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Debating the NBA’s most overrated and underrated teams

The 2019-20 NBA summer forecast debuted Wednesday with our experts’ predictions for the standings in each conference and records for all 30 teams.

Which teams are most underrated and overrated in the forecast? What were the most surprising results?

After an offseason full of player movement, the Milwaukee Bucks (57 wins) and Philadelphia 76ers (55 wins) led the way in these projections. Get the full projections here, with more picks coming over the course of the next week.

Five of our NBA experts break down the results.


1. What is your biggest takeaway from the results?

Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight: That the outlook for each conference has seemingly reversed in the past few months. It had felt as if Golden State and Houston were the only two clubs that had a solid chance of reaching the NBA Finals for a while in the West, whereas the East had four or so contenders to reach that stage. Now the East has a pair of teams that look much further along than the others, while the West has at least six teams that can all credibly say they have a decent chance of reaching the Finals.

Jorge Sedano, ESPN: We haven’t really seen multiple teams truly be championship worthy out of the East since LeBron, Wade and Bosh had their battles versus Chicago, Boston and Indiana. Since they don’t have to go through the gauntlet out West, Milwaukee and Philadelphia clearly qualify as teams that can win the title this season.

Bobby Marks, ESPN: It’s interesting how much Milwaukee and Philly have benefited from Kawhi Leonard‘s move. And on the other side, the West has 14 teams (sorry, Phoenix) that can compete for a playoff spot.

Marc Spears, The Undefeated: Boy, the East isn’t respected much — there are only three East teams in the top 10 here.

Kevin Pelton, ESPN: That people are accounting for the gap between the East and West. I don’t think people would say the two best teams in the league are in the East, but the top two projections come from there. That’s partially because of the difference between regular-season and playoff performance, but also seems to reflect the way the West will beat up on itself.


2. Which East team is most underrated?

Marks: Brooklyn (45 wins, No. 5 in the East). Yes, Kevin Durant will probably be out, but Brooklyn did add All-Star Kyrie Irving, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler to a team that returns many of the same faces from that 42-win team: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs and Jarrett Allen. Expect Brooklyn to be closer to 50 wins this season and compete for a top-four seed in the East.

Pelton: Chicago (32 wins, No. 11). Statistical projections are largely unanimous that the Bulls should be near .500 this season after adding a number of quality role players (including Otto Porter Jr. at the 2019 trade deadline) to go with the young core that struggled to win games last season.

Sedano: Miami (43 wins, No. 7). You give Erik Spoelstra a top-15 player in Jimmy Butler and the Heat are going to win a lot of games. The last time he had a player of that caliber on a non-LeBron team, Miami won 48 games (2015-16). People don’t realize how poorly constructed Miami’s roster has been the past two seasons. I’m betting big on Spo.

Spears: After they added Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren, I’ll take the Indiana Pacers (46 wins, No. 4).

Herring: I wasn’t in love with some of the Hawks’ summer moves (the Jabari Parker signing doesn’t strike me as a great fit), but I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a slightly bigger jump than what’s projected here (34 wins, No. 10). We all know about Trae Young, but if other youngsters like John Collins and Kevin Huerter show linear growth — and the team can actually learn to make stops — I think Atlanta could get closer to the high 30s. After a 21-41 start, the Hawks came to life and played nearly .500 basketball in March. They seem another year or two away from doing real damage, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they give chase for that last spot in the East.

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3. Which West team is most underrated?

Herring: Oklahoma City (33 wins, No. 13 in the West) is the most underrated team by far on this list. I’m not even sure it’s debatable whether the Thunder would be a playoff team if they played in the East. (We wrote at FiveThirtyEight that they barely fall outside playoff range in the stronger West.) The real question here is when and whether Sam Presti will find a way to deal off the team’s remaining veteran assets, who could surely help other clubs while further enriching OKC’s rebuild. If that happens, it’s fair to think little of the Thunder’s chances. But I feel the current roster — with a healthy Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — is pretty decent, and would pretty easily win more games than projected.

Spears: The San Antonio Spurs as a borderline playoff team at 43 wins and No. 8 in the West.

