I predominantly use stats for the NFL because of how complex it is and how effective they can be when understanding all that goes on during a football game. Basketball is a different animal, particularly the NBA.
I decided to do a study this year on the perceived "top 4" teams in the NBA to see who is likely to finish with the best record and win the NBA Finals.
Players need playing and practice time to develop chemistry within the current roster and it takes about 4 weeks for the NFL rosters and NBA rosters to begin to gel.
After 3 months or about 40 games, NBA rosters have come together and the team is pretty close to what it will be at the end of the season. The only things that will change are the schedule and injuries.
The "Big Four" refers to Miami in the East and San Antonio, Oklahoma City and LA Clippers of the West. These teams have the highest rating in my efficiency rating and appear to be the best bet for winning the NBA title this year.
One of the advantages to basketball over the NFL is that we can measure "pace" (how quickly teams shoot in the shot clock which determines the number of possessions per game) more easily than football. This allows us to take PPG and PPG allowed and put them into Points Per Possession (The standard number of possessions is set at 100). Most of you know all of this, but I am simply stating how important this is when comparing a team like Chicago (slow) to Denver (fast).
There are two things I have learned while doing stats with my study of the NFL - efficiency is just as important as winning and great teams win games even if they play poorly. How important is it to be an "efficient loser". It isn't. The Lakers are 10th in Net Efficiency (Net Eff) after their loss to OKC but are 17th in the Standings.
This led me to create a relatively simple rating that takes into account both efficiency and winning percentage. Since people like easy numbers, every team will score between 0.0 and 10.0.
Here is the formula:
- Step 1: [Net Team Efficiency] + [Winning Percentage x 10 (in decimal form: 0.582)]. This gives each team a raw score that will range from -10 to +20. OKC has the highest raw score of 18.33 after its win over the Lakers. The Bobcats have the lowest score at -9.23. The goal now is to get a simple score that people can remember.
- Step 2: [Team Score + 11]. Simply add the same number to the score for each team to "move" them all above 0. This means the numbers will range from about 29 to 2. These numbers alone could be good enough, but we still prefer single digit numbers and anything from 0-10 is easier to remember.
- Step 3: [New Team Score / 3]. This new total simple changes all of the team scores proportionally to a single digit number. We have still maintained the team efficiency score for each team - no team has suffered or improved because of these weighted measures to get the numbers between 0-10.
I had several goals going into this exercise and I will list them here and then use charts further down to discuss what I have found.
- Goal 1: Find if any numerical evidence to suggest if the West indeed was significantly tougher than the East
- Goal 2: Measure past schedules
- Goal 3: Measure upcoming schedules
- Goal 4: Compare/Contrast Big Four
Here is a chart of the Western Conference
[From L-R: Offensive Efficiency; Defensive Efficiency; Net Efficiency; Winning %; Value from Formula; Final Team Score]
|Team||Off Eff||Def Eff||Net||Win %||Value||Score|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||110.7||99.7||11.0||0.733||18.33||9.8|
|San Antonio Spurs||107.4||97.7||9.7||0.770||17.40||9.5|
|Los Angeles Clippers||106.5||99.7||6.8||0.694||13.74||8.2|
|Los Angeles Lakers||105.5||103.9||1.6||0.492||6.52||5.8|
|Golden State Warriors||104.0||103.7||0.3||0.557||5.87||5.6|
|New Orleans Hornets||102.7||106.9||-4.2||0.344||-0.76||3.4|
Now the Eastern Conference
|Team||Off Eff||Def Eff||Net||Win %||Value||Score|
|New York Knicks||108.2||103.3||4.9||0.632||11.22||7.4|
- A Western Conference team is 2.49 greater in Team Score on average compared to an Easter Conference team. Essentially, When the West plays the East, its like the LA Clippers (3rd-overall) playing Boston (12th-overall). That 2.5 increase in efficiency and winning is a large jump.
- I consider a good score to be at least 6.0. The West has 6 teams (SA, OKC, LAC, MEM, DEN, HOU) while the East has 4 teams (MIA, IND, NY, CHI).
- A bad score is under 4.0. The West has 4 teams. The East has 6 teams, including the Bobcats, who are awful.
- The rest are mediocre. Chicago is technically at 6.0 if we round up, but they come in at 5.99 and don't have the look of a good team because of how limited their offense is without Rose.
- A strong score is above 7.0. These teams include the Big Four and the rest of the "Contenders" (IND, NY, DEN, MEM).
- I would bet most fans would consider these 8 teams as the best in the NBA and the numbers certainly indicate that with regards to efficiency and wins.
I created a point system to calculate how difficult each team's schedule was so far:
- Take the team score from the charts above and sets it as the base score
- Subtract a point for a home game, add a point for an away game
- Add a point for a set of B2B games. If its a B2B2B, that is 2 sets, so 2 points
- Subtract a point for the 3rd consecutive home game and each home game that follows. Add a point in the same way for the 3rd consecutive road game and each road game that follows consecutively.
- Add 2 points for a pair of consecutive games with teams in the top 10 in Team Score.
