Month: April 2015

NBA Playoffs: What Are The Odds?

steph curry

Okay, I’ve tried several different ways to talk myself into predicting that the Wizards will somehow beat the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs and meet their doom in a second round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks. Hasn’t worked, though.

I know Toronto struggled over the last couple months of the season. So did the Wizards. I know the Raptors have a not-so-good coach. So do the Wizards. In a way, the two teams are opposing images of the other. Washington has a good defense and a crummy offense; Toronto has a terrific offense and a bad defense. The key difference: Toronto is better.

The gap between the teams isn’t oceanic. Washington’s odds in any one particular contest in the upcoming series aren’t awful. They have basically a 41% chance of winning at Toronto and a slightly better than coin flip odds of winning at home. In terms of probability, it would be something like winning three straight coin flips, and then winning a “loaded” toss where the odds have been lowered from 50-50 to 60-40. It’s possible, but not likely.

The Wizards could be helped a bit by Kyle Lowry’s iffy back, but the numbers accumulated over a six-month season say they’ll be lucky to pull off the upset. On the bright side for fans hoping to at least be entertained, there’s only about a 9% chance the Raptors sweep.

As you can see from the table below, the Wizards are significant underdogs against the Raptors. The only teams with worse odds of winning their first round series are the eight seeds (Brooklyn and New Orleans), and the East’s seven seed (Boston). The best chances for first-round upsets come in the more balanced West. Houston vs. Dallas and the Clippers vs. the Spurs look to tight.

The best chance for a seeding upset is likely to happen in the second round where the Clippers would be favored against either Houston or Dallas.

The numbers suggest that Golden State — the league’s best team all season — has the best chance of winning the championship this season. I actually estimate them with a better than 50% chance of being champions. Despite coasting through the last few weeks of the season, Atlanta finished the regular season as the East’s best team by a significant margin. They’ll be tested in the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland and Lebron James.

EAST
1st RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 8 ATL BRK ATL 91%
2 vs 7 CLE BOS CLE 79%
3 vs 6 CHI MIL CHI 70%
4 vs 5 TOR WAS TOR 70%
2nd RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 4 ATL TOR ATL 69%
2 vs 3 CLE CHI CLE 64%
ECF HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 2 ATL CLE ATL 61%
WEST
1st RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 8 GSW NOP GSW 92%
2 vs 7 HOU DAL HOU 58%
3 vs 6 LAC SAS LAC 57%
4 vs 5 POR MEM POR 61%
2nd RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 4 GSW POR GSW 83%
2 vs 3 HOU LAC LAC 65%
WCF HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 3 GSW LAC GSW 73%
FINALS HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 1 GSW ATL GSW 98%

Wizards Update: A Season of Discontent

wall 02

The Wizards concluded the regular season portion of a #SoWizards season losing back-to-back overtime games. The first of those losses — a double overtime snoozer against Indiana — was perhaps the most #SoWizards moment of the season: on the eve of the playoffs, Randy Wittman played John Wall, Marcin Gortat, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Drew Gooden more than 38 minutes each in a desperate effort to win a game that meant literally nothing to the Wizards.

Washington concluded the season 46-35, two wins better than last year’s record (and one game better than my pre-season projection). And yet, there’s a pervasive discontent with the team and its management. Some of the disappointment is a reaction to expectations that were pushed beyond the bonds of reality when the team was rolling through the junior varsity portion of their early-season schedule.

The dissatisfaction may run deeper than simply feeling let down that Washington didn’t get to 50-plus wins for the first time since the 1978-79 season. I think part of the reaction is the collective realization that what’s been sold to Wizards fans the past couple seasons has been kind of a fraud.

Getting above .500 and making the playoffs was supposed to be a sign of growth. It was supposed to be a progression. First, have a chance to win most nights. Second, make the playoffs and gain valuable experience. Third, build on that trip to the playoffs and ride the improvement of the team’s young core to deeper and deeper postseason runs until they can compete for a title.

But, making the playoffs has been built largely on NBA senior citizens who had something left in the tank, but not much of a future. In the span of a few short years, the Wizards paid a steep price in player acquisition resources to construct and old team. Sure, the old guys can be replaced, but the man leading the rebuild is likely to be the same one who steered the franchise into a ditch and then perpetrated the “fraud.” There is little reason to have confidence in Ernie Grunfeld reconstructing the roster in a manner that will make it anything other than a mid-level playoff team.

