The 1230 Wins Breakdown: My 2019–2020 NBA Season Preview (Sorta)
In which your valiant writer once again attempts to predict the final records of every single team and then explains his reasoning in 123.0 characters or less.
Here we go again.
Each year, I do this little math game where I use the SUM function in a spreadsheet to map out how the 1230 total wins in an NBA season will be distributed between the 30 teams. It’s really in an effort to see if the Knicks will have enough bounty to reach the “over” in their Vegas odds. (Spoiler alert: It never happens).
I judge my work by creating a range between each team’s actual wins and their expected wins (via the Pythagorean Theorem). I then see how many of my win-loss predictions fell right within that range. Last year, I nailed the bullseye just four(!) times, all in the Western Conference. And I predicted 29 wins for the Knicks, which is a half win below their Vegas odds.
To be fair, we were both wrong. They finished with 17 wins.
That prognostication sounds awful. But then I did some more math, and last year, 17 NBA teams underperformed from their Vegas odds (the Knicks were the worst with -12.5). Nine teams outperformed (the Bucks were the best at +13.5 with the Kings right behind them at +13). And 4 teams had their Vegas odds within their range of actual wins and expected wins (all from the West, specifically the Midwest: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Oklahoma City).
So I was right at average. Go mediocrity!
I did nail the MVP (Giannis), the Rookie of the Year (Luka), the Defensive Player of the Year (Rudy) and the Coach of the Year (Bud). So I know some things, at least.
So let’s try it again, shall we?
Some things to keep in mind: Over the past five years, an average of 7.8 teams put up 50 wins or more, with a high of 10 (in 2014–2015) and a low of 6 (2015–2016). In that 2015–2016 year, 19 out of the 30 teams were over .500, which diluted the wins. (We usually get a max of 18 teams over that mark).
This year seems to be following along that route. I also have six teams with 50+ wins this year, and 19 over .500. And, to be fair, I could have very easily had 20 over .500. (Sorry Minnesota). My point? This league is deep, man. And wins will be hard to come by.
Here’s this year’s version with each team’s preview written in 123.0 characters or less, because I’m gonna ride that numerical theme all the way through.
Let’s begin with the big boys in the West.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (24–58). It’ll be a long but fun year, with Morant and Jackson Jr. perfecting their two-man game. Growing pains and baby steps.
14. Phoenix Suns (32–50). Rubio helps Booker and Ayton, but this franchise is directionless and you can’t be that in the West. No defense whatsoever.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (35–47). They’re better than you’d think, an Eastern playoff team for sure, but need injury luck to make that happen in the West.
12. Sacramento Kings (37–45). I love Fox, dig Bagley, but I think the league is ready for their fast pace. Walton will coach up the D. Almost there.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves (40–42). This is KAT’s breakout year, and it feels like Wiggins’ last chance to make believers. Covington is a great fit.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (41–41). This team has star power in Jrue and the right mix of role players. Lonzo and Ingram shine. Zion returns too late.
(Editor’s note: This is not how I envisioned things. Originally, I had New Orleans at 44–38. That put them 7th in the Conference. I wrote that “Zion will be the man, but this team has star power in Jrue and the right mix of role players. Lonzo and Ingram shine”. But with Zion out 6–8 weeks, that’s 24 games, and the margin of error is so thin. So I moved them out, took off three wins and gave them to Portland, San Antonio and Dallas. They’re still really good, but Zion was the difference maker.)
9. Dallas Mavericks (42–40). Luka and Porzingis (if he’s healthy) will be a duo for the ages, but the rest of the roster needs help. They’re thisclose.
And now, your Western Conference playoff teams.
8. San Antonio Spurs (43–39). I can’t pick against Pop. So I won’t pick against Pop! Plus, Dejounte’s back. He and Derrick White together will be fun.
7. Portland Trailblazers (44–38). Dame. That’s why. He’ll will this team into the playoffs. But the loss of Nurkic is gigantic. His skills makes this work.
6. Golden State Warriors (45–37). How will they stop anyone? How will they win without depth? Steph and Draymond will figure it out. Don’t bet against them.
(Editor’s note: I’m not feeling this Warriors prediction at all. I can easily see them missing the playoffs. EASILY. I don’t know how they’ll defend. I don’t see any depth here. A slight injury to Steph or Draymond is a killer. There’s just no margin for error. But it’s the Warriors. They are different. And they’ll figure something out. And when or if Klay comes back? Boom. So I have them as in. Barely).
5. Los Angeles Lakers (46–36). LeBron and AD will miss time, and the rest of the roster is a mess. But it’s about the playoffs, not the regular season.
4. Denver Nuggets (54–28). They’ll be better, even if their record doesn’t reflect it. Jokic is incredible, and Murray pops. They need another star.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (54–28). Even without Kawhi and PG, this team is solid and deep. A ton of load management gets them ready for the playoffs.
2. Houston Rockets (55–27). Harden and Russ will figure it out. This might be this team’s last chance. Can PJ make it through another year?
And this year’s Western Conference top seed:
The Utah Jazz (57–25). Adding Conley raises Donovan’s game. Adding Bogdanovic elevates the team’s offense. Defense is elite. It’s time.
Overall: Once again, the league is lopsided towards the West. Making the playoffs will be a battle. Advancing is another story. The teams with the highest ceilings (the Clippers and the Lakers) will be on a collision course if they stay healthy. But honestly, that’s a big if. That being said, I really love Utah. With Conley’s help, Donovan Mitchell becomes a star this year, and those team-wide open jumpers will actually fall this year, which is scary, considering that scoring on them will feel like a punishment. Moving on, if the Warriors can stay alive and Klay comes back, they’re gonna be dangerous too. But, and I can’t believe I’m asking this, but can they even get to the playoffs? They might be the worst defensive team in the league, and I don’t know how they would overcome that, even with Steph and Draymond’s brilliance. (Spoiler: They will). As is usually the case, 13 of the 15 teams are playoff-worthy and have legitimate chances to make it. That’s just ridiculous.
