NBA Metrics 101: Projecting 2018 Playoff Teams If NBA Ditched East-West Format
Unfortunately, this is never going to happen.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has firmly, unequivocally, heartbreakingly kiboshed the possibility...for 2017-18, at least.
"I think for the league, many of us felt that a 1-through-16 playoff made more sense and maybe there's also the potential, in some ways a separate issue, should you reseed after every round as some leagues do? I think those are things we will continue to look at, but it is not at the top of the agenda right now," he revealed in early July, per ESPN.com's Ohm Youngmisuk.
But what if he changed his mind? What if we were suddenly plunged into an alternate reality in which conferences didn't matter and the West could potentially hold down 15 of the 16 available playoff spots?
Don't worry, that won't happen as we explore this hypothetical world, relying on last year's records, NBA Math's total points added (TPA) for departures/additions (players who are still pending free agents and could return will be designated with asterisks but are still included in the calculations) and plenty of subjective evaluation about stylistic fits.
But the West isn't far off from that total.
Just Missed the Cut
The Charlotte Hornets are close, but one massive problem still figures to rear its ugly head.
Kemba Walker isn't invincible, and the team basically stops functioning when he's on the bench. Throughout the 2016-17 campaign, Charlotte's net rating dipped by 10.1 points per 100 possessions to a putrid minus-6.6 when Walker wasn't on the floor. The addition of Dwight Howard, especially while giving the Atlanta Hawks a meager return, will help add talent to the squad, but Michael Carter-Williams isn't fixing this issue by himself.
Without a reliable second unit to support the Hornets' lone All-Star, betting on an above-.500 season isn't the smartest decision.
Avery Bradley is objectively better than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (for now, at least), but the Detroit Pistons didn't just lose last year's starting shooting guard to acquire him. They also parted ways with Marcus Morris, who will be much tougher to replace unless Stanley Johnson can suddenly make a leap forward.
A healthy Reggie Jackson (for now, at least) paired with Andre Drummond, Bradley and the rest of the incumbent Pistons should start to make up for last season's misery, but too much has to go right for Detroit to complete the playoff climb.
And that all starts with Drummond finally developing into someting other than a liability on the offensive end, a metamorphosis he's shown few indications of over the last couple seasons.
The Philadelphia 76ers are so close. They could easily make this placement look hilariously short-sighted by storming out of the gates and easily surpassing a .500 record from start to finish. According to NBA Math's FATS Calculator, they already played like a 48.5-win team when Joel Embiid was on the court in 2016-17, and he's only going to get better.
But uncertainty wafts around the Wells Fargo Center.
Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz haven't yet suited up in an NBA game, and they're expected to play prominent parts in the team's rotation. Embiid's health is always a concerning topic. The rest of the team (new addition J.J. Redick notwithstanding) hasn't proved it understands how to win consistently.
The burden of proof lies on Philadelphia.
16. Memphis Grizzlies
2016-17 Record: 43-39
Offseason Losses: Tony Allen* (22.08 TPA), Vince Carter (34.59 TPA), JaMychal Green* (24.24 TPA), Zach Randolph (minus-72.12 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Mario Chalmers (N/A), Tyreke Evans (minus-11.14 TPA), Ben McLemore (minus-111.61 TPA)
Net Change: minus-131.54 TPA
Notable Draftees: Dillon Brooks (No. 45), Ivan Rabb (No. 35)
The Memphis Grizzlies massively outperformed their underlying metrics in 2016-17, but that shouldn't be much of a surprise. They've done this for years, since the grit-and-grind mentality is impervious to silly little things like statistical evidence. That defensive style and tough play allows Memphis to win more than its fair share of close games, and it consistently overperforms—often rather drastically.
But the identity is changing in 2017-18.
Zach Randolph and Vince Carter are gone. Tony Allen, The Grindfather himself, remains a free agent and has rarely been linked to a return to the Grizzlies. This will be a new-look unit going forward, especially after the offseason prioritization of adding more shooting in the form of Ben McLemore and Mario Chalmers.
It's the two constants that prevent us from dropping Memphis into the next tier, though. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are both All-Star talents playing out some of their greatest seasons, able to contribute immensely on both ends of the floor.