Marks: Sacramento (37 wins, No. 12). The team that won 39 games a season ago is penalized by a deep Western Conference. The Kings bolstered their depth with the free-agent signings of Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon, return their starting five and are still projected to drop two games in the win column for 2019-20. If the Kings can get an All-Star-type season from De’Aaron Fox, the same consistency from Buddy Hield and continued development by Marvin Bagley III, they should win 45-46 games and compete for one of the final playoff spots this season.

Pelton: Dallas (41 wins, No. 9). The Mavericks underperformed their point differential last season, which typically would have translated into 38 wins instead of the 33 games they actually won. If Dallas was starting at 38 wins, the addition of Kristaps Porzingis and improved depth would surely translate into expectations higher than 41 wins.

Sedano: Sacramento. I thought hard about OKC at 33 wins but decided on the Kings. While I don’t expect them to make the playoffs, I do believe they’ll improve upon last season’s win total, even after a big jump last season. Fox is arguably the best young point guard in the NBA, and new coach Luke Walton wants the Kings to play a fast-paced style that fits their personnel perfectly.


4. Which East team is most overrated?

Sedano: Brooklyn. Let me start by saying that I love the Nets’ front office and coach. Obviously, the Durant signing was incredible for their franchise. However, he’s not playing this season and they’re no longer surprising anyone. Irving has an injury history that is concerning and I (like many others) wonder about him being the top option on a team. Also, I don’t love the potential fit of DeAndre Jordan playing over Jarrett Allen.

Pelton: Philadelphia (55 wins, No. 2 in the East). I’d be surprised if the Sixers had the second-best record in the NBA given Joel Embiid‘s limited availability. Yes, Philly added Al Horford and will now have an All-Star center when Embiid sits. But somebody’s going to have to play power forward when Horford slides to the 5, and I think those options are a substantial downgrade.

Spears: None of East teams look overrated here.

Herring: It seems ambitious to expect Boston (48 wins, No. 3) to win at basically the same rate as last year. We can certainly debate the switch from Kyrie to Kemba Walker (especially if there was a growing rift between Irving and his teammates last season), but losing Horford’s perimeter shooting and defensive versatility, even at his age, will be challenging. The latter is something Enes Kanter will be tested on repeatedly come April. Aside from the new players, though, it’s also fair to wonder whether one of last season’s issues — the glut of talented wings who all need shots playing alongside a high-usage point guard — will be any less a problem this season.

Marks: Washington (28 wins, No. 12). That starts with the Wizards making it well known that the development of Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant will take precedence this season. Yes, Washington returns All-Star Bradley Beal, but the season-long absence of John Wall, replaced by committee (Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas), could bring the win total of the Wizards down into the teens.


5. Which West team is most overrated?

Marks: Golden State (49 wins, No. 6 in the West). The Warriors would not be in this category with a healthy Klay Thompson in the lineup to start the season. But 49 wins sounds like a reach for a team that has lost Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston as well as Thompson for at least half the season. I am not convinced the rest of the roster after Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell can play at a playoff level before Thompson returns. The bench is largely made up of unproven players, including Jacob Evans, Jordan Poole, Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Alen Smailagic.

Herring: Add me to the list of folks who see a ton of upside for the Mavs going forward. I liked both the Delon Wright and Seth Curry signings quite a bit. But marking Dallas down for more than 40 wins in the stronger of the two conferences strikes me as a small reach, if only because of how long it may take Porzingis to regain a rhythm after sitting out a season to rehab following his ACL tear.

Sedano: I don’t think any of the West teams are overrated. Maybe Portland wins fewer than 47 — I don’t love the Hassan Whiteside fit. But Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are so terrific — not to mention how good a coach Terry Stotts is — that I think they can overcome any pitfalls.

Spears: The Houston Rockets at 53 wins, behind just four other teams in the league.

Pelton: Speaking strictly in the context of the regular season, the Clippers (54 wins, No. 2). Statistical projections generally have them in the high 40s or low 50s, which makes sense given a likely load management program for Kawhi Leonard and the possibility that Paul George misses the start of the regular season after shoulder surgery. The Clippers probably won’t be at their best until May, which is when they’d want to peak.

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