a bad calf, and DeJuan Blair's knee is keeping him out of the lineup.
It's just too much, even if John Wall has once again started playing like one of the league's best point guards. This was already a team without convincing depth, and the maladies have decimated the rotation to the point that it's almost unrecognizable.
As the pieces begin returning, Washington should get better. This team is already more skilled than its record would indicate, but a shaky start to the season and the subsequent injuries have just about doomed it in a competitive Eastern Conference.
Is it outside the realm of possibilities that the Wizards climb all the way to the No. 8 spot, despite currently sitting at No. 11 with a sub-.500 record? Not at all.
At this point, it's just unlikely.
Final Projection: 41-41
8. Detroit Pistons
FATS Projection: 44-38
Do you believe in Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond? Given their unending heroics in 2015-16, you should.
Drummond is averaging 18.1 points and 16.0 rebounds, which puts him on pace to be the first qualified player to hit those marks for an entire season since Moses Malone in 1978-79. Throughout all of NBA history, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Walt Bellamy, Wilt Chamberlain, Dave Cowens, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, Jerry Lucas, Malone, Bob Pettit, Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond have averaged such gaudy figures.
Every single one of them now sits in the Hall of Fame.
As for Jackson, he's proving that his excellent play in 2014-15 after he was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Detroit Pistons was no fluke. Not only is he averaging 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists in fairly efficient fashion, but he's also managed to hold his own on the defensive end.
So long as those two studs remain healthy, the Pistons aren't going anywhere. The team's overall lack of depth will prevent it from doing anything more than earning the No. 8 seed with little room to spare, but Jodie Meeks' return will aid that.
Detroit might not have a lofty ceiling in 2015-16, but at least—barring massive injuries—it has a high floor.
Final Projection: 43-39
7. Chicago Bulls
FATS Projection: 46-36
Don't be fooled by the 20-12 record, which puts the Chicago Bulls behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. That win-loss mark is merely a mirage, and not just because there are currently just 5.5 games of separation between No. 2 and No. 12.
Chicago's underlying metrics simply don't point toward the winning percentage emerging as a sustainable one.
We can start with Basketball-Reference.com's Simple Rating System (SRS), which factors in only margin of victory and strength of schedule. According to SRS, the Bulls have been the No. 10 team in the Association, behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat in the East. Pythagorean wins, which are based on points scored and allowed, tells a similar story, as it allots an additional two losses to the Windy City.
FATS is even harsher.
Thus far, the model has Chicago playing like a team that would be expected to win 42.2 games, and it's only because of the preexisting record that the overall projection rises to 46-36. Historically, none of the Four Factors has been more telling than effective field-goal percentage, and it's troublesome that the Bulls rank No. 24 in that important category this year.
Despite Jimmy Butler's heroics, there's a serious regression to the mean coming in Chicago. A return to the form of years past from Derrick Rose would help significantly, but there's precious little reason to believe that's a possibility, even as his double vision subsides.
Final Projection: 46-36
6. Toronto Raptors
FATS Projection: 46-36
Since returning to the Toronto Raptors lineup, Jonas Valanciunas has averaged 8.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.6 blocks while shooting 50 percent from the field and knocking down 66.7 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. It's hardly a glamorous line, but his presence has still helped boost the overall fortunes of his squad.
On the year, the Raptors are outscoring their opponents by a meager 1.1 points per 100 possessions when the Lithuanian big man is on the bench. But when he's playing, the net rating skyrockets to a strong 7.6, putting Toronto on par with the other contenders in the Eastern Conference.
No matter what type of individual stats he's putting up, his ability to stay on the court makes a difference north of the border. But of course, as soon as he returns, DeMarre Carroll falls out of the lineup with a balky right knee.
Injuries just aren't going Toronto's way in 2015-16, and that will prevent the team from rising too much higher than the current FATS projection would indicate. But so long as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continue to play like an MVP candidate and a likely All-Star selection, respectively, the Raptors shouldn't sink further down the standings in their half of the NBA.