So long as those two are healthy (and the West is allowed to have—spoiler alert—10 of the 16 playoff teams), the Grizz have to be in the picture, even when it flies in the face of the numbers.
15. Los Angeles Clippers
2016-17 Record: 51-31
Offseason Losses: Alan Anderson* (minus-30.21 TPA), Brandon Bass* (minus-8.08 TPA), Jamal Crawford (minus-133.87 TPA), Raymond Felton (minus-30.63 TPA), Luc Mbah a Moute (28.62 TPA), Chris Paul (330.75 TPA), Paul Pierce (minus-23.84 TPA), J.J. Redick (0 TPA), Marreese Speights (18.02 TPA), Diamond Stone (minus-11.58 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Patrick Beverley (98.61 TPA), Sam Dekker (minus-29.57 TPA), Danilo Gallinari (34.96 TPA), Montrezl Harrell (22.16 TPA), DeAndre Liggins (minus-32.67 TPA), Willie Reed (minus-10.22 TPA), Milos Teodosic (N/A), Lou Williams (28.76 TPA)
Net Change: minus-27.15 TPA
Notable Draftees: Jawun Evans (No. 39), Sindarius Thornwell (No. 48)
The Los Angeles Clippers retooled virtually their entire roster, and they nailed the process. Getting Blake Griffin to re-sign was only the first step after Chris Paul's departure to the Houston Rockets; they eventually followed that contract by adding Danilo Gallinari to complete the surprisingly deft offseason.
Holding Paul's decision against Los Angeles isn't a great idea. The front office instead deserves praise for turning him into a number of productive pieces (Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams). Now, the Clippers have both a solid starting five and a bit of depth—aided, no doubt, by the arrival of Milos Teodosic, who isn't listed above because he has no TPA score. Finding Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans in the send round should help, as well.
But the Clippers still aren't playoff locks, even in this hypothetical world in which the Western Conference has so much more power. Everything in the past revolved around Paul, and assuming Beverley and Teodosic can take up the mantle seamlessly would be applying faulty logic, despite the former's brilliant defense and the latter's otherworldly passing.
This team is still quite talented, and Gallinari should be a strong fit alongside Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. But lest we forget, NBA Math's FATS Calculator shows that last year, Los Angeles functioned like a 35-win outfit when Paul was off the floor.
14. Utah Jazz
2016-17 Record: 51-31
Offseason Losses: Boris Diaw (minus-71.01 TPA), Gordon Hayward (201.66 TPA), George Hill (106.08 TPA), Trey Lyles (minus-66.3 TPA), Shelvin Mack (minus-39.09 TPA), Jeff Withey* (12.37 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Jonas Jerebko (minus-47.2 TPA), Ricky Rubio (34.06 TPA), Thabo Sefolosha (38.87 TPA)
Net Change: minus-117.98 TPA
Notable Draftees: Tony Bradley (No. 28), Donovan Mitchell (No. 13)
Losing Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics was painful.
But it's not the end of the world for the Utah Jazz.
Ultimately, this is a team that revels in its defensive identity, and that identity is preserved by the current members of the roster. Joe Ingles' return is huge. The additions of Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha give the Jazz even more backcourt firepower on the preventing end, and Rubio's penchant for thievery and transition dime-dropping could help jump-start an occasionally stagnant offense.
And most importantly, the team's best player is returning.
Yes, Hayward scored the most points on the Jazz. Rudy Gobert was still the best player in Salt Lake City, making a monumental impact not only with his rim protection, but also with his penchant for finishing plays around the hoop after screening and rolling. His improved touch in the restricted area made him a two-way force for the first time in his career.
Just take a peek at ESPN.com's real plus/minus, and you'll see Hayward sitting at No. 29 (3.06) while Gobert places No. 8 (6.37) for their respective work in 2016-17.
