Tag Archives: Russell Westbrook

The best, worst, most even, and most lopsided matchups by SRS

As noted in my previous post, we’re about 1/4th of the way through the NBA season. There’s very little time to reflect, however, as there are 10 games scheduled tonight. There are a couple nice matchups in Pelicans-Mavericks and Rockets-Warriors, some lopsided ones in Knicks-Spurs and Clippers-Pacers, and finally some in-between, perfectly mediocre games in Celtics-Hornets and Heat-Nuggets. WHAT A GREAT NIGHT.

I actually looked at which games applied to each of those categories over the first fourth of the season, measuring them by Basketball-Reference’s metric labeled SRS, or Simple Rating System. SRS takes into account a team’s point differential and strength of schedule. It is not a perfect metric, ignoring wins and losses as I’ve explained here, but to me it’s better than looking strictly at margin of victory, among other statistics. For reference, the Golden State Warriors currently have the best SRS at 9.54 while the 76ers have the league-worst at -11.89. Anything above, say, 5.00 is very good.

I like the metric, so I’ve kept track of every team’s SRS on game nights. The first couple weeks were cut out from this post, though, because SRS needs to even itself out over the first handful of games or so. We will always have the -22.20 from New York and +25.46 from Golden State on November 2.

Below have been the 10 best matchups so far, sorted by the sum of the SRS from both teams:

best 10

There are some expected teams like Memphis and Dallas, but hello Toronto and Sacramento! The Kings, partly from being without DeMarcus Cousins, now have an SRS of just 1.96. Toronto, meanwhile, currently has the second-best mark in the league at 8.15. Unsurprisingly, a lot of teams from the West are listed here.

Tonight’s matchup between Houston and Golden State would place eighth with an SRS total of 13.01. None of the games would place among the 10 worst:

worst 10

So much tire fire, or dumpster fire? Any game featuring the 76ers rounds out the top five, but New York and Minnesota are also included in a decent amount. There is also Oklahoma City in one game. This may be #BOLD, but with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back that team will likely never add to the 10 worst matchups.

Looking ahead, it’ll be “interesting” to see if a game with two teams’ SRS’ summing to a total of -20.00 or worse happens again. Only the 76ers and Timberwolves have an SRS of -10.00 or worse while third most-embarrassing Detroit sits at -7.63. The next 76ers-Timberwolves matchup takes place on January 30. Mark that down, figure out what kind of unsatisfying dinner to have, choose your least-favorite Gatorade flavor, and we can all be miserable together.

Lastly, the 10 most-even and, well, least-even matchups:

20 diff

Tonight’s Portland-Minnesota game barely misses out on the 10 largest differentials. Surprisingly, some of those games in the screenshot have been pretty fun, or at least close. The team with the worse SRS in those matchups is, to no surprise, 0-10.

The home team in the 10 most-even matchups, at least by SRS, is 8-2. Most look decently contested, but we’re not taking into account rest advantages, injuries, players returning from injuries, etc. Again, Oklahoma City is likely to see a rise in their SRS, the Kings may continue to dip, Detroit’s should be twice as bad for being as disappointing as they are, and Golden State should get a boost just because. Maybe I’ll make a new metric called SoupRS. If a team was a soup and I had a spoonful, my reaction would either hurt or help their original SRS. Basketball stats: Tasty, edible, digestible?

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East vs. West Week 5: Same result just re-defeated or something

(Not my best attempt to go off of the “same soup just re-heated” line.)

With the West going 18-7, Week 5’s end result was a bit like what we saw in Week 4 when they beat the East 18 out of 21 times. That means the West is 36-10 in their last two weeks despite 10 less home games. Fun times.

Week 5 actually looked interesting through Monday’s set of non-conference games. The East went 3-3, including Indiana beating Dallas on the road, but then the West took care of business. Golden State went 4-0 in non-conference games last week while Houston, the Clippers, Portland, and San Antonio each went 2-0. New Orleans lost both of their non-conference matchups. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are somehow 3-0 against the East after last night’s win against Toronto. (We will miss you, DeMar DeRozan.)

It also looks like the West also got a bit more brutal thanks to Oklahoma City getting back Crazy-High Usage Russell Westbrook. They’re something of a feature team in Week 6’s matchups as they play two non-conference games over next weekend:

week6

The home court advantage the East enjoyed the last two weeks is mostly gone. They play one more home game this week than the West, a mehhh 13-12 edge. They do have something of a rest advantage, though: 5-2 edge in games where one team has one or more days of rest compared to an opponent on the tail-end of a back-to-back.

But dang, this could be another bad week for the East in the wins and losses. Boston, Detroit, Indiana, New York, Orlando, and Philadelphia play a combined 14 games with Indiana and Orlando on road trips out west. Philadelphia’s arguably best chance to get their first win comes on the road against Minnesota. For someone about 45 minutes from Minneapolis, I really hope the Sixers get their first win in Oklahoma City instead.

For the most common teams in the West, they aren’t packing too much strength this week. Denver, the Lakers, Sacramento, and Utah play a combined 10 games. They’re no pushovers, but no Memphis Grizzly-type either. Dallas (three games), Golden State, the Clippers, Memphis, Portland, OKC, and San Antonio play combined 13 games.

