ESPN's Kevin Pelton published an article today projecting the Celts would pass the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference pecking order for the second year running, though the vote of confidence did not come without qualification. He believes the Celts overachieved last year, especially in close games, of which there were many, suggesting Boston should win about 49 games next year. Citing those squeakers in which Boston prevailed, Pelton notes:
"...they outperformed their plus-2.6 point differential, which is more typical of a 48-win team. Boston also benefited from opponents shooting 33.2 percent from 3-point range, the league's second-lowest mark. Both categories tend to regress heavily to the mean, so the Celtics would have been in for a steeper decline had they not added [Gordon] Hayward. Still, given that Boston didn't have that same good fortune in the playoffs, the Celtics should be improved when it really counts."
There may be a little something to this point of view, and that little something is named Isaiah Thomas - or more exactly, the not-so-little chip he carried on his shoulder, especially in the fourth quarter of games last season. Is it fair to expect him to have the ball in his hands - or even to be on the floor as much - given the addition of Hayward? It could take time to adjust, even though the consensus is by playoffs they will be a much improved team. And if Thomas is slow to recover from his hip's convalescence, it could knock off three or five wins, too.
For the Cavs part, the lack of solid moves to date in the offseason added to the inexorable advances of father time on much of their veteran-heavy roster is to blame for their continued, slow decay as a franchise. As of right now, the gulf is not large - Cleveland is projected to win just .2 games more via Pelton's modeling - but that's still an improvement even if Pelton's modeling was pretty off last season at the top of the East on the part of the Cavs (he had the Cavs at the top with 54.2 games won, and Boston second with 49.2).
What do you think about this year's projections? Are they fair? Too high, or too low - and why? Let us know in the comments section below.