The Jazz should be fine. Not great, but fine.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
2016-17 Record: 31-51
Offseason Losses: Omri Casspi (minus-38.14 TPA), Kris Dunn (minus-57.79 TPA), Jordan Hill (minus-11.95 TPA), Zach LaVine (minus-10.34 TPA), Shabazz Muhammad* (minus-134.45 TPA), Adreian Payne* (minus-3.99 TPA), Ricky Rubio (34.06 TPA), Brandon Rush* (minus-42.63 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Jimmy Butler (384.82 TPA), Jamal Crawford (minus-133.87 TPA), Taj Gibson (minus-83.54 TPA), Jeff Teague (100.86 TPA)
Net Change: 533.5 TPA
Notable Draftees: Justin Patton (No. 16)
No team added more TPA than the Minnesota Timberwolves, thanks not only to their moves for Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, but also their ability to sluff off so many negative contributors. Shoring up the bench goes a long way, even if Jamal Crawford's presence depressed their score and might not fit in well with a second unit that desperately needs some defensive additions.
When evaluating the new-look starting five of Teague, Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng/Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns, shooting jumps out as an immediate concern. But it's not as bad as initial indications may lead you to believe, because those guys are actually better in catch-and-shoot situations than their overall numbers from downtown indicate:
- Teague: 37.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes
- Butler: 40.2 percent
- Wiggins: 40.6 percent
- Dieng: 42.9 percent
- Towns: 39.3 percent
The Minnesota offense, while it'll inevitably experience some growing pains, will ultimately be fine. And the defense figures to be better than ever after the additions of Butler and Gibson, which pushes the 'Wolves well into the playoff picture.
They're not locks in the real world, given the strength of the organizations in their half of the NBA, but they certainly are here.
12. Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 Record: 41-41
Offseason Losses: Tim Quarterman (minus-7.74 TPA)
Offseason Additions: None
Net Change: minus-7.74 TPA
Notable Draftees: Zach Collins (No. 10), Caleb Swanigan (No. 26)
The Portland Trail Blazers weren't able to make many moves during the 2017 offseason. Not with a roster filled with ongoing contracts that forced them to waive the always-injured Festus Ezeli and get rid of Tim Quarterman just to add Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan in the draft.
But they can still reasonably expect improvement.
Though Swanigan looked like a double-double machine during summer league, he has no guaranteed playing time throughout the regular season, thanks to the overloaded nature of the Rip City frontcourt. It's the enduring presence of Jusuf Nurkic that will propel them higher up the Western Conference standings.
Once the Bosnian big arrived in Portland, he averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 50.8 percent from the field before a leg injury cut his season short and forced him to miss part of the first-round matchup with the eventual champions. Better still, the Blazers performed like a 54-win unit while he was on the floor, per NBA Math's FATS calculator.
Maybe Nurkic will regress a bit in 2017-18. Conditioning has been an issue for him throughout his career, and it's unlikely he can make such a difference as a secondary distributing hub after struggling in that area during his time with the Denver Nuggets.
Even if he does, he's part of an impressive nucleus that also includes Damian Lillard and an ever-improving C.J. McCollum. These Blazers are ready to compete.
11. Miami Heat
2016-17 Record: 41-41
Offseason Losses: Luke Babbitt* (minus-38.02 TPA), Josh McRoberts (minus-18.13 TPA), Willie Reed (minus-10.22 TPA)
Offseason Additions: A.J. Hammons (minus-17.53 TPA), Kelly Olynyk (18.61 TPA)
Net Change: 67.45 TPA
Notable Draftees: Bam Adebayo (No. 14)
All the Miami Heat need to do is continue their second-half run.
It seems ridiculous now, but they were once 11-30 and staring at a bottom-end finish in the Eastern Conference. Then, they won 13 games in a row, turned their entire season around and narrowly missed the playoffs, which set the stage for an interesting offseason.
Re-signing Dion Waiters and James Johnson while bringing in Kelly Olynyk will cost Miami tons of money, and it's not guaranteed to work out for the best. That group doesn't contain much star power or established production—at least not enough to justify the hefty expenditures. But there's still potential, and just remaining on the same track bodes well for South Beach success.
Waiters thrived in head coach Erik Spoelstra's drive-and-kick system. Johnson blossomed after he was entrusted with more two-way responsibility. Olynyk has shown flashes of excellence on each end, and his shooting makes him a quality fit in any modern-day offense boasted by the pace-and-space era.