Here’s how it looks in a grid:
And now, the junior varsity:
15. Charlotte Hornets (18–64). Worst roster. Worst management. No direction. No reason to watch. Simply, the worst team in the league.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (22–60). Are Sexton and Garland a good match together? Kevin Love will be a game changer for a playoff team at the deadline. PDX?
13. Washington Wizards (23–59). Beal just re-signed and he’s a stud, but they need a complete overhaul and the next few years look really bleak.
12. New York Knicks (28–54. Vegas predicts 28.5) Barrett needs to be good. Mitch will improve. Randle will shine. And they’ll rebound. Expect a thinned-out roster by March.
11. Atlanta Hawks (31–51). Trae has improved so much. He and Collins work well together. I’m not high on Reddish. Team is too young to take seriously.
10. Detroit Pistons (37–45). A new start away from SVG is helpful. Blake is great. Another big year. Rose will help, but roster is shooting deficient.
9. Chicago Bulls (37–45). This year’s big surprise. Young talent works well together. Lauri takes a big step forward. Wendell too. Otto helps out.
And now, the best of the dreck.
8. Orlando Magic (42–38). Made big improvements last year. Gordon and Isaac are a matchup problem. Backcourt is an issue. Can Fultz help?
7. Brooklyn Nets (43–39). It’s the Kyrie Show starring Kyrie, but Caris LeVert makes the leap and preps this team for a Big Three next season.
6. Indiana Pacers (44–38). Oladipo and Brogdon are a great fit together. Turner and Sabonis, not so much. Losing Bogdanovic hurts.
5. Toronto Raptors (44–38). Champs will still be good, but not great. Can Siakam raise his game without Kawhi? Their future hinges on that answer.
4. Miami Heat (46–36). Butler is a perfect fit on this team. They’re deep and athletic and tough. They’re a trade away from threatening the top.
3. Boston Celtics (49–33). Kemba, Tatum and Brown will be fun together. Hayward makes a comeback. But they go nowhere memorable without Horford.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (57–25). The team with the highest ceiling in the league. Ben needs to work on his jumper. Embiid needs to peak for the playoffs.
And now, your Eastern Conference top seed:
The Milwaukee Bucks (60–22). Losing Brogdon hurts but Giannis is still improving(!!!) and their roster is still deep and matches the Freak’s skillset.
Overall: It’s a two team race, honestly, so let’s focus on that. I think the Bucks will be the better regular season team, win home court advantage in the playoffs. And yet, the Sixers will spend the entire season priming to take them down. They’re just so huge, and defensively, they’ll be impossible. It really does come down to whether or not Ben Simmons is able to produce a passable jump shot. If he does, then damn. That’s the answer.
Here’s the grid, if you’re into that sort of thing:
So how about the real season?
Western Conference: It’s an all-Los Angeles battle in the Finals, with four well-rested stars, but this time, it’s the Clippers who come up big in 6. Their roster is solid and complementary and deep, and the Lakers’ mismanagement of the other spots on the roster comes back to bite them.
Eastern Conference: Sixers over the Bucks in 7. Giannis does everything he can, but it’s just not enough. He needs another star with him to get this done. Al Horford makes all the difference for Philadelphia, and the Sixers can throw everyone at Giannis — specifically Josh Richardson, who will introduce himself to the world with his effort and play. The Sixers have all the answers to the Bucks’ questions.
The Finals: PG and Kawhi come in with all the hype, but it’s the Sixers who get it done. Embiid is the MVP, as the Clippers are just too small to stop him.
Yeah, the Sixers. They’re young and big and defensively iron-tight, and I think it’s their time. Plus, I don’t think Kawhi will be 100% for the Finals, and they’ll need him to be.
And now for some individual kudos:
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, once again. He just keeps getting better and better, as he leads his team to the best record in the NBA. Watch out for Jokic, Harden, Steph and Donovan Mitchell in this conversation. Also, Anthony Davis is the trendy pick, and I get it, but I think the Lakers will be extra careful with his workload during the regular season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert. A repeat award-winner. Best defensive player on the best defensive team. He anchors it all. Period.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams. It’s gonna be fun watching him play with Kawhi and PG. The pick-and-roll maestro will have plenty of space to operate.
Rookie of the Year: I mean, Zion Williamson, right? But if he’s gonna miss 24 games, then let’s roll with Ja Morant, who will have all the playing time he needs to grow and put up numbers.
Most Improved Player: Caris LeVert. Goes from injury-prone youngster to a cornerstone and potential star. Get to know this kid. He’s really good.
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder. Finally, he has a team that can make some shots from the field. He’s due for the hardware.
This league has an embarrassment of riches. The All-NBA teams were impossible to fill out. Here’s my best guess.
All-NBA First Team: Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, James Harden and Stephen Curry.
All-NBA Second Team: Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lilliard.
All-NBA Third Team: Paul George, Ben Simmons, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.
Just missed: Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin, Jrue Holiday, Rudy Gobert and Bradley Beal.
One last thing:
This is primed to be another great season, with young stars rising and the older stars still shining. The China controversy does put a taint on the start of the season, and it doesn’t feel like a story that’s going away, so it’ll be interesting to see how Adam Silver and the league navigates through that.
But all in all, this is the first season in awhile that doesn’t seem like a foregone conclusion before it even begins, and how exciting is that? I’m pumped. You should be too. There’s eight teams that have a legitimate chance at hoisting the trophy.
That’s drama at its best. Enjoy.