Before the season started I wrote an NBA Preview with the following title: Previewing the Year of the Super Teams. The column made two observations.
- There had never been an NBA season where three or more teams won more than 75% of their games.
- In 2009-10 we will see this happen.
Hence, 2009-10 was going to be the year of the Super Teams!!!
About 20% of the 2009-10 season has now been played. And when we look at efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency), here is the list of teams on pace to win more than 62 games this season.
1. Boston Celtics (9.7 differential, 66.0 projected wins)
Yes, the list currently is occupied by one team. The LA Lakers have a differential of 8.1 and are projected to win 61.7 games. Now that projection ignores the fact that Pau Gasol is now going to be playing all the Lakers games (assuming he stays healthy). So I think the Lakers can surpass the 62 win mark. But after the Lakers, the next best team is the Denver Nuggets (7.7 differential, 60.7 projected wins); and after the Nuggets, no team is currently projected to win more than 60 games.
The primary issue has been injuries (and suspensions). At least, I think that’s primarily the story in Cleveland and Orlando (two of my leading “Super Team” candidates).
But what about the San Antonio Spurs? The Spurs have won five straight games. Across the entire season, though, the Spurs have a 5.0 differential and are projected to win only 53.7 games. This is hardly the mark of a Super Team (although a fantastic mark for many NBA teams).
When we look closely at the Spurs we see that injuries are mostly the story in San Antonio as well. Manu Ginobili has already missed six games. If Ginobili averages 30 minutes per game – and maintains his current Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] of 0.222 – the Spurs would be on pace to win 57.9 games. And if Ginobili returns to the WP48 we saw last year (0.335), the Spurs would be on pace to win 62.6 wins (assuming Ginobili can average 30 minutes per game).
Ginobili is not the only player to suffer an injury. Last year, Tony Parker posted a 0.166 WP48. This year Parker has missed four games and his WP48 is only 0.090. If Parker can average 30 minutes per game – and return to what we saw last year – we can add 4.3 wins to the Spurs’ projection.
While Ginobili and Parker have struggled, Tim Duncan and Matt Bonner are posting the best numbers of their respective careers. Back in 2002-03, Duncan posted a 0.375 WP48. Last year – at the age of 32 – his mark was only 0.265. This year, though, Duncan’s WP48 has soared to 0.413. Like Duncan, Bonner is also soaring. His WP48 has risen from 0.158 last year to 0.223 this season. And if Duncan and Bonner revert to what we saw last year, the Spurs’ projection will decline by 7.6.
If somehow Duncan and Bonner don’t completely return to what we saw last year – and Ginobili and Parker do return to what we saw last year – the Spurs will surpass the 60 win mark. Those are quite a few ifs, though. Still, it’s possible the Spurs will be one of these “Super Teams” I mentioned back in October.
Even if that happens, though, it looks like there was a serious flaw with what I said in October. It appears I seriously under-estimated the importance of injuries. Essentially I looked at what each team would achieve if everyone stayed healthy. But of course injuries are going to happen. Hence, 2009-10 may not be the year of the Super Team. Yes, I think – after just 20% of the season has been played — I was wrong.
Let me close with two observations that seem correct (see, I can’t keep with the “I was wrong” theme). First, it looks like DeJuan Blair will be a productive NBA player. After 15 games his WP48 is currently 0.287. Such a mark (and I haven’t checked everyone yet) might lead the 2009-10 rookie class. So just as was thought last summer, it looks like teams shouldn’t have passed on Blair in the 2009 draft.
And there is the case of Richard Jefferson. RJ’s WP48 mark is currently 0.078. Jefferson has not been above average since 2005-06, and it looks like he might not be above average again. In other words, it looks like Jefferson is going to continue to be ranked among the NBA’s most overrated talents.
Then again, I thought this was the year of the Super Teams. So maybe there is hope for Jefferson after all.
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.