Throw in rookie big man Bam Adebayo and continued growth from young pieces such as Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, and the Heat should keep trending up the Eastern Conference standings.
They're not true contenders, and they may not be for the foreseeable future after doling out so much money to this core. But especially with such a strong coaching staff leading the charge, the Heat have quite the high floor.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17 Record: 42-40
Offseason Losses: Michael Beasley* (minus-51.54 TPA), Terrence Jones* (minus-36.23 TPA), Jason Terry* (minus-29.56 TPA),
Offseason Additions: None
Net Change: 117.33 TPA
Notable Draftees: Sterling Brown (No. 46), D.J. Wilson (No. 17)
At 25.6, the Milwaukee Bucks' average age was lower than every 2016-17 playoff team other than the Oklahoma City Thunder (24.7) and Portland Trail Blazers (24.8). But even that number was misleadingly high, since it was skewed toward AARP status by Jason Terry and Steve Novak, both of whom are now departed.
The Bucks are brimming over with potential at every position. Malcolm Brogdon at point guard. Khris Middleton and Tony Snell at the 2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (if he even has a position) at small forward. Jabari Parker and D.J. Wilson at power forward. Thon Maker at center.
If everything works, Milwaukee will soon become the class of the Eastern Conference. It has that much upside, all led by a top-10 player in Antetokounmpo who's still getting better and could take a monumental leap if his jumper ever becomes consistent.
The Bucks still aren't a great defensive team; they finished last season ranked No. 19 in defensive rating and only rose to No. 12 after the All-Star break. Parker has plenty of injury concerns after tearing a second ACL. The roster isn't perfect and relies on spacing from too few players.
But Milwaukee boasts the East's second-best player, as well as a talented supporting cast. Even if it experiences plenty of growing pains, it should make the playoffs without breaking a sweat.
9. Denver Nuggets
2016-17 Record: 40-42
Offseason Losses: Danilo Gallinari (34.96 TPA), Roy Hibbert* (minus-13.64 TPA), Mike Miller (minus-11.75 TPA), Mason Plumlee* (113.09 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Trey Lyles (minus-66.3 TPA), Paul Millsap (123.61 TPA)
Net Change: minus-66.35 TPA
Notable Draftees: Tyler Lydon (No. 24), Monte Morris (No. 51)
As Matt Moore explained for CBS Sports, Paul Millsap is a perfect fit for the Denver Nuggets:
"Millsap is, on every level, a player Denver needs. Jokic is their best player and their future. He's also a huge defensive liability and cannot play power forward. So Jokic needs to play with a power forward who can defend and also can space the floor so there's no drag on offense. That's Millsap.
"Millsap helps with rebounding, is great defensively, and he's a savvy player who can operate without the ball. Denver's offense is built on constant ball movement, and with Millsap, the Nuggets add a great scorer who also can deliver pinpoint passes. His court awareness is among the best in the league, and in an 11-year career, he has never played fewer than than 64 games for a season."
Don't be fooled by the negative score for the offseason listed above.
Millsap will immediately help improve everyone around him, from Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris to Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay (maybe). Plus, the Nuggets are still figuring out how to work in a new deal for Mason Plumlee, and bringing him back into the fold will immediately push their score back into the green.
Denver had the NBA's best offense after re-inserting Nikola Jokic into the starting lineup on Dec. 15, and that might not change going forward. The young pieces are only growing more comfortable operating with the burgeoning star, and their defensive lives are about to be made significantly easier by Millsap's presence on the interior.
For the first time in a while, opponents might legitimately fear their road games at altitude in the Mile High City.
8. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Record: 51-31
Offseason Losses: DeMarre Carroll (40.84 TPA), Cory Joseph (minus-31.62 TPA), Patrick Patterson (28.39 TPA), P.J. Tucker (41.34 TPA)
Offseason Additions: C.J. Miles (minus-21.29 TPA)
Net Change: minus-100.24 TPA
Notable Draftees: OG Anunoby (No. 23)
C.J. Miles is a perfect fit for the Toronto Raptors.