Final Projection: 47-35
5. Atlanta Hawks
- Stephen Curry, 633.76 TPA
- Russell Westbrook, 600.24
- Kawhi Leonard, 489.18
- LeBron James, 460.4
- Kyle Lowry, 411.8
- Draymond Green, 369.19
- Kevin Durant, 334.02
- James Harden, 333.42
- Paul Millsap, 308.06
- Jimmy Butler, 298.02
FATS Projection: 48-34
Can we start recognizing Paul Millsap as one of the best players in the NBA? Even though he's averaging a noteworthy 18.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 48 percent from the field, he flies too far below the radar.
According to total points added (TPA, which is explained in full throughout this article), the power forward has actually emerged as one of the most valuable players in the NBA. Take a look at where he fits in among the top 10 prorated marks for the 2015-16 campaign:
Earning a TPA above 300 isn't an easy accomplishment. During the 2014-15 season, only Curry, Westbrook, Harden, Chris Paul, James and Anthony Davis managed to do so.
But that's the class Millsap now finds himself in, and his well-rounded play has helped keep the Hawks afloat while Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague rediscover their shooting strokes.
Final Projection: 47-35
4. Boston Celtics
FATS Projection: 46-36
"He adds a little more toughness to the mix, but it's more than that," Jeff Nooney wrote about Marcus Smart's defense for CelticsBlog.com. "He has the skill set to go with the effort and energy he brings. His athleticism and bigger frame allow him to bust through screens and body up bigger players. His return will give Boston a little more versatility on defense."
That's terrifying, isn't it?
The Boston Celtics have already suffocated their opponents to the tune of a 100.3 defensive rating, one that puts them behind only the historically dominant San Antonio Spurs. And yet, they've actually allowed 3.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Smart on the court. As such, the return of the guard should only make this team stronger.
All of a sudden, Boston has become one of the most fascinating squads in the Association.
Smart's presence in the lineup is intriguing enough, but we can't just overlook the dynamic play of Isaiah Thomas, who is making his case as one of the Eastern Conference's premier point guards. We also can't gloss over the development of Jae Crowder, who has blossomed into a two-way star under the tutelage of head coach Brad Stevens.
According to TPA, Thomas (No. 18) and Crowder (No. 21) are both on pace to emerge as top-25 players this season.
Who in the world could have seen that coming?
Final Projection: 48-34
3. Indiana Pacers
FATS Projection: 48-34
Even though Paul George's shooting splits have fallen back to more reasonable levels—as you can see below—the Indiana Pacers have continued to assert themselves as one of the better teams in this half of the NBA. The superstar forward is still playing fantastic basketball, despite no longer submitting a convincing resume in his pursuit of an MVP award.
If this roller-coaster pattern continues, the Pacers surely wouldn't complain. When George has caught fire, he's helped his team beat just about any opponent on any given night.
But his first full season since suffering the devastating leg injury with Team USA should eventually level out, and the Pacers will emerge as a consistent force capable of rising all the way up to the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference. Already, they've asserted themselves as one of the five best defensive squads in the Association, and their offensive rating is still teetering right around the league average.
Going small is working for this team, but another option could open up soon. If Myles Turner can reclaim a spot in the rotation and allow the Pacers to play big, they'll become even more versatile and, as a result, even more dangerous.
Final Projection: 49-33
2. Miami Heat
FATS Projection: 51-31
The Miami Heat have two identities.
One has the team still searching for chemistry and dropping games to opponents it severely outclasses in the talent department. That version has already lost in inexplicable fashion to the Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves while struggling against most of the tougher opposition it faces.
The other identity emerges when all the pieces come together to form one of the most potent starting fives in the NBA. That's the only explanation for beating the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers before opening January with a 106-82 blitzkrieg against the Dallas Mavericks and a 97-75 shellacking of the Washington Wizards.
"We had to get him going," Chris Bosh explained to Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley about Goran Dragic, who has experienced plenty of rough patches during his first full season as a member of the Heat. "[Playing faster] was a huge, huge part of it. We had to kind of take the shackles off him a little bit."
If Dragic does indeed get going, the Heat will veer toward the second identity. The Slovenian point guard is an offensive force when his shots are falling, capable of running the offense for himself and his teammates while letting Dwyane Wade and Bosh expend more energy on the defensive end.
Since putting up a stinker on Christmas Day against the New Orleans Pelicans, Dragic has averaged 15.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 55.4 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from beyond the arc. Should that continue, the Heat will move into the class of true heavyweights.
