End of January Power Rankings 2019

We are approximately two thirds of the way through the NBA season and we have the strongest ranking model yet. With a few changes, the model is now showing an R-square value of 99 percent. The model is still predicting winning percentage which may not be the best way to rank teams since it leaves out strength of schedule. It does however give us a good image of what teams are expected to finish with the best records this season.

Rankings 2-2-19
Rankings based on games played up until 2-1-19

Milwaukee stayed at the top of our rankings and are showing no signs of slowing down. However, there have been some rumors and roster changes that could lead to substantial late season movement. Golden State for example has a very good chance of moving to the top spot. With DeMarcus Cousins’ return from injury, they now have what is likely the best starting lineup in NBA history. In case you didn’t remember, all five Warrior starters were in last year’s All-Star game.

The Los Angeles Lakers are another team I would expect to move a little higher up in the rankings. With LeBron James back in the lineup, there is no doubt the team is better. The Lakers are also one of the most popular teams for last minute trade rumors this season. Based on the feedback they got from their first few offers to the New Orleans Pelicans, it doesn’t seem likely that Anthony Davis will be making his way over to the golden coast before the trade deadline. But, with a plethora of young assets and a need to make space for any the many stars who have expressed interest in joining the King in LA, they could still be working on a last-minute deal to better position their team for the future.

One team we should expect to see move in down in the rankings is the Indiana Pacers. With Victor Oladipo out due to a ruptured quad tendon that is likely to keep him sidelined until 2021, it would be no surprise that the Pacers are not able to perform at the same level. There are some rumors that indicate they are open to trades to keep their team relevant in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. Memphis Grizzlies’ starting point guard Mike Conley has been rumored to be a player of interest in the Pacers trade rumors.

One last team that deserves a little recognition for their efforts to improve is the Dallas Mavericks. On top of the breakout performance of rookie phenomenon Luka Doncic, the Mavericks worked out a trade to bring in the young star Kristaps Porzingis. Though Porzingis may not see the court this year due to his continued recovery from an ACL tear, fans all around the league are eagerly waiting to see the young duo in action. As long as Porzingis can stay healthy, Dallas may be the up and coming team to watch in the Western Conference next season.

Overall, I am very happy with the new model and will continue to look for ways to improve it. Feel free to contact me through the main website with any ideas, comments, or topics about what you want to hear more about.

End of November Power Rankings

For the end of November power ranking I will be using a new more accurate model. This model is based off of regression analysis where the following factors were used to predict winning percentages: three-point percentage, two-point percentage, free-throw percentage, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals, blocks, turnovers, personal fouls, and points against. Other stats were considered and tested such as assists and were later removed due to autocorrelation issues.

In this model, two-point and three-point percentage are the strongest predictors of win percentage by far. The model has a correlation coefficient of 0.90 which means that it has a very strong linear relationship. The adjusted R square value is a .71 which means that seventy one percent of teams win percentages are explained by the independent variables previously listed. This does represent a relatively strong fit but there is still room to improve in the future.

Final RankingsModel details aside, here are the results. The Milwaukee Bucks lead by Giannis Antetokounmpo have earned the top spot in the rankings. I don’t think that they will finish as the best team in the NBA and they probably aren’t there right now, but with their excellent 58.8 percent two-point percentage and 36.1 percent three-point percentage it is no surprise they earned a high ranking in the current model.

The most underachieving team in the NBA right now, in my opinion, is the Washington Wizards. With names like John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter on their roster expectations were high for this team. They have consistently been a playoff caliber team in the East of the last five seasons and were one game shy of 50 wins since the 1979-80 season. The team is likely to be separated soon as all current starters are on the trading block.

Another team I want to comment on is the Detroit Pistons. In ESPNs last power ranking the Pistons made it into the top ten. As much as I want to see the Pistons do well, I’m skeptical as to how long they can keep this level of success. Blake Griffin seems to be the shining point of the teams offense, while the teams overall shooting percentages are average at best. They are still in the bottom three in the league in three-point percentage with a coach who has them taking the sixth most three-point attempts per game. Despite the shooting struggles, the team is off to a great start and could be a few pieces away from becoming a true threat in the east. Carmelo Anthony, Bradley Beal, and JR Smith could all be potential assets if they come at the right price.

Lastly, I want to talk about a few teams that I believe have the best chance of jumping into the top ten before the new year. The Lakers are my first choice here. LeBron and company seem to finally be showing signs of meshing and James has shown he is still capable of putting up the numbers he did in his finals runs with the Cavs. Expect the Lakers to continue to improve as their chemistry grows.

The honorable mention for most likely to hit the top ten before the new year goes to the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers. I loved the move they made to get Jimmy Butler especially because the players they had to give away were mostly role players and can be replaced with signings and draft picks in the future. Butler, Embiid, and Simmons seem to be getting along just fine and should easily make the jump to the top ten very soon as well as move towards the top of the Eastern Conference by the end of the season.

The Warriors Boogie

DeMarcus Cousins has progressed through his rehab with little to no setbacks and is expected to take the court for the first time as a Golden State Warrior shortly after Christmas. Prior to the season, the Warriors’ signing of Cousins had the NBA community in an uproar. Warriors fans were thrilled and others were giving up on their favorite team before the season even started. It’s safe to say that the other teams still have hope as the Warriors have fought through injuries and drama, landing them in the second spot in the West with a 15 and 7 overall record.

With a starting lineup boasting four current NBA stars, there have been lots of questions about what DeMarcus Cousins’ role will be in the lineup. To try and understand Cousins’ role and effectiveness with his new team, I decided to take a look at other players who have gone through serious ACL injuries. For this analysis, I decided to compare player stats from the year of their injury to their first and second seasons back playing after recovering (seasons only counted if the players played 20 games or more). The stats I chose to look at for this analysis were field goal percentage, assists, rebounds, and turnovers. Some of the main stats we see such as steals and blocks were not included because they typically have a small year to year variance and it would be hard to attribute minor changes to the injury.

