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I happened to catch my first glimpse of statistical win projections for the 2021-22 season this morning, thanks to Kosta Medvedovsky and his DARKO system. There weren’t a ton of surprises, other than the high-end being fairly compressed — just four teams were projected to win 50 games or more with Brooklyn topping out at 56.5. These projections may all be conservative as a quirk of the system — at least two teams have finished at a 57-win pace or better every season over the past decade, and in eight of the last 10 years we saw three teams or more finish the season that well.
But potentially flattening aside, this first look got me thinking about which team might finish with the most wins this season. According to WynnBet, the Nets and Lakers are heavy championship favorites, well ahead of the Bucks and Warriors. But winning a championship is different than winning the regular season and you have to go back to 2017 to find an instance where the team that finished with the most regular-season wins also won it all.
Which NBA team could win the regular season?
While the Lakers and Nets are more than reasonable championship favorites, but both teams are also veteran-heavy with relatively fragile depth. Neither team has any incentive to put the pedal to the floor in the regular season chasing homecourt advantage at the expense of resting for the playoffs. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for either to end up as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in their conferences, even if they look like the best teams when it counts.
Utah and Phoenix seem like reasonable bets in the Western Conference. They finished No. 1 and No. 2 in regular-season wins in the entire season last year and DARKO projects them to finish the 2021-22 season with 53.3 and 49.5 regular-season wins, respectively. Those totals are actually first and second in the West, with the Lakers projected to finish behind Portland (47.9) at 47.0. Both Phoenix and Utah have theoretical statements to make and have plenty of youth at slots in their rotations which could mean a heavier emphasis on regular-season wins.
In the Eastern Conference, things seem even murkier. Brooklyn has perhaps the most top-heavy roster in the league and should still be very good when even one of their stars is resting or injured. But their focus is also clearly on a championship more than any other team in the conference. Philadelphia is a wild-card because of the potential for Ben Simmons, the Bucks have lost some of their urgency and the Miami Heat is another team that will likely prioritize postseason healthy over regular-season wins.
If you want to play it safe, Brooklyn is probably the pick to finish the regular season with the most wins. If you’re feeling a little frisky, Phoenix and Utah are right there. If you like to live dangerously, can I interest you in the idea of LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets?
Which teams should be interested in Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks?
The Memphis Grizzlies have been aggressive about tinkering at the margins this summer and there are reports that they’ve made both Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks available. Anderson is coming off a career-best season where he averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He’s a solid defender who can match up with 3s and 4s and he has sneaky value as a secondary creator. Anderson also made 36.0 percent of 261 3-point attempts last season, both career-high marks by huge margins.
Becoming a respectable outside shooter was a huge step forward for Anderson’s game and he’s a player who could really help a contender. His contract is reasonable as well, at just under $10 million, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season. (Which is why he’s available — Memphis isn’t likely to re-sign him at an increased salary after this year and so it makes sense to get something for him while his value is high).
Matching salaries on a team that could Anderson is a bit of a challenge. For example, Portland could absolutely use him but don’t have much in the way of interesting assets to offer Memphis that would actually allow a deal to go through. The Kings may be able to get a lot more for Mavin Bagley than just Anderson, and may not be interested in re-signing him long-term, but in terms of swapping present value for future upside an even-swap there would seem to make sense. If the Knicks could convince the Grizzlies to take a flier on Kevin Knox and a future pick, that could work well too.
Dillon Brooks probably isn’t as valuable a player as Anderson in a vacuum, but his profile as a 3-and-D gunner make it easier to find suitors. He’s a solid defender with some versatility who put up big scoring numbers on relatively inefficient shooting numbers. But putting him on a team where he’s discouraged from isolating or taking pull-up jumpers would be huge for his value. He was second on the Grizzlies in total isolations last season, despite ranking in the 49th percentile in scoring efficiency. And he took nearly twice as many pull-up jumpers as any of his teammates, despite finishing with a 41.2 effective field goal percentage on those shots.
Brooks is under contract this year and next at around $12 million, which means whoever traded for him would be taking on another season. Again, the cap figure makes it difficult to find a suitor with that need but the Cavaliers and Mavericks could both make sense if they were willing to swap out another rotation piece.