NBA Power Rankings for the 2012-13 Season volume #1

And in typical editor fashion, I’ll be skipping to dessert first. Here are Arturo’s power rankings for the NBA as things currently stand (through 11-28-2012 games, excluding the Clippers vs. Minnesota) Don’t worry, he explains his methods in the post!

Arturo’s Awesome 2013 NBA Power Rankings as of 11-28-2012

*Playoff teams in bold.

Rank Team Expected Wins
 1 Memphis Grizzlies  64 
 2 New York Knicks  63 
 3 Oklahoma City Thunder  63
 4 San Antonio Spurs 60
 5 Miami Heat  58 
 6 Los Angeles Clippers  57 
 7 Denver Nuggets  52
 8 Brooklyn Nets  50 
 9 Los Angeles Lakers  50 
 10 Atlanta Hawks  47 
 11 Houston Rockets  46 
 12 Utah Jazz  43 
 13 Golden State Warriors 43
 14 Chicago Bulls  42 
 15 Milwaukee Bucks  39 
 16 Indiana Pacers  38 
 17 Boston Celtics  38 
 18 Philadelphia 76ers 34
 19 Minnesota Timberwolves 34
 20 Detroit Pistons 34
 21 Dallas Mavericks 32
 22 Portland Trail Blazers 31
 23 New Orleans Hornets 30
 24 Toronto Raptors 29
 25 Sacramento Kings 29
 26 Cleveland Cavaliers 28
 27 Orlando Magic 28
 28 Phoenix Suns 26
 29 Charlotte Bobcats 22
 30 Washington Wizards 18

It is not unscientific to make a guess, although many people who are not in science think it is.
The Character of Physical Law, Richard P. Feynman

Let’s take it back to the start.

Before the season started, I gave you a full on projection for the NBA season. Now it’s time to see how that projection has actually held up thru the first 30 days of the NBA season.

The law of large numbers (LLN) describes the result of performing the same experiment a large number of times. It’s a simple enough theorem, the average of results obtained from a large sample (or number of trials) will get closer and closer to the real value of something the larger the sample. Conversely, the error (or more accurately the possibility of it) gets larger and larger the smaller the sample.

What does this mean for us?

Next on ESPN! (image courtesy of xkcd.com)

Jumping to conclusion at this point in the season is premature. We simply need more data to start crowning people. The schedule is unbalanced, players are out and all sorts of other random variables are skewing the results.

We do however possess enough know how to reduce some of this noise to maximize what we can actually learn from the current sample. And that is precisely what I’ve been doing with my time.

It may be a small sample size but if we are careful we can actually derive some actual meaning from it. At least enough to make a guess.

For Science!!

(For any of you who are new here, here’s an excellent recap of the math behind what’s about to go down. Don’t worry, there won’t be homework.) Let’s start with some interesting and necessary background first.

The NBA regular season schedule is rigged for (hello Denver and Utah) and against (hello Spurs and Lakers) certain teams. It’s also not perfectly balanced. There are varying degrees of difficulty during the season for teams. We will account for this both in the power rankings and in the schedule.

The schedule so far looks like this:

The Clippers, Heat ,Hornets have faced the roughest schedule. The Twolves, Bulls and Jazz have faced the easiest schedule. This should start approaching historical patterns as the season progresses.

Let’s talk rankings.

The Rankings as of 11/27/2012

The game data is courtesy of Basketball Reference.

I will build the rankings by working out the following numbers:

  • Point Margin per Game: Pts scored by team -Pts scored by opponent divided by games played
  • Home court Point Margin per Game: Point Margin per game due to the schedule and homecourt advantage.
  • Adjusted Point Margin per Game: Point Margin per Game -Home court Point Margin per Game. Schedule independent point margin (neutral site at sea level)
  • Adjusted Opponent Point Margin: The average Point Margin per Game of a teams opponents.
  • Real Point Margin (RPM): Point Margin per Game -Home court Point Margin per Game +Adjusted Opponent Point Margin. Expected Point Margin at a neutral site against perfectly average opposition. This is the Number I use to rank.
  • Neutral Site Win % :  A win projection using the real point margin and the relationship between point margin and win% ( RPM/31 + .500 is a quick shorthand but not quite right, don’t worry I’m in the process of writing this up)

Keep in mind that this is a guess (a very scientific one but still a guess) at the relative strengths of teams based on the data of the season to date. We still need to account for injuries and incorporate what we know of player historical performance. We will address this in a, say it with me, future post.

A few notes:

  • The Eastern Conference looks looked in as predicted as a two team race between the Knicks and Heat who come in at #2 and #5 in the power ranking. Brooklyn (surprisingly) and Atlanta (not surprisingly) round out the top 4 in the east at #7 and #11 overall.
  • The next group in the east has injury depleted Chicago and roster turnover happy Boston. Both this teams should improve later in the year once they field their missing players (Rose, Bradley) and figure out their rotations.
  • The West is very,very strong with Memphis as our overall number #1 seed and OKC, San Antonio nipping their heels at #3 and #4. Memphis has benefited from some improved shot selection as well as generally improving play from their core group (I believe these are not separate things). Memphis went from 5th last year to 26th this year so far in % of shots taken from 3-23 feet (sh** shots) and from 28th to 6th in % of shots from threes.  OKC and San Antonio are who they are.
  • The rest of the west features the Clippers and Denver who have both been penalized by the schedule and the Lakers who’ve we discussed extensively at #6,#9 and #8 respectively.

Let’s adjust for the expected season schedule now and project win totals for the rest of the year.

And that’s real pretty but let’s summarize and close.

  • The big surprise in the East so far is Brooklyn which I’d credit completely to Brook Lopez playing like an average player. Given his age, I’d be optimistic as a Nets fan. If Deron can get his groove back, they could be a contender.
  • The Knicks are slight surprise but I’d expect age to bring them back down to our predicted range. Still enough to have Melo in that MVP discussion.
  • As for disappointments, we have the Wizards, Raptors  and Sixers which are all injury driven and except for the Raptors, expected.
  • The West’s big surprise is the number one team in our rank the Grizzlies. As I said, age progression and supremely improved shot selection. I’d be optimistic but wary of Heroball if I were a Grizzlies fan. I do expect them to come down simply because the west is killer.
  • OKC, San Antonio and the Clipps are all riding high but again I expect this to adjust down simply because of the strength of the conference.
  • Houston is very intriguing given their youth. This is looking to very possibly be a very good team for a very long time.
  • Minnesota and the Hornets are very much underperforming but this is injury driven and 100% expected. These teams will be better.

The craziest part of this season so far is that the 2013 NBA finals could feature a Jailblazer reunion.

Ball don’t lie

That combined with the fact that Melo is passing up contested shots to pass to his open teammates and Sheed showed up in shape and is playing hard means  Jason Kidd is definitely a witch.

-Arturo

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