October 15, 2019 - by David Hess
James Harden and the Rockets are in their best position to win a title entering the 2019-20 season (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
The NBA season is fast-approaching, which means it’s time for our annual post outlining preseason ratings.
Below you’ll find our 2019-20 NBA preseason rankings, along with information on how we rank and project teams. (For more information, including conference- and division-based projected final standings, you can also see our 2019-20 NBA preseason projections post.)
Editors Note: You can sign up for algorithmic NBA picks and predictions (game winner, point spread, over/under, and money line) for all 2019-20 games on our signup page.
The table below shows our 2019-20 preseason ranking of all 30 NBA teams, along with each team’s associated preseason predictive rating (e.g. 5.9 for Houston).
The team ratings are expressed as points better (positive rating) or worse (negative rating) than a “perfectly average” NBA team, when playing on a neutral court.
The 4th and 5th columns show each team’s final predictive rating from the 2018-19 season, and the expected change in their rating from last season to this season. Positive “Change” values mean a team is expected to improve; negative values mean they are expect to decline.
The final two columns show info about the win total projections of the component systems that we blended in order to create our ratings. We’ll explain how that works in more detail below.
|Rank||Team||2019-20 Rating||Last Year Rating||Change||Consensus Win Range||Weighted Avg Wins|
|1||Houston Rockets||5.9||5.2||+0.7||53.0 - 57.0||55.4|
|2||Milwaukee Bucks||5.0||7.4||-2.4||52.9 - 57.5||54.8|
|3||Utah Jazz||4.8||4.6||+0.2||50.0 - 57.0||52.5|
|4||Denver Nuggets||4.8||3.8||+1.0||47.8 - 55.0||52.5|
|5||Los Angeles Clippers||4.7||0.6||+4.1||47.8 - 54.5||52.1|
|6||Philadelphia 76ers||4.1||2.8||+1.3||48.3 - 54.5||52.6|
|7||Golden State Warriors||3.3||6.5||-3.2||44.2 - 56.0||48.5|
|8||Los Angeles Lakers||3.1||-0.9||+4.0||43.1 - 51.5||48.5|
|9||Boston Celtics||2.6||3.8||-1.2||44.0 - 56.0||48.6|
|10||Toronto Raptors||1.8||6.0||-4.2||45.0 - 48.5||46.5|
|11||Portland Trailblazers||1.4||3.6||-2.2||40.0 - 46.5||43.5|
|12||San Antonio Spurs||1.1||1.7||-0.6||39.0 - 46.5||42.9|
|13||Indiana Pacers||0.9||2.1||-1.2||42.0 - 46.5||44.1|
|14||Miami Heat||0.5||-0.5||+1.0||41.6 - 46.0||43.5|
|15||New Orleans Pelicans||0.3||-0.8||+1.1||39.0 - 46.9||40.3|
|16||Dallas Mavericks||0.3||-1.2||+1.5||37.4 - 46.0||40.8|
|17||Orlando Magic||0.0||-0.6||+0.6||41.0 - 43.4||42.1|
|18||Oklahoma City Thunder||-0.3||3.0||-3.3||31.5 - 47.0||39.0|
|19||Brooklyn Nets||-0.7||-1.1||+0.4||35.0 - 43.5||40.2|
|20||Minnesota Timberwolves||-0.8||-0.8||+0.0||35.1 - 43.0||37.6|
|21||Sacramento Kings||-1.3||-1.3||+0.0||33.5 - 40.0||36.6|
|22||Detroit Pistons||-1.9||-1.1||-0.8||36.0 - 38.7||37.3|
|23||Chicago Bulls||-2.8||-7.3||+4.5||32.5 - 37.0||34.7|
|24||Phoenix Suns||-3.0||-7.7||+4.7||28.5 - 36.0||31.8|
|25||Memphis Grizzlies||-3.7||-2.0||-1.7||27.0 - 38.3||30.1|
|26||Atlanta Hawks||-4.3||-5.8||+1.5||27.5 - 34.0||30.8|
|27||Washington Wizards||-5.3||-2.5||-2.8||25.6 - 32.9||28.3|
|28||Charlotte Hornets||-6.6||-1.2||-5.4||22.7 - 32.7||25.6|
|29||New York Knicks||-6.7||-8.2||+1.5||20.0 - 29.0||25.1|
|30||Cleveland Cavaliers||-7.1||-8.2||+1.1||21.9 - 26.0||23.9|
For our NFL and college football ratings, we’ve done historical research to identify and properly value team-level stats that are highly correlated with success in an upcoming season. We then create models using those stats, and blend our model output with betting market info to create our final preseason ratings.
