Stat Projections for the “30 Most Interesting NBA Players of 2018”
Season-Long Stats Forecast Series
Hello, NBA fans! If you’re searching for sweet basketball projections, then you’ve come to the right place. This is the landing page for our “30 Most Interesting NBA Players of 2018” series. For this project, I have selected one player (the “most interesting” one) from all 30 NBA teams. Choosing the “most interesting” player on a team is obviously subjective. My criteria for choosing were as follows:
- The majority of selections would come from young guns and players entering their prime. Their future is more mysterious and curious to track, in my opinion, than established veterans.
- However, I intentionally chose to follow some aging vets. Seeing how age affects a player’s stats is a fun and important measure to follow.
- Players must be projected as starters, or to receive starter-level minutes. Forecasting lesser-known players would simply be a “shot in the dark” exercise for me, so I’m focusing on more predictable roles.
Once chosen, I analyzed each player’s stats from prior seasons, ran them through an economic forecasting model, applied a bit of judgment, and produced 2017-18 ProjectedSTATS. The model technique I’m using is known as “Holt’s method”. It takes moving average, applies exponential smoothing, identifies the historical trend, and then projects future outputs from those calculations. Watch this brief YouTube video for a great introduction to Holts’ exponential smoothing method.
I will be tracking these stat projections throughout the season. As actual results come in, I will compare them to my forecasts and report the results. In addition, estimates will be updated to include monthly actuals as they occur.
**Note: More player write-ups will be posted in the next two days. All will be finished prior to the start of the 2017-18 NBA regular season.**
ProjectedSTATS Player Group (as of 10/15/2017):
ProjectedSTATS for 2017-18 NBA Season
|DAL||Dennis Smith Jr||2017-18||19||DAL||PG||16.90||4.00||7.20||1.25||0.35||0.53||0.25||17.25|
Player #30: Karl-Anthony Towns – MIN
- NBA GM’s were surveyed before the 2017-18 season about who the league’s best center was. Towns won the vote, despite only entering his third season. The T’Wolves big man posted one of the best 2nd seasons every by a big man – 25 PTS, 12 REB, 3 AST and 1 BLK per game on 62% TS. Oh, and toss in a smooth 25.9 PER for good measure. If the team remained mostly the same as prior year, KAT’s projections would simply reflect a rise in every category. After all, he ended last season averaging over 28 PTS and 13 REB per game during the final stretch run. However, I don’t see a per game scoring increase coming this season. With the additions of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, two talented players who want the ball in their hands, there will be less to go around with this offense. Andrew Wiggins is also a ball-dominant player, and the team traded away pass-first Ricky Rubio. So Karl is on a very talented team, but plays with teammates who all want the ball. Despite that, he should still average close to what he put up last year. Increased shooting percentages, efficiency and defensive box score numbers should be on the rise. If KAT plays up to his potential and stays healthy, he could challenge for 1st-Team All-NBA honors at the center spot.
Player #29: Devin Booker – PHO
Player #28: Kristaps Porzingis – NYK
Player #27: Myles Turner – IND
Player #26: Dennis Schroder – ATL
Player #25: James Harden – HOU
Player #24: Joel Embiid – PHI
Player #23: D’Angelo Russell – BKN
Player #22: Nikola Jokic – DEN
Player #21: Skal Labissiere – SAC
Player #20: Kawhi Leonard – SAS
- Last season, Kawhi made his mark as a dynamite scorer in one of the league’s most selfless systems. Rarely do players in coach Gregg Popovich’s system approach the league leaders in points per game, but Leonard did just that. He was given the keys to the offense and shot hyper-efficiently from all over the court. This should not have come as a surprise; Kawhi’s shot over 60% TS three times in his career! He continued his red-hot shooting into the NBA playoffs, where “The Claw” eviscerated the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets. Leonard’s playoff high was 43 points vs Memphis, and he scored 30+ points 4 times. He even took the Golden State Warriors to the brink in Game 1, before unfortunately being knocked out due to injury. He enters 2018 as perhaps the league favorite to win MVP, which would cap off his already impressive treasure chest. For a player only turning 26 years old, it’s remarkable that he’s already won a NBA championship, Finals MVP trophy and two Defensive Player of the Year awards. “The Claw” may very well end the season as the league’s top small forward.