Kyle Lowry needs space when he's driving to the hoop and asserting his superior physicality. DeMar DeRozan needs space to operate when he's probing a defense for mid-range jumpers; help defenders crashing around him is the last thing he wants.
And space is exactly what Miles provides.
By subtracting an individual's points per possession (PPP) on a single play type from the league average, then multiplying by the number of relevant possessions used, we can calculate how much value a player added in that play type, as compared to a league-average contributor using those same plays. And as a spot-up shooter, C.J. Miles' score of 80.23 outpaces Stephen Curry (67.28) and Kawhi Leonard (76.28), leaving him behind only Otto Porter Jr. (94.36).
Still, Toronto's offseason losses will make remaining near the top of the Eastern Conference a tougher proposition. The defense of DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker will be tough to replace, though head coach Dwane Casey could potentially counter this by playing Lucas Nogueira more frequently.
But if the newly re-signed Lowry loses anything to Father Time, there's nothing Casey can do. The veteran point guard remains the centerpiece of this squad, as well as its clear-cut best player, no matter how many points DeRozan puts up.
7. Washington Wizards
2016-17 Record: 49-33
Offseason Losses: Bojan Bogdanovic (minus-125.85 TPA), Trey Burke* (minus-81.23 TPA), Brandon Jennings* (minus-108.57 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Tim Frazier (minus-68.49 TPA), Jodie Meeks (minus-26.79 TPA)
Net Change: 220.37 TPA
Notable Draftees: None
First, the good news.
After extending John Wall and handing Otto Porter Jr. a max deal, the Washington Wizards have kept their Big Three intact. They now boast one of the NBA's best point guards and shooting guards (Bradley Beal), as well as a rising small forward who adds the value of a legitimate star thanks to his proclivity for doing all the little things well.
The good news continues when looking at Washington's bench, which managed to replace some middling contributors with less-negative roster-fillers. Tim Frazier and Jodie Meeks aren't game-changing additions, but they at least add a bit more competence to a unit that struggled whenever it was tasked with any sort of important responsibility.
And that leads us into the bad news.
Perusing Washington's full depth chart isn't an enjoyable endeavor. Strong as the starters may look, their upside is still hindered by the second unit. Barring late additions, the Wizards are staring at Frazier, Meeks, Kelly Oubre, Jason Smith/Mike Scott and Ian Mahinmi.
Does that inspire confidence? Does it offer hope that the Wizards can build up leads and avoid having them squandered away when the starters need breathers? Does it point to an ability to stave off injuries and avoid declines when maladies inevitably arise?
I didn't think so.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
2016-17 Record: 51-31
Offseason Losses: Andrew Bogut* (minus-3.36 TPA), Dahntay Jones* (minus-2.62 TPA), James Jones (minus-11.45 TPA), Jordan McRae* (minus-50.03 TPA), Deron Williams* (minus-74.4 TPA), Derrick Williams* (minus-63.72 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Jose Calderon (minus-51.72), Jeff Green (minus-142.3 TPA), Derrick Rose (minus-83.28
Net Change: minus-71.72 TPA
Notable Draftees: None
For now, we're operating under the assumption that Kyrie Irving is still on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster. Taking him out of the picture would be erroneous, since we can't accurately ascertain what kind of value the 2016 champions will get in return for his isolation-heavy services.
But even if the Cavs traded him for nothing, they'd still be a playoff team. This LeBron James guy is pretty good, I hear.
According to NBA Math's FATS calculator, Cleveland played like a 57-win bunch when James was on the floor and Irving wasn't during the 2016-17 campaign. Does that sound like a lottery unit in the ridiculous event that it trades the dynamic floor general for absolutely nothing of value in 2017-18?
No matter what happens with Irving—and, per Zach Lowe, the Cavaliers "are acting—for now—as if a trade is almost inevitable—the Eastern Conference powerhouse will be just fine. It'll still function as if it doesn't really care about the regular season, and it'll benefit (maybe) from trimming some of the fat away from its bench.