But even still, it's hard to forecast this team winning more than 50 games until it shows some sort of consistency. No matter how well Dragic plays, it's disconcerting that the Heat are only 9-8 against teams we have projected in playoff spots.
Final Projection: 50-32
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
FATS Projection: 57-25
The Cleveland Cavaliers are only going to keep improving.
Iman Shumpert is now healthy and back in the lineup. And even more importantly, Kyrie Irving has almost fully recovered from his knee injury, to the point that he spent 28 minutes on the floor in a Jan. 4 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
We're only working with a six-game sample of limited action, but the Cavaliers have outscored the opposition by a whopping 28.2 points per 100 possessions when Irving has been on the floor this season. Perhaps even more impressively, Cleveland's net rating is a jaw-dropping 22.7 when he completes the Big Three by sharing the court with LeBron James and Kevin Love.
Obviously, those margins are going to shrink as Irving spends more time in uniform. For perspective, the San Antonio Spurs have the league's best net rating, and it's "only" 14.9. According to my databases, no team in NBA history has ever finished a season with a mark above the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 13.4.
More than doubling that simply isn't feasible.
But even as the number shrinks to a more believable one, the Cavaliers are only going to keep winning games and doing so in dominant fashion. This team was deadly enough with a resurgent Love and an ever-impactful James patrolling the court.
Add in one of the league's best point guards, and you're looking at the prohibitive favorite in the Eastern Conference.
Final Projection: 60-22
15. Los Angeles Lakers
FATS Projection: 22-60
Don't be fooled by the Los Angeles Lakers' recent string of successful outings. As soon as Kobe Bryant is healthy again, the losses will start piling up once more.
It's a sad reality for the future Hall of Famer, one who should go down as one of the 15 best players of all time—personally, I have him slotted at No. 11. But at this stage of his impressive career, he's such a negative on both ends of the floor that the Lakers are significantly better when he's not suiting up. Not only have 25 percent of the team's victories come when he's out of the lineup, but the net rating improves by 7.6 points per 100 possessions without him.
Fortunately, this is a positive for Los Angeles.
If it falls outside the top three spots in the lottery, it would convey its first-round pick in the 2016 NBA draft to the Philadelphia 76ers. In these projections, 20 wins leave the Lakers tied with the Brooklyn Nets for the second-worst record in the NBA, but they're only three victories clear of No. 14 in the Western Conference.
The Lakers are playing with fire, and it behooves them to continue letting the young guns learn on the job without actually worrying about making an ineffective push for playoff positioning in a downtrodden Western Conference.
Next year is when the fun really begins.
Final Projection: 20-62
14. Phoenix Suns
FATS Projection: 28-54
The poor, poor Phoenix Suns.
Everything went into shambles after a promising start to the season from Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. The former is out for the season after going under the knife to repair his torn meniscus, and the latter has declined significantly as the year has dragged on. But around the talented backcourt duo, everything has collapsed.
Tyson Chandler looks like nothing more than a shell of his old self, while Markieff Morris has become one of the least valuable players in the league, to the point that he's almost become untradeable. The Suns have already fired assistant coaches, and it seems as if head coach Jeff Hornacek could be next up on the chopping block for an organization whose chemistry has bottomed out in every way possible.
"Whether indolent, insubordinate or in absentia, Markieff Morris—26 and entering the prime of his career—has still managed to be the lead dog in this Suns season," Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding wrote at the end of his assessment of the state of the Suns. "He has infected this team with his inconsistent everything, a quality that now emanates from every level of this organization."
It's possible to go back even further, blaming the front office for a series of moves that shook the trust of the incumbent players. It wasn't too long ago that we were all getting excited about the three-headed monster of Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, but it now seems eons ago.
Wherever the blame may fall, one thing is certain: The rest of the season is going to feel like a long endeavor for any desert-dwelling fans.
Final Projection: 23-59
13. Denver Nuggets
FATS Projection: 26-56
The Denver Nuggets should improve as the 2015-16 campaign progresses. They're rebuilding the right way—handing major minutes to young players who are learning on the job while also using important veterans who don't get in the way of the development.