Player #19: Damian Lillard – POR
- “Dame” is likely the NBA’s most underrated star. Unfortunately for Lillard, he plays the league’s most competitive and deep position – point guard. While fellow peers Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and John Wall steal the headlines, the sharpshooting Blazer keeps pouring in buckets. He scorched the nets in 2017 to the tune of 27.0 points per game. I’m projecting an even higher scoring output, both in points and in shooting percentages. As he enters his age 27 season, Damian should showcase improvement as he begins the prime years of his career. Portland will yet again challenge to make the playoffs. Due to the difficulty of Western Conference competition, Dame may be overshadowed in All-Star and All-NBA voting. That would be a shame, however, as he is one of the most electric and effective offensive players in the NBA.
Player #18: Dennis Smith, Jr. – DAL
- This rookie class of point guards has the potential to be the best in years. Dennis Smith, Jr. is likely the most overlooked prospect from a group that also includes De’Aaron Fox, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. However, he is the beneficiary of falling to the 9th overall pick and playing for the best franchise of the bunch. In Dallas, Smith will learn from one of the NBA’s best coaches in Rick Carlisle. With a clear path to the starting point guard position, Dennis has all the tools to take advantage and fight for Rookie of the Year honors. For his projection, I set my sights on two rookie point guards who Smith reminds me of – Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. One of those players did win ROTY, while the other finished on the All-Rookie 1st Team. Anything less than that would be a disappointment for Smith, Jr. Watch out for this kid!
Player #17: Blake Griffin – LAC
- Blake is yet again returning from a season-ending injury, but things are very different this year from before. His former starting point guard, Chris Paul, was dealt to Houston and brought back a large haul of veteran players and young talent. This leaves Griffin as the unquestioned “top dog” of the Clippers franchise. He will undoubtedly miss Paul’s crisp passes that set him up for scores in his favorite spots. That’s why I’ve projected Blake’s TS% to decrease this year. However, he should carry the bulk of LA’s offense on his shoulders. I expect this to both increase his shot attempts and assist opportunities. Griffin is a well-respected passing big man, having averaged 5.0 assists over the past three seasons. If “Point Guard Blake” gets a chance at handling the rock, expect to see career-high passing numbers from the skilled former top overall pick.
Player #16: Zach LaVine – CHI
- The Chicago Bulls were the most challenging team to select a “most interesting player” from. They don’t appear to have an electric rookie sensation in waiting, nor do they have a promising young stud just waiting to bloom. This roster is full of projects, but LaVine is the most promising of them. He quietly posted a smooth 18.6 points per game last year in Minnesota, showing signs of scoring potential. Unfortunately, his growth was cut short when he tore his ACL and ended his season prematurely. Due to the questions surrounding his return from this, forecasting Zach’s 2017-18 stats is a challenge. However, it’s one that I want to take on. I’m expecting a slow gradual return for him as he eases back onto the court. However, this team will be badly in need of his scoring and playmaking abilities. Heavy starter minutes will be available assuming he maintains health. Therefore, I’d expect his box score averages to steadily increase by season’s end.
Player #15: Kevin Durant – GSW
- Durant posted a ridiculous 2016-17 stat line, but it was his first season with the Warriors. After enduring so much pressure and scrutiny, he now has that ever elusive NBA title under his belt. Similarly to LeBron’s hyper-efficiency tear post-championship, expect KD to post GODLY numbers this season. Even beyond his offense, I expect his defensive impact to reach all-time high’s. It’s no longer a secret that he’s an all-around defensive jack knife. If he puts it all together, Durant could make the All-Defensive team & take home MVP honors. So yes… I have high hopes for his statistical output this season!
