FiveThirtyEight, the brainchild of Nate Silver, has released its annual NBA player projections. The projections forecast each player's Raptor WAR from 2022-23 through 2028-29 and provide a list of the ten most comparable players from history.
Statistical projections have become so ubiquitous in professional sports that athletes are routinely dehumanized down to a number. While projection models intend to gain an edge in player development and roster management, their use has spread to the public to aid in gambling, sports writing, and overall engagement.
The Rockets' young core is exciting, but difficult to project
The Houston Rockets are chocked full of young talent that the fanbase and franchise are hoping will blossom into star-level NBA players. Not every player will become a star. In fact, it is incredibly likely that out of Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Kevin Porter Jr., Tari Eason, Josh Christopher, Usman Garuba, and TyTy Washington Jr, more than one will end up having a relatively muted career.
The Rockets don’t need to hit on every draft pick to have a successful rebuild. If one or two players become a star, then they’ll be in prime position to be a contender down the line. However, it’s always fun to traffick in the best-case scenario because hope springs eternal.
FiveThirtyEight’s annual NBA player projections are an impressive feat of research and computing. For established players is a good starting point entering the season, but for younger players, which the Rockets have many of, it has a blind spot.
A quick note on FiveThirtyEight’s projections
Statistical models’ precision comes from data. The more of it has, the more accurate it will be. While this makes them incredibly reliable tools in commodity trading, it’s also what makes them poor at projecting professional athletes and even worse at projecting young players. With so many players entering the NBA one year removed from high school, there is far less pertinent data to be evaluated.
A model doesn’t know if a player has horrible or perfect shooting mechanics; it just knows your 3-point shooting percentage. A player could be primed for a drop or is a summer of reps away from breaking out, but that information is beyond the capacity of FiveThirtyEight’s model.
For the Rockets' young players, the model is primarily using a combination of their college and NBA data, which there is very little of, their draft position, and their basic physical measurements. It’s unwise to read too much into the projections for young players, but the model does spit out something that is far more useful. It has a comparison score that shows the careers of players past and present who had a similar start to their career.
Starting with the most experienced players we’ll work our way down to the Rockets’ rookies.