Meanwhile, their young core — Wall, Beal and Porter — hasn’t improved much. Wall has made the biggest improvement, yet still ranks solidly below the game’s elite. The best that can be said of Beal and Porter is that they possess potential. Whether that potential ends up getting translated into meaningful production is a question mark, especially considering how poorly the team is coached.

In general, fans overrate the impact of coaches. It’s clear, however, the Wizards operate at something of a disadvantage because of Randy Wittman’s antiquated notions of offensive basketball. Washington actually shoots the ball decently, but they’re rendered less efficient than they could be by their reliance on two-point jumpers. As has been pointed out numerous times by numerous commentators, two-point jumpers are exactly the shot the defense wants an opposing offense to take. The Wizards offense is built around that shot.

It’s almost impossible to unpack how much Wittman’s offense hinders the Wizards. I’ll give it a shot during the offseason, though.

On the bright side, there’s the team’s defense — fifth best in the league this year, and in a virtual tie with Golden State for league’s best over the last half of the season.

I’m hoping to have some playoffs analysis up tomorrow, but for now, here are the final PPA numbers for the Wizards.

Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

2015-04-17 -- wiz ppa

Perhaps Wall was cruising over the last couple months of the season. He still ended up with the best PPA of his career (he posted a 139 each of the preceding two seasons), but I’m convinced he’s capable of MUCH more. The areas for biggest improvement remain what they’ve been since he entered the league: shooting from the floor and turnovers.

By my reckoning, this was the second best season of Gortat’s career (the best was a 186 PPA with Phoenix (and Steve Nash) in 2011-12). He was edged out by Wall in total production because Wall played more minutes. He’s not an elite center, but he’s more than solid.

Paul Pierce made news this week with candid comments in an interview with ESPN. While his production has declined during the season, his overall performance has been remarkable for his age. In my historical database (which goes back to 1977-78), Pierce’s 126 PPA is the best season for a 37-year old SF. The closest contenders are Scottie Pippen (120) and Dominique Wilkins (119).

After those three, it’s difficult to generate much to say that’s positive. Beal ended up a hair below average for a third straight season. Nenê continued to decline. This was his least productive season since he was 25 years old. It’s a good thing his contract expires after next season.

The bright side for Washington is that they play in the epically weak Eastern Conference. As mediocre as they are (and they are mediocre), they have a chance in the first round against the vulnerable Toronto Raptors. More on that tomorrow.

Wizards Update: The Home Stretch

sessions ramon

There’s a temptation to note the Wizards have won four in a row and five of their last six and conclude they’re headed for the playoffs in good form. I don’t share that optimism, however. This is a stretch of games where Washington was expected to win with four games against three of the league’s weakest teams — Charlotte (21st in Simple Rating System — a power ranking published by Basketball-Reference.com that combines scoring differential with strength of schedule), New York (30th) and Philadelphia (29th) twice.

Failing to win at least four of the six would have been cause for real concern. Getting an “extra” win against Memphis was encouraging, although it’s worth noting the Grizzlies were coming off a hard-fought win against Oklahoma City the previous night while the Wizards coasted to an easy (and restful — the only starter to play more than 30 minutes was Bradley Beal) over the hapless Knicks.

The Wizards aren’t “fixed,” they’re playing bad opponents. It’s good that they’re beating those teams, but that’s not the same as saying they’re in good shape. Realistically speaking, they continue to look how they’ve looked all season — a slightly better than average team that feasts on the 99-pound weaklings in the East and can sometimes summon the game to challenge (and even beat) a good team if stuff goes right for them and wrong for the other side.

The preceding is talking about the team’s big picture. The overall. They’re excellent on defense, and have been since the end of January. Unfortunately, their offense has been terrible during the same time frame. Since the playoffs are about to start, we’re about to hear a bunch of the old maxim that defense wins in the postseason. Like a lot of truisms, it’s half true. Unless the Wizards are able to operate with some level of offensive efficiency against higher-quality opponents, they’re not going deep in the playoffs.

I’ll get more into postseason matchups when the regular season concludes, but it does help that Washington is in the East. First, because they’ll be in the playoffs at all. Out West, they’d at best be scrapping for the eighth seed. In their actual conference, they’ll have a punchers chance in the first round against Toronto or Chicago.

Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

2015-04-09 -- wiz ppaSearching for encouragement as the playoffs approach? Look at Gortat and Wall — both of whom have been consistently good all season. Beal has played better the past few weeks, as have Sessions, Porter and Gooden.

On the other hand, Nenê and Pierce have struggled. The hope is that they’re recharging for the playoffs. But, they’re also the team’s oldest players, and they could be wearing down from the long season.