East vs. West: Which NBA Conference Has Been Better During the 2016-17 Season?
For years, it's seemed like the NBA's Western Conference has been superior to its Eastern Conference counterparts. Outside of LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers, the vast majority of the league's best teams have come out of the West.
Last season, the Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors accounted for 57 and 56 wins, respectively. Then, there was a logjam of four teams with 48 wins apiece and the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons finished the regular season with a 44-38 record.
In the West, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs -- with 73 and 67 wins, respectively -- both played out historically great seasons. And behind them were the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, with 55 and 53 wins of their own.
However, the drop-off from that tier to the next was a little less gradual, as the Portland Trail Blazers, at 44 wins, were the next closest team in the five-hole. The Houston Rockets snuck into the eighth spot with a 41-41 record.
While their records suggest the East was deeper than the West, we must also consider the fact that the Western Conference teams must compete with one another on a nightly basis. They do a lot of damage to one another's win percentage.
A way to eliminate these types of factors, and to go much further than simple win-loss records as proof, is to utilize advanced metrics. They tell us how good a team's on-court play really is, despite record.
Using nERD -- a metric that measures a player's season-long contributions and the efficiencies or deficiencies of them -- we can do that to understand which conference has been better so far in the 2016-17 campaign.
|New York Knicks||42.5||14||11|
|Golden State Warriors||83.0||22||4|
|Los Angeles Clippers||79.5||18||7|
|San Antonio Spurs||66.9||19||5|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||53.6||15||10|
|Portland Trail Blazers||44.4||13||14|
|New Orleans Pelicans||40.6||8||18|
|Los Angeles Lakers||26.5||10||17|
East vs. West
|Teams > 50||7||6|
As you can see, the East -- albeit ever so slightly -- is, in fact, playing tricks on us. While it's a little top-heavy, the West has an overall edge in total and average nERD.
As for the West, it still boasts the two best teams in the league, according to nERD. To take it one step further, five of the top seven hail from the Western Conference. Pound for pound, the West is still the best conference in the NBA.