ESPN Forecasts predicts Clippers finish 4th in West


The no.1 sign the NBA season is slowly approaching? ESPN has begun their annual forecasts, predictions, and listicles for the 2015-16 season.

Starting off slow — the big bang is the player ranking — they’ve jumped into predicting where each team will finish in their respective conference.

Beginning with the Eastern Conference, ESPN predicted all eight teams all but the Brooklyn Nets would return to the playoffs, with the Miami Heat — assuming health plays in their favor — joining the fray — Cleveland leads the bunch, followed by Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Boston, with Indiana, Detroit, and Charlotte on the playoff cusp.

In the Western Conference, ESPN has predicted similar — seven teams returning, with the Oklahoma City Thunder – also assuming health is on their side — replacing a Portland Trail Blazers team whose off-season consisted of losing four of their five starters (Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, Lopez).

Going into site-relevant specifics, the Clippers are projected to finish fourth in the Western Conference, tied with the Houston Rockets with a record of 56-26, the same as last season’s finish.

After an off-season that included signing Paul Pierce and Josh Smith, and trading for Lance Stephenson, finishing with the same number of wins barring a key player being injury will be seen by a large group as underperforming, though what this team does in the playoffs will be a better indicator of how the season played out than any regular season finish. But this team is better, even if barely, bringing on pieces to improve how they score points (Pierce, Stephenson) and how they defend (Smith, Stephenson). The big question now is how Doc Rivers can piece it all together. Having done similar in the past with Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen in 2007 with Boston’s ‘Big 3’ first got together, there’s reason to believe he can do it all again; and if he can, 60 wins could be in reach unless the Western Conference as a whole shows to be better than expected.

And while predictably expecting the best, this particular cast of characters leaves extra room for insight on the worst occurring. Hard to predict, it makes sense if you think an older Paul Pierce, inconsistent Josh Smith, and whatever Lance Stephenson is post-Charlotte could turn disastrous for the Clippers as they sacrificed comfort in Matt Barnes‘ placement on the team with three players whose ceilings and floors can be as precious as disastrous. As stated previously on this site, the risk is one the Clippers needed to make. At their cost, the off-season trio of Stephenson, Pierce, and Smith are worth it — if Stephenson plays poorly, you opt out of his deal this summer to create space for a replacement; Smith’s price is so cheap, him outplaying his contract, and no commitment past this season is on the table via lengthy years a la Spencer Hawes; with Pierce, a $3 million deal will be a teeny, tiny percentage of the growing cap so they’ll be able to survive the chance Father Time decides Pierce’s days as a rotation player in the NBA is over.

In regards to the entire Western Conference standings predictions, I find the Oklahoma City Thunder’s placement at 5th, behind the Clippers and Houston Rockets, interesting. Depending on who you speak to, the Thunder are “better than they’ve ever been” or “the worst version of themselves since becoming championship contenders.” I stand somewhere in between, as I’m not a fan of Enes Kanter — especially at the money he’s paid — and have doubts of Kyle Singler; but the best case scenario is championship and with their top-3 players, if you believe 5th is too low I’d understand.  Dallas being above Utah is a placement I’d be hesitant to make, even if Dante Exum misses the entire season — I’ve my reservations about the Mavericks, which has to do with, you guessed it, player health and how Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons return after serious injury last year.

All-in-all, I wouldn’t present much of an argument for the forecast, as most of what’ll transpire from October to April will be random.

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