As bad as Emmanuel Mudiay has been—and he's arguably been the least valuable player in the Association—during his rookie season, he's still displaying sparks of progress as he adjusts to the steep learning curve. Ditto for Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne, Gary Harris and the other young guns, even if they've all been more productive than the most recent lottery pick.
However, the real reason to expect further improvement upon an already generous projection is the presence of Jusuf Nurkic.
Fighting his way back from injury during the early portion of the season, the 7-footer didn't debut until Jan. 2, when he played just less than five minutes in an overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors. As his role increases, the Nuggets will only get better. Nurkic spent last season developing on the defensive end, to the point that he was one of the few game-changing assets.
In 2014-15, the Nuggets were outscored by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when the big man was on the bench and only 0.7 when he played. And that was during his rookie season, as he attempted to make the difficult transition from Croatia's Cedevita Zagreb to the sport's most competitive league.
He should only be better now.
Final Projection: 28-54
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
FATS Projection: 29-53
The Minnesota Timberwolves will eventually turn into a strong, competitive squad, but the individual pieces haven't fully arrived yet.
Though Karl-Anthony Towns may already be the best player on the roster, he has trouble when double-teams are thrown at him, exposing his lack of skill as a distributor. Ricky Rubio still can't shoot from the perimeter, and he occasionally gambles too much on the defensive end. Shabazz Muhammad is a glaring liability on defense, and the veterans haven't helped much.
Kevin Martin has struggled to make shots from inside the arc when he manages to get on the court. Kevin Garnett has been a strong defensive presence but only in limited action. Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller both have trouble spacing out the floor.
Finally, there's Andrew Wiggins, who grades out as one of the least valuable players in the NBA despite showing flashes of immense potential.
According to TPA, only Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Ty Lawson, Derrick Rose and Julius Randle are on pace to have worse seasons. Even though he scores 20.4 points per game, that's not necessarily a good thing when his true shooting percentage (51.3) is below the league average (53.5). Plus, he's a lackluster rebounder who averages more turnovers than assists, and most metrics have him as one of the league's worst qualified defenders.
This roster is a smorgasbord of talented pieces who don't yet know how they're supposed to work together, and the coaching staff's antiquated strategies don't necessarily make that learning process any easier. In many ways, Wiggins serves as a microcosm for the team as a whole.
There's talent. That much is undeniable, and it occasionally bursts forth in a flood of positive production.
But right now, that talent doesn't translate into wins, even if it almost assuredly will down the road.
Final Projection: 29-53
11. New Orleans Pelicans
FATS Projection: 28-54
On Nov. 5, FATS had the New Orleans Pelicans on pace to win a meager 18 games throughout the 2015-16 campaign. One month later, the projection had only risen to 25 victories, and it's steadily trended upward since then to where it currently sits, forecasting a 28-54 season.
But the Pelicans should just continue to improve as the season progresses, even if they've already dug themselves into too deep a pit to have realistic dreams about a repeat playoff appearance. Injuries decimated them at the start of the campaign, and they're only now getting back to full strength as Tyreke Evans battles knee tendinitis and Quincy Pondexter inches closer to his return from another knee malady.
As Anthony Davis rebuilds chemistry with Jrue Holiday, Evans and his other notable teammates, the Pelicans will improve. There's a reason they were widely expected to follow last year's first-round exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors with an even better season.
It's too late for that now, but NOLA should at least manage to post a relatively respectable record by the end of the season. Davis is too good to rule out that possibility, even if he's failed to become an all-out world-beater or assert himself as the clear-cut best player on the planet.
Now, the only question is whether the Pelicans want to improve. Settling for a putrid record and a better shot at Ben Simmons might be a more palatable alternative.
Final Projection: 33-49
10. Memphis Grizzlies
FATS Projection: 34-48
There's no team with a bigger disparity between win-loss record and actual level of play than the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite winning more games than they've lost in 2015-16, the Grizzlies haven't actually done much to inspire confidence this year, which is why FATS insists the team has only been playing like a squad that would be expected to win 27.3 contests over the course of an 82-game campaign.
