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2016 NBA Offseason: ESPN Summer Forecast Has Clippers 3rd in West

Despite returning most of the gang, the Clippers are projected to finish with one fewer win than they had last year.

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As we enter the dog days of the NBA calendar, ESPN is once again rolling out its annual Summer Forecast, predicting standings, awards, champions, and more for the upcoming season. They released their Western Conference predictions on Tuesday, putting the LA Clippers 3rd behind the Warriors and Spurs.

1. Golden State Warriors 67-15 9. Dallas Mavericks 40-42
2. San Antonio Spurs 57-25 10. Minnesota Timberwolves 39-43
3. Los Angeles Clippers 52-30 11. New Orleans Pelicans 35-47
4. Portland Trail Blazers 46-36 12. Denver Nuggets 34-48
5. Utah Jazz 45-37 13. Sacramento Kings 30-52
6. Oklahoma City Thunder 44-38 14. Phoenix Suns 26-56
7. Memphis Grizzlies 43-39 15. Los Angeles Lakers 25-57
8. Houston Rockets 41-41

Apart from the Pelicans and Blazers swapping spots, these predictions aren’t too far removed from my Western Conference rankings last week.

On the surface, it might seem a little ridiculous and maybe even outrageous that the Clippers would be tapped to win fewer games than last season. Although they slipped a little bit compared to the previous three seasons, you might assume that with less roster turnover and a healthier Blake Griffin a bounceback would be in the cards. The loss of Jeff Green and Cole Aldrich couldn’t be that meaningful, right?

The dip in differential — a more reliable predictor of future team performance than win-loss record — from previous years goes away once you exclude the first fifteen games of the season, before LRMAM entered the starting lineup. They had a +5.5 net rating on the year, down from +6.9 last year and +7.3 the year before, but that rose to +6.7 after Thanksgiving and +7.4 after Christmas.

Remember that these projections are the averaged consensus of a large panel of voters (upwards of 50 to 100, if memory serves right), so team records cluster together and suggest more parity than is actually the case. Most of the voters would probably agree that there’ll be more than three 50-win teams in the West this year, or that the worst team in the conference will win less than 25 games; they just won’t agree on which teams will take those spots.

That being said, we can probably all agree on the Lakers finishing dead last (again).