Pacers Predictions: Analyzing the Experts

USA TODAY Sports

22 of ESPN's 28 NBA experts believe the Miami Heat will win the 2014 NBA Championship. Two of the remaining six were bold enough to select the Indiana Pacers. Who should you believe?

The NBA regular season is officially underway, and it is time to start seeing how the Pacers revamped roster matches up against the league’s elite. Analysts, media members, commentators, former players, and the like have all made their projections for the coming season known via various channels of communication. Some may say all the projections, previews, and predictions have been done in ad nauseam. Perhaps, they view the top story lines and headlines as overdone.

Or, more simply stated … "Enough already play ball!"

Well, the season has begun and it is finally time to start watching the Pacers play ball, but it is also necessary to examine one more NBA preview.

Prior to Opening Night, ESPN’s panel of experts published their version of NBA predictions for the 2013-2014 season:

Aggregately, the 28 experts polled from ESPN, ESPN the Magazine, True Hoop, and Insider picked the Miami Heat to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA Finals. While these results are not particularly surprising or earth-shattering (let’s face it, picking the Miami Heat to win it all the past four seasons could not exactly be described as bold), some of the individual experts did dare to be different and picked some contenders from the field over the reigning champs.

For instance, although 22 of the experts predicted the Heat would three-peat, two individuals selected the San Antonio Spurs, one picked the Bulls to win it all, one took a chance on Brooklyn’s new look roster, and two selected the Indiana Pacers.

Who were the two individuals bold enough to pick Indiana, you may ask?

Maurice Brooks and Marc Stein.

Marc Stein’s belief in the Pacers has been well-documented during the offseason. Prior to the preseason, Stein ranked the Pacers at #2 in his preseason edition of ESPN’s Power Rankings. Here is what Stein had to say about the high ranking:

" I'm super high on Indy and for once it has nothing to do with thoughts of the inimitable shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo's. Sprinkle in Danny Granger and Luis Scola from an upgraded bench with the freshly maxed-out Paul George and playoffs Roy Hibbert and you've got a legit title-contending mix."

Stein did later downgrade the Pacers to #6 on Opening Night Eve. However, he explains that the demotion was due to Indiana’s loss of "projected super sub Danny Granger for the first three weeks of the season." Even so, Stein continued to heap praise on the Pacers in his commentary on the #6 selection, stating:

"You don't have to be as high on the Pacers as the committee (of one), but I'm confused by the widespread doubt in their ability to sustain last season's success even though they're so much deeper now. Reminder: Indy's five playoff wins against Miami in 2012 and 2013 are tops in the LeBron era."

As can be observed from Stein’s comments, he is "high on Indy" and definitely, as of now, believes in their ability to achieve success.

But is he right?

What about Maurice Brooks?

What about the 26 other "experts" who predicted the Heat, Bulls, or Nets would be the ultimate victors?

Are any of these predictions really ever accurate?

Typically, fans really enjoy getting on their favorite sports blog or buying their favorite basketball magazine and seeing if their team is projected as a contender for the upcoming season. But when the season tips off and the grind of the regular season begins, those projections do not seem to matter as much.

Most probably do not really remember which analyst had which team winning the East, West, or even the Championship. The talk is in the past, and, for fans, what matters is the here and now – the next game, the next marquee match-up, the trade deadline, or the playoff standings. As the season progresses, the importance of an educated guess made in October dwindles or completely disappears.

Nevertheless, it is probably a safe bet that those same fans will return to those same websites, blogs, and magazines for more predictions, projections, and previews the next season with the same anticipation as they did the year before. All looking to see if the experts, analysts, and commentators think their team has a chance at the title.

Most, if honest, would likely be guilty of this pattern. And most would probably readily admit that they have no idea if any of the prior season’s projections were correct.

Which analyst, if any, got everything right?

With this question in mind, let’s take a look at the predicting chops of some of these experts – particularly those who chose to put their full faith and trust behind the Indiana Pacers.

When examining both of the aforementioned NBA analysts’ archived picks for Eastern Conference Champion, Western Conference Champion, and NBA Champion over the past five seasons, it can be determined that approximately 53% of Maurice Brooks’ predictions were spot-on. In comparison, Marc Stein was correct slightly more often posting a mark of 60% accuracy.

For Pacers’ fans, 60% accuracy is likely a fairly encouraging number. Fans have even more of a reason to be optimistic when Stein’s predictions are broken down a step further, and it is found that he has correctly predicted which team would win the NBA championship four out of the last five seasons (80%).

Stein’s predictions look even better when compared to some of his ESPN contemporaries. When evaluating only the experts with at least five seasons worth of archived projections from ESPN, ESPN the Magazine, and Insider (True Hoop and individual outlets of ESPN, i.e. ESPN Boston, excluded), Stein predicts with greater or equal to accuracy than his fellow experts over this time period.

For instance, David Thorpe’s accuracy rate is approximately 47%, J.A. Adande comes in at approximately 54%, and Chris Broussard posts a mark of approximately 54%. Chad Ford is the only other expert meeting the aforesaid criteria (5 years of archived Eastern Conference Champion, Western Conference Champion, and NBA champion picks, while coming from ESPN, ESPN the Magazine, or Insider) that posts the same accuracy as Stein. Nevertheless, Stein is correct more often when it comes to predicting only the NBA Champions (Stein 80%; Ford 60%).

So what do all of these statistics really mean?

Well, the truth is that predicting the NBA playoffs is a tricky business. In October of 2010, none of the above mentioned analysts thought the Dallas Mavericks would win the NBA title. In October of 2012, plenty of media members, commentators, and experts picked the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that seemingly imploded, to win the West. The fact of the matter is that players get hurt, teams make trades, rosters change, and, sometimes, teams just look better on paper than they do on the court. That being said, the aforementioned stats do show that some analysts have made better picks than others.

As a group, ESPN’s analysts say Indiana will not win a championship this year.

Certainly, the Pacers will have to prove themselves as championship contenders on the court over the course of 82 regular season games this year, but, one thing is sure, Marc Stein’s accuracy and the team’s desire to compete for a championship give fans a real reason to believe this team has a chance to be special.

Two ESPN analysts do believe the Pacers will be the 2014 NBA Champions… Do you?

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