The Wild West

For quite a while now, there has seemed to be a discrepancy between the competitiveness of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA. And, for as long as I can remember, the discrepancy has always seemed to favor the West.

In recent years and this season especially, we continue to see this difference in the NBA’s competition level.  This year, eight out of 15 teams in the East that have a 50 percent winning percentage or greater. In the West, there are 11 teams at or above the 50 percent mark in winning percentage. If any of the top 12 teams in the West were to move to the Eastern conference today, they would be a playoff-qualifying team. This seems to happen every year. There are always a few teams in the East who make the playoffs that wouldn’t even get a sniff of them if they were competing for a sport with teams in the West.

The discrepancy between conferences seems to grow almost every year when the free agency rolls around. In recent years, some of the biggest names to flip from the Eastern Conference over to the West are Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James. There doesn’t seem to be one clear answer as to why the West tends to attract and retain better talent. We have seen players move from team to team to follow friends, All-Stars, and coaches while other players seem more interested in large sums of money and the local nightlife. Perhaps some of the movement is based on the competitive nature of players. To some players, it may have felt less rewarding to be one of the best in the East so they moved over to take on a new challenge. Whatever the players’ reasoning for choosing their teams it seems like the majority of big names in basketball end up in the West.

It is certainly much harder for players to make the NBA All-Star team in the West due to the saturation of star players. In the interest of basing these claims on statistics, a friend and I took a minute to look at each player and make a list of this seasons star caliber players based on their performance thus far. Labeling of these players was discretionary based on this year’s performance only compared to the rest of the players in the league (scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, shooting percentages, and blocks were considered in the decision making). After sifting through the data, we found that there were only 18 star players in the East Compared to the 28 star players in the West (full list in table below). Every team in the West has at least one star player while in the east we see five teams (Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland) with no star caliber players at all. Many of these teams do have up and coming talent such as Trae Young, but they just aren’t performing at a level that puts them above and beyond their competition yet.

NBA Star Players as of 11-21-18

If the skill level discrepancy was a once and a while issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, year after year we see deserving teams miss the playoffs just because they happen to be surrounded by stronger competition. I believe that the best teams should be represented in the playoffs regardless of their geographic location and under the current system they aren’t. The NBA should make playoff qualifying decisions based on overall record and not solely on conference placement.

All the Empty Stadiums

Empty Seat Data
Attendance counts from basketballreference.com

The average NBA stadium has a maximum capacity of approximately 19,000 seats. On average this season, there are 1,500 empty seats per game. As a result, we can tell that selling out games has become increasingly difficult for professional sports teams. Some teams are able to sell tickets just because their fan base is so strong, but for the majority of teams, the stadiums aren’t filling if the team isn’t competitive.

Teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, and Phoenix Suns are examples of teams who have a hard time filling the seats with their current roster. On average this season, the Suns have 17 percent of their seats vacant, Atlanta has 19 percent, and Brooklyn has a league high of 30 percent of stadium seats empty every game. It’s hard to imagine that teams with such large fan bases would have trouble filling their stadiums, but when you look at the price of admission it’s hard to blame people for choosing alternatives like watching from home.

Being a Detroit area native, I’m going to use the Detroit Pistons and the Little Caesars Arena for example. If you want to go see the Pistons play (a team that has only had one winning record in the last ten seasons) it will cost you $15.00 per person to sit in the top corner of the upper deck where part of the court view is blocked by the TV displays hanging from the ceiling. To get a seat in the upper deck anywhere near the midcourt line, you’re looking at $25.00 to $40.00 each. If you are looking for a seat in the lower bowl it will cost you no less than $55.00 per person.

For a family of four to go see a Pistons game sitting in decent upper bowl seats it would cost them between $100.00 to $160.00. The game excursion gets even more expensive when you add in ticket processing fees, parking and food. A simple family trip to see the Pistons play can quickly cascade to over $200.00 for average seats at best.

Empty LCA
Photo Credit: Mike A @mikea71

This year the Pistons are averaging the fifth most empty seats per game (3,908) in the NBA. Professional sports teams used to be able to get away with their high prices because there were very few options when it came to watching games. If it wasn’t featured on ESPN, TNT, or the local sports channel you were out of luck. Now however, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from when watching the NBA live.

Take the NBA’s streaming program for example. For $250.00 a year, you can stream any NBA game live with no commercials or go back and watch full game replays. Why bother spending over $200.00 to go see one game when you could have commercial free access to them all without leaving the comfort of your own home?

Another popular option is to go to a venue that pays for and displays the games. Instead of spending $30.00 to park, $40.00 per ticket, and $10.00 on a soft pretzel, you can go to a sports bar like Buffalo Wild Wings. At bars like this you have access to multiple live games for a fraction of the cost of stadium tickets, and you get great food on top of it.

NBA game tickets are too expensive and are becoming a once or twice a season outing for many. Teams like the Pistons need to start thinking about how they can lower the cost of game tickets instead of spending their time and money on changing the color of the seats so that the stadium doesn’t look empty. Regardless of the color of the seats the stadium is still boasting thousands of vacant seats and that is a shame. Lower the prices to fill your stadiums and show the fans they are important to your organization. Who knows, maybe you will sell a few more overpriced hot dogs while your fans enjoy the experience for less than a small fortune.

NBA Power Rankings – End of October

Intro

With October in the books we bring you another NBA power ranking. The goal of our power ranking is to rank teams against one another based on how they are actually performing, not based on potential or star-power. We are still working on a new and improved model but for this month’s rankings we will use the same scoring-power model that was used for the pre-season rankings (Click HERE to see pre-season rankings and model).

This month, we have much better data since we are no longer relying on pre-season statistics for rookies. We also have a much better idea of player roles and how much playing time rookies and new acquisitions will be given.

MovementOctober 2018 Rankings

Some of the teams that had the biggest movement from the pre-season rankings to now include Boston (Down 19), Sacramento (Up 13), Knicks (Down 19), Portland (Up 12), Miami (Up 12), Los Angeles – LAL (Up 12), and Houston (Down 15).

Spotlights

It has been an interesting start to the NBA season to say the least. With this model, teams that score more points per game are usually much better off. This leads to some error for teams like the Celtics who are playing relatively well and just aren’t putting up the huge scoring totals that other teams have this season. On the other hand, this model shows very encouraging signs for teams like New Orleans, Sacramento and the Lakers who could end up doing well if they continue to score, and play at their current production levels.

Nuggets fans should be feeling extremely optimistic about their team this season. The Nuggets rank 19th in scoring in the league this year they have moved to the 3rd in the power ranking. If they can rank this high on a model that favors teams who score more it shows that they can compete against the best teams in the NBA. They are able to make up for their lower scoring and win games by relying on their defensive efforts and hustle stats. This is a well-rounded, cohesive team that showing no signs of slowing down.

New Orleans is another organization that has fans excited this year and with good reason. They came out of the gate hot beating Houston and dropping 149 points against Sacramento. The Pelicans are showing high scoring ability, but as the season has played out they have struggled against top level competition. They have lost to the Raptors, Nuggets, and Warriors already this year. Even though they are playing well, it looks like they still may be a season or two away from being true championship contenders.

One last team I want to comment on is the Milwaukee Bucks. The “Fear the Deer” movement is coming on strong as well as the team itself which has started the 2018-19 season with seven straight wins. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are bringing in just shy of 50 points per game and they have knocked off some pretty good competition this year (including a 15-point win over the Raptors). The next big test for the Bucks is coming up on the 8th of November where they take on the Golden State Warriors. If they do beat the Warriors, we may have to recognize the Greek Freak and his squad as a serious threat to the reigning champs.