With the flurry of free agency calming down, we've set out to predict the 2015-16 NBA standings using Win Shares as our guide. 

By Will Laws
July 16, 2015

Outside of J.R. Smith, nearly every notable NBA free agent has found a new place to call home for the 2015-16 season. So with the majority of NBA contracts for the upcoming year signed, sealed and delivered, let’s try to predict how the standings will shake out.

This exercise will be guided by Win Shares, a statistic that aims to quantify how many wins each player contributes to his team in a given season. A team’s collective Win Shares doesn’t always exactly add up to its actual win total, but it’s usually quite close—since the 1962-63 season, the average margin of error is 2.74 wins.

In this case, what I’ve done is relatively simple: for every player who changed teams at some point during the 2014-15 season or during this off-season, I’ve transferred the amount of Win Shares each player earned last season to their current team.

Of course, a player’s 2014-15 Win Shares is somewhat reliant upon the quality of the teams he played for. And from season to season, the statistic can be affected by a number of factors—how a player fits into their team's offensive and defensive systems, any change in minutes per game, young players getting better and old players getting worse, etc.

But if you’re going to use one individual statistic to measure team wins, it’s clearly the best metric available. And it’s not as if other statistics aren’t influenced by a team’s favorable (or unfavorable) environment. Any given guard is almost certainly going to have better shooting, passing and defensive numbers on a team like San Antonio than he is with the Sixers.

A few housekeeping items before we get down to business:

To project how many Win Shares each first-round pick will produce next season, I calculated the mean amount that rookies from around their draft slot have accounted for over the last five years.

I also projected how superstars returning from injuries (Kevin Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony) could affect the playoff race by extrapolating their Win Shares in the limited time they played last year to a “healthy” season.

Without further ado, here are the projected 2015-16 standings:

East Projected win shares WEST PROJECTED WIN SHARES
1. Toronto Raptors 52.9 1. Golden State Warriors 63.0
2. Cleveland Cavaliers 51.4 2. Los Angeles Clippers 61.9
3. Chicago Bulls 51.2 3. Oklahoma City Thunder 60.0
4. Atlanta Hawks 50.8 4. San Antonio Spurs 57.5
5. Boston Celtics 47.4 5. Memphis Grizzlies 56.6
6. Washington Wizards 44.3 6. Houston Rockets 53.2
7. Charlotte Hornets 41.6 7. New Orleans Pelicans 45.7
8. Miami Heat 41.4 8. Phoenix Suns 41.3
9. Milwaukee Bucks 40.0 9. Dallas Mavericks 41.2
10. Detroit Pistons 39.9 10. Utah Jazz 41.2
11. Indiana Pacers 39.0 11. Portland Trail Blazers 38.6
12. Orlando Magic 31.6 12. Sacramento Kings 33.5
13. Brooklyn Nets 29.7 13. Los Angeles Lakers 29.9
14. New York Knicks 28.0 14. Denver Nuggets 29.6
15. Philadelphia 76ers 23.2 15. Minnesota Timberwolves 23.5

Now, with the help of some PointAfter visualizations, let’s look at some of the teams who are expected to see the biggest swings in Win Shares in 2015-16.

• MORE NBA: Free agent tracker | Grading every deal Top FAs still available

Moving up

Charlotte Hornets
2014-15 record (win whares): 33-49 (34.1)
Key players gained: Nic Batum (5.2 win shares), Jeremy Lin (2.7), Jeremy Lamb (1.6), Frank Kaminsky (1.4)
Key players lost: Gerald Henderson (3.6), Noah Vonleh (0.5), Lance Stephenson (-0.9)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 41.6 (42-40)

Hornets GM Rich Cho has made a bunch of savvy, under-the-radar moves this offseason that has Charlotte poised to jump back into the playoffs after a one-year absence. So it was too fitting that he signed Lin to a two-year, $4 million contract right smack in the middle of all the DeAndre Jordan hubbub.

Lin will never be the superstar we all wishfully pegged him for back in February 2012, but he’s a heck of a lot better than the backup point guards Charlotte fielded last season. Swapping Henderson for Batum was a classic buy-low move that could pay huge dividends. And if Kaminsky provides the spacing that the Hornets sorely need while Steve Clifford coaches him up on defense, Kemba Walker could be poised to lead this franchise on a run of May Madness.

Note: You can hover over any shooting zone to see the team’s leading shooters from each area

Oklahoma City Thunder
2014-15 record (win shares): 45-37 (47.2)
Key players gained: Full seasons of Kevin Durant (+9.6), Enes Kanter (+2.7), D.J. Augustin (+2.5) and Kyle Singler (+1.6)
Key players lost: Reggie Jackson (2.9), Jeremy Lamb (1.6)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 60.0 (60-22)

Sure, there are valid concerns about the Thunder’s defense. But the bottom line here is that if this team finally has some injury luck and Durant can return to form, Oklahoma City will be right in the middle of the battle for the No. 1 overall seed in the West.

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Durant played 27 games last season and produced 4.8 win shares. If he can manage to play 81 games as he did during the two seasons prior, we project KD to add 9.6 more wins to OKC’s ledger for a total of 14.4 win shares. And that could prove to be conservative—the Durantula averaged more than 19 win shares during his last two healthy campaigns.

