Only two teams in the East, Miami and Indiana, had winning records as of Dec. 1—the first time that has happened since 1972, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Atlanta held third place, at .500.
That left an astounding 12 teams flailing below .500—a revolting assortment of busted lineups, broken All-Stars and bewildered upstarts. They are the clueless, the overhyped, the underachievers and the tankers, collectively bobbing in the muck, a blazing inferno of ineptitude, a tire fire of futility, a miserable mosaic of, um, well…
“Listen, no one can explain just how bad it is,” said ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy. “I mean, there’s just no explanation.”
How bad is it? The Toronto Raptors lead the Atlantic Division with a 6-10 record, while the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks—the two most expensive teams in the league—are a combined 8-25.
“The indicators are bad right now, and the history tells us that it’s going to get worse,” said Arturo Galletti, a blogger at boxscoregeeks.com who specializes in advanced metrics and predictive statistical models.
Galletti ran a season simulation program on Monday, and the results were indeed bleak. According to his model, only Miami and Indiana will finish this season above .500. (Chicago is projected to finish third, at 41-41.)
If the model is right, it will mean another ignominious record: the fewest teams to finish with a winning record in one conference. The East set the (low) bar in 2003, with four.
The model is based on results to date and accounts for remaining strength of schedule, home and road games, the amount of rest between games and games played on consecutive nights, among other factors.
The program does not account for injuries or the effect of players returning from injury, but it does adjust once those players are performing again. It also cannot account for teams making trades.
An engineer by trade, Galletti said, “I won’t claim it’s perfect.” But, he said, “At this point, we know enough. Twenty percent of the season is in the books. You can make some determination about who is good and who is bad.”
Another factor to consider, Galletti said: Historically, losing teams become less competitive as the season wears on. So the truly bad teams will likely get worse.