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Evaluating the Western Conference Rotations using 538’s RAPTOR

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Where do the Jazz stack up?

NBAE via Getty Images

FiveThirtyEight has become a great resource for NBA fans around the globe. They put out some advanced analytics and predictive models that help people get into useless arguments that never end. It’s amazing.

Recently, they did an update to their CARMELO player ratings and gave it a new title as well: RAPTOR. Ultimately a player receives a Wins Above Replacement Projection, a 5-year market value dollar figure, and a general category. Here’s an example.

By the way, for those worried about Mike Conley’s age and contract, don’t be. He’s projected to play at a near all-star level for the remainder of his contract.

Because I’m crazy, I took a deep dive into the Western Conference teams and looked at the projected top 8 players for each team. I summed up their starting 5 and overall rotation WARPs to see how the Jazz stacked up against the rest of the conference. Here were the overall results:

  1. Houston Rockets - 44.4
  2. Denver Nuggets - 39.7
  3. Los Angeles Clippers - 37.3
  4. Utah Jazz - 33.9
  5. Golden State Warriors - 33.4
  6. LA Lakers- 31.7
  7. Oklahoma City Thunder - 30.7
  8. Dallas Mavericks - 30.3
  9. Minnesota Timberwolves - 28.8
  10. Portland Trailblazers - 28.3
  11. New Orleans Pelicans - 25.2
  12. San Antonio Spurs - 24.9
  13. Phoenix Suns - 22.9
  14. Sacramento Kings - 22.5
  15. Memphis Grizzlies - 20.3

That’s the summed WARP of the projected top 8 players for each Western Conference teams. Some of them, like the Warriors, are quite top heavy. While others, like the Nuggets, have a very good bench. This has the Jazz at 4th overall in the West coming into the season. I can certainly see that being the case, but I feel like that is Utah’s floor this season.

One reason the Jazz aren’t higher is that these numbers aren’t particularly fond of Bojan Bogdanovic. They also project a surprisingly sharp decline from Jeff Green. I like to believe that both of those players are going to have great seasons this year and outperform these projections. I also anticipate the James Harden, Russell Westbrook backcourt not working out nearly as well in real life as it does on paper. And honestly, I don’t even think it works out on paper.

I learned some other interesting things as I went through this process. The Warriors are paper thin. With Klay out most of the season, they don’t have much depth if any of the starters miss time. Stephen Curry will have to reach even new levels if they want to remain as contenders.

The Thunder grade out quite well here, but we don’t know what their intentions are for the season. If they are in it to win, then they’ll surprise a lot of people this year. Chris Paul still has some fumes left in his tank and Galinari remains very underrated. They’ll be an interesting team to watch this year.

The Lakers. Oh boy I can hear so many of them complaining that 538’s overall projections have them 6th in the West. But I feel like they are guaranteed to lose any game that LeBron James or Anthony Davis doesn’t play in. And based off recent history, that might be 15+ games a piece. Can you imagine if the Pelicans win more games than the Lakers this year?

Ok one more. The Spurs are toast. Their roster is completely outdated and they’ve got big money spent on those players. They have the starting 5 with the lowest 5-year market value in the West. But they aren’t anywhere near bad enough to tank for another Tim Duncan. They might be in for a longer rebuild this time around, which I feel like I’ve been saying for the last 20 years. But I think it’s for real this time. How much longer will Pop keep coaching if they stop winning?

In summary, I’m excited for this season more than possibly any other season before! The Jazz worst projected rotation player that gets consistent minutes is probably Jeff Green. Yeah that Jeff Green that’s had a pretty great preseason and looks like he’ll contribute in a big way. Rudy Gobert is deemed an All-Star, Donovan Mitchell is a future All-Star, and Mike Conley is a borderline All-Star. That’s a legitimate big 3. It might be the best big 3 since The Statues + Hornacek. And they’ve got ridiculous talent behind them in Bojan, Joe Ingles, and Royce O’Neale.

Will the Jazz be able to improve on their 50-win season a year ago? If so, by how many and what place will that put them in the West?

My official prediction: 54 wins and 3rd.