Making the picks for The Conference Finals

“Haven’t thought of anything, have you? No, neither have I. Think, think, think.” — Winnie The Pooh from The Honey Tree by A.A. Milne

Let’s review shall we? 10-2 So far with 6 series picked dead on.

My round 1 picks were pretty good. My round 2 picks were awesome. I am currently in third place in  Year 6 of the ESPN Stat Geek smackdown. I’d be in first but well,George Karl.

Now’s the time to separate the men from the boys.

Two weeks ago, I was totally locked in for my conference finals picks and finals pick. I had a plan that was guaranteed to give me the best chance of victory.

But a few things happened on the way to making the picks. Let’s get to them Shall we?

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.

If I apply all these concepts and shake vigorously, the projected Lineups for the Conference Finals look like so:

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:

One quick final note before we go. I needed a strategy that would work for me to win the smackdown. It took a lot of thinking but I followed the Feynman Algorithm and got it done. The picks reflect that and I will explain exactly were this played in.

Western Conference Finals:
San Antonio vs OKC

The Thunder are a good young team on the rise coming off what is perceived to be two big time victories but perception is a very tricky thing. The Mavericks were not as good as they were last year (hello Tyson Chandler!!) and neither were the Lakers. The level of difficulty is about to significantly pick up.

Meanwhile, here are some fun facts about their opposition. San Antonio is 34-6 since the All Star Break, 33-9 against Playoff teams who they beat by about eight points a game and winners of 18 straight by an average margin of 16 points. San Antonio is very,very good. Again the only real drama for the Spurs will be if it takes them 4 or 5 games. This time my model likes 5, barely.

San Antonio in 5 Games ( 91.1% Win over OKC)

Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics

I am down a series in the smackdown, thanks to losing the coin flip on the Denver-LA series. Given that and the fact that the guys I am competing against know their stuff, I need to pick the most likely upset to have a chance.

This is complicated by the fact that picking against the Spurs is really,really a non-starter. Boston is then the logical choice. As I said, two weeks ago I was locked in on my pick for this series. A lot has changed in that time. Some changes really doesn’t matter that much (the Bosh injury). Some changes really do (the Avery Bradley injury is killer for the C’s as he’s their designated Wade stopper, ditto for Pierce’s MCL and Lebron throw in Wade’s injured knee and this is like predicting the weather). I thus took it down to the facts.

  • Both these teams have all the prerequisites to reach the finals.
  • For the season, Miami is the better team .
  • After the deadline and head to head the Celtics are clearly better.
  • The Celtics went 3-1 against Miami in the regular season and beat them on average by about 8 points.
  • I need to go all in at some point if I want to win.

I think this is the one series where no Bosh hurts the Heat. I think the Big Four have one more finals in them and the honor of having the Spurs stomp on them. We go with the after the deadline numbers.

Boston in 6 Games (62% Win over Heat)

Let’s put it in a pretty table before we go.

Wish me luck.


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