My colleague Bill Barnwell has made an annual preseason tradition out of successfully predicting NFL teams heading in a different direction by virtue of their records not matching the underlying level of performance.
Because rosters turn over more quickly and individual players are more important, the same task is a little trickier in the NBA. For example, the Portland Trail Blazers have several factors pointing up in 2023-24, but those are outweighed by the possibility of trading Damian Lillard and moving toward a rebuild around young guards Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe.
Still, there are some factors we can look at to determine which teams are likely to see their records change by virtue of better or worse fortune. In particular, I’ve focused on three aspects with a history of predicting improvement or decline the following season: expected wins based on points scored and allowed, games missed due to injury and opponent 3-point percentage.
With those stats in mind, let’s look at four teams likely headed up in the standings and three that might win fewer games than they did in 2022-23.
It’s easy to write off hot-shooting opponents as a product of poor defense, but recent history suggests it’s one of the surest indicators that a team is likely to improve the following season by virtue of regression to the mean. Of the 121 teams this century that have seen opponents shoot at least 3% better than league average (equivalent to 37% in 2022-23), a whopping 72% have posted a better winning percentage the next year.
Three lowly teams — Houston, Portland and San Antonio — saw opponents shoot the best from 3-point range against them last season. As noted, the Blazers would be an obvious choice for this list if not for their potential pivot, while the Spurs’ poor fortune with 3-point defense was offset by outperforming their point differential. That leaves the Rockets as the pick, even if their offseason additions of Dillon Brooks and Fred VanVleet are more likely sources of improvement.