The Most Underachieving Teams in NBA History

In our last piece, we took a look at the most overachieving teams in NBA history—that is, the teams whose regular-season records most exceeded the record you’d expect them to post given their point differential. But what about the flip side of that? What about teams that did great on the aggregate scoreboard but lost far more games than the stats say they should have? We’re going to look at that today. Some of these teams missed the playoffs when they should’ve gotten in. Others had a lower seed and a tougher road. And still others got a better draft …

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The Most Overachieving Teams in NBA History

In every team sport where points (or goals) are counted to determine a winner, there is a strong correlation between point differential and won-lost record. Indeed, two major sports—baseball and basketball—have developed mathematical formulas to predict with startling accuracy the overall record of a team in any given year. And indeed, when that ledger gets too far out of balance, it is often a sign that a team is about to sharply regress toward its expected record, all other things being equal (that is, they didn’t punt on the season at the trade deadline after a below-expectation start, for example.) …

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The Portland Trail Blazers: 2021’s Best Bad NBA Team

The Portland Trail Blazers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 133-85 on April 3, running their record to 30-19, sixth in the stacked Western Conference. They also ran their season Net Rating above the zero point, a place they’ve found themselves only rarely during the season. The previous two remarks, on paper, would seem to contradict each other. After all, one of the most powerful predictive factors in a team’s season record is their point differential, whether it’s per game or per 100 possessions—since the Blazers play at a 98.3 pace, those two numbers are close enough to tell the same …

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Want to Win NBA Games? Make Your Shots. It’s That Simple.

A couple of weeks back, we took a look at the defensive factors that lead to the greatest difference between good NBA teams and bad NBA teams. To the surprise of perhaps nobody, holding the other team’s eFG% down was the single greatest predictor of whether a team was going to be any good. But the team that at the time—before the Utah Jazz went on a six-game run in which all of their opponents ended up looking like YMCA chuckers and in the process seized a sizeable advantage in the stat—led the league in opponent’s eFG% had a losing …

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Which Defensive Stats Matter Most in the NBA in 2021?

The Milwaukee Bucks have built a 27-14 record on three defensive pillars. One, don’t let the other team get good looks. The Bucks are ninth in opponents’ eFG% despite being 20th in opponents’ 3PT%. They’re forcing opponents into bad two-point shots and stand fourth in that metric. Even though teams shoot well and often from three, it’s offset by their inability to get to the rim and get an easy two. Two, limit the other team to one shot. Milwaukee is tied with the Orlando Magic for the best defensive rebounding percentage in the league. And three, defend without fouling; …

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In Search of the “League Average” NBA Player (Part 3: VORP)

In the previous two iterations of this series, we took a look at PER and WS/48 in an effort to determine what constitutes a “league average” NBA player—that is, a guy who is basically a 41-41 team over 82 games (man, remember 82-game seasons? Such nostalgia) distilled into one player across one season. Today, we take a few steps back and consider not just the VORP per 82 games of the guys we’ve considered so far, a cross-section of players from the 2019 and 2020 seasons who had league-average PER (between 14.8 and 15.2) or WS/48 (between .095 and .105) …

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In Search of the “League Average” NBA Player (Part 2: WS/48)

Last week, we looked at PER to try and figure out just what constitutes a “league average” NBA player. Since that stat is normalized to 15 every season, it gave us a cross-section of players across positions and even perceived talent levels (any time you have Brook Lopez, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier on the same list, that’s a wide swath to cut.) But Tatum especially is nothing even resembling “league average”. He’s become the breakout star on a Celtics team that has made three of the last four Eastern Conference finals. Hardly “league average”. So let’s try a stat …

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In Search of the “League Average” NBA Player (Part 1: PER)

One of the core conceits of advanced stats is that they tend to be normalized to some kind of league average. Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is built so that league average, every year, is exactly 15. In theory, the average for Win Shares per 48 minutes should be .100, since a team that has 0.1 WS per position per game will get half a win—half a win plus half a loss equals a 41-41 record over 82 games. Value Over Replacement Player is a different animal; a “replacement player” isn’t the same thing as a league-average player. It’s meant to …

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“Threes And Layups”: The Evolution of NBA Offense In One Stat

On this here site, D’Antoni Index has become a catch-all stat for measuring “modern” NBA offense. If the goal is to shoot your outside shots from 3-point land, your inside shots inside the restricted area, and to draw lots of fouls, adding up the rate at which teams accrue such things must by definition measure how well teams are achieving that goal. What’s more, what constitutes a “high” 3PAR, for example, has radically changed over the year. For example, the Indiana Pacers, through games of January 17, 2021, stand 21st in 3PAR at .373; the majority of NBA teams take …

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First-Mover Advantage: Why Basketball Games Don’t End 2-0

Consider the following two equal-but-opposite scenarios in sports. On one end, you have a penalty kick in top-flight, World Cup or elite European club league soccer. The offense, as in the guy who’s about to kick the ball, knows exactly where he intends to put the ball, can do so with a nearly pinpoint degree of accuracy as he’s practiced these kicks for hours on top of hours, and as a result has almost all the control over the ensuing result. The goalkeeper is nearly helpless; at best he can try to guess where the ball is going, leap at …

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