Scoring 102 points per 100 possessions, the Grizz have posted the No. 27 offensive rating in the NBA. That would be more acceptable if the grit-and-grind mentality were still in effect, but Memphis' 104.7 defensive rating sits at No. 15, only slightly better than the league-average mark of 104.8.
Boasting a negative net rating isn't a recipe for success, and Pythagorean wins indicate that Memphis' record should actually be 15-21. According to SRS, it has been the No. 19 team throughout the Association, slotting in behind eight other teams in the Western Conference.
This isn't a commentary on the Grizzlies' outdated desire to avoid shooting three-pointers while slowing down the tempo and focusing on defense. That can still work fine if executed properly.
The problem is that the aging core of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph no longer functions as a dominant duo. While the former has been slow to rotate on defense far too frequently for a player who relies on perfect timing and fundamental excellence, the latter has seen his efficiency levels slip to the point that he's been a negative on both ends.
No one can take away the 19 games the Grizzlies have already won, but that doesn't necessarily mean they bode well for the rest of the season. Regression is going to hit this team hard, resulting in its first lottery appearance since 2010.
Final Projection: 35-47
9. Sacramento Kings
FATS Projection: 34-48
Kudos to Rajon Rondo for turning his career around in such timely fashion. After a miserable experience with the Dallas Mavericks, the talented distributor has made the most of his one-year contract with the Sacramento Kings, averaging 12.0 points and a league-best 11.5 assists.
His occasionally apathetic attitude on defense can still get him into trouble, but Rondo has remained an overall positive for the Kings. As he continues to adjust to his new surroundings and begins cutting back on the turnovers, that will only become increasingly true.
However, Sacramento has still had trouble winning games, and the roster composition is to blame.
There are too many ball-dominant presences who have had trouble fitting in with one another (see: Cousins, DeMarcus; Gay, Rudy; and Rondo, Rajon), which has led to occasional spells of hapless offensive play. But even more problematically, no one is setting a consistent tone on the defensive end, and the Kings have been far too porous to win games with any semblance of regularity.
"I told the team inconsistent intensity, inconsistent focus, inconsistent toughness and mental discipline," head coach George Karl told the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones after a home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 30. "Too many times we've come out on this court and been the quiet team, or the soft team or the cool team and not the man team."
Since then, the Kings have bounced back with victories over the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder. But until the in-game consistency becomes more, well, consistent, it's tough to have confidence in this team improving enough to challenge for a .500 record.
Final Projection: 36-46
8. Portland Trail Blazers
FATS Projection: 37-45
If the season ended before any games were played on Jan. 5, the Portland Trail Blazers would narrowly miss out on the chance to serve as sacrificial lambs for the Golden State Warriors. But given the expected regression from the Memphis Grizzlies and the likely improvement in Rip City, they should receive that chance in the first round of the 2016 postseason.
Portland has stuck around despite Damian Lillard missing action for the first time in his four-year career. It's hung tough even as Meyers Leonard dealt with a shoulder injury and when other rotation members have spent time on the bench to deal with various maladies.
Now, everyone is healthy, and the rebuilding Blazers get to reap the rewards of the improvements so many young players made while taking on more responsibility.
Even if C.J. McCollum's defense has been atrocious—it should prevent him from getting serious Most Improved Player consideration, but it won't—he's become an offensive stud, averaging 21 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 44.7 percent from the field, 39.7 percent from beyond the arc and 80.2 percent at the charity stripe. Allen Crabbe has also morphed into a legitimate rotation member, while Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee continue to thrive as defensive studs.
This presumably wasn't the plan. After losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez from last year's typical starting five, the Blazers were surely going to rebuild and finish near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Instead, their down year should still result in a playoff berth—admittedly in part because the West has taken such a large step backward as well.
Final Projection: 38-44
7. Utah Jazz
FATS Projection: 38-44
Interestingly enough, Derrick Favors' true shooting percentage of 55.8 is the exact same mark he posted during the 2014-15 season. But the shots he's taking are different, and the alteration is helping the Utah Jazz enjoy a bit more spacing on the offensive end.
Last year, 20.4 percent of Favors' field-goal attempts came from between 10 and 16 feet, while another 13.4 percent came from between 16 feet and the three-point arc. This year, those numbers have shifted to 24.0 and 15.8, respectively. Plus, the latter zone has seen his field-goal percentage skyrocket from 34.1 to 44.4.
