NBA Playoff Projections Watch: January 9
With the NFL season winding down, we here at numberFire are turning our full attention to the NBA season that's already in full swing. Worried about your Lakers, sitting at 15-18? A Bulls fan who wants to know how solid that 19-13 record is? Or are you like me, a Jazz fan whose team is sitting at 18-18 and the bubble?
As always, we're here to help. Our analysts have run the numbers, and we update each team's playoff odds daily at our NBA Team Rankings page. But sometimes, it's good to look a little bit more in-depth.
Here, from No. 30 to No. 1, are each team's playoff odds, broken down into categories ranging from the least efficient players in the NBA to the most.
The Jannero Pargo Category
30. Washington Wizards: 0.0% Playoff Chance
29. Cleveland Cavaliers: 0.0%
28. Charlotte Bobcats: 0.0%
27. New Orleans Hornets: 0.0%
26. Phoenix Suns: 0.5%
25. Sacramento Kings: 0.6%
This category is named after Jannero Pargo, who has amassed an astounding -12.4 nERD score this season, ranks No. 169 on our player power ranking, holds the lowest win share score among players above the age of 25 at -0.3, and has had only one season above a 100 offensive rating in 11 pro seasons. And as you may have guessed, it's the teams that might as well go home now, because Papa (Stern) don't want you around no more.
The most intriguing name here may be the Sacramento Kings, who came into the season as a potential sleeper because of the talent they've amassed on their roster. But Defense Wins Championships isn't just a phrase for the NFL, and the Kings look like the Washington Generals on the defensive end of the floor.
Dean Oliver has identified Four Factors that will determine whether or not a team is playing efficiently. Normally, especially on the defensive end, a team will be solid in one but fall off in another.
But not the Kings. They are in the bottom half of the league in every single one of Oliver's defensive four factors. And that includes opponents' free throw factor, at which they are 28th in the league, and opponents' defensive rebounding percentage, at which they are dead last in the league. Not good for a team with highly-touted big men in Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, and Thomas Robinson.
The Michael Beasley Category
24. Dallas Mavericks: 3.5% Playoff Chance
21. Portland Trail Blazers: 13.5%
Welcome to the sinking ships! Just like Michael Beasley, whose win shares and offensive rating has decreased in each of his past four seasons, these are the teams that need a serious reboot if they have any hope of competing with even the middle of the pack.
The Dallas one is obvious: a team without Dirk is not a happy team. But what about Portland? If the season ended today, they would be the 7-seed in the Western Conference and would take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (heh).
The numbers, however, tell a different story. Their team defensive rating of 107.6 (points allowed per 100 possessions) ranks 24th in the NBA, they only have a single Four Factors category in the league's top ten (a 13.7 percent offensive turnover rate, which ranks 10th), and only J.J. Hickson (No. 30) and Nicolas Batum (No. 48) are in our top 50 most efficient players.
The most damning statistic, though, might be the one that comes from basketball-reference.com. Yes, the Blazers are 19-15. But according to their stats, their projected W-L record should actually be 15-19. That would put them 20th in the NBA. In the Western Conference, I'm good steering clear of Portlandia, thank you, even if LaMarcus Aldridge isn't.
The Andrea Bargnani Category
23. Detroit Pistons: 9.8% Playoff Chance
22. Orlando Magic: 10.0%
20. Toronto Raptors: 16.7%
Named after former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani, currently tied with Pargo at a -12.4 nERD and with a career-low 94 offensive rating, these are the teams that would have no use being looked at so closely... if only everything around them (in the Eastern Conference, or in Bargnani's case, Toronto) wasn't so, so poor.
Each of these teams currently sits with a 36 percent winning percentage or below, but if you take a look at the Eastern Conference, that might just be enough to do it. Detroit, currently with the highest winning percentage but the lowest playoff odds according to our analytics, sits in 10th. The seventh-place tie between Milwaukee and Boston sits just five games ahead. All it takes is one or two freefalls...
But each of these teams has a significant hole that they'll need to close up if they want to make even a semi-serious run. For Toronto, it's that pesky fouling problem: their opponent's free throw factor (FT/FGA) is .259, the worst ratio in the league. In Orlando, it's that turnover issue: their 11.6 percent opponents' turnover ratio is worst in the league, while they turn the ball over on 14.3 percent of their own possessions, 24th in the league. And for Detroit, it's the Magic Part Deux (and the remix is never as good): they're 26th in team turnover percentage and 28th in opponents' turnover percentage.
The Jared Dudley Category
19. Utah Jazz: 26.7% Playoff Chance
18. Minnesota Timberwolves: 33.9%
Just like Jared Dudley, whose 11th-in-the-NBA 119 offensive rating is one of the few things propping up a poor Phoenix team, these two teams are trying so hard, but just don't have the talent to survive all the way until the playoffs.
The Utah Jazz are a tale of two teams; think the offensive stylings of College Dropout-Time Period Kanye and the defensive stylings of Taylor Swift Win, Me Angry Kanye. Utah sits in the top five in both offensive rebounding percentage (30.0 percent - fifth) and offensive free throw factor (.234 FT/FGA - fifth), but 25th in the league in those two same categories on the defensive side.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has the opposite problem. Their 102.9 defensive rating is seventh-best in the entire NBA, but their .464 team effective field goal percentage means they're 26th most likely to win a league-wide game of Knockout.