Boston Celtics
2014-15 record (win shares): 40-42 (41.0)
Key players gained: Amir Johnson (5.1), David Lee (3.2), full seasons of Isaiah Thomas (+4.0) and Jonas Jerebko (+1.9)
Key players lost: Brandon Bass (5.3), Jeff Green (2.0)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 47.4 (47-35)

The rebuilding job at the Garden continues to zoom along without a hitch. The Celtics will be a ton of fun to watch in 2015-16, and should expect to improve on their playoff seeding from last season.

Acquiring Lee gives Boston some much-needed scoring down low, as well as a respected, team-first veteran with championship experience. And it’s somewhat of a miracle that Danny Ainge was able to convince Johnson to sign for two years and $16 million after the power forward had earned himself a more ludicrous deal in Toronto.

Toronto Raptors
2014-15 record (win shares): 49-33 (50.6)
Key players gained: DeMarre Carroll (7.0), Luis Scola (4.4), Cory Joseph (4.5)
Key players lost: Amir Johnson (5.1), Lou Williams (6.6), Greivis Vasquez (2.8)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 52.9 (53-29)

After the Raptors were unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by the Wizards, people around the league questioned whether GM Masai Ujiri would blow up the team during the off-season.

Instead, he made a series of shrewd moves, making Carroll an offer he couldn’t refuse while reconfiguring the team’s bench. Toronto has not yet won 50 games in a season, but that is now a reasonable expectation for the team to have going into the season.

One factor that could derail the Raptors? Injuries. Toronto was relatively lucky in that regard last season, as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s combined 32 games missed were really the only injuries of note. If center Jonas Valanciunas (team-leading 8.2 win shares in 2014-15) has to sit for a prolonged amount of time, the Raptors could just as easily tumble into the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Moving down

Portland Trail Blazers
2014-15 record (win shares): 51-31 (51.9)
Key players gained: Ed Davis (6.3), Mason Plumlee (4.8), Gerald Henderson (3.6)
Key players lost: LaMarcus Aldridge (8.6), Wesley Matthews (6.2), Nic Batum (5.2), Robin Lopez (5.1)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 38.6 (39-43)

A complete implosion of the team’s core (minus Damian Lillard) coupled with no first-round pick in this summer’s draft could spell big trouble for Portland next season. Blazers fans can cling onto the hope that they could sneak into the playoffs if Davis and Plumlee grow into their roles, given that the Western Conference will see significantly weaker competition for the No. 8 seed this year.  

But that might be too much to ask of a team that lost four of its top five scorers (on a per-game basis) from a year ago.

Dallas Mavericks
2014-15 record (win shares): 50-32 (48.4)
Key players gained: Wesley Matthews (6.2), Deron Williams (3.6), Zaza Pachulia (4.2)
Key players lost: Tyson Chandler (10.3), Monta Ellis (3.6), Al-Farouq Aminu (3.3), Brandan Wright (2.9)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 41.2 (41-41)

If the Blazers do indeed end up competing for a playoff spot, they’ll likely have DeAndre Jordan to thank. Jordan (12.8 win shares in 2014-15) spurning Dallas to stay in L.A. meant the Mavericks had to scramble to acquire Pachulia. That’s the difference between Dallas competing for a home playoff series and struggling to even make the postseason at all.

MORE NBA: Williams gives Mavs hope | Jordan saga not changing NBA

Atlanta Hawks
2014-15 record (win shares): 60-22 (54.8)
Key players gained: Tiago Splitter (4.0), Justin Holiday (1.3), Tim Hardaway Jr. (0.8)
Key players lost: DeMarre Carroll (7.0), Pero Antic (1.5)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 50.8 (51-31)

Atlanta overachieved their win share total more than any other team last season. So it’s not a good sign that they’ve also lost the most net win shares of any Eastern Conference team this offseason.

That being said, the Hawks really had nowhere to go but down after securing the franchise’s first 60-win season. They’re still in good position to compete for a home playoff series or two next season.

Milwaukee Bucks
2014-15 record (win shares): 41-41 (43.9)
Key players gained: Greg Monroe (6.8), Greivis Vasquez (2.8), full seasons of Jabari Parker (+2.6) and Miles Plumlee (+2.1)
Key players lost: Brandon Knight (4.4), Zaza Pachulia (4.2), Jared Dudley (4.1), Ersan Ilyasova (4.0)
Projected 2015-16 win shares (record): 40.0 (40-42)

The Bucks are seemingly a team on the rise after they followed up a surprise playoff appearance by signing Greg Monroe away from Detroit. But if win shares are any indication, GM John Hammond hurt his team’s chances for next season way back in February.

Hammond seemingly confused activity for progress at the trade deadline by engaging in a five-player deal that sent away Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall while bringing back Michael Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis. Milwaukee was never the same.

That fateful swap, coupled with the departure of several underrated veterans this offseason, could mean that the Bucks will be stuck in a toothless dogfight for the last couple playoffs seeds in the East.

More from Will Laws:

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