Forecasting the NBA Champion and MVP

Forecasts for the regular season in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference have been posted.  Now it’s time to take a stab at the post-season.  Assuming the regular season forecasts are correct (so we are already starting off badly), here is how I see the playoffs unfolding (and additionally, my pick for MVP).

The Eastern Conference Playoffs

1. Boston Celtics

2. Chicago Bulls

3. Cleveland Cavaliers or Detroit Pistons

4. A team from the Southeast who gets to lose to the Cavaliers or Pistons in the first-round

5. Detroit Pistons or Cleveland Cavaliers

6-8. Three teams, none of which will be in Milwaukee, who get to lose in the first round.

As I said in the forecast of the Eastern Conference, the East has two great teams, two good teams, and ten teams that are bunched together.  And then Milwaukee. 

Once you get past the first round, it will be Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit.  Boston and Chicago should come out of the second round with Boston advancing to the NBA Finals.

The Western Conference Playoffs

1. San Antonio

2. Dallas

3. Phoenix

4. Utah

5. Houston

6. New Orleans

7. Denver

8. LA Lakers

San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix are pretty close but I am going to give the slight edge to San Antonio.  The Mavericks signing of Juwan Howard doesn’t help.  Juwan Howard, as noted previously, has never been a productive player.  And his signing might be enough to let the Spurs take the number one seed.  Or maybe not.  Again, the top three in the West are pretty even.

Although this trio is better than the remainder of the field, the teams listed after the top three in the West are still pretty good.  And this means that unlike Boston and Chicago, the top teams in the West are going to be challenged in each round of the playoffs.  In fact, at least one team in the top three can’t make the Western Conference Finals, and it would not surprise me if two (or all three) don’t make it that far.

That being said, I think the Suns lack of depth catches up to them in the post-season.  So the Western Conference Finals will be Spurs vs. Mavericks. 

Predicting the Finals

So who makes the Finals? I would like to see Celtics vs. Mavericks.  Basically I would like to see both Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett vindicated after careers of excellent play without excellent results for their respective teams.

But I am going to pick, Celtics and Spurs, with the Celtics ultimately prevailing. Is this what Wins Produced indicates?  Well, kind of.  At least, I can play with the minutes on each team and get that result.  The difference in these teams is not so great that one can be this definitive.

My answer is not so much about Wins Produced, but rather about VIBE magazine and Bill Simmons.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the November issue of VIBE magazine has a very hip article on the impact Kevin Garnett will have on the Celtics.  Seeing this article in VIBE (okay, I wrote it) has made me sort of a Celtics fan (at least for this season).  This is a bit odd, since I grew up hating the Celtics (since I follow the Pistons).     

Although my writing for VIBE has altered my sympathies a bit, the writing of Simmons has also impacted my pick for NBA champion.

Simmons declared the following in the May 21st issue of ESPN the Magazine:

Fifty years from now, some stat geek will crunch numbers from Duncan’s era and come to the conclusion that Kevin Garnett was just as good. And he’ll be wrong. No NBA team that featured a healthy Duncan would have missed the playoffs for three straight years. It’s an impossibility.

In response to this I wrote, in a post titled “Speeding Up Time For Bill Simmons“:  Not to assume the label of “state geek”, but had Simmons sent this article to me directly, he could have seen 50 years go by in a few minutes.

I went on to note that one can indeed argue – via the statistics — that Kevin Garnett is just as good as Tim Duncan.  People perceive a difference, though, because Duncan has been surrounded by good players in his career and KG basically hasn’t.

Since Simmons made his argument about Duncan and KG, the Celtics – the team Simmons follows – has acquired Garnett.  Given this acquisition, I would like to see the Celtics – with Garnett – defeat Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Can this happen? Certainly.  Will it happen? Well, we will have to see. 

But if it does happen, what will Simmons and others say about KG?  Will Garnett suddenly be recognized as the best player in the NBA (as he has been many of the years he played in Minnesota)? In other words, will we see the Simmons perspective on KG change if Garnett leads his Celtics to a title? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I would love to find out.

Predicting the Most Valuable Player

Speaking of the best, who will be MVP in 2008?  Awards are difficult to forecast because they are not always about actual production, but rather the media’s perception of production.  Still, given that I have a working paper on the voting for the MVP in the NBA, I am going to try and predict the MVP in 2008.

From my research with Aju Fenn (economics professor at Colorado College) we have learned that the MVP generally goes to the leading scorer – or player most responsible for scoring (i.e. Steve Nash) – on a top team.  We know the top teams: Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Dallas, and Phoenix.  Given this list, all we need to do is identify the offensive stars on each squad.  

Boston: Kevin Garnett

Chicago: Luol Deng or Ben Gordon

San Antonio: Tim Duncan

Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki

Phoenix: Steve Nash or Shawn Marion

The NBA has more than 400 players, so to have a list of just seven names is a good start.  Let’s narrow this down further. 

Nowitzki is eliminated before the season even begins.  The Mavericks collapse in the playoffs is attributed, at least partially, to him.  And he can’t redeem himself before the playoffs next year so I can’t see the media selecting him as MVP in 2008.

Moving on…I think Chicago will not be as good as the other teams on the list.  Plus neither Gordon nor Deng will be that prolific as scorers.  So those two are eliminated.

Shawn Marion is a top scorer, but past voting has indicated that Nash gets much of the credit for Marion’s points production.

So now we are down to three players: Garnett, Duncan, or Nash.

One can make a plausible argument for all three.  But I think the resurgence in Boston is going to make Garnett the story of 2007-08.  So I think he gets the award.

Now will Garnett be the most productive player (i.e. leader in Wins Produced)?  Last year the most productive player was Jason Kidd.  But Kidd ain’t no kid anymore, so maybe Garnett can once again rise to the top of the rankings. Of course, “The Kid” ain’t a kid anymore either.  Given the age of these two, one might want to keep an eye on Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, Steve Nash, and David Lee.

Okay, enough on the MVP. Tomorrow I am going to talk about the rookies.  That post will reveal my choice for both Rookie of the Year and the Most Productive Rookie.  And no, these are not the same player.

- DJ

For a discussion of other teams see NBA Team Reviews: 2006-07

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The equation connecting wins to offensive/defensive efficiency is given HERE

Wins Produced and Win Score are discussed in the following posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

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