What Our Way-Too-Early NBA Projections Can Tell Us About Next Season

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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).

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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:

Peer into CARM-Elo’s NBA crystal ball

Early projected standings and playoff chances for the 2018-19 NBA season, according to FiveThirtyEight’s CARM-Elo model

REGULAR SEASON PLAYOFFS
TEAM CONF. CARM-ELO PROJ. RECORD PLAYOFF CHANCES CARM-ELO ADJ. MAKE FINALS WIN TITLE
1 Warriors West 1766 64-18 >99% +54 53% 42%
2 Rockets West 1661 54-28 94 +30 14 9
3 Raptors East 1645 55-27 97 +18 28 9
4 Thunder West 1640 53-29 91 +16 9 6
5 Jazz West 1637 54-28 92 -8 6 4
6 Celtics East 1630 53-29 95 +14 22 7
7 T-Wolves West 1629 52-30 88 -2 6 4
8 Sixers East 1623 52-30 95 -8 16 5
9 Lakers West 1580 46-36 72 +35 5 3
9 Nuggets West 1580 48-34 80 -13 3 1
11 Wizards East 1579 48-34 87 +12 12 3
12 Pelicans West 1571 46-36 70 -13 2 1
13 Bucks East 1564 47-35 84 -9 8 2
14 Pacers East 1522 43-39 71 -7 4 1
15 Heat East 1512 41-41 64 -13 3 1
16 Spurs West 1507 40-42 40 +19 1 1
16 Blazers West 1507 39-43 37 -7 1 <1
18 Pistons East 1492 39-43 55 -12 2 <1
19 Hornets East 1481 38-44 48 -5 2 <1
20 Nets East 1459 35-47 37 -16 1 <1
21 Clippers West 1435 33-49 16 -5 <1 <1
22 Grizzlies West 1428 32-50 12 -7 <1 <1
23 Magic East 1424 33-49 25 -20 1 <1
24 Cavaliers East 1405 30-52 18 +18 <1 <1
25 Mavericks West 1376 27-55 4 +11 <1 <1
26 Hawks East 1373 28-54 10 -16 <1 <1
27 Bulls East 1370 27-55 9 -21 <1 <1
28 Suns West 1364 26-56 4 -11 <1 <1
29 Knicks East 1353 25-57 6 -18 <1 <1
30 Kings West 1319 21-61 1 -17 <1 <1

SOURCE: BASKETBALL-REFERENCE.COM, ESPN.COM

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.1 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.