If the Portland Trail Blazers’ need any source of motivation in early August, look no further than ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM) projections for the 2017-18 season.
Despite finishing the 2016-17 campaign on a hot streak, going 18-9 (fourth-best in the NBA) since the acquisition of center Jusuf Nurkić in mid-February and fueled by several late-season MVP-caliber performances from Damian Lillard, ESPN’s RPM projects 43.8 wins for the Blazers in 2017-18. That win total would be good enough for just 10th place and out of playoff contention, according to the projections.
Writes ESPN’s Kevin Pelton:
“This projection is for nearly three more wins than the 41 the Blazers actually had last season, but if things play out exactly as RPM forecasts (they won’t), that wouldn’t be enough to get Portland to the playoffs. Such is the challenge of the Western Conference this season, with at least 10 legitimate postseason contenders.”
This is far from the first time Portland has been doubted in recent memory. Who could forget ESPN’s forecast projecting an 11th place finish and a 31-51 record to go with Las Vegas’ prediction of 26 wins for the Blazers before the 2015-16 campaign?
Fueled by doubters, the Blazers went on to claim the fifth seed in the West and advance to the Western Conference Semifinals after topping the LA Clippers in the opening round of the playoffs.
As with any attempt to predict the future, these projections should be taken with a grain of salt. But until the season tips in October, the chatter of these prophecies should continue to dominate NBA headlines.