- Take all this total and divide by the number of games played to get a score on average for each opponent.
|Los Angeles Clippers||6.6||4.3||5.7||6.7||6.4||5.77|
|San Antonio Spurs||7.2||6.2||4.7||5.7||1.5||5.76|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||4.9||5.3||5.6||4.5||8.1||5.3|
- The Clippers edge out the Spurs for two reasons: The Spurs don't have to face the Spurs, but LAC has faced the Spurs 3 times. The Spurs, instead, have faced a team that is 1.3 points behind them when the scale only goes up to 10. That is a significant difference. Secondly, the Clippers have started off March with some tough games while the Spurs have had some less difficult match-ups. Still, these two teams are very close in SOS.
- The Spurs had their 9-game road trip, but LAC has had an 8-game road trip. The longest for Miami is 6 (2x) and for OKC is 6 (1x).
- The Spurs opened up with a brutal schedule but was remarkably winning 2/3 of the games anyway trough November and December. It should come as no surprise that the Spurs went on their run to assume their position at the top of the standings as their SOS softened.
- OKC, not Miami, has benefited the most from the schedule. They have had the least difficult schedule of the Big Four and yet have the 3rd best record.
- Miami has played 28 of the 30 games on schedule for the entire season against the West already, which is why their SOS is as high as it is while still playing in the East.
I created a 2nd chart to measure how difficult it was to play each opponent, not just who was being played.
|Team||Opp||H/A||B2B||Con H/A||Con T10||Score|
|San Antonio Spurs||5.1||7||13||9||10||39|
|Los Angeles Clippers||5.3||2||17||4||6||29|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||5.1||-2||9||-2||6||11|
- The Clippers faced the toughest opponents by 0.2 points, on average, while the other three are even at 5.1. There is very little difference in who was played for the Big Four so far this season.
- the Spurs have had the toughest schedule so far when it comes to Home vs. Away games. OKC has benefited the most from a home-friendly schedule.
- The Clippers have had the most B2Bs so far by a significant margin. Again, OKC has had the least.
- The Spurs have had the roughest schedule by far when it comes to 3+ consecutive road games vs. 3+ consecutive home games. Again, OKC has had the easiest schedule when it comes to spacing of home vs. road games.
- Despite being an east team, Miami has had the toughest schedule with regards to consecutive top-10 opponents. The Spurs are not far behind while the Clippers and OKC are fairly far behind.
- Add it all up, and the Spurs have faced similar opponents to the other 3, but the "how" has been much more difficult. What is shocking is how far behind OKC is to the other 3. Their schedule has been far less difficult than even Mami, who plays in the East.
GOAL THREE - COMPARE UPCOMING SCHEDULES
I have a chart for the future games as well.
|Team||Opp||H/A||B2B||Con H/A||Con T10||Score|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||5.3||2||6||1||6||15|
|Los Angeles Clippers||5.2||-2||6||-1||6||9|
|San Antonio Spurs||5.9||-7||4||-6||8||-1|
Just like I did above on past performances, I am measuring the remaining schedule for the Big Four.
- It should come as no surprise that OKC has the toughest schedule by far while the Spurs have the easiest when measuring the "how"
- Still, when playing for the best record in the NBA, two numbers stand out. Miami's opponents will be about a 4.4 on average while the Spurs opponents will be 5.9, on average. Yes, the Spurs have a ton of home games and the fewest B2Bs; however, they face the toughest set of teams for the rest of the season, by far.
- The Spurs will find out what they are made of when they have 5 straight opponents ranking in the Top-10 in Team Score (@ HOU, DEN, LAC, MIA, @ MEM). They get a break for 1 game, then play @ OKC. These 7 games will most likely determine the number 1 seed overall and HCA if the Spurs and Heat end up in the Finals.
The Spurs have had the most difficult schedule so far this season while suffering numerous injuries to every starter along the way. Despite this, they have the best record in the NBA. This should encourage Spurs fans.
Miami has had a fairly even schedule because of the number of West opponents, but has definitely benefited from much fewer B2Bs and consecutive Top-10 opponents than the Spurs. Injuries have been minimal for the Big 3 in Miami.
OKC has had a fairly easy schedule so far this season and almost no injuries as a team. Their upcoming schedule gets tougher and the two games against the Spurs might keep them from the 1-seed in the West if they were to lose one or both of them.
The Clippers have had a fairly difficult schedule and had to deal with injury to Chris Paul. They are a tough team and certainly better than last season. The schedule softens a little for them, so they could challenge OKC if a lot were to happen, but they are most likely locked in as the 3-seed for the West.
With an easier schedule, despite having to play 3 more games than the Spurs, Miami has a good chance to finish with 1 or 2 more wins than the Spurs if they play the way they are right now or even drop off just a little. The Spurs will miss Parker, but the impact of his absence is unknown because the performances of the bench and Manu are also unknown.
Miami and the Spurs will most likely come close to 63 wins while OKC may also eclipse the 60-win mark.
- Miami: 64-18
- SA: 63-19
- OKC: 61-21
- LAC: 58-24
Despite playing a tough schedule with numerous injuries, the Spurs are playing great basketball and still have plenty of room to improve. Hopefully the Spurs will save the best for last - the playoffs.