Of course, that last part is only true if it manages to replace the departed veterans with quality finds, even beyond the acquisition of Derrick Rose that was first announced by The Vertical's Shams Charania.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
2016-17 Record: 47-35
Offseason Losses: Norris Cole* (minus-20.88 TPA), Taj Gibson (minus-83.54 TPA), Victor Oladipo (minus-58.86 TPA), Domantas Sabonis (minus-159.61 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Raymond Felton (minus-30.63 TPA), Paul George (150.42 TPA), Patrick Patterson (28.39 TPA)
Net Change: 471.07 TPA
Notable Draftees: Terrance Ferguson (No. 21)
How do you put together a perfect offseason? Apparently, the world should just go and ask Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti.
"Ten out of 10 scientists* agree: It is physically impossible to portray the Oklahoma City Thunder's free-agency results in a bad light," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale penned while giving OKC's offseason an "A+++." Sure, that asterisk was later clarified to mean "made-up scientists," but the real ones are usually smart people. They probably agree, too.
Paul George, whose acquisition required giving up nothing more than two negative contributors, is an ideal fit alongside Russell Westbrook. As detailed here, he and Andre Roberson can team up to ensure the reigning MVP is always surrounded by a defensive stopper, and he immediately becomes the best drive-and-kick receiver with whom Westbrook has played since Kevin Durant's departure.
But he's not the only quality add in tornado alley.
Raymond Felton is immediately a better back-up point guard than anyone on last year's roster, and Patrick Patterson remains an analytic marvel who presents another ideal fit alongside Westbrook and George. Everything works, which is a bit terrifying for the rest of the Western Conference after the triple-double machine and a lackluster supporting cast somehow put up 47 wins.
4. Boston Celtics
2016-17 Record: 53-29
Offseason Losses: Avery Bradley (minus-18.5 TPA), Gerald Green* (minus-49.9 TPA), Jonas Jerebko (minus-47.2 TPA), Amir Johnson (71.34 TPA), Jordan Mickey (minus-13.65 TPA), Kelly Olynyk (18.61 TPA), James Young* (minus-13.75 TPA), Tyler Zeller* (minus-25.41 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Aron Baynes (minus-41.43 TPA), Gordon Hayward (201.66 TPA), Marcus Morris (minus-25.38 TPA), Daniel Theis (N/A), Guerschon Yabusele (N/A), Ante Zizic (N/A)
Net Change: 213.31 TPA
Notable Draftees: Kadeem Allen (No. 53), Jabari Bird (No. 56), Semi Ojeleye (No. 37), Jayson Tatum (No. 3)
"I don't have the five positions anymore," Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens explained, per Kareem Copeland of the Associated Press. "It may be as simple as three positions now, where you're either a ball-handler, a wing or a big. It's really important. We've become more versatile as the years have gone on."
The C's were plenty versatile in 2016-17, but their offseason takes things to the next level.
Gordon Hayward can do just about anything on the offensive end of the floor, and he's one of just seven players who added value in every defensive play type during the 2016-17 campaign. The synergy he enjoyed with Stevens during their mutual time at Butler should bleed over into 2017-18, especially as he logs more time in small-ball lineups than ever before.
The addition of Marcus Morris won't have quite the same impact, but his defensive versatility also can't be overstated. He's similarly among that group of seven and can play both forward positions throughout any given game.
Boston was already a dominant outfit, and it's poised to get even better.
Way better, perhaps.
3. San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 Record: 61-21
Offseason Losses: Joel Anthony* (minus-1.43 TPA), Dewayne Dedmon (44.37 TPA), David Lee* (92.76 TPA), Jonathon Simmons (minus-51.9 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Rudy Gay (14.02 TPA), Joffrey Lauvergne (minus-63.44 TPA)
Net Change: minus-133.22 TPA
Notable Draftees: Jaron Blossomgame (No. 59), Derrick White (No. 29)
Even if the San Antonio Spurs take David Lee off the losses list, they're still looking at the thinnest roster they've possessed in quite some time. Unless Tony Parker and Rudy Gay can miraculously reach full strength in expeditious fashion while head coach Gregg Popovich turns Joffrey Lauvergne into a big-time contributor, they'll be far more reliant on their biggest names.
