Thursday, January 29, 2009
7 teams, 1 playoff spot...
Have you looked at the Eastern Conference standings of late? As a fan of a particular team, sometimes it's easy to get caught up in just looking at how many games that team is out of the playoffs, neglecting to look at the teams around them.
First, grant me the following: The Sixers are 22-22, Elton Brand is returning to the lineup, and with a 2.5 game headstart on the 8th seed, Philly is safe to make the playoffs.
That leaves the following scenario: Seven teams--Milwaukee, New York, New Jersey, Charlotte, Chicago, Toronto, & Indiana--separated by just 2.5 games, vying for the final playoff spot in the East.
Now, on the surface, as a Raptors enthusiast, it's easy to say, "Well, Toronto is easily the best team out of those seven, they will go on a run and will take over the 8th seed, maybe even the 7th."
But does reality agree with that assessment? What do the numbers say? What do the schedules indicate? How healthy are all these teams? Let's go...
What I've done is rank these seven teams in a variety of ways, and the team was given a score corresponding to that ranking (i.e. if you ranked 1st in offensive efficiency, you received a score of 1 for that category). I then added up all of the scores in all of the categories to come up with a composite ranking that should tell us who has the best chance of winding up in the playoffs.
Whether you want to admit it or not, and no matter how small 2.5 games may seem, it's still a contributing factor to this analysis. Therefore, the Raptors are starting in a bit of a hole in this one, with a score of 6.
SCHEDULE TO DATE
Whose record masks a really easy schedule so far? Who has had to endure a bunch of games against the Bostons and Los Angeleses of the world? Teams spanned the entire spectrum here, Indiana has had the toughest schedule in the NBA so far, while New Jersey has had the easiest. Toronto has had the 6th toughest schedule so far, giving them a score of 3 for this category.
Not very many outstanding offences in this group. Toronto ranks as the best, but they only rank 14th in the league... Still good for a score of 1.
I'm starting to realize that these teams aren't very good. Seven teams, and only one ranks in the Top 10 in either offensive or defensive efficiency. That team is the Bobcats, who rank 9th in the NBA (Larry Brown can coach defence, you have to give him that). Toronto ranks 22nd in the NBA, good for a score of 5.
(Quick aside: You know how much of a proponent I am of the past two categories we've looked at, and for informational purposes, here are the top four teams when you combine offensive & defensive efficiency: TOR, MIL, CHA, IND)
TOP PLAYER FACTOR
The NBA is a game of stars, not necessarily of depth. This is a bit of a subjective measure, but what I did was look at the Top 50 players in Player Efficiency Rating, and find out which teams had the most, and highest-ranked. New Jersey (Harris & Carter) came out on top, with Toronto (Bosh & Calderon) coming in second. Note: Milwaukee was only credited with one player in the Top 50 (Villanueva) because even though Redd was in the Top 50, you couldn't really make a case for him to be included when he's out for the season.
Another slightly subjective measure, but something that has to be taken into effect somehow (that's one of the problems of Hollinger's Playoff Odds, it doesn't take into account players who won't be playing in future games). Milwaukee was given the worst ranking given Redd's injury, and three other rotation guys who have been knicked up (Ridnour, Bogut, Bell). Charlotte came up next to last because of Gerald Wallace's uncertain status, while Indiana is a big question mark because Danny Granger has been feeling pain in that questionable knee of his lately (plus Roy Hibbert has been out).
Even though they're fully healthy now, I gave Toronto a score of 3 in this category because I've also tried to take into account the injury history of players on each team (Do you really think Toronto will go the rest of the season without Bosh, Calderon, or O'Neal/Marion missing any time?)
We've looked at the schedule to date, now we're going to have two rankings that look at the remaining schedules. The first is games against teams with winning records. New Jersey is the only team that has more games remaining against winning teams than losing teams. The three teams with the best ratios of games against winning teams vs losing teams are Toronto (14/21), Indiana (15/21), and Charlotte (16/20). That is a very favourable deal for Toronto, as three out of every five games for the rest of the season will come against losing teams.
HOME / ROAD SPLIT
This is when Toronto's advantage really starts to show itself. Not only do they have a ton of games left against bad teams, but they also have the second best remaining schedule in terms of home/road split (20/15).
Milwaukee ranks first in this category, while New Jersey and New York have really taken a beating in these last two categories (it's like the NBA was really trying to give those two New York area teams a really good shot at having a decent record to start the season).
So there you have it, eight categories... taking into account past performance, current roster makeup, and future hurdles. How does it shake out?
12. New Jersey
13. New York
Does it pass the laugh test? I think so. I'd feel a lot more comfortable about Charlotte being where they are if I knew how long Gerald Wallace would be out. And I wish there was any kind of way you could account for potential roster improvement between now and the end of the season (i.e. Marion coming to the Raptors, Rose's continued emergence in Chicago, etc...), but other than that, I think the rankings make sense.
Toronto has had a double whammy in terms of scheduling so far this season. Not only have they played a bunch of good teams, but they've played those good teams on the road. So that bodes well for them for the rest of the season, as does their relative health, and even though relatively speaking they're not all that good this season, the fact is they're the most balanced and talented team left out of these seven teams (as evidenced by the Offensive and Defensive metrics).