The improvement has helped spark a Jazz offense that suddenly is scoring an above-average 105.1 points per 100 possessions.
But the Jazz still haven't maintained the identity that made them so special during the second half off the 2014-15 campaign, when they established themselves as the league's stingiest bunch. That should change when Rudy Gobert's sprained knee has fully recovered, but his return will also harm the team's spacing and depress the improving offensive rating.
The overall change should be a positive one, which is why we're projecting a 40-win season when FATS indicates playing at the current level would result in a 38-44 year. But if Alec Burks is out well past the All-Star break, even that subtle jump won't happen.
Final Projection: 40-42
6. Houston Rockets
FATS Projection: 36-46
There's actually not that much statistical evidence pointing toward a massive turnaround for the Houston Rockets.
FATS has them overperforming by a few wins, while SRS indicates that they've been one of the 10 worst teams in the NBA. No matter who is on the roster, it's tough to win when your defensive rating is better than only the marks produced by the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.
But unlike the Memphis Grizzlies, who are also overperforming by a significant amount, there's reason to believe the Rockets will get things going. Apathy and injuries have largely plagued their defense to the point that it should grow much stronger as the regular rotation members begin re-establishing chemistry with one another and Dwight Howard makes more of an impact.
And on offense, James Harden can get even better. He's posting career-worst percentages from the field in general and from beyond the three-point arc, and he's also dealing with more turnover issues than ever before. If he improves even slightly in those areas, his ridiculously high usage will ensure that his strides translate to more wins for this struggling squad.
Plus, Houston is trending in the right direction, even if the climb has been a painstakingly slow one.
At the end of November, the Rockets were being outscored by 6.2 points per 100 possessions. Since then, they've actually posted a positive net rating, topping their opponents by 2.4 points over the same average stretch.
Final Projection: 42-40
5. Dallas Mavericks
FATS Projection: 45-37
The Dallas Mavericks are one of the league's least predictable teams, since so many players are almost certain to trend in opposite directions.
Dirk Nowitzki has already regressed after his blazing start to the season, while Deron Williams isn't guaranteed to keep things up during his resurgent year in a new location. Zaza Pachulia has also been enjoying one of the finest seasons of his career, but it's tough to see that lasting until the postseason when he's already almost 32 years old.
But on the flip side, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews will only get better, and we can never discount the impact of having head coach Rick Carlisle pacing the sidelines.
"It's not easy, but I did a lot of work this summer, whether it's lifting weights or my legs, keeping in good shape," Nowitzki recently told Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley. "As long as I'm still enjoying it, I'm gonna try to ride it as long as I can."
The same should be true of the Mavericks in general. There's no guarantee this early success lasts, but the improvements and hard work of the players involved could mean the virtual elimination of an expiration date.
Enjoy it while it lasts, however long that may be.
Final Projection: 44-38
4. Los Angeles Clippers
FATS Projection: 53-29
Without Blake Griffin in the lineup, the Los Angeles Clippers aren't the same team. During the minutes he hasn't played, LAC has only outscored the opposition by 0.6 points per 100 possessions, and that will make it tough to remain on a 53-win pace as the power forward recovers from his partially torn quadriceps.
But even with Griffin back in the lineup, the complete and utter lack of depth will prevent this team from keeping pace with the three premier powers in the Western Conference. As talented as Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan may be, it's impossible for them to sustain this type of heavy lifting all year.
If the Clippers hope to leave the 50-win milestone in the dust, they need more from the bench. Jamal Crawford must begin hitting his shots again, while Josh Smith plays smart basketball on both ends of the court and Paul Pierce remembers that he's a future Hall of Famer. Lance Stephenson and Wesley Johnson have to contribute, and Austin Rivers must minimize his mistakes.
If you have confidence in all—or any—of that happening, it might be time to take off the Clippers goggles.
There's been little to no indication that the veterans LAC acquired for its second unit will begin living up to even the diminished expectations, and it's not as if Doc Rivers has enough movable assets to make a midseason addition capable of changing the team's fortunes.
There's no shame in winning 50 games, and it's tough to expect anything more in the Staples Center this year.