Fortunately, their biggest names are pretty decent at the whole basketball thing.
Kawhi Leonard is coming off an MVP-caliber season, one in which he asserted himself as a bona fide offensive force in addition to putting on the defensive clamps. He finished No. 7 in NBA Math's TPA, No. 5 in ESPN.com's RPM and has a legitimate case to be called one of the sport's three greatest talents. And at only 26 years of age, he's still getting better.
So long as Leonard is healthy and avoiding matchups against Zaza Pachulia, he'll carry San Antonio near the top of the loaded Western Conference. If his supporting cast—led by Danny Green, Pau Gasol, the ageless Manu Ginobili and LaMarcus Aldridge—can do some heavy lifting, San Antonio will once again threaten to exceed 60 wins.
Again. Just like always.
2. Houston Rockets
2016-17 Record: 55-27
Offseason Losses: Patrick Beverley (98.61 TPA), Bobby Brown (minus-19.47 TPA), Sam Dekker (minus-29.57 TPA), Montrezl Harrell (22.16), Lou Williams (minus-28.76 TPA), Kyle Wiltjer (minus-3.67 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Tarik Black (minus-35.82 TPA), Shawn Long (16.81 TPA), Luc Mbah a Moute (28.62 TPA), Chris Paul (330.75 TPA), Zhou Qi (N/A), Tim Quarterman (minus-7.74 TPA), Jarrod Uthoff (minus-3.09 TPA)
Net Change: 290.23 TPA
Notable Draftees: Isaiah Hartenstein (No. 43)
Yes, Chris Paul and James Harden will work well together.
It's not just because point-guard whisperer head coach Mike D'Antoni will always have a Hall of Fame-caliber floor general at his disposal. The two can function simultaneously, thanks to their abilities as spot-up marksmen.
When Harden is handling the rock, Paul and his 1.1 points per possession (77.3 percentile) in spot-up situations will drag defenders to the weak side and open opportunities for his bearded teammate. And when the roles are reversed, Harden's 1.2 PPP (90.6 percentile) will make things just as easy (easier?) for the new member of the Houston Rockets.
Luc Mbah a Moute joining the squad will surely assist in the defensive solidification, but this offseason was all about Houston's gamble on the dual-lead-guard system. And chances are good that it'll work.
The Rockets surprised many analysts—myself included—by overachieving and earning 55 victories, then finding success in the playoffs until running into a San Antonio Spurs buzzsaw. Now, they're keeping most of the core together, adding one of the league's 10 best players and building an even more unstoppable system.
They look like the second-best team in basketball.
1. Golden State Warriors
2016-17 Record: 67-15
Offseason Losses: Matt Barnes* (minus-21.37 TPA), Ian Clark* (minus-47.28 TPA), JaVale McGee* (12.29 TPA), James Michael McAdoo* (minus-5.71 TPA)
Offseason Additions: Omri Casspi (minus-38.14 TPA), Nick Young (minus-25.54 TPA)
Net Change: minus-1.61 TPA
Notable Draftees: Jordan Bell (No. 38)
Don't be fooled by the negative numbers.
Nick Young was overextended during his final year with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he should look fantastic while surrounded by competent defenders/teammates trying to get him the ball in wide-open situations. Lest we forget, he posted 1.14 points per possession in spot-up situations last year, which left him in the 83.3 percentile.
The addition of Omri Casspi isn't such an overwhelming positive, but it's worth noting stability and structure should do wonders for him.
We're just over a year removed from him serving as one of the league's most underrated players in 2015-16, and it was tough for him to find a rhythm while getting buried on the Sacramento Kings' bench, suffering an injury during his first game with the New Orleans Pelicans and then trying to function as a late-season addition to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Even if Casspi and Young both flame out, the Golden State Warriors preserved their entire core. JaVale McGee figures to be the biggest loss—and that's if he's not re-signed with the final roster spot, which remains a possibility.
The Warriors finishing with the best record in basketball is just about a foregone conclusion. Whether they top 70 victories or challenge their own 73-win record is the only remaining question.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.