Could it Be a Magical Summer in Orlando?

Who is the second best team in the NBA in 2009-10?  If we focus on wins and losses, the NBA’s second best are the LA Lakers.  But efficiency differential – or offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency – says it is the Orlando Magic. 

With nearly 87% of the regular season completed, here are the top ten teams in differential:

  • Cleveland Cavalier: 8.0
  • Orlando Magic: 7.3
  • LA Lakers: 6.3
  • Utah Jazz: 6.2
  • Atlanta Hawks: 5.0
  • San Antonio Spurs: 4.9
  • Boston Celtics: 4.8
  • Denver Nuggets: 4.8
  • Phoenix Suns: 4.1
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 3.6

After 72 games the Magic have posted a mark of 50-22.  However, the team’s differential – and corresponding Wins Produced – indicate a team that should have won 52 games.

As Table One indicates – and this is not surprising – Dwight Howard leads this team in Wins Produced.

Table One: The Orlando Magic after 72 games in 2009-10

Number two on the list, though, may be surprising.   On a roster with twelve players, Matt Barnes is currently 10th in salary.  But with 8.0 Wins Produced, Barnes is the second most productive Orlando player.

The player who leads this team in salary – Rashard Lewis – has only produced 1.0 wins.  This paltry production can be linked to the health of Lewis as well as the issue that he has been playing power forward for the Magic.  But even if he played small forward – and posted the same numbers – he would only be about average this season. So Lewis – regardless of position played – has not been key to this team’s success.

The lack of production for Lewis may be a problem for Orlando going forward.  Lewis is already 30 years old, and he is owed $66 million more across the next three seasons.  As has been noted before, players age like milk.  So even if Lewis gets healthy, it seems extremely unlikely that Lewis – given his advanced age — will be worth all the money he is going to be paid across the next three years.

This problem, though, is not really an issue for this season.  For 2010, the Magic are clearly in position to contend for a title.  And here is how that path to a title currently appears.

As of this morning, Orlando’s first round opponent is Charlotte.  Yes, the Bobcats are better.  But Orlando should escape to the second round.

In round two – again, as of this morning – the Magic should face Boston or Atlanta.  Again, Orlando should be favored (despite what happened this week).  So a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals seems likely.

Last year in the Eastern Conference Finals the Cavs were the favored team but the Magic advanced.  This year it is the same story.  The Magic shouldn’t be favored against Cleveland.  But it’s more than possible that Orlando will advance to the NBA Finals.

The team they would be expected to play for the title is the LA Lakers.  On a neutral court, the Magic would be favored over the Lakers (remember, Orlando has the better differential). LA, though, will have homecourt advantage.  So again, a Magic victory would be a bit of an upset.  In other words, if it is LA-Orlando in the Finals again, we might expect LA to repeat as champions.

Of course, both Orlando and LA have to get that far for us to see a repeat of last year.  And LA does have a more difficult path.  The Lakers might have to face Portland or San Antonio in the first round.  In the second round, the Dallas Mavericks might be waiting.  And then in the Western Conference Finals it might be Utah or Denver.  All of these teams are capable of defeating the Lakers.  Yes, it is possible for the Lakers to fail to get out of the first round (or second round or Western Finals).

In sum, although the Lakers might be slight favorites to defeat the Magic in the Finals, there is a good chance someone else from the West will survive until the end of June.  And that someone else is simply not going to be favored over Orlando.  So if you are a Magic fan, your summer could get off to a very good start (and of course, I would say the same thing to fans of the Cavaliers).

- DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also 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

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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