Our NBA Future Power Rankings, updated last week, use the combined expertise of four of Insider's NBA writers to project how teams will fare over the next three seasons. However, that timetable is the same as my projections of wins above replacement player (WARP) for players using the development of similar predecessors at the same age, offering the opportunity to put together objective, blind team projections for the next three seasons.
To capture the factors that influence a team's record besides the players currently on the roster, I simulated all the decisions players and teams will face over the next two offseasons -- team and player options, extensions, new contracts for free agents and more -- estimating how much money they'll have available to spend on free agents and translating this to wins based on the talent available. I also projected out the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons to estimate the average value of the first-round picks each team holds in the 2015 and 2016 NBA drafts, accounting for actual protections on each pick.
The result doesn't perfectly match what Future Power Rankings capture. It doesn't account for the quality of each individual team's management or its ability to turn cap space into talent based on the attractiveness of the market to free agents. Still, these statistical projections provide an interesting contrast to the Future Power Rankings. Let's take a look at the key takeaways and teams that project better or worse than our panel's consensus.
Top 10 teams
Takeaway: The Cavaliers have the best chance of winning multiple titles over the next three seasons.
That might not qualify as a unique insight, certainly. But in addition to having the most projected WARP on its roster over the next seasons, Cleveland also gets more value from the draft than anyone else in the top six thanks to a potential lottery pick coming from the Memphis Grizzlies. Also, the Cavaliers face less competition, with seven of the top nine teams in the projections playing in the Western Conference. Add it up, and anything short of a title over the next three seasons would be a disappointment.
Overrated: San Antonio Spurs (No. 1 in FPR, No. 6 in projected wins)
Naturally, the Spurs are going to fare worse in any projection that doesn't consider management quality. Besides that, their ability to keep contending may be tied to how long Tim Duncan puts off retirement. This projection assumes Duncan only plays the 2014-15 season, the last he's under contract. If San Antonio got Duncan all three years, only the Cavaliers would project better.