Rosters are more or less set around the league and now we are just awaiting training camps and some actual things to write about. We also now have some win predictions for the NBA, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a few of them and see where they have the Wolves finishing, and try to suss out why they differ.
Going from low (wins) predicted to high:
We’ll start with the classic predictor, the gambling market. Las Vegas has the Wolves over/under at 35.5 for the most part. This is just under the 36 games they won last season, and the 37 Pythagorean wins they had.
Even for a pessimist like me, this seems a bit low. The Wolves were not particularly healthy last season, and there is reason to hope that Robert Covington (22 games) and Jeff Teague (42 games) play more this season. On the other hand, their one irreplaceable player has been incredibly durable. Karl-Anthony Towns played 77 games last season, the first time in four years he’s missed any games at all. That suggests he is not injury prone, but any extended absence by Towns will absolutely torpedo the season.
Perhaps Vegas sees the losses of veteran players like Taj Gibson, Anthony Tolliver and Luol Deng, and their younger, less proven replacements, as a significant negative, or at least enough to off-set some expected better health.
Vegas isn’t exactly in the prediction business as much as they are in the gambling business, so they are looking for a number that invites bets on both sides, but they are usually quite accurate with these over/unders.
Kevin Pelton at ESPN predicts the Wolves at 39.5 wins and 10th in the Western Conference, although it is extremely bunched up, with spots 8-14 separated by only 3.6 wins. The nature of a regression model is that it’s not going to predict the extremes we know happen every season.
At any rate, Pelton uses multi-year RPM, predicts games played based on recent health history, and subjectively assigns minutes. His quote on the Wolves:
Having made additions around the edges this summer, the Timberwolves might
be a bit underrated because of the return of forward Robert Covington, who
missed the final 45 games of last season because of a bone bruise in his right
knee. During the 22 games Covington played with Minnesota after the Jimmy
Butler trade, the team went 12-10.
As we have discussed more than once since last season ended, Robert Covington’s availability and ability to play up to his established standards are absolutely vital for the Wolves chances this season.
538’s CARMELO has the Wolves as the 9th best team in the West with a 42-40 predicted record. This is the most optimistic prediction (outside of Wolves fandom) I could find.
The weakness of the CARMELO model is that it doesn’t project games played, it just assumes players will be available. To be fair, it isn’t exactly meant to predict the season, but instead the current strength of the squad. At any rate, given the strength of the West, (six of the top eight CARMELO teams are in the West,) and the likelihood that the Wolves suffer some injuries, 42 seems like a best case scenario to me, rather than an average outcome.
My gut feeling is that Kevin Pelton is likely closest to right for the Wolves, although just a little bit of good or bad fortune could push things in either direction.
What do you think?