Statistical projections can’t account for chaos.
A Phoenix Suns franchise up for sale after an investigation of its owner — and a team with one of its best players and head coach not talking to each other — certainly enters training camp with red flags about how successful it can be in 2022-23.
But the analytical models don’t see all that drama. ESPN’s, pieced together by Kevin Pelton, only sees that the Suns have put together three very successful seasons under head coach Monty Williams, culminating with a 64-win regular season last year.
Phoenix also returns much of the same squad as the past two years.
So Pelton’s model — based on a combination of his SCHOENE player projections and a luck-adjusted Regularized Adjusted Four Factors — sees an average of 49.0 wins for the team. That’s best in the Western Conference.
No statistical projection can factor in the possible mental toll of Phoenix’s lopsided Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks last season nor whatever is going on between newly signed center Deandre Ayton and the organization. Still, the Suns have enough talent and a big enough cushion from last season’s 64 wins to project atop the West. Note their predicted rotation does not include Jae Crowder, as the team and the veteran forward agreed he would stay home from training camp while awaiting a possible trade.
It should be noted that Pelton’s model considers the past three years, where many of the same Suns players have produced and remained relatively healthy.
Other favorites in the West, for example, get dinged. The reigning champion Golden State Warriors project at 41.9 wins, eighth in the conference, because of their rebuilding situation that led into the 2021-22 success.
The revamped Los Angeles Clippers similarly come in sixth, and the absence last year of star Kawhi Leonard and his injury history paired with that of co-star Paul George are accounted for in Pelton’s model as well.
The projections, though, like the Denver Nuggets, whose 47.9 average wins in the model are second-best in the Western Conference. The New Orleans Pelicans follow closely at 47.6 average wins.
Out in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics (53.9) and Milwaukee Bucks (49.5) lead the NBA in projected average wins in Pelton’s model.