Final Projection: 50-32
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
FATS Projection: 57-25
If Kevin Durant is out of the lineup, the Oklahoma City Thunder will always be susceptible to an unexpected defeat, as was the case in a Jan. 4 loss to the Sacramento Kings. We haven't seen what would happen if Russell Westbrook needed a night off, but it's easy to assume the same would hold true.
Fortunately for OKC, both are largely healthy, and it was only a sprained toe that kept Durant out of the lineup against Sacramento. As soon as he's back on the floor, the Thunder will once again boast two of the 10 best players in the NBA, as well as a number of other strong contributors scattered throughout the rotation.
Thus far, the Thunder have been the third-best team in the Association, and it hasn't even been close. Their net rating of 8.1 trails only the marks produced by the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, and they remain one of only four teams—the aforementioned two and the Cleveland Cavaliers—to rank in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive rating.
But that still doesn't mean the Thunder will finish with the league's No. 3 record.
The Cavs are only getting better as they incorporate Kyrie Irving back into the lineup, and the Thunder have the misfortune of seeing the Spurs and Warriors appear on the schedule more often. Those few games could make a world of difference in the race for No. 3, even if the Thunder should easily hold onto that exact spot in their half of the NBA.
Something tells me it's rare to have a seven-game advantage over the team below you in the standings while simultaneously staring up at an even wider chasm between yourself and the next squad up.
Final Projection: 57-25
2. San Antonio Spurs
FATS Projection: 65-17
This isn't the sturdiest limb we're going out on here, but it's not a smart strategy to doubt the San Antonio Spurs.
Only one team in NBA history has managed to reach the 70-win milestone—the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. But the Spurs should make it two by the end of the 2015-16 campaign, even if they're still only finishing at No. 2 in the top-heavy Western Conference.
This team really is that good, especially on the defensive end.
Thus far, the Spurs have allowed their opponents to score only 95.1 points per 100 possessions. Not only is that the best mark in the NBA with a whopping 5.2 points to spare, but it also puts them on pace to post the top raw result since the 2003-04 Spurs.
And it gets better.
If we adjust for the era by comparing to the league average—what I call adjusted defensive rating (DRtng+)—the Spurs' DRtng+ of 110.2 has them sitting pretty as the third-best defense of all time, trailing only the 1964-65 Boston Celtics and the 1963-64 Celtics.
Of course, it also helps that San Antonio has the NBA's No. 3 offensive rating, and it's only growing more dangerous as LaMarcus Aldridge continues adjusting to his new environment and corresponding role.
Were it not for the Golden State Warriors, we'd already be hearing far more about how this Spurs squad has a chance to go down as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. And it still will.
Final Projection: 70-12
1. Golden State Warriors
FATS Projection: 67-15
Thanks to Stephen Curry's record-shattering exploits from beyond the three-point arc and Draymond Green's newfound affinity for triple-doubles, the Golden State Warriors are basically breaking FATS. The system can't handle how well this team grades out, since it can only compare it to the other top dogs throughout the annals of the NBA.
Take, for example, the Association-best effective field-goal percentage of 55.8. When accounting for era by comparing it to the league-average mark of 49.6, the Warriors emerge with an adjusted score of 112.5, indicating that they're 12.5 percent better than average.
Problematically, my databases show that no team in NBA history has ever posted an adjusted effective field-goal percentage better than the 2012-13 Miami Heat's 111.29. In fact, only the 2006-07 Phoenix Suns and 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers join them on the right side of 111.
So when we're comparing the Warriors to historical teams in this category, they're just flat-out better than them, and FATS can't account for that. Oh, and effective field-goal percentage happens to be the portion of the Four Factors that correlates best with wins throughout NBA history, so that's kind of a big deal.
Barring major injuries (which they still might overcome), the Warriors have to be considered a virtual lock to hit 70 wins this year. From this point forward, they'd have to go "only" 38-10 in order to get there, and that winning percentage correlates to a 65-victory pace over a full season. Hell, they just need to play at a 68-win pace in order to match the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for all-time supremacy.
But can you even see this team losing six more games throughout the season? That's a tough enough proposition, and it would still give Golden State the record with room to spare.
Final Projection: 74-8
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Jan. 5.