NBA preview content is starting to generate as we inch closer to a new season. ESPN has jumped out to an early with simulations of how each team will fare over the upcoming season. The Cavaliers, not surprisingly, have been projected to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Several teams around the East have improved, but it’s not clear anyone has done enough to really challenge Cleveland.
Even so, ESPN’s projections aren’t incredibly kind to the Cavs. They are based off their own advanced statistic, RPM.
RPM was developed by Jeremias Engelmann and Steve Ilardi to estimate a player's on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors. When used along with playing time projections, it's proved to be a very accurate predictive tool overall.
I generally like RPM when it tells me players I like are good, and hate it when it tells me players I like are bad. Even taking into account the description above, I never quite get enough of the detail I’d really like to understand how the metric is formulated. I’m not sure the samples of individual lineup combinations are ever really big enough to overcome whatever adjustments they make with counting stats or the like.
The article is quick to point out that the RPM adjustments foresaw the success of the Portland Trail Blazers a year ago. It also led to somewhere between 11 and 376 think pieces about whether or not the Cavs could win a title with Kyrie Irving, and whether or not Kyrie Irving was in fact a bad basketball player. Spoiler: they can, and he’s not.
That being said, no one would argue that Kyrie Irving was transcendent a year ago in the regular season, and it makes sense that RPM wouldn’t take kindly to his season rebounding from knee surgery. As such, the loss of Matthew Dellavedova, and the presence of Kyrie Irving brings down the Cavs projection. ESPN says the Cavs should win about 52 games. That’s two more than the Boston Celtics, projected to win about 50.
The Delly wars may finally see some resolution this year. With a title in the Cavs’ back pocket, I’m here for it.