The Dallas Mavericks will make the playoffs. That bold claim, three months prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, comes from the data and metric wonks over at FiveThirtyEight. According to their projections, the Mavs will be the seventh seed in the Western Conference with a 44-38 record.
FiveThirtyEight based its prediction for the Mavericks, and the rest of the NBA, on 50,000 simulations of the coming season. They also use an in-house forecast system cleverly called CARMELO to predict the career arc of players “based on the trajectory of similar NBA players.” These projections are then combined to generate possible talent estimates for each team. You can read more about FiveThirtyEight’s formula here.
After crunching all the numbers, Dallas has 55 percent chance of making the playoffs, where they would face the Denver Nuggets in the first round. Denver is beatable—according to their Finals projections—but even if Dallas does advance in this hypothetical situation, don’t get your hopes up too much. The same formula gives the Mavericks a one percent chance of making the NBA Finals and a less than one percent chance of winning them.
Looking at the standings, a few things stand out. According to their numbers, the Portland Trail Blazers, who made the Western Conference Finals last season, will miss the playoffs. (FiveThirtyEight admits that their model consistently underrated the Blazers last season.) Likewise, the San Antonio Spurs are also on the outside looking in despite being a perennial playoff team. Then, squeaking in as the eighth seed is Zion Williamson and the new-look New Orleans Pelicans. And down at the very bottom is the KANGZ.
At full-strength, the Mavericks’ roster has a CARMELO rating of 1584. League average is around 1500. The average CARMELO rating for a full-strength Western Conference team next season is 1580, which equates to about 49 wins.
The Mavericks get favorable marks in FiveThirtyEight’s formula thanks to high projections for Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Dwight Powell will also perform well next season according to their Wins Above Replacement Projection metric. Almost every other player on the roster hovers slightly above baseline value of zero.
Take the numbers with a grain of salt. As anyone can attest, there are too many variables that exist in everyday life, let alone the NBA season, to accurately predict future events. However, these numbers aren’t without merit and they do give us a glimpse of what could be.
If you want to see the Mavericks make the playoffs, use FiveThirtyEight’s projections as a source of hope. Just remember, they have been very wrong before.