DeMarcus Cousins Golden State Warmups
DeMarcus Cousins in Golden State Warmups: Photo Credit Sportingnews.com

With the use of Kaggle.com, I was able to acquire a dataset of all NBA injuries between 2010 and 2018. From there I sorted through the data to leave only the players with torn Achilles/ACL injuries. With these filters applied only 38 players remained. Of those 38 players, 9 stopped playing directly after the injury or only attempted one more season (these players were removed from the dataset for lack of relevance). 5 players are currently recovering or haven’t played at least two seasons of 20 games or more since their ACL injury so they were removed from the dataset as well. This left me with 24 players with recent Achilles tears to examine.

In most cases, players returning from serious injuries are eased back into action. For that reason, I chose to take player stats per 36 minutes of playing time so decreased minutes per game wouldn’t skew player efficiency. A common mistake sports analysts seem to make is looking at totals without thinking about why they are the way they are.

When the dataset was finally put together, it lead me to some surprising findings. Regardless of player age we see that players do seem to take a step backwards in their first season back from a serious ACL injury. In the second year, there are still less productive stat lines, but many players start getting back to their output prior to injury. The most surprising observation had to be how close the post injury hustle stats were to their pre-injury output. In most cases, assists and rebounds dropped less than one per game in the averages.

Field goal percentage is a different story. All but four of the 24 players in the study dropped in overall field goal percentage their first year back and for the most part the drops were significant. Even in the second year back we see almost half of the players shooting worse than they were prior to injury.

Achillies Injury Stats
Red areas show stats that are under players production levels prior to ACL injury. 

Shooting appears to the area most significantly affected by ACL injuries and for that reason I think DeMarcus Cousins will actually do well in the Golden State. In fact, this may have been the ideal place for him to land this season. The Warriors certainly have enough scoring and outside shooting. If Cousins comes back and starts shooting like Andre Drummond from the three-point line, he can still be a beneficial part of the Warriors starting lineup. No offense to Jordan Bell, Damian Jones and Jonas Jerebko, but DeMarcus Cousins brings something to the team that the Warriors haven’t had in the splash brother’s era. He is a dominant NBA center and a powerful offensive presence under the basket. Even if Cousins isn’t playing at the level he was prior to injury, he will still be a more effective scorer in the paint than the Warriors’ current options and he will likely be a better defender, rebounder, and passer.

Cousins may have found the best place to get back up to speed. He won’t be forced into a lead offensive role he isn’t ready to take on and he will be a valuable addition to a team that just might bring home a third straight NBA Championship.

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.

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.

It’s Raining 3’s

In the last ten years (between the 2008-09 and 2017-18 seasons) the average number of three-pointers attempted by teams per game has increased 59.9 percent. That’s over ten more three-point shot attempts a game per team. The rapid growth in the popularity of the three-point shot has taken the game by storm and shows no signs of slowing down with a team average of 31.7 three-point shot attempts taken per game (as of the morning of October 25).

3 Point Attempts

Along with the increase in three-point attempts, we have seen an increase in points scored per game and a decrease in two-point shot attempts. This shows us that the way basketball is played has drastically changed. The traditional big man who thrived off of minimal movement and exclusively scoring in the paint is starting to disappear or be forced to adjust to a faster more versatile playing style. Andre Drummond for example, the player to record the worst free throw shooting percentage in NBA history (35.5 percent in 2015-16), has taken more three-point shots in the Pistons first three games this season than he did in his first three years in the NBA.

How did this happen? There used to be a time when players like Ray Allen and Kyle Korver were few and far between. How did three-point shooting go from being a specialty to being a necessity? Well, there are a few main stages that have contributed to the shooting change in the NBA, and surprise, it starts with the Golden State Warriors.

Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely teams shooting high volumes of three-pointers before the Curry and Thompson stole the show. The Orlando Magic, for example, put up 27.3 three-pointers per game in the 2008-09 season where they ultimately fell to Kobe’s Lakers in game five of the NBA finals. But the 2012-13 NBA season is where the splash brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, began to build a brand of excellence and success based wonderous three-point shooting.

splash brothers
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson; Splash Brothers – Photo Credit to thebiglead.com

Curry and Thompson went on to have five consecutive 50 plus win seasons as well as breaking the regular season win record with 73 in the 2015-16 season. In this time span, the two original splash brothers averaged no less than fourteen three-point attempts per game between the two of them. Now, Curry and Thompson hold the top five spots on the leaderboard for three-point field goals scored in a season (Curry has the record at 402 in 2015-2016).

The Warriors continued to brand success with the three-pointer every year. As if two accurate, high volume shooters weren’t enough, they added another All-Star to the roster in 2016, Kevin Durant, who fit right in shooting five or more three-pointers per game in his first two season with the Warriors. Golden State has now won three NBA Championships in the last four years with this playing style and other teams around the league took notice.

Houston, another team that has spurred the three-point revolution, moved to a high volume three-point offense around the same time as the Warriors in 2012-13 and have recently become one of the strongest offenses in the West. Last year, the Rockets became the first team in NBA history to average more three-pointers per game than two-point field goals and they nearly eliminated the Golden State Warriors from the playoffs in the Western Conference Finals.

As more teams find success with the three-ball, more teams try to replicate the playing style. As of the morning of October 25th, there are no NBA teams averaging less than twenty-one three-pointers attempted per game, and there are twenty-one teams averaging thirty or more attempts per game. Three-point shooting is on the rise and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. One question this leaves us with is how likely are we to see four-point shots in NBA basketball?

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.