Updated 4/20 7PM EST
“I happen to know someone who is fluent in gobbley goop.”
-Fringe “White Tulip”
One of the central ideas of having a playoffs in a sport is to settle all the arguments on the field of play. The mythology of the postseason is that it serves as the ultimate arbritrer of the truth. Rings are seen as the ultimate validation of ability or worth. Given a large enough sample, this would certainly be true.
The playoffs don’t quite provide that sample. This is particularly true in playoffs that are one and done like the NFL, or the NCAA tournament but it remains so even in sports featuring seven game series like the NBA. Generally, even the biggest mismatch that we will find will have a non-trivial chance of an upset.
I’ve been rolling thru Fringe and playing Bioshock Infinite recently. The central premise of both relies heavily on the idea of parallel worlds. Worlds where different decisions were made. Where random bounces went a different way. Where the ball actually lied.
This is my roundabout way of saying that I can only forecast the likelyhood of an outcome. My method for predicting basketball games is good but randomness happens. Case in point, when I used my model for the second year in a row to pick the NCAA tournament, I was surprised to have picked the winner for the second straight year. I wasn’t surprised to have outperformed 97% of the ESPN public brackets.
The playoffs are upon us and it’s time to make the picks. As is traditional by this point, I will make the picks in this forum and I will be representing the Wages of Wins in the Truehoop Smackdown.
We got third last year (although in a majority of parallel worlds I’m fairly certain I won). The goal this year is winning.
God, and George Karl willing, of course
Let’s talk picks.
That is the full slate of probability for every possible series and every outcome for Round 1 of the 2013 NBA playoffs.
The method really has three parts.
- Setting the player Value
- Projecting Minute Allocation
- Running the Playoff Model
One important note is that experience in the playoffs matter. 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. This is forever to be known as the Sacramento Discrepancy.
Additionally, a similar effect is to be given for an outsized coaching advantage. This one is the George Karl Effect.
For setting the player value, I ended up calculating the ADJP48 (Raw unadjusted Wins Produced, go here for more details) for the season for every player and adjusting it to take out the effects of homecourt 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.
You throw all that in a blender and you get your projected lineups:
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 Mark Jackson to name a few) so your milage may vary.
It will get easier in Round 2 of course.
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.
There was a time when I thought I might pick every series out West to go seven. Then things changed.
The interesting action remains there so we begin out West.
Thunder vs Rockets
I love the Rockets and I think James Harden is the holder of the shooting guard conch. I would have been extremely bullish on them taking the Spurs. With the Thunder? Not so much. Houston is a young team that will make noise for a long time. The Thunder are a team looking to start a dynasty. Harden will come back and bite OKC, just not here.
As the defending conference champs versus the upstarts, the Thunder also get the bonus 4% nod on playoff experience.
The real drama is if it takes 5 or 6 games. The Model likes 5.
Thunder in 5 Games ( 81% Win probability)
XFactor: Harden goes off like MJ in 1986 and scares the crap out of OKC. Don’t rule this out, my gut tells me he has the FU gene from Michael.
Spurs vs Lakers
Overrated shooting guard goes down and his team is forced to run their team through their world class big men in the post as they face a banged up Spurs team in round one. The Lakers have all sorts of intriguing parallels to the 2011 Grizzlies. The key differences are important though. Kobe is a much better player than Rudy Gay. The Spurs young guns are way better than in 2011.
The Spurs are banged up but they’re also historically deep. They feature five star level guys (Kawhi, Duncan, Parker, Green & Splitter) plus Manu Ginobli and the best coach in the league.
Spurs in 5 Games ( 91% Win probability)
XFactor: If Healthy Nash, Dwight and Pau show up, this is an all timer.
Nuggets vs Warriors
I have beef with coach Karl. While I have admired his innovative play calling this season. His rotations particularly in the playoffs have proven costly to me in the past (*cough* 2012 Smackdown *cough*). That said, Denver has the altitude going for them. The Homecourt in this series will be huge. That and I don’t trust Bogut’s health at all. It might be sexy to pick the upset here but I’m crossing my fingers and rolling with coach Karl.
The Warriors also get the bonus 4% nod on playoff experience because of, well, George Karl.
God save the Nuggets from their typical first round foibles.
Denver in 7 Games ( 65% Win probability)
XFactor: George Karl decides he wants to win a playoff game without a center. Loses by two. Dre writes the mother of all KarlWatch posts.
Clippers vs. Grizzlies
I really think the Grizzlies are a good team. They have some nice players, particularly in the post. They totally killed in the Rudy Gay trade. They just drew the wrong matchup.
I picked a banged up Clippers team with a way worse bench and the wrong side of homecourt to beat them last year.
A fully healthy Clippers team that added Matt Barnes and Odom to their bench, has homecourt and gets to play CP3 40 minutes a night in the playoffs?
Clippers in 5 Games ( 68% Win probability)
XFactor: Chris Paul’s ankle gets tweaked and Vinnie Del Negro needs to get creative with his lineups.
Miami vs Milwakee
Lebron James might have just submitted the single greatest twelve months of basketball we have ever seen. The Bucks could not break five hundred in the historically awful East. The Heat will completely destroy the Bucks. Completely and utterly. The might need to move the team after this series.
Did I mention the Heat are 40-4 since they went out and got the best available big (Birdman) to shore up their one flaw? The Heat will also be getting the 4% bias based on all the calls. Can I pick Heat in three?
Heat in 4 Games (99.9% Win probability)
XFactor: I’m drawing a blank here. It would take an act of god for this one to go the other way. A freak collision that takes out Lebron, Wade, Birdman and Battier and hampers Ray.
New York vs Boston
I’ve been driving the Knicks bandwagon this entire season. I picked then to face the Heat in the Eastern finals and I am not backing away from it now. The Celtics on the other hand are really playing like crap.
As much as I don’t trust Melo in the playoffs (or in general really) , I completely trust Kidd and Chandler. The most intriguing storylines here are if good Melo (efficient shooter, plays D, passes up bad shots to get his teammates open looks) or bad Melo (Yay Points!) shows up.
Won’t make much of a difference here. I also trust that Jason Kidd is continuing to use his wizardly powers to pull the good Melo from the other side.
Knicks in 5 (88% Win Probability)
XFactor: Boston tragedy inspires Jeff Green to play at his 5th gear level consistently and KG has a german doctor stop by with some of Kobe’s special medicine. Boston wins and everyone eats their Cheerios.
Indiana vs Atlanta
I will not watch a minute of this series if I can help it. I can use the time to catch up on my DVR shows
Pacers in 5 (88% Win Probability)
XFactor: Horford and Smith take it to another Level and give us a Hawks-Knicks second round series instead of Indiana-New York. An ESPN video coordinator realizes he wasted 20 hours prepping a Reggie-Knicks montage for promos.
Nets vs Bulls
The Nets have been OK, but as a playoff newcomer, they’re not getting any calls this series. Against the physical style of the Bulls this is a really, really bad thing. Add in the fact that the Bulls get the calls and that Thibbs will turn this series into a barfight and I fully expect the Bulls to win (even with the limited Noah) to set up a Round two showdown versus Miami. Given the defensive style of the Bulls, that’s a series that they would have a puncher’s chance to win. That chance increases if you could add an MVP to the roster.
Let the pressure on Derrick Rose officially begin.
Bulls in 6 (49% Win Probability, yes the Nets have a slight edge in win probability but Bulls in six is most likely scenario)
XFactor: Brooklyn embraces the style and plays Reggie Evans 40 minutes a night. Lives are lost and the Nets win.
Wish me luck and that I didn’t forget any of my math.