Frugal signings, a slick sales pitch from Neil Olshey and a modest forecast from ESPN’s RPM projections. Those have become the three offseason constants for the Trail Blazers. This year’s outlook from ESPN’s RPM (real plus-minus) projection has predicted, once again, that Portland is poised to battle for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference.
Before getting into the results, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton explained how the RPM projections work.
Our real plus-minus (RPM) projections utilize the multiyear, predictive version of RPM as a starting point. They’re adjusted for typical player aging and then regressed toward the player’s projected offensive rating and defensive rating from my SCHOENE projection system, based solely on box score stats. (For players without RPM projections, including rookies, the SCHOENE ratings are used instead.)
Games played are projected based on time missed over the previous three seasons. I then make a subjective guess at minutes distributions for each team. Multiplying those minutes by players’ offensive and defensive ratings yields team ratings that translate into expected wins. I used those projections to simulate the season 10,000 times and record the average number of wins as well as how often each team made the playoffs.
In regards to the Blazers, ESPN’s projection tabbed them for 38-win finish that would place them just outside of the playoffs. As Pelton goes on to point out in the analysis of Portland’s placement, the gap between the No. 2 spot and the No. 9 spot is just 3.5 games.
Given their widely lauded offseason, the Blazers projecting ninth is certainly something of a surprise. It’s worth remembering how compact the West projections are: Just 3.5 wins on average separate Portland from second in the conference. As a result, though the Blazers have the ninth-best projection, they’re still more likely to make the playoffs than not.
In other words, they’ll probably finish ahead of at least one of the eight teams with better projections. We’re just not sure which one.
The Blazers finished with 35 victories in the shortened 2019-20 campaign. In the lead up to that season, ESPN’s RPM projections predicted that coach Terry Stotts’ squad would finish in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference with 40.2 wins. In the year prior to that, ESPN’s forecast estimated that the Blazers would win just 41.7 games. Portland would surpass that 2018-19 projection with 53 wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
You can read the full list of RPM projections at ESPN+ (subscription required).