Dwight Howard was back in his hometown Friday, thrilling a group of kids from the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Atlanta who had no idea the Orlando Magic star and Atlanta native was coming for lunch. But before he took questions, he had one request.
“Please, no questions about the Miami Heat,” he said. “I was just over in China for two weeks and that’s all I heard: ‘What do you think about LeBron?’”
Nonetheless, Howard granted this corner of the blogosphere a few minutes to discuss a few items of interest to Atlanta fans: The Heat, the Hawks and Shaquille O’Neal. [...]
On fans conceding the Eastern Conference to the Heat, following the free agent signings of James and Chris Bosh and the re-signing of Dwyane Wade: “We don’t think about it like that. They’ve still got to play games. It looks good on paper. It looks good playing a video game. But this is real life. We’re looking forward to playing them. They’re going to be a real good team but that doesn’t mean they’re going to win a championship.”
A little late with this one.
The purpose of this post isn’t to provide commentary on Dwight Howard’s comments, but instead expand upon his thoughts on the Miami Heat and their potential as a team next season. The games won’t start until late October, when the 2010-2011 NBA regular season gets underway, but that hasn’t stopped a number of statisticians from crunching the numbers and coming up with various projections for how the Heat may fare. Despite the inherent differences in the systems, adjusted plus/minus, statistical plus/minus, PER, and WARP come to similar conclusions.
Miami is going to be good.
– Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference, using statistical plus/minus:
Like Hollinger, we’ll be conservative with the expected values next season… Let’s give LeBron a +11 (which would be his lowest since 2006-07), Wade a +8 (basically what he did in 2006), and Bosh +3 (a little less than his mark from 2009). Also, we’ll use -3 as our replacement-player value, so we’ve got 3,100 minutes of James at +11, 2,850 minutes of Wade at +8, 2,600 minutes of Bosh at +3, and 11,130 minutes of -3 replacement-level ballers. How many games would that team win?
Doing the math, that allocation of minutes works out to a projected +7.95 efficiency differential. Wanna know which team had at least a +7.95 differential last season? Only one: the Orlando Magic, who were +8.12. Traditionally, a +7.95 differential buys you 61 wins, which is actually exactly what Hollinger came up with. So in the absolute worst case, the Heat win 61 games next season with their Big Three, and are the best team in the East, if not the league. And what if they merely play at last year’s levels?
Expect a +10.6 differential, which equals 68 wins.
… and adjusted plus/minus:
APM paints an even rosier picture for the “Holy Trinity” (or whatever we’re going to call them)… Last year, James had a +18.52 rating, 2nd only to Dwight Howard, and Wade was 4th with +16.09, while Bosh had “only” a +6.97 rating. Mark them down for even +10, +6, and +5, respectively (their 5-year low-water marks when healthy), and with Hollinger’s expected minutes this team would have a +7.0 differential, good for 59 wins. And remember, that’s if they are as bad as they’ve been in 5 years, surrounded by nothing by the cream of the NBDL’s crop.
If they play like they did last year, the Heat’s differential would be a monstrous, Redeem Team-esque +21.2, which I can’t even give a wins estimate for because it breaks the linear equation that relates efficiency differential to winning % (it would have them winning more than 100% of their games). No team has ever had that kind of performance in the history if the NBA, meaning there is a pretty decent chance they’d obliterate the ’96 Bulls’ record for most wins in a season.
– John Hollinger of ESPN Insider, using PER:
My projection tool had James at a PER of 29.12, Wade at 26.31 and Bosh at 23.88 if each had stayed put.
The Heat will be good, but good enough to challenge the record 72 wins set by MJ’s Bulls in 1995-96? Throwing in the skill-curve adjustment from above, we end up with James at 28.97, Wade at 25.60 and Bosh at 22.93. As noted above, my back-of-the-envelope estimate from three weeks ago had James at 29, Wade at 26 and Bosh at 23. Score one for the envelope.
Now there’s still the matter of plugging in the rest of the roster. I ran all of them through my projection system and estimated minutes for the rest of the crew — 2,000 each for Miller and Haslem, with Chalmers and Arroyo splitting the point duties and about 500 minutes left over for a “no-point” offense, and spot duty for the others. After two other slight adjustments — putting my finger on the scale to improve what I felt was an unusually pessimistic projection for Miller, and replacing Jones (who rated far south of replacement level) with a randomly selected civilian, the answer it spat out was …
– Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, using WARP:
When a group of superstars unite like Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will in Miami after James’ announcement Thursday that he will sign with the Heat as a free agent, the retort is always that there is only one ball to go around. From a statistical perspective, that’s not quite the issue. Instead, it’s a matter of divvying up plays. [...]
All of that makes projecting a record for the Heat a little trickier than adding up the team’s WARP totals from last season. Doing so, however, is a scary proposition. James and Wade combined for 45.4 Wins Above Replacement last season, while Bosh added 12.4 more and Anthony, Chalmers and Miller (whose pass-happy ways will be welcomed in Miami) combined for 6.0 WARP. That’s a total of 63.8, and adding the 10 wins we grant for replacement level suggests the Heat flirting with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the best record of all time.
Again, I think that estimate is very optimistic. At the same time, Miami has the chance to potentially lure players who can contribute positive WARP despite having only replacement-level salaries to offer. 60-plus wins seems to be the statistical consensus for what the Heat might achieve. John Hollinger estimated 61 wins, Paine’s various estimates had a floor of 61 and Haralobos Voulgaris comes up with 64 wins. That’s despite the fact that all those projections filled out the roster with nothing but replacement players, not giving Miami the benefit of Chalmers or Miller.
For Paine and Pelton (Voulgaris, too, for that matter), their projections came in early July — before the Heat filled out their roster. Who knows what their numbers would look like right now. Still, the point remains. The Heat are going to be real good, actually.
Underestimate the SuperFriends at your own peril.