Hopefully there are some upsets in the East’s favor. In the meantime, I’m really going to try and add some more posts this week. We’re just over a month into the season, so maybe time for a roundup relating to that.

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.

Change of pace: The league’s fastest and slowest lineups

Once in a while, coaches will give their team an unusual look on the floor for several reasons, one possibly being to either turn the game into a track meet or slow it to a crawl. Either way they likely disrupt the flow of the game, though hopefully to the advantage of a coach looking to change things up in the first place. This post will (hopefully) take a good look, with the help of a couple tables, at which lineups best give teams either another gear or a new set of breaks, for better or for worse.

The minimum minute requirement I made for lineups was 50. I also plucked out lineups with players no longer on the respective teams they were listed with, which impacted the Cavaliers’ units with Andrew Bynum and Chicago’s with Luol Deng, among others. The last filter I made was to adjust to a team’s average pace, otherwise the Philadelphia 76ers would represent half of the 10 fastest lineups. In the end, none of their five-man units of over 50 minutes of run made the cut. It also meant the Jazz and Bulls would make room for some the other slowest groups in the league.

Anyway, that’s about it. Below is the first table with the 10 fastest lineups. The 10 slowest are listed further down. All stats are according to NBA.com:

There’s a nice mix of lineups. Some go small with a big man to work around like Houston with Dwight Howard and Portland with LaMarcus Aldridge, each with four players to spread the floor and some able to slash. For the Blazers, Mo Williams basically replaces Robin Lopez, understandable to see it make the game as fast as possible. Also understandable is that they don’t stop opponents as efficiently as Houston’s unit.

Lineups from Brooklyn and Chicago also made the list, though only the Nets’ unit is faster than Philadelphia’s average pace of 102.68. A healthy Brook Lopez would’ve made for more huge lineups, but unfortunately they didn’t last long after the center broke his right foot. Chicago’s lineup isn’t exactly small, though on paper it feels that way without Joakim Noah. As expected, that lineup drops off without what he provides. Chicago’s overall pace hasn’t changed all that much with D.J. Augustin as the point guard, dropping by about half a possession per game since his arrival. Minnesota’s lineup is also missing their center in Nikola Pekovic. It isn’t exactly a lineup surrounding Kevin Love with four shooters, but one at least made for a track meet. Some of that pace might be helped by the outlet mall that is Love and a guard leaking out early after a missed (or sometimes made) shot.

Some more standard-looking lineups involve Denver’s, the Lakers’, Phoenix’s, San Antonio’s and Oklahoma City’s, though only Denver’s yields a positive net rating. In time, the Spurs’ and Thunder’s lineups should even out. No lineup with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should be that bad. Same goes for Tim Duncan with Tony Parker, etc.

Now to the 10 slowest lineups, sorted by most snail-like to least:

Not surprisingly is Golden State making the list featuring a lineup without Stephen Curry or any point guard. That unit falls apart offensively but at least holds its own on defense thanks to the duo of Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. Another big lineup, at least up front, is the Pelicans’ with Anthony Davis and Alexis Ajinca.

A similar Suns lineup to the one among the fastest in the league makes the slowest 10, arguably the biggest difference in players being Channing Frye at center to further stretch the floor instead of a Plumdog. The change on both sides of the court has been remarkable not just in pace but production as Phoenix has scored 30 more points per 100 possessions while allowing nearly 17 more.

A smallball variation that goes slow can be found in Atlanta with Elton Brand manning the middle. It’s hard to imagine any Hawks lineup without Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Kyle Korver being even average on offense, though they’ve held their own on that side of the floor. Defensively, that Hawks unit understandably hasn’t fared well, but neither have five other ones listed. Detroit’s lineup featuring their big three with Chauncey Billups and Brandon Jennings in the backcourt is the most egregious mess, though the Wizards without John Wall and the Lakers without any resistance allow over 115 points per 100 possessions. So many flames yet so little water.

Utah’s lineup looks like one used in the last minutes of a blowout. That’s all I take away from theirs.

Overall, a bunch of the sample sizes from these fast or slow lineups are quite small when looking at minutes played. Quite a few have appeared in over 20 games, however, so it should be all right to take away some things from those tables. The easiest one for me is that it takes as simple as one substitution to alter a team’s normal pace, like how Portland’s fastest lineup involves Mo Williams substituting for Robin Lopez, or even Steven Adams for Kendrick Perkins when looking at Oklahoma City. I’d also lean towards familiarity as more of a factor in some teams struggling or thriving.

Over the next month, we’re bound to have a new lineup or two making the top 10 in one of the categories, most likely from a struggling team fiddling with players they’re curious about keeping long-term. Maybe we’ll also see the same ones with either vast improvements or drop-offs in production while others might be stored away for the rest of the season. Most teams find a middle ground with their starting lineups anyway, somewhere between 95 and 98 possessions per game, but it helps to have a lineup or two to change the flow or a starting lineup that can dictate the pace. If there could only be one lineup to change gears, though, would a much slower or faster one be more desirable for a team with a league-average pace? I guess that could make for a decent discussion with answers being player-dependent.

Any other thoughts are certainly welcome.

As a reminder, all stats are from NBA.com.

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