There are hundreds of articles out there predicting who will win the NBA title this year, and whether or not to take the Miami Heat or the field. I thought it would be interesting to break down the numbers of past champions to see exactly what it takes to win a championship, and which teams are progressing towards that so far this year. As you will see, there is a very specific formula, and we can use this to track all year long to see which teams are working in the right direction.
The following table breaks down every season since the new millenium, who won the championship, and who their best player was by nERD and Player Efficiency Rating (PER).
|NBA Season||NBA Champion||Highest Rated Player on Champ||Player's Season nERD||Player's Season PER
|'99-'00||Los Angeles Lakers||Shaquille O'Neal||23.2||30.6|
|'00-'01||Los Angeles Lakers||Shaquille O'Neal||15.9||30.2|
|'01-'02||Los Angeles Lakers||Shaquille O'Neal||16.5||29.7|
|'02-'03||San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan||18.7||26.9|
|'03-'04||Detroit Pistons||Chauncey Billups||10.7||18.6|
|'04-'05||San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan||13.8||27.1|
|'05-'06||Miami Heat||Dwyane Wade||16.0||27.6|
|'06-'07||San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan||15.0||26.2|
|'07-'08||Boston Celtics||Kevin Garnett||17.4||25.4|
|'08-'09||Los Angeles Lakers||Pau Gasol||16.7||22.3|
|'09-'10||Los Angeles Lakers||Pau Gasol||12.0||22.9|
|'10-'11||Dallas Mavericks||Dirk Nowitzki||13.2||23.5|
|'11-'12||Miami Heat||LeBron James||23.7||30.8|
|'12-'13||Miami Heat||LeBron James||27.3||31.6|
As you can see, if we eliminate the odd year of 2003-2004 in which the Pistons shocked the world to upset the Lakers to win the title, there is a definitive floor. All champions in this time frame have had their best player post at least a nERD of 12.0 and a PER of 22.0. Thus, this can be our guide in which we judge players shooting to win the title.
How did teams stack up last year?
This next table breaks down each NBA team and how their best player fared last season. We can use this table to see how close teams are to reaching the threshold needed to win a championship. A player in all CAPS is one who hit the qualifying mark of a nERD > 12 or a PER > 22.
Note: I set a minimum minute level of 1,500 on the season so it wouldn't skew PER results. Also, I moved the "highest-rated player" to their new team. For example, Al Jefferson would be in the Bobcats data instead of the Jazz.
We see that perhaps most teams aren’t as close as they might think. It's incredibly hard to win a NBA championship—we see from the table above that we’ve only had six unique championship organizations in the past 14 years. Last year, only four players hit our mark by themselves: LeBron, Durant, CP3, and Harden. To put it simply, NBA titles are won by superstars, not super teams. This is why the entire world went crazy over getting LeBron a couple years ago, and why a team would put up with the craziness of Dwight Howard.
There are only two types of teams in the NBA: teams that have a superstar and teams that are looking for a superstar.
Recent championship caliber seasons
What about some of our injured stars from last year? Well, here are the players in the last three seasons that have had "championship caliber seasons":
1. LeBron James - 2011, 2012, 2013
2. Kevin Durant - 2011, 2012, 2013
3. Chris Paul - 2011, 2012, 2013
4. Kevin Love - 2011, 2012
5. Derrick Rose - 2011
6. Dirk Nowitzki - 2011
7. Dwight Howard - 2011
8. Dwyane Wade - 2011
9. Pau Gasol - 2011
10. James Harden - 2013
Only 10 players over the last three years! And two of them were on the same team!
2013-2014 NBA Championship Watch
Finally, we get to this season. I'll update this throughout the course of the year, and together we can keep track of which players are aligning their team to win a title.
|Kevin Love||Minnesota Timberwolves||25.0||29.2|
|Paul George||Indiana Pacers||24.2||25.9|
|Anthony Davis||New Orleans Pelicans||20.8||29.5|
|Kevin Martin||Minnesota Timberwolves||19.9||23.2|
|Kevin Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder||18.5||28.9|
|Chris Paul||LA Clippers||18.3||28.5|
|Markieff Morris||Phoenix Suns||16.6||27.4|
|Carlos Boozer||Chicago Bulls||14.6||24.6|
|Eric Bledsoe||Phoenix Suns||14.2||25.5|
|LeBron James||Miami Heat||12.5||26.3|
|Paul Millsap||Atlanta Hawks||12.4||25.3|
It's crazy to see two Suns players in our debut championship watch. I have no allegiance to Phoenix, but I hope that 'Kieff and Bledsoe can surprise everyone and stay on this list for a long time this season.