Category Archives: 2014 NBA Playoffs

Potential playoff upsets with SRS

Six of the eight first round matchups are extending to at least six games for the first time since the best-of-seven format started in 2003. To me, none of those series have felt like a slogfest either. We might even see a few upsets, starting tonight with both the eighth-seeded Hawks and seventh-seeded Grizzlies hosting Game 6’s with 3-2 leads.

Looking at where each of those teams were seeded, those would be huge wins for Atlanta and Memphis if they can pull them off, but if we look at how they match up in regular season SRS with Indiana and Oklahoma City, respectively, sealing their first round series tonight (or in a Game 7) would be arguably even more impressive.

SRS, or shortened for Simple Rating System, combines margin of victory and strength of schedule. As you’ll see below, it has its drawbacks since it doesn’t exactly value records that help determine seeding, but it’s easily understandable and often does enough to show how good teams were for 82 games. For more of an explanation, check this out, but it might also help to say that the best SRS in league history, according to Basketball-Reference, comes from the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks at 11.91, narrowly beating out the 11.80 from the ’96 Chicago Bulls. The worst goes to the 1993 Dallas Mavericks at -14.68 while the average SRS is 0, though no team has ever actually achieved that exact rating.

To go back to the playoffs, from 2003 to 2013, the team with the higher SRS in their first round series has advanced 79.6 percent of the time, or about the same rate as teams with the higher seed at 78.4 percent. Teams with both the higher SRS and the higher seed (75 occurrences) won 84 percent of their matchups. (Edit: Washington, with an SRS .72 points less than Chicago, advanced Tuesday night and Portland, .62 points less than Houston, can advance tomorrow.)

The higher the difference in SRS with home court, the higher the likelihood a team will win a series, which makes it all the more interesting that Atlanta (SRS: -0.88) and Memphis (2.18) can each clinch tonight. Each of theirs are at least four points lower than Indiana (3.63) and Oklahoma City (6.66) and are in two of five matchups this postseason with that large of a difference or more.

Below are the others with Hawks-Pacers and Grizzlies-Thunder included:

I’ve been fiddling with the SRS of every matchup since 1984, when the league went to their current playoff format 30 years ago. The scenario this season’s Hawks, Grizzlies, and the other three teams are in – an SRS at least four points worse than their opponent and without home court advantage – has often made for a heck of an uphill battle.

Below is a round-by-round look at how teams, ones in those same situations as this year’s previously listed five teams, have performed over the last 30 seasons:

The Charlotte Bobcats will join the list of those that couldn’t overcome their disadvantages, but Atlanta and Memphis have two outs while Brooklyn and Dallas can still extend their season with victories at home tomorrow night.

As for the table above (for the series wins, click here) the only win in the second round came last postseason when Memphis (3.69) beat the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder (9.15). Another weird one came in 2001 when the Los Angeles Lakers (3.13) had an SRS 4.18 points lower than San Antonio in the Conference Finals. Going by SRS, those Lakers were an underdog in every round except for the NBA Finals, when they were 0.11 points higher than the 76ers. They ended up having the most dominant postseason run of all time, according to Neil Paine but most likely tons of others, too.

2013 featured two upsets meeting this post’s requirements, though 1995 has the most ever with three. This postseason definitely has a chance of matching either 2013 or 1995, but they could also surpass them both with four or more. With all that’s happened the last two weeks, would it really be that surprising if that happened?

Also (!!), I haven’t posted lately because of a high fever at first, but I then made my debut at the Washington Post‘s Fancy Stats. If the Hawks’ three-point shooting has stood out to you, check out my post on how they’ve taken more threes than free throws and how unique their starting five is.

Any other thoughts are welcome.

Solid final quarter of season a common trait among champions

Every team has a peak and valley during their season, even the 76ers who started the season 3-0 but are now dealing with a winless five-week stretch. For a team looking to grab a top-3 pick in this year’s draft, that’s probably the right time to find their high and really, really low points of the season. As for the title contenders it should be the opposite, though a few teams are going through some recent woes whether it’s from a difficult stretch of games (Miami dealing with Joakim Noah and Boris Diaw), adjusting after a trade (Indiana with Evan Turner and other problems) or whatever else factoring into a slump (it’s all Russell Westbrook’s fault!).

History has shown that it’s fine to experience those downswings as long as they don’t carry too deep into March or April. Over the past 30 years, 26 of the eventual champions played .600 ball or better in the final quarter of the season. Also worth noting is that, with the help of Basketball-Reference, 26 of the last 28 champions finished the same stretch of games with a positive net rating.