Player #14: Giannis Antetokounmpo – MIL
- Antetokounmpo’s scoring average has increased by +5.9 pts, +4.2 pts and +6.0 pts in his past three seasons. Don’t take that for granted! Let it sink in. A guy who can’t hit a three-pointer is scoring exponentially better with each passing season. I plugged Giannis into the Holts’ Exponential Forecasting model, and the output was a projected 28.1 points per game average! I decided to weather that down a bit, so it’ll be fun to analyze whether the model or I turns out correct throughout the season. Meanwhile, 1.8 steals and 2.2 blocks would put him into DPOY contention.
Player #13: DeMar DeRozan – TOR
- DeRozan turns 28 years old this season, meaning he is continuing to enter his prime. After last season’s scoring surge, when he posted a career-best 27.3 points per game, it’s not absurd to expect more. Teammate Kyle Lowry returns but is older, likely burdening a bit more of the scoring load to DeMar. I have projected his assists to slightly regress towards his career norm, simply because I don’t believe in his long-term potential as a playmaker. However, he could prove that wrong! You’ve also got to think one day he improves as a three-point shooter. I’m giving him some premature credit by boosting that true shooting mark up to a career-high 57%. I’m guessing this may be the “last ride” for this iteration of the Toronto Raptors. I expect DeMar to make the most of the opportunity.
Player #12: Marc Gasol – MEM
- Marc Gasol had a truly fascinating 2016-17 season. After never being a three-point threat, he went “modern” on the NBA and jacked up shots from deep! Gasol went from shooting 0.1 3PA per game to 3.6 3PA per game, in one year! He converted at a smooth 38.8% clip, excellent for big men. However, the prior season Marc regressed in scoring. So as he reaches age 33… which trend is more reliable? Does age catch up to him, or will his perimeter shooting prolong his offensive impact? I’m settling somewhere in-between. Yes, I do believe age results in decreased scoring and assists. However, his projected 18.5 points and 4.2 assists would still be his 2nd-highest career output. I’m interested to track a few aging players, so he will be fun to follow.
Player #11: Dion Waiters – MIA
- Dion may seem like an odd choice for a “most interesting player” candidate. But what’s not to like about “Waiters Island” and Mr. “Philly Cheese Swag”?! Let’s not forget that Dion is a former Top 5 NBA draft pick, who posted his scoring career-high back in his second season as a pro. There is potential here, and Miami may be the place where he untaps all of it. For Waiters, he bounced around in situations that harnessed him in purely supporting roles. Now, as a member of the Heat, he’s armed with a 4-year contract and some sudden stability. That’s exciting, as talented players often flourish when settled into the right situation. For this season, I’m only forecasting steady increases in efficiency and scoring. However, that would be welcome news for Waiters fans. Let’s see him plant some roots and tap into that potential!
Player #10: Russell Westbrook – OKC
- I am most interested in seeing Westbrook’s approach to this upcoming season. After carrying the team on his back and posting a historic triple-double… does he realize the new opportunity at stake? He no longer needs to prove his statistical dominance – he’s forever the new “Mr. Triple Double”. Rather, can he morph into the hyper-efficient ultra-frightening playmaker that he’s hinted at becoming? Armed with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Russ can now unleash his full point guard skillset. If he ends up posting that ridiculous (and likely too-high) 12.3 assists per game seen above, it’ll be one of the best marks in NBA history. Yet he can do it! I am rooting hard for career-best shooting efficiency, passing and defensive marks. It may take time for him to adjust, but the best version of Russell Westbrook may very well come out if he reigns in some bad tendencies and maximizes his positive traits. Look out, NBA!
Player #9: LeBron James – CLE
- LeBron appeared to slowly be losing MVP award chances… and then Kyrie Irving demands a trade. With his running mate having bolted to Boston, the door is now open for James to re-stake his claim as the league’s most valuable player. Cleveland has a few worthy challengers atop the East, which may bring the best out of “The King”. Also factoring in will be Isaiah Thomas’ likely extended absence, putting more offensive burden on Lebron’s shoulders. With buddy teammate Dwayne Wade bringing instant chemistry to the court, James could follow up on last year’s ridiculous 26-9-9 with an even better season. Get your popcorn ready for what should be quite a show!
