One respected projection system says Wolves' offense rivals Miami Heat
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Optimism is king in the preseason for most every team in each of the four major sports. That's true even when your local team has the longest current playoff drought in the NBA.
The Wolves, who haven't been to the playoffs in nine seasons, looked primed to bust that slump last season. But injuries derailed those ambitions, and instead, the remaining cast of characters stumbled to 31 wins and a last-place finish in the Northwest division.
It's certainly not all doom and gloom heading into the 2013-14 season, though. One objective projection system - Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE system - thinks highly of the Wolves.
His data projects the Wolves offensive equals with the Miami Heat.
Pelton, a former consultant for the Indiana Pacers, now writes for ESPN.com. He developed the SCHOENE system and continues to tweak it to yield the most accurate projections.
His SCHOENE (pronounced SHAY-nee) system pegs the Wolves as the fourth-most efficient offense in the NBA. Their projected offensive rating of 110.9 points per 100 possessions is on par with the two-time defending NBA champions. The system also projects the Wolves as the ninth-best defensive team by defensive efficiency, tabbed to allow 107.1 points per 100 possessions.
A brief explanation of his projection before we continue: Pelton first takes a player's performance over the past three seasons and adjusts it for age. Then it adjusts the expected production for league averages to find similar players and compare how they performed. Then it makes more adjustments to mitigate the effects of diminishing returns when combining players with similar skills (like a team with many good rebounders, for example).
Pelton projects Minnesota will collect 52 wins in the regular season. All that adds up to a fifth seed for the Wolves. He ran 1,000 simulations, including the playoffs (where benches are typically shortened) and the Wolves made the playoffs in more than 96 percent of those simulated seasons.
If that sounds ambitious, perhaps it's more surprising the odds of the Wolves winnings it all. The SCHOENE projection gives Minnesota a 10.4 percent chance of reaching the NBA Finals and a 4.9 percent chance of winning it all. That's not too bad for a team that popular opinion suggests is not among the NBA's elite. The Spurs and the Heat are the two favorites again this season to win it all, with a 34.5 percent chance and 19.2 percent chance, respectively.
It should be noted that the projections assume perfect health.
The Minnesota Timberwolves also fare better in the playoff projections because of health, in particular for star Kevin Love, who's projected to play 68 games during the regular season.
Good health is far from a certainty with this star-crossed franchise, it seems, but it's a fair way to treat all teams equally before the season begins.
Earlier in the day, ESPN.com had published a subjective list of NBA power rankings. It was a subjective list, and rated the Wolves as the seventh team in the West and 12th overall in the NBA.
Are the prognosticators too positive, or is this the year the Wolves finally return to the playoffs?