Once upon a time, we took that same approach with our NBA preseason ratings. However, we found that our projections using that approach were less accurate than the market, and less accurate than other, more advanced systems with publicly available projections.
We suspect that the main reasons for this are:
Both of these factors make constructing NBA team-level models relatively less fruitful then player-level models.
So rather than stick with our old team-level model, we now create our NBA preseason ratings by blending several player-level models from other sources with team win total projections from the betting market. Click here for a more detailed explanation in our post discussing how we make the ratings.
Here are some observations and notes from our preseason ratings.
We’ve been creating preseason rankings and projections since the 2011-2012 seasons, making this the 9th year. Our No. 1 team this season is the Houston Rockets, with a rating of 5.9. That’s our lowest-rated preseason No. 1 since the 2012-2013 season, when we had the Miami Heat at No. 1 with a rating of 4.9.
Second place is the Milwaukee Bucks at 5.0, putting them 0.9 points behind the Rockets. The last time our projected No. 1 was less than one full point ahead of No. 2 was the 2014-2015 season, when we had San Antonio No. 1 at 6.3, and Cleveland No. 2 at 6.0.
The upshot here is that this season is one of the most wide-open NBA seasons in years. With the Warriors losing Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson (for most of the season, at least), they are no longer head and shoulders above the crowd. There are at least a half dozen teams, maybe more, that could win the title with nobody batting an eye.
The Clippers and Lakers are currently the two betting market favorites to win the NBA title, yet we have them ranked No. 5 and No. 8 respectively. What gives?
Well, first of all, the Clippers are rated only 0.3 points behind No. 2 Milwaukee, so we aren’t as down on them as you might think from a quick glance at the rankings. But they’re still 1.2 points behind Houston, and the Lakers are even further back.
There are a couple reasons for this.
First, the non-market projections systems we incorporate into our preseason ratings are simply down on both LA teams relative to the market. If we were to create a “narrative” here about why that might be the case, we’d suggest that the huge star power moving to a city that loves stars could be driving some more big money bets toward the LA teams than is really justified by their rosters.
Second, our ratings are focused on and driven by the season win totals projections. However, in the NBA, there can be large differences between how teams perform in the regular season versus in the playoffs. “Playoff LeBron” is a real thing, in other words. And Kawhi “Load Management” Leonard is almost certainly going to miss some regular season games for rest purposes, which isn’t the case during the playoffs.
As a result, both the Clippers and Lakers have relatively more optimistic champion futures odds than regular season win totals. For example, the Rockets are favored by the market to go over 53.5 wins in the regular season, while the Lakers are favored to go under 51.5 … yet the Lakers have better title odds than the Rockets. Our projections don’t handle this discrepancy well, and for the time being we have decided to focus more on accurate season win total projections than on accurate championship odds.
You might notice that Dallas and New Orleans are in a virtual tie for projected rating. Both also play in the same division (Southwest). Yet, Dallas has a higher win projection total, by 0.5 wins. That is explained by their schedules. They both play the teams in their division four times, and all teams from the Eastern Conference twice. But the scheduling format means that they play some teams from the other two divisions in the West three times, and others four times.
Dallas only has to play Utah (No. 3), the Clippers (No. 5), Golden State (No. 7), and Oklahoma City (No. 18) three times each. New Orleans plays each of those teams four times, while they only get three games against Denver (No. 4), Minnesota (No. 20), Sacramento (No. 21), and Phoenix (No. 24). So basically, New Orleans has two extra games against teams we project as playoff contenders in the West. With both of these young, talented teams being on the cusp of playoff contention in the West, that’s something to keep in mind.
While it’s not a true apples-to-apples situation, we can compare to “Vegas rankings” implied by recent NBA championship futures odds to our NBA preseason rankings. We seem most optimistic on the Jazz (No. 3 TR, No. 7 Vegas), Nuggets (No. 4 TR, No. 8 Vegas), Thunder (No. 18 TR, No. 24 Vegas), and Suns (No. 24 TR, No. 29 Vegas).
On the flip side, compared to “Vegas” our preseason rankings seem most pessimistic on the Clippers (No. 5 TR, No. 1 Vegas), Lakers (No. 8 TR, No. 2 Vegas), Nets (No. 19 TR, No. 9 Vegas), and Hawks (No. 26 TR, No. 21 Vegas).
Before you make a comment about where we’ve ranked your favorite team and call us a bunch of no good bleepety-bleeps, please keep a couple things in mind:
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