Picking the Games for Round 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”
― Richard P. Feynman

I set a pretty high standard for myself. As I said in a recent post, I’ve been prepping like a madman recently.I had to compress what took about six months last year into about six nights.

The end result is the full slate of probability for every series and every outcome for Round 1 of the 2012 NBA playoffs. The reason for the time crunch is that I’m taking part in a certain stat geek smackdown (Yes it’s Year 6 of the ESPN Stat Geek smackdown now featuring 100% more Arturo!!!) . Last year I picked the playoffs for fun, this year we are taking this very seriously. Let’s talk method and then we’ll get to the picks by series.

The Method:

The method really has three parts.

  1. Setting the player Value
  2. Projecting Minute Allocation
  3. Running the Playoff Model

For setting the player value, I ended up calculating the ADJP48 (Raw unadjusted Wins Produced, go here for more detail) for the season for every player and adjusting it to take out the effects of homefield advantage. I won’t go into full detail (not just yet anyway) of that here but you can see part of that work here.

The next bit is the tricky part. You have to guess at what the playoff minute allocation will be for each team. The key idea here is the half baked notion.The Half baked notion is this: what wins in the regular season is not necessarily what  gets you the trophy. What’s the difference? Minute allocation & how wins produced are affected by that allocation. We continuously hear terms like playoff rotation & playoff minutes thrown around come playoff time. When we take a look at the data we’ll see that the pundits may just be right (hell has officially frozen over).

The half baked notion tells us that a good deep team filled with average and above average players will get you in the playoffs but to get far in the playoffs you need your wins to be concentrated in your Top 6.

To illustrate, let’s look at the regular season data. I’m using all the data from every season since the merger. I will be ranking the players on each roster by minutes played and then allocation wins accordingly. The data looks like this :

A few interesting points from this table:

  • Your starting five account for 82% percent of your wins in the regular season.
  • Your second unit is important over the course of an 82 game regular season accounting for 18% of your wins
  • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.

Now let’s look at the playoff data. Again, I’m using all the data from every season since the merger. I will be ranking the players on each roster by minutes played and then allocation wins accordingly. The data looks like this :

You can clearly see the obvious differences:

  • Your starting five account for 94% percent of your wins in the playoffs.
  • Only the first guy of your bench matters accounting for 5% of your wins
  • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.

I spent a hell of a long time on this and the end result follows.

This is my best guess. Keep in mind that at this point we are trying to read the minds of some real luminaries (George Karl, Vinnie Del Negro and Mike Brown to name a few) so your milage may vary. This will significantly improve after we actually see the Round 1 playoff rotations.

The last part is to fire up the math, calculate win probabilities and feed it to my model. I am not posting the whole thing here but I will give it to you in picture form.

This is the generic version. I made some tweaks in mine

The Picks:

Eastern Conference:

Chicago Bulls vs Philadelphia 76ers

This series will surprise people. Very, very close. It’ll really come down to coaching and minute allocation. Biggest question is who plays at guard. I really wanted to pick the upset but I think Rose plays heavy minutes and the Bulls prevail in 7.

Chicago Bulls Win in 7    (53.4% Series Win Probability for Chicago )

Miami Heat vs New York Knicks

I really tried to look for ways to make it work for New York but really this team doesn’t really fit. Melo and Amare really are better without the other. Never mind the fact that Miami is just way too good for them.

Miami Heat Win in 5       (91.4% Series Win Probability for Miami )

Indiana Pacers vs Orlando Magic

With Dwight, Indiana would have been in a war, without Dwight this is a walkover. I would pick every team in the playoffs and very possibly the San Antonio bench over the version of the Magic that’s showing up.

Indiana Pacers Win in 5 (95.2% Series Win Probability for Indiana ) (Thanks Darrin for the catch!)

Atlanta Hawks  vs. Boston Celtics  

When is an upset not really an upset? When you have a veteran team that been managing their minutes facing a team without arguably their best big man (Horford). Celtics gambled that rest was more important than home court in Round 1. I think they were correct.

Celtics Win in 5 (57.0% Series Win Probability for Boston)

Western Conference:

San Antonio Spurs vs Utah Jazz 

The Spurs lost their best player (Emanuel David “Manu” Ginóbili) for a large part of the season. They took multiple nights off. Yet somehow the Spurs wound up with the best record in the NBA. I’m convinced that we have not seen their best yet. Be afraid, be very afraid.

San Antonio Spurs Win in 5 (92.9% Series Win Probability for San Antonio)

Oklahoma City Thunder  vs Dallas Mavericks  

The Dallas Mavericks just managed to avoid the ignominy of missing the playoffs after winning it all. They’re also getting a rematch of last year’s Western conference finals. Sadly for Dallas, a year later means they’re older in a bad way and missing some key pieces (Tyson Chandler). OKC, older is better and this time they beat the Mavericks.

Oklahoma City Thunder Win in 5 (75.1% Series Win Probability for Thunder)

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets 

The Lakers had real issues facing them before the elbow heard round the league and they got worse. Their rotation sans Artest is a mess. Kobe will play and that may not necessary help. On the other side, George Karl has all his roster finally available and the advantage of the thin air in Denver. Combine that with no Phil on the other side and the sky’s the limit in Denver. My biggest worry with Denver, as it is every single year it seems, is who gets those minutes. So even though I do not trust George Karl at all, Mike Brown makes this the most even of coaching matchups in round 1.

Denver Nuggets  win in 6  (61.5% Series Win Probability for Nuggets)

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles Clippers   

Another very tight series but you know who the Clippers have? They have Chris Paul and he is awesome in the playoffs.  As much as I see some real red flags with the Clippers (take Vinnie del Negro) and as much as I loved Memphis last year, Chris Paul and a shorter Clippers rotation makes all the difference. If however, Nick Young plays 20 minutes a game in this series all bets are off.

Clippers win in 6              ( 52.7% Series Win Probability for the Clippers)

Wish me luck and please remember it’s only an approximation.

-Arturo

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