These teams are the most interesting I think, given that these are the teams right on the cusp of playoff spots. So, without further ado, here are the teams that will break your heart when they miss the playoffs by a game!
No. 18: Charlotte Hornets
Model Prediction: 40-42 (NO. 8 SEED IN EAST)
As I discussed with the Heat, the model really likes Josh McRoberts due to his defense and passing. Well, it also likes Chris Douglas-Roberts (three wins) and Anthony Tolliver (another three wins) as role players, who both departed this offseason as well. Born Ready will bring the Hornets 12 wins; however, according to the model, this merely offsets the departures of the three aforementioned players.
Vegas Over/Under: 44.5-37.5
Vegas thinks that the benefits of adding Lance outweigh the drawbacks of losing Tolliver, McBob and CDR; while Lance is an All-Star caliber player (and budding hip-hop star), whether he's worth the three role players is up for debate.
I do think McBob is an underrated talent, but I do think a second season under Steve Clifford and the 8th Grader coming to town will give this team a winning record.
No. 17: Denver Nuggets
Model Prediction: 40-42
Even all healthy, it looks like the Nugs will be on the outside looking into the playoffs again this season. As with conventional knowledge, the model thinks this team is exceptionally deep: 10 players will chip in at least a win next season, with Ty Lawson (nine wins) and Kenneth Faried (11 wins) leading the way.
Vegas Over/Under: 41.5-40.5
The model and Vegas more or less agree on Denver, pegging it as an approximately .500 team that might fight for the eight-seed.
A .500 record or so seems right for these Nuggets, who seem to still be feeling their way around with Brian Shaw at the helm and without a true identity yet. They've got some great pieces and potential All-Stars in Faried and Lawson, and a great addition in Arron Afflalo, but I have a hunch they'll need a season to gel.
No. 16: Atlanta Hawks
Model Prediction: 41-41 (No. 7 Seed in East)
Like the Nuggets, despite being much healthier than last season, the Hawks look to end up in a similar spot this year. The return of Al Horford (seven wins) and the addition of the defensive-minded Thabo Sefolosha (six wins) should help, but the losses of Lou Williams and the general age of the team limit those improvements.
Vegas Over/Under: 42.5-39.5
Vegas doesn't feel too optimistic about the Hawks either, it looks like; due to Horford's injury issues, maybe Vegas has built in some risk here.
41 wins does seem a bit low; however, the consensus seems to be that the rest of the East improved more than the Hawks did. For what it's worth, the Hawks were one of the teams most underestimated by Wins Produced last year, having pegged them for 36 wins instead of their 40 expected wins.
No. 15: Phoenix Suns
Model Prediction: 42-40
Poor Phoenix - despite the West getting comparatively worse (due to the East's improvement), Phoenix will still just miss out this year. A full year of Eric Bledsoe (seven wins) and the addition of Isaiah Thomas (five wins) no doubt improve the Suns; however, about a half-dozen players on the Suns had career years last season, and the model isn't sold that the Morris twins, Gerald Green, PJ Tucker and Goran Dragic can sustain last year's level of play.
Vegas Over/Under: 44-38
It seems that the general consensus with Vegas as well is that the Suns overachieved last year, possibly due to their status as the league's "nobody believes in us" team (copyright Bill Simmons); this year, they're expected to fight for a playoff seed, but may not have that same fire.
42 wins does seem a little low to me, but I do see regression coming for this year's Suns. I think Vegas's estimate of 44 wins seems like a reasonable estimate.
No. 14: Memphis Grizzlies
Model Prediction: 42-40 (No. 8 Seed in West)
While many seem to be touting the Grit n' Grinders as title sleepers, the model thinks this team is in for some regression. Mike Miller (six wins) and Ed Davis (two wins) are gone, and Memphis's dynamite frontcourt is a year older. While Sargeant Vincent Lamar Carter (five wins) coming to town and full seasons with Gasol and Courtney Lee will help, this team only was supposed to win 46 games last year, according to Pythagorean wins.
Vegas Over/Under: 49-33
Vegas is buying into Memphis's window being now and that the Grizz will continue with their remarkably consistent level of production from the past few years.
I do see a possibility for regression looming for this team, but Memphis's consistence over the past few years thanks to their strong identity gives me pause. I see this team hitting around where Vegas does, especially with the addition of VC.
No. 13: Detroit Pistons
Model Prediction: 43-39 (No. 6 Seed in East)
Our first surprise playoff team! The model is a BIG fan of Andre Drummond - like 17 wins big - which is fourth in the league I believe (after LBJ, KD and CP3). Jodie Meeks (four wins), Caron Butler (two wins) and DJ Augustin (two wins) comprise a much-improved supporting cast from last season which might make going to the Big D this season not such a cakewalk.
Vegas Over/Under: 36.5-45.5
Vegas clearly doesn't think Drummond is the fourth-best player in the league, and I can't say I fault it for that. Still, Vegas thinks this team will take baby steps toward a playoff spot in its first season under Stan Van Gundy.
Given the talent of this roster (I'm one of the last members of the Josh Smith fan club), I think 43 wins is completely doable, especially under a coach who can utilize smart rotations that get the most out of the Smith-Drummond-Greg Monroe monolithic frontcourt.