The best team in the NBA is…the Sixers???

The following is from Dave Berri (who is now too lazy to post his own stuff — or just doesn’t want to do the tables the way Dre likes ’em).

The NBA season is now two weeks old. Who is the best team in this very small sample?
To answer this question, let’s look at the team with the best efficiency differential — offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency — in the NBA (we will define the “best team” as the team with the highest efficiency differential). Surprisingly, the “best” team after two weeks is the Philadelphia 76ers. After seven games, the Sixers have a differential of 16.1.

No team in NBA history has ever maintained a differential like this across an entire season.  And given the link between wins and efficiency differential — a link that explains 95% of the variation in wins — we would expect a team with a mark of 16.1 to win all their games.

This is not possible for the Sixers. They have already lost twice. Nevertheless, this team is playing quite well. And that leads us to wonder, what’s happening with this team.
If I wanted to answer this question in the past I would have to…

  • download the raw box score data
  • calculate each player’s ADJ P48
  • determine each player’s position on the team
  • calculate each player’s Wins Produced and WP48
  • create the tables and write the post

This entire process would obviously take quite a bit of time. And consequently — as Patrick Minton noted — it would take me awhile in the course of a season to touch upon each NBA team.

But thanks to Patrick, many of these steps have now been eliminated. To see this, let’s just go to The NBA Geek (Patrick’s website). On the top of the website you see a link to Teams. And once there, you can just click on the team you are interested in.  For this post, we are interested in the Philadelphia 76ers.

You can just click on the link above to see the details on the Sixers, but I guess I can do something. Here is just some of the information you would find at Patrick’s website:

2011-2012 76ers through 7 games
Player Pos G MP WP48 Points per 48 minutes WP WP for 66 games
Spencer Hawes C 7 212 0.376 19.9 1.66 15.7
Andre Iguodala SF 7 231 0.282 19.1 1.36 12.8
Jrue Holiday PG 7 241 0.157 20.7 0.79 7.4
Elton Brand PF 7 193 0.173 14.7 0.70 6.6
Nikola Vucevic PF 5 59 0.541 21.2 0.67 6.3
Louis Williams PG 7 182 0.174 31.6 0.66 6.2
Thaddeus Young PF 7 185 0.157 23.1 0.60 5.7
Evan Turner SG 7 185 0.153 17.9 0.59 5.6
Jodie Meeks SG 7 161 0.027 15.5 0.09 0.8
Lavoy Allen F 1 5 -0.030 0 0.00 0.0
Craig Brackins PF 4 11 -0.108 21.8 -0.02 -0.2
Tony Battie C 1 5 -0.239 0 -0.02 -0.2
Andres Nocioni SF 2 11 -0.125 8.7 -0.03 -0.3
Sum of
Wins Produced
Forecast for
66 games

Yes, I made that table. And it took me less than a minute (just did some copying). Okay, with table in hand, why are the Sixers “the best”? One might focus on Louis Williams.  He is the team’s leading scorer (per 48 minutes). Or Thaddeus Young or Jrue Holiday (two other leading scorers). These players are all above average (in terms of Wins Produced). But when we focus on Wins Produced, obviously the play of Spencer Hawes stands out.

Relative to an average center — yes, we can go to Patrick’s website and see that information as well (I am not going to make a table, just click on the link) — we see that Hawes is above average with respect to shooting efficiency from the field, rebounds, assists, turnovers, blocked shots, and personal fouls. Hawes is below average at the free throw line (both in terms of getting to the line and efficiency). But his positives add up to a level of production nearly four times beyond the average NBA center.

What is amazing about Hawes is what he did last year (and yes, we can go to Patrick’s website for this information). In 2010-11, Hawes was below average with respect to shooting efficiency from the field and the line. And he was not much better than average with respect to anything else. So he was a below average NBA player.

Given this past performance, we wonder if this can continue (as Devin wondered a few days ago when he commented on Hawes). But for now, Hawes is clearly driving what we see in Philadelphia.

That being said, there is more to the Sixers than Hawes. Of the players who have played more than 11 minutes, only Jodie Meeks is below average. Yes, the Sixers currently have eight players who are above average. Oddly enough, Meeks was above average last year (yes, Patrick reports the data on the 2010-11 Sixers). But Evan Turner and Louis Williams are now above average. And Andre Iguodala – who is once again more than twice the average player – is once again a star.

Just as we wondered with Hawes, we wonder if all this can continue. Can all these players stay above average? Well, we will see. It seems unlikely that this team could maintain a differential beyond 16 (again, this has never happened before).

Thanks to Patrick, we can check in every day and see how this team — and these players — continue to produce (or start to slip). And thanks to Patrick, if you aren’t interested in the Sixers (and are already tired — after two posts in a week — of hearing about Spencer Hawes) you can check in with any team you like. Patrick promises to keep updating his website. So rather than wait for me to get to your favorite team, you can now look every day at any team you like. It’s possible that the Sixers may very well stay the best team in the league.

– DJ

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