Toronto Raptors Season Preview - The Return of the Titanic Division


To kick off this week's series of Raptor previews, Franchise takes an analytical look at the Atlantic Division, and then the rest of the Eastern Conference...

As most readers know, I'm a big fan of David Berri's Wages of Wins website, and the "wins produced" (WP) metric he so often employs to measure player value and effectiveness.

Is the metric infallible?

Of course not.

However I've found more often than not, that it's given a pretty acurate view of both individual and team performance.

Take last year's Toronto Raptors.

Berri recently charted each player who participated on the team last year in terms of their "wins produced", and their combined score was 33.5.  That's half a win more than the team's actual total from last season so in fact, his calculation hit the nail nearly right on the head.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum, let's look at the Boston Celtics.

Berri charted the team's total wins produced at 61.1 and the team in fact won 62 games.

Again, pretty bang on.

Even if you don't agree with the way he calculates "wins produced," or disagree with his analysis, I find that it's an interesting way to look at things; one that doesn't get nearly enough attention.

To that end, I thought that instead of previewing the Raptors and their Atlantic Division competitors through traditional means, I'd use Berri's "wins produced" score to form a rough estimate of how teams could end up seeded when playoffs rolled around.

I also took things one step further, and looked at the Eastern Conference as a whole, but for the moment let's talk Titanic.

Yes, that's right, I think that the Titanic moniker will be reinstated this season. 

That may not be surprising to some, as it's no stretch to say that the New Jersey Nets post-Vince Carter appear to have taken a step back, and the New York Knicks, well, they're the Knicks.  However I'm also expecting the Philadelphia 76ers to take a step back as well, partly due to the loss of Andre Miller and the point guard situation, and partly due to the re-acclimatization of Elton Brand.  Remember, with Brand last year the Sixers were hardly looking like a playoff contender.

And as for our beloved Raptors, I definitely think they've taken a step in the right direction from last year's moribund club, but I'm not putting them close the the cream of the division, the Boston Celtics, in terms of wins.  That being said, I do think that the Raptors will finish second in the Atlantic when all is said and done, and looking at Berri's work via his recent series of team previews, the metrics appear to back that up.

Adding up the "wins produced" for the current group of Raptors, based on last year's individual WP scores, Toronto ends up with 34.8 wins.  However that's not taking into account scores for DeMar DeRozan, a rookie, or Sonny Weems, who as well in many ways will be experiencing his first real year of NBA action.  Based on their performance in college, it would seem that these two would add another 3 to 4 wins combined, putting Toronto's WP total score around 38.  That's not the 42 wins I'd earmarked the team to hit, however it puts the Dinos ahead of Philadelphia, 32.4, New Jersey, 31.2, and New York, 30.1, as can be seen from the table below:

Toronto Raptors

New York Knicks

New Jersey Nets

Philadelphia 76ers

Calderon

11.5

Duhon

5.5

Harris

8

Williams

1.8

Belinelli

0.1

Hughes

2

Lee

3

Green

-0.3

Turkoglu

6.7

Chandler

1

Lopez

5.4

Iguodala

13.1

Bargnani

-0.3

Lee

14.1

Simmons

4.3

Brand

12

Bosh

9.9

Curry

-1.9

Yi

0

Dalembert

6.9

Jack

4.4

Robinson

6.7

Boone

1.3

Young

2.2

DeRozan

R

Gallinari

0.7

Hassell

1.2

Holiday

R

Wright

-2.4

Harrington

0

CDR

0.5

Speights

0.6

Evans

3.5

Milicic

1.1

Najera

-0.3

Kapono

-1.7

Nesterovic

-1.3

Jeffries

0.9

Dooling

3.4

Ivey

-0.7

Johnson

2.7

Hill

R

T. Williams

R

Jason Smith

-1.5

Weems

R

Alston

4.4

Prezec

0

Total

34.8

Total

30.1

Total

31.2

Total

32.4

 

Of course this is no perfect view.  I've simply taken the WP scores that Berri calculated from last season (and in Brand's case, use an estimated value based on his play in numerous previous seasons), and added them up to get a rough final WP team score.

Injuries, minutes played, team fit (for new players), sample size (for rookies and sophomores) and other factors will  impact how each player's "wins produced" metric turns come end of the season, so again, this is admittedly a rough view I've taken.  In fact, the Knicks, 76ers, and Nets should all boast slightly higher total WP scores based on the play of their rookies, whose numbers aren't factored in to the final team scores above.  However outside of Terrence Williams on the Nets, who looks to be able to produce a higher WP score than any other rookie in the division based on his college statistics, I don't anticipate any of these other young bucks to produce at significant enough rate to change the final WP ratios for each team.

Translation - in the end, I do believe the Raptors will finish behind only the Celtics in the division race.

But what about the Conference itself?  It's been much-discussed that after the Celtics, Magic, and Cavs form the top 3 in some order, with the exception of maybe Atlanta, the final four playoff spots could go to any of about six teams, including the Raps.

Using the same methodology then that I used to determine divisional order, I looked at how Toronto would finish statistically compared to Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Indiana, the five clubs expected to fight for those coveted final four playoff spots.

The results were as follows:

4.

Washington

5.

Atlanta

6.

Indiana

7.

Miami

8.

Toronto

9.

Philadelphia

10.

Detroit

Surprisingly, based on Total Wins Produced, Atlanta doesn't have the best shot at the fourth position come playoff time, Washington does.  And Indiana, a club many figure to miss the playoffs entirely, finishes in sixth.  The Raptors end up grabbing the final playoff spot, slightly ahead of the 76ers.

And the Pistons, while placing 10th on this list, actually predict to finish behind even the Nets and Knicks based on their hideous WP score of under 30!

So what does this all mean?

Well, to some, maybe not much.  As previously mentioned, there are a good deal of variables not taken into account looking at this data, and therefore it's no sure thing that things will end up in this manner when the season draws to a close.

However I do think we can safely draw two conclusions from this analysis; the first being that the Raptors will end up being a playoff team, albeit not a very high-seeded one, and second being that the Atlantic Division will most likely end up being the worst division in the East, and maybe in all of the NBA.

Will Toronto only win 35 to 38 games?

I think 38, barring any major injuries to key players, is the magic number at one end of the spectrum, representing the lowest total of wins we can expect from this club while at the other end, I put the best case scenario at 45.  That 45 of course represents a giant improvement from Andrea Bargnani, and substantial impacts from players like Weems, DeRozan and perhaps even Amir Johnson and Marco Belinelli.

The other point that I think is important to highlight here then is the importance of divisional match-ups this year.  With the Atlantic looking like the home of some very poor basketball clubs, the Raptors need to take advantage of the fact that they'll see these other teams more than most other clubs, thus representing a good source of potential wins.

And fortunately the Dinos don't see an Atlantic Division rival until the end of November, and that's the 27th against the Celtics.

That should give the team plenty of time to gel before clubs like the Knicks and Nets come-a-calling... 

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