Pre-Season Power Rankings

The 2018-19 NBA season is finally here! In celebration of the tonight’s season opener  between Philadelphia and Boston I have created a homemade power ranking model (if you are just interested in the results, begin reading after Figure 1).

Process:

  1. Created a dataset representing the 2018-19 rosters.
    1. Data was collected from the previous season of play (2016-17 season used for Brandon Knight and Gordon Hayward) for returning players and preseason data was used for all rookies.
      1. Previous season data from basketballreference.com
      2. Pre-season data from foxsports.com
    2. Rookies were included if they played 4 or more preseason games in an attempt to only include players that will likely see significant playing time.
  2. Scaled the Data
    1. To get expected production statistics all teams players minutes per game were summed. Individual minutes per game were then divided by the team sum to get their expected playing time share (as a percentage) on their new roster.
    2. Each player’s individual statistics (ORB, DRB, etc.) were then divided by their minutes per game to get a stat per minute value.
    3. Finally, we set 240 minutes of playing time as the number of minutes each team will have (5 positions with 48 minutes of playing time each). I then calculated the new expected minutes per game by multiplying 240 by their expected playing time share from 2a.
    4. The data was then scaled to represent each player’s expected statistic outputs for the 2018-19 season by multiplying each individual’s per minute statistics by the expected minutes per game calculated in 2c.
  3. Scored the Results.
    1. Team points per game was the starting point for each team. Extra points were then added for other statistics based on how we would expect them to impact scoring (in the future I would like to use regression analysis to determine more meaningful coefficients in the following scale).
Scoring Scale Updated
Figure 1 – Scoring Scale for Extra Points

It is important to remember that this model isn’t intended to show where your favorite team will end up in the end of season standings. The goal of the model is to represent how good the teams are relative to each other. Some factors that could influence the end of season standings could be injuries, defensive ability, or difficulty of the teams’ schedule.

Don’t get to excited if your team isn’t where you expect it to be though. Rookie impact could be misleading due to the small preseason sample size, and teams like the Pelicans who have made major personnel changes will have to show that they can coexist and maintain their previous year’s production levels before we start saying they will compete with Golden State and Houston.

Final Rankings Updated
Figure 2 – Power Rankings

New York Knicks (Rank 8):

I have to say that New York’s acquisition of Trey Burke and waiving of Joakim Noah do not even come close to convincing me they will be a top 10 team this season.  The drafting of Kevin Knox is exciting, and he is a great prospect, but still not enough to launch the Knicks to the 8th best team in the league.

Orlando Magic (Rank 12):

Orlando is another team that I believe may have landed higher than they deserved. They did make very important moves this offseason re-signing Aaron Gordon and drafting Mo Bamba, but it doesn’t really offer the immediate impact needed to justify the 12th spot in the rankings. They are getting better, but still have a long way to go before being considered a top tier team.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum there are a handful of teams that appear to have unjustly fallen to low ranks.

Los Angeles Lakers (Rank 18):

Let’s start with the Los Angeles Lakers. Any team that manages to bring in LeBron James is easily expected to be a top contender. LeBron has proven time and time again that he alone can carry undeserving teams and players to the finals (If you’re not convinced just ask James Jones). Now, LeBron is surrounded by a plethora of young talent and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Watch out for the Lakers this season.

Philadelphia 76ers (Rank 15):

Philadelphia is a team I would expect to earn a top 10 ranking as well. Reigning Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are a force to be reckoned with on their own. With a healthy Markelle Fultz and other strong complementary pieces, the sixers have every right to be optimistic as this young team continues to grow.

Portland Trailblazers (Rank 21):

The last team I want to comment on that was clearly ranked lower than expected is Portland. Overall their core remained intact this offseason. If anything, the team saw a bit of improvement replacing Ed Davis with Jusuf Nurkic. They also brought in Seth Curry who has proven he can be an effective off the bench scorer when given the opportunity (48.1% Field goal percentage and 42.5% 3-point percentage in last active season). The problem with the Blazers is that they have been in this stage for too long. They aren’t good enough to win a championship, but they are good enough to avoid top draft picks. If the Blazers don’t make a serious move to go to the next level they will be stuck as an above average team until Lillard and McCollum decide to split.

Overall the model shows some interesting information. There are a handful of teams that just seem to be out of place and I will be looking for ways to improve rankings in the future. However, I do believe a lot of these rankings aren’t far off and could be revealing of some up and coming teams this season.

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