Bucks Diary

Monday, February 18, 2008

Who is likely to play in the NBA Finals

I did an analysis of the Win Score per game average of all NBA Finalists in the modern statistical era, along with each of their Opponent Win Score per game averages, to see if the numbers offered anu insight into who will likely play in this year's NBA Finals. Win Score per game average is roughly equivalent to the team's offensive efficiency and Opponent Win Score is roughly equivalent to their defensive efficiency.

Historical patterns

Its difficult to draw absolute conclusions at this time, because nearly every contender in the West is in flux. But we can say this much:

1. Since 1974, the average TWS for an NBA Finalist is +13.9% above NBA average. This season, that would include Boston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Utah, New Orleans, Denver, and Golden State.

2. In that same time, the average OWS is -12.2%. This season, that would include only Boston, Houston, and Detroit.

3. If both criteria held, then obviously only Boston qualifies.

4. If you use the Net Win Score % Above Average (26.1%), then Boston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Detroit qualify.

5. However, Phoenix and Los Angeles would be bucking recent history if they made it. Both teams currently sport Opponent Win Scores that are better than 40.0. No team has made the Finals with an Opponent Win Score that high since 1995.

6. Since 1974, 95.6% of all NBA Finalists have had Opponent Win Scores that were below the NBA average. That would tend to eliminate Phoenix (0.00) Denver (+1.4%) and certainly Golden State (+12.7%) . The Lakers are teetering on violating this principle as well (+2.1%).

7. Since 1995, 87.5% of all Finalists have had Opponent Win Scores that were at least 10% below the prevailing NBA average. Again, this would eliminate Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New Orleans.

Hesitant conclusions

Again, its early, and the Western Conference is in full flux, but if Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Denver don't do something to improve their defenses, recent history says they are unlikely to survive the postseason tournament. Thus, the likeliest Western Conference representatives at this moment would be Utah, Dallas, and San Antonio, in that order.

In the East, I just can't see how anyone can stop the Celtics. Their numbers are historically dominant. But if anyone can do it, it would have to be the Pistons. The Cavaliers, Magic, and everyone else who is occasionally mentioned as coming out of the East look like pretenders at best.

General Comments about the NBA Finals since 1974

A. Five Greatest NBA Finals matchups since 1974 by Net Win Score:

1. 1998 Chicago-Utah (combined Net WS: 92.4)
2. 1996 Chicago-Seattle (Net WS: 83.3)
3. 1974 Boston-Milwaukee (Net WS: 73.5)
4. 1985 Los Angeles-Boston (Net WS: 67.5)
5. 1992 Chicago-Portland (Net WS: 66.8)

B. Five Worst NBA Finals since 1974:

1. 1978 Washington-Seattle (Net WS: 6.0)
2. 1976 Boston-Phoenix (Net WS: 17.3)
3. 1979 Seattle-Washington (Net WS: 27.3)
4. 1981 Boston-Houston (Net WS: 29.5)
5. 1995 Houston-Orlando (Net WS: 31.8)

Biggest Finals Upsets since 1974

1. 1995 Houston-Orlando (WS difference: 31.8)
2. 1994 Houston-New York (WS difference: 26.6)
3. 1975 GS-Washington (WS difference: 12.4)
4. 1974 Boston-Milwaukee (WS difference: 9.9)
5. 1984 Boston-LA (WS difference: 5.7)

Number of WS Upsets in the Modern Era (since '74)

13 (out of 34 -- 38.2%)

Number of WS Upsets since 1995

2 (out of 12 -- 16.6%)


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