Player #8: Rudy Gobert – UTA
- Gordon Hayward left, but that should not prevent Rudy Gobert from continuing to improve. His scoring has grown leaps and bounds year-over-year, and I project another 3+ PPG increase for 2017-18. With few reliable offensive options, Utah will likely feed Gobert more than ever before. Meanwhile, his blocks numbers could soar even beyond his forecasted 2.8 per game shown above. Note that I projected a lower true shooting percentage, yet a higher points per game. This sounds counter-intuitive, but Rudy actually led the NBA with that 68.1% TS mark. So I am merely guessing that it falls from that sky-high perch, yet still ends up among the league leaders.
Player #7: Dwight Howard – CHA
- I don’t expect Howard’s stat line to vary much from his time in Atlanta. However, age is catching up to him so it’d be an accomplishment just maintaining that level of play. I do expect him to fit in quite well with Charlotte. Their won’t be pressure for Dwight to “handle the offensive load”, but he can anchor the interior defense with his still-strong rebounding. Usage should fall, but efficiency hopefully climbs a few notches. He was one of the aging veterans who I found interesting, and thus have decided to track this year!
Player #6: Avery Bradley – DET
- Bradley moves from a team-oriented offense to… the Pistons. In my eyes, that means more scoring opportunities in a less efficient system. He should lead the backcourt in scoring, as Reggie Jackson has not impressed as of late. Also, I expect his defensive numbers to raise slightly due to increased minutes and a larger role as “team leader”. Yet you will see that I’ve forecasted a decrease in rebounds. That’s because last year’s 6.1 mark was a stark outlier in his career, where otherwise he’s averaged < 4 RPG.
Player #5: Kyrie Irving – BOS
- I expect Kyrie to post a similar statistical season to Isaiah Thomas’ 2016-17 campaign. Most important in this will be Kyrie’s likely increase in 3PA. He needs to be one of the league leaders in this category, as he is a fantastic and efficient shooter from deep. I’m not expecting to see a sizeable increase in assists per game, but he could very well prove me wrong.
Player #4: John Wall – WAS
- It may appear that I am not giving John enough credit, as his projected stats aren’t too different from last season. However, it’s more a reflection of the respect I have for his current level of play. Averaging 20+ points, 10+ assists, 4+ rebounds and 2+ steals is simply ridiculous. I do expect this season to be the best yet for Wall, as he finally entered the offseason healthy. He “took the leap” during last season’s playoffs. I just expect marginal improvement, but that’s a compliment given his already absurdly high level of play. Also, I’m factoring possible regression from his teammates. Otto Porter’s 3-point shooting skyrocketed from his career norm. Meanwhile, Bradley Beal stayed healthy for a change. If either of those developments regress more to the mean, then Wall’s assist numbers could dip while opposing defenses could focus more on stopping him.
Player #3: Anthony Davis – NOP
- I’m torn on Davis’ 2017-18 ProjectedSTATS approach. On one hand, DeMarcus Cousins’ presence should logically take away some scoring opportunities. At the same time, who do the Pelicans have that can score besides these two big men? They will need each to contribute, and I am a believer in their ability to thrive together on the court. Also, I am not forecasting a sizeable leap in blocks but would love to be surprised. If Davis can ever block shots like he did while at Kentucky, then NBA fans will be in for a treat.
Player #2: Lonzo Ball – LAL
- First of all, sorry about all of the “blank” cells on the bottom. Rookies do not have a prior season to compare with. However, that section will fill once the NBA season starts & I can compare Ball’s projected stats to his actual. I expect a nice all-around box score, as he should be able to score and pass with relative ease. Defending, however, is likely to be an area of initial struggle for Lonzo. Regardless, he will be extremely fun to track throughout the season!
Player #1: Aaron Gordon – ORL
- Aaron is truly a mixed-bag. He is so exciting as a prospect, yet has shown little improvement year-over-year in his all-around stats. Now, that’s definitely not true in regards to scoring. I expect him to continue bumping up that average quite significantly. It’s just the rest of his game that I am not too confident about. With Ibaka gone, perhaps Gordon can truly cement himself as the team’s #1 option.