- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer
Suffice to say, the projection process isn't perfect. That's a good thing because if it were perfect, all the drama would be sucked out of the real season. Producing and reading team and player projections sets a baseline of reasonable expectation. We know when to be surprised and when to nod our heads knowingly. Numerous storylines emerge. Projections make us smarter and keep us more engaged.
At the team level, a projection merely means that if all the players on a roster are used, and available, as forecast and also perform at their predicted levels, and all other uncontrollable factors cancel each other out, then a team can be expected to win a certain number of games. To understand how much variability there is in any given season, consider that when we simulated the season 10,000 times back in October, 18 different teams won at least one title, but the Miami Heat won the most with 3,517 victories. Even the Utah Jazz won three times.
In those simulations, the most recent set of which included the James Harden trade, the Denver Nuggets won Western Conference in 30 percent. Denver's total was more than any other team in the conference, with Denver's Friday opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers, coming in second at 24 percent.
To me, the real lesson from the projections was that the West looked to be extraordinarily packed, with the Nuggets, Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies all winning the conference in at least 200 sims. Well, we're 18 percent finished with the season and nothing has really happened to change the notion that the West is wide open. However, our cast of contenders isn't exactly what we thought it would be.
The Nuggets are 8-8 after losing a wild game by a point at Golden State on Thursday. At this point of the season, it's more instructive to look at a team's point differential than its actual record, but doing so does Denver no favors, either. The Nuggets have outscored opponents by about one point per game which, if extrapolated for the full season, marks them as a 44-win team. That's not exactly a set of results appropriate for a conference championship contender.
What's wrong with the Nuggets?