“Great Teams Gut Out Close Wins in the NBA”: WRONG!

The NBA is a league where point differential is the single strongest predictor across an 82-game season of success and failure. 30 points is worth a win (give or take, and adjusted for pace, but it’s right around 30.) Which is to say, for every plus-one in point differential over a season, it’s good for about 2.7 wins. Every major advanced stat that deals with wins (from playoff-odds projections to Estimated Wins Added/WAR) is based on this principle. Which, in turn, creates a simple maxim. If you want to win lots of games, you need to win by big margins, …

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The Indiana Pacers Are Golden State Lite

It is a maxim here at Pace and Space that “great teams win big and lose close.” Basic point differential theory dictates that a team that “guts out close wins” isn’t a good team, nor are they particularly better per se than a team that goes 72-10 but goes 5-3 in games decided by three points (IE one possession or less). After all, the 2016 Grizzlies went 8-3 in one-possession games. Were they “grittier” than the ’96 Bulls? Of course not! And part of that is the fact that Chicago was blown out exactly once in that greatest-of-all-time season, a …

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NBA Statistical Test: Can Team Basketball Be Measured?

There are two prevailing schools of thought among NBA commentators in today’s game. One holds that “you can’t win without a superstar”, pointing at guys like LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant as guys who put (admittedly very good) supporting casts on their shoulders and lifted them to championships. The other holds that “team basketball” is king and points to teams like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs with a side order of teams like the 2004 Pistons and 2008 Celtics, less star-driven by one guy and more driven by a top-to-bottom team concept that wins with …

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I Love The Indiana Pacers

Normally, in this Tuesday column space, I take a Very Serious Look™ at some element of Pacers basketball, like whether the team can play enough defense to hold a lead, whether Myles Turner will ever evolve into a strong rebounder, whether Bojan Bogdanovic is suddenly an elite wing shooter, and whether Victor Oladipo is better than Paul George (yes. The answer is yes. Victor Oladipo is a star and you better recognize. And the rise of Domantas Sabonis and the hot steaming garbage heap that is the Thunder’s season means Kevin Pritchard won the trade with Oklahoma City. Those who …

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How Good NBA Teams Lose And Bad Teams Win

There are, at present, three NBA teams that are indisputably good in the sense that they win at least 75 percent of the time, the bar a team needs to clear to go 62-20 or better; the Boston Celtics (18-3), Houston Rockets (15-4), and Golden State Warriors (15-5). There are also three teams in the Association that are so utterly putrid that they are on pace to win 20 games or fewer over an 82-game season; the 3-14 Chicago Bulls, 4-16 Atlanta Hawks, and 5-15 Dallas Mavericks. But if the best teams always won and the worst teams always lost, …

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NBA Breakfast Special: Black Friday Observations

Rather than do highlights on this Black Friday edition of the Breakfast Special, we’re going to instead take a look at the things in the NBA that make the least sense, the “something weird is going to happen before Christmas” predictions that you can take to the bank. Why? Because I’m as turkeyed out as the rest of you lot; I took yesterday off, and who really wants to see highlights of two-day-old games? Let’s begin with… The Oklahoma City Thunder, A Third-Place Team With an Eighth-Place Record Oklahoma City is 8-9 through 17 games, and that just makes no …

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Bojan Bogdanovic Is Making The Leap

Bojan Bogdanovic, Indiana’s Bosnian small forward, came to the Pacers after having spent the first three seasons of his career as one of the worst starters in the NBA. During his time with Brooklyn, a span of over 200 games and 5,000 minutes, Bogdanovic managed a negative-1.1 VORP, .056 Win Shares per 48 minutes, an 11.7 PER, and a general inability to guard any NBA starter-level forward in the league. He was terrible, and at some point you have to ask yourself if it’s the lousy team he was on or just that the man himself was part of the …

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Russell Westbrook vs. Magic Johnson: Who Was Better At Age 26?

Magic Johnson is the all-time leader in assists per game, having notched 11.2 per contest over a total of 13 seasons (counting an abortive comeback attempt in 1996.) He flirted with averaging a triple-double in the 1981-82 season, averaging 18.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 9.5 assists a game that year. Indeed, the popularization of the triple-double as a stat worth reporting in the basketball news was thanks largely to the need reporters had to find a way to properly glorify Magic’s versatility. Russell Westbrook will probably not be the all-time leader in anything by the time he retires except possibly …

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Triple 20: Examining The Impact of the NBA’s Big Three Concept

Ever since Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce joined forces ten years ago to win the 2008 title for the Boston Celtics, the maxim in the NBA has become that you need a Big Three (or, in Boston’s case, The Big Three Featuring Rajon Rondo) in order to have a chance of winning a title. While it took awhile for this to truly get off the ground, as the Lakers and Mavericks, who won the next three titles, were very clearly driven by a single superstar/decent cast paradigm with Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, the idea truly flowered in …

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Larry Bird vs. LeBron James At Age 30: Who Was Really Better?

This graphic has been making the rounds on Facebook. It’s a collection of cherry-picked counting stats without context about Larry Bird and LeBron James. In case that’s not showing up in detail on your mobile device: Bird: 28.1 pts/9.2 reb/7.6 ast/52.2 FG%/26.4 PER. LeBron: 25.3 pts/6.0 reb/7.4 ast/48.8 FG%/25.8 PER. The moral of the story, such as it seems to be, is that Bird soundly beats LeBron, and if you go by counting stats, at age 30 that’s absolutely the case. Things fall apart in a hurry when you start into Advanced Stats 101. We begin by breaking down those …

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