Picking the Games for Round 2 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs

“Sometimes we make guesses because we wish,with our limited knowledge, to say as much as we can about a situation.”
― Matthew Sands “Feynman Lectures on Physics/Vol 1 Ch 06 – Probability”

However much we may argue against it, there is a great degree of randomness to the universe. We can set up a set of general rules and parameters to model and identify most anything but the randomness of the universe guarantees that prediction and modeling are only approximations. We can only really tell you were something might be within a certain level of probability given a certain set of of conditions but really no plan of action survives first contact with the enemy or with ourselves.

Case in point, when I ran the model for every series and every outcome for Round 1 of the 2012 NBA playoffs for Year 6 of the ESPN Stat Geek smackdown, now featuring 100% more Arturo, the model kept insisting that Derrick Rose would not be able to stay on the court. I read all the scouting and thought I knew better and we all know how that turned out.

With that said, My round 1 picks have done well. I’m still at 5-1 thru six series with a real chance at the outright lead (and yes I realize I am relying on George Karl and Vinnie del Negro). Now yesterday I got an email from Mr.Abbot requesting the round 2 picks for all the series that are set and those that are not  by two pm today.

Did I mentioned my laptop died, taking all my work of the last month with it, last thursday night? With my monthly backup scheduled on that Friday?

Yeah, Life is random but Murphy is a bitch. Let’s talk picks

That is  the full slate of probability for every possible series and every outcome for Round 2 of the 2012 NBA playoffs.

The Method:

The method really has three parts.

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

One important note is that experience in the playoffs matter. Some of my competitors have pointed this out this year. I have been pointing this out for a while. Basically, playoff vets get favorable calls. To account for that, I’ve given those teams that feature playoff vets that have produced at a high level in the playoffs a 4% boost (or about half of the basic homecourt) to account for this favorable bias. Three series feature this: Thunder-Nuggets, Heat-Pacers and Celtics-Sixers and of the three, two have this be the deciding factor.

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 prior to round one but now with round 1 in the books I have a much clearer picture of everyone’s rotations. It looks like so.

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 but as I said this is now much improved improve from seeing 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:

Ok, Here goes. Just spent a ridiculous amount of time on this considering 2 of these are not set in stone.

Let’s start out West.

Western Conference:
San Antonio vs Memphis or Clippers

San Antonio still has not show their full hand in demolishing their first round opponent. Meanwhile Memphis is running atrocious Half Court offense in the 4th and doing everything in their power to give games away. The clippers are young,exciting and in capable hands with Chris Paul. However, they’re also a traveling trauma ward.

Oh and Gregg Popovich versus Vinnie Del Negro or Lionel Hollins? Kind of a mismatch.

The only real drama for the Spurs will be if it takes them 4 or 5 games. My model likes 4.

San Antonio in 4 Games ( 99% Win over Memphis, 97.5% Win over LA)

OKC vs Lakers or Nuggets

The Thunder don’t know it but they should be rooting for LA. OKC matches up well against the Lakers and barring any accidental injuries during  spontaneous celebrations I’d expect Oklahoma to cruise.

A rematch with Denver is a completely different beast. It’s very close, particularly with the lineup that the Nuggets have discovered late in their first round series. Two things tip that series in my opinion. The first is that referee bias against teams with less playoff experience is a probable thing. The second and most important is the emergence of James Harden and the fact that he’s been underutilized. In layman’s terms, OKC gets the calls and rides their young studs Harden and Durant back to the Western Conference finals.

However the odds on Denver winning the series in six would probably be severely undervalued.

OKC vs LA : OKC in 5 Games (85.6% Win for OKC)
OKC vs Denver : OKC in 7 Games (53.6% Win for OKC, yes you read that right)

Eastern Conference:
Miami vs Indiana

Indiana is better than people think but so is Miami particularly now that they have their full complement of players. Miami has some structural issues at the 4 and 5 (i.e. they have a hole in the middle) but those will not derail them here. Miami has the best player, the homecourt advantage and will be expected to get the calls.

Indiana keeps is respectable though.

Miami in 5 games (85.7% Win for Miami)

Boston vs Philadelphia

I really wish I’d gone with the model insisting that Rose couldn’t stay on the court. The right play would have been to pick the Sixers (who were close to 50% win probability for the series and had Hawes available and healthy) and let it all ride on round 1. Live and learn.

I expect this to be the closest and hardest fought of all the semifinals. The Sixers are completely and totally healthy at the right time. Boston is banged up and they really like to make things hard on themselves. However, homecourt for Boston will be pivotal when it gets around to game 7.

Never mind the fact that they will get all the calls.

It’s going to feel like the 80’s again.Expect physical play, lots of technicals and low scoring games coming down to the last possesions.

Boston in 7 games ( 55.3% Win for Boston)

Wish me luck and that I didn’t forget any of my math.


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