Below are the last 30 champions with their records, offensive and defensive efficiency, and net rating over the final fourth of the season. Highlighted are the outliers. All stats are according to Basketball-Reference:

The outliers:

1995 Houston Rockets

Hakeem Olajuwon missed eight of the final 20 games with the Rockets going 3-5 over that stretch. Clyde Drexler played out of his mind during Dream’s absence, averaging a stat line of 30.0/9.3/5.5/2.4/0.9. He also made over 30 percent of his threes, something not totally guaranteed throughout his career.

In the 12 games Olajuwon played, Houston squeaked out a positive net rating of 0.1. Also, Zan Tabak played in only eight of the last 20 games. Absolutely has to be noted.

Orlando finished 9-11 as well, though they had efficiency splits of 114.2/112.3/+1.9. Long live the mid-90s Magic jerseys and Penny Hardaway.

2006 Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade missed three games while Shaquille O’Neal missed five. Each sat out the last two games, paving the way for a Michael Doleac-Wayne Simien-Antoine Walker-Dorell Wright-Jason Williams starting lineup. Miami lost both. Fun times.

Dallas also finished 11-9 that season and Dirk Nowitzki played 81 games, so what might be their best excuse? Their schedule wasn’t the greatest as they played the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Kings each twice and the Jazz, Nets, Nuggets, Pistons, Spurs, Suns, and Wizards each once. That’s not exactly the most murderous row of opponents but a mix of title contenders and playoff-worthy teams jousting for seeding nonetheless. Also mixed in the final 20 games were the Hornets with a rookie Chris Paul, the Magic with a young Dwight Howard, and the Warriors who…they stunk down the stretch, sure, but we all know what happened next year. Regardless, that’s 19 of the final 20 games. Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks were the other squad Dallas faced (and defeated).

2010 Los Angeles Lakers

Andrew Bynum missed the last 13 games of the season while Kobe Bryant missed four. Pau Gasol was awesome down the stretch, though, averaging a line of 24.2/12.9/3.8 with 2.2 blocks.

2012 Miami Heat

A lockout-shortened season where resting core players was rarely a bad move. LeBron James, Wade, and Chris Bosh made only 31 appearances out of a possible 48, making way for front courts of some combination of Eddy Curry, Dexter Pittman, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, and Shane Battier. Arguably more fun times than 2006.

It might seem standard for solid teams to play any fourth of the season with a positive net rating, but that’s not exactly true. Using the net ratings from NBA.com, below are 10 notable teams of the last 15 seasons that dipped into the negatives over the final quarter:

Sure, a lot of those teams were pseudo-contenders. The 2001 Sixers, for example, were never going to win four games against a Lakers squad that mowed over their first three opponents with an offense-defense efficiency line of 113.0/96.3/+16.7, but maybe sputtering down the stretch contributed to those teams not being among the league’s elite during their respective seasons. As for the 2010 Lakers and 2013 Spurs, they clearly stand above the eight other teams in terms of talent and confidence they’d make a deep run in the postseason.

Some team over the next five weeks is bound to hit a rough patch. Maybe they’ll right themselves in time for what should be a hell of a postseason, but they could also end up as a team to write off whether it’s in April, May, or possibly even June. Below is a breakdown of the remaining schedules for a mix of title contenders and ones I don’t think will go that far in the playoffs, but included them anyway just because. Each team also has their own sheet with their last 20 games, including the (color-filtered) difficulty of their opponents. It’s a fricken rainbow.

Every team seems to have a few games in a row against teams competing (or about to compete) for lottery balls, though teams out West appear to have more daunting schedules overall.

There’s always the chance for an outlier like four of the last 30 seasons, though, but the Clips at least look well on their way to fit the minimum requirements to be labeled as a contender. That’s at least in regards to finishing steady.

But to include one last table, ending the last quarter of the season over .600 and with a sexy net rating doesn’t always guarantee making the deepest of runs in the playoffs. Below is a table of the best nets in the final fourth of seasons since 1997, according to NBA.com:

If that final table makes a team finishing hot suddenly worrisome, it probably shouldn’t. When looking at net ratings provided by Basketball-Reference in the very first table, champions often had very respectable ones. Chicago’s from 1996 is unreal.

Anyway, a lot still needs to be addressed regarding quite a few playoff teams. Let’s see how the last five weeks play out. The next two days should especially be entertaining thanks to a ton of good matchups.

For related posts, check out drastic movements in the lottery over the last two months of the season and what 20 wins before Christmas means in the West.

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