ESPN just released their Western Conference Summer Forecast, a prediction of wins and losses for each team in the 2014-15 season. The Lakers and their 30 wins are once again bottom feeders. The Rockets have plummeted to 8th. Phoenix is predicted to do worse than last year. The Thunder who made no significant roster improvements over last year are slated to have the most wins. The defending champion Spurs are undervalued. The Clippers, without a quality small forward, are projected to remain as they were. And Steve Kerr does nothing particularly interesting for the Warriors. They are still stuck in the bottom half of the West. ESPN doesn’t think much of the Nuggets acquiring Aaron Afflalo. And the Timberwolves are vying for the #1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
Of course it is worth mentioning it is called the “Summer Forecast” because, well, it is summer. Training camp is still four weeks away. These August rankings are the projections of 210 basketball writers affiliated with ESPN across a variety of platforms.
With a margin of error of (+/-3) ESPN believes 11 out of the 14 teams in the Western Conference stayed pretty much the same. The New Orleans Pelicans were the only team whose win total increased (5) games from last season. The Houston Rockets and the Minnesota Timberwolves were the biggest losers. The Rockets were projected to lose (5) more games than last year and win 49 games which has them hovering from 6-8th in the West, hardly the championship contender Dwight Howard was envisioning. Of course the real loser is Minnesota, who with the loss of Kevin Love is expected to take up residence in the basement of the conference, winning 26 games.
In a particularly dull summer month these predictions mean something to fans. So here goes: How is it that this version of the Lakers (Lin/Kobe/Boozer) is worse than the 2005-06 Lakers team of (Smush/Kobe/Kwame). That team won 45 games.
In 2013-14 the Lakers were projected to win 36 games without Kobe Bryant. In 2014-15 they are projected to win 30 games with Kobe Bryant.
What makes the Nuggets 8 games better than the Lakers? Aaron Afflalo? Javale McGhee?
Why are the San Antonio Spurs continually devalued when last season clearly showed teams have difficulty matching up with their motion offense?
What did Phoenix do to actually get worse? Even if Eric Bledsoe signs a qualifying offer this will be his contract year and an opportunity to show he is worth the money his camp thinks he is worth.
The Clippers are going with Hedo Turgulo and Jared Dudley at small forward, Jordan Farmar as Chris Paul’s backup and Spencer Hawes. Enough said.
Every year ESPN’s Summer Forecast creates a lot of unnecessary fan angst all over the country. Deeper analysis of the ESPN annual summer forecast shows how fallible the panel of 200+ really is. What they are doing is giving an educated guess not knowing all of the future variables such as injuries and team chemistry.
Last August, the Summer Forecast of 2013-14, within the margin of error, correctly predicted 8 of the 15 teams (Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors, Timberwolves Pelicans, Kings).
They missed big on Phoenix. The Suns won 48 games, not 22. They missed big on Portland. The Blazers won 55 games, not 38. They missed on the Mavericks. Dallas won more than the 39 games expected: 49. The Spurs, once again, were underestimated. ESPN did not predict they would break the 60 game threshold.
Two years ago the Summer Forecast of 2012-13 was even worse. Their projections held up for only four teams: OKC, Utah, Portland and Sacramento. The Rockets added James Harden and won 12 more games. The Lakers with injuries, Dwight Howard funk, and D’antoni won 14 games less than was imagined. The Nuggets, Grizzlies and Warriors exceeded all expectations. And the ESPN panel kept drinking the Kevin Love kool-aid. They projected the Timberwolves to win 41 games. They won 31 games.
Whenever you have 210 people trying to agree on something there is going to be the inevitable ‘what?’. ESPN would be better served if they took their 10 best basketball writers, locked them in a room, and came out with a consensus. All this comes down to is summer theater for basketball junkies who have no real news to feed their basketball addiction in the dog days of August.
Read it and weep. Or read it and rejoice (all you Jim Buss haters). It doesn’t matter once the games start in November.