The Thaddeus Young Category
17. Brooklyn Nets: 57.8% Playoff Chance
16. Boston Celtics: 57.9%
15. Houston Rockets: 67.2% Playoff Chance
14. Philadelphia 76ers: 68.6% Playoff Chance
Thaddeus Young: Solid, unspectacular, will get eaten alive when playing against the LeBrons and Durants of the world. Aren't you excited for two of these three Eastern Conference teams to face Miami and New York in the first round? I bet Heat and Knicks fans are.
Despite holding the best record of the three Atlantic Division foes, the Nets actually hold the lowest playoff chances of the three. A lot of that is due to Deron Williams' struggles, what with his highest offensive rating (111) since coming to Jersey/Brooklyn, the second lowest defensive rating (109) of his career, and the eighth-best assist percentage (37.3 percent of possessions with him on the floor) in the league. Whoops, does that not fit into the commonly established narrative? My bad...
Boston and Philadelphia, meanwhile, are both very similar teams. They're slow-paced (both 20th in pace or below), strong defensive (16th or above in defensive rating), weak offensive (22nd or below in offensive rating) squads. The two big advantages that Philadelphia holds are remaining schedule and turnover rate, where their 12.2 percent of possessions turning the ball over is the third-lowest mark in the league.
And those two couldn't possibly be more different than the Houston Rockets. They love to run up and down the floor - their 97.0 possessions per 48 minutes is the fastest pace in the league - but at what cost does it come? Their offensive turnover percentage of 14.7 percent of possessions is next to last in the NBA, and their opponents' effective field goal percentage of .505 is 25th.
The Dwight Howard Category
13. Los Angeles Lakers: 72.8% Playoff Chance
If there's one team that deserves its own category, it's the Lakers. And no player better encapsulates the Lakers this season than it's supposed No. 2 man, Dwight Howard. While Kobe's actually having one of his better statistical seasons, with career highs in eFG% and offensive rating (as well as the second-highest usage percentage in the NBA), DH12 has looked lost in LakerLand.
His block percentage is below Kosta Koufos and the Lopez brothers. His defensive rebound percentage is below Larry Sanders and new Magic star Nikola Vucevic. His 106 offensive rating is tied for his lowest ever, and his 101 defensive rating is his highest since his second year in the league.
There's no reason that a Lakers team with Howard and Pau Gasol should be 16th in defensive rebound percentage, but there they sit. The good news however, is that this is all likely unsustainable, just because all of those numbers I cited up there are so out of the ordinary. We expect a regression to the mean, and soon.
The Kyle Lowry Category
12. Milwaukee Bucks: 83.5% Playoff Chance
11. Denver Nuggets: 91.9%
10. Golden State Warriors: 92.0%
Did you know that, according to our player power rankings, Kyle Lowry is the third-best guard in the entire Eastern Conference? It's true. He's more efficient than Dwayne Wade, more efficient than Deron Williams, more efficient than Rajon Rondo. You just never hear his name when talking about the top players.
The same is true for each of these teams - they all have above an 80 percent chance of making the playoffs, but when's the last time you heard about the Warriors or Bucks contending for an NBA championship? Not since I was Hanging with Mr. Cooper. This year, however, might be the year.
For each of these teams to do it, though, they'll have to capitalize upon a strength. In Milwaukee, that's turnovers - they're sixth-best in not turning the ball over and third-best in forcing turnovers. Plus, Larry Sanders has the best block percentage in the league and can be a nightmare defensively. For Denver, the key will be getting their defensive rebounding (71.1 percent of opportunities, 27th in the NBA) on par with their offensive rebounding (32.1 percent, second in the NBA). And in Golden State, they'll need to keep shooting the lights out (their .509 eFG% is ninth) while simultaneously stopping opponents from doing the same (opponents' .475 eFG% is fourth-lowest).
The Tony Parker Category
9. Memphis Grizzlies: 97.2% Playoff Chance
8. Chicago Bulls: 97.5%
7. Indiana Pacers: 98.4%
6. Atlanta Hawks: 99.9%
If you're a fan of one of these teams, you can start booking your playoff tickets now. Yes, even you in the Benny Bull costume, worshiping at your Derrick Rose prayer altar. You're through the worst part of the season, and only a minor miracle will keep you out of the playoffs now. Just like Tony Parker, you're established well enough that nobody's going to be able to tear you down.
Memphis is an interesting case. They're top five in offensive rebounding percentage (first), opponents' eFG% (third), and causing turnovers (second). They're also in the bottom third of all NBA teams in their own eFG% (23rd) as well as their own turnover percentage (22nd). This might be the time where they try to pick up their pace - currently third-slowest in the NBA - to see how that changes their offense before getting to the playoffs and seeing Oklahoma City or the L.A. Clippers change it for them.
Chicago, Indiana, and Atlanta, meanwhile, aren't the strongest teams in the NBA. According to our nERD statistic, which measures a team's overall effectiveness, the Nuggets, Rockets, and even Lakers are more efficient squads than all three. But that's the benefit of being in the Eastern Conference: you don't need to be extraordinarily strong in order to essentially be assured a playoff birth. Especially the Pacers - whose 1.4 percent increase in turnover percentage has dropped them from seventh to 28th in the category in one season - have work to do, but there's time for that before the playoffs arrive.
The Kevin Durant Category
5. New York Knicks: 100.0% Playoff Chance
4. Miami Heat: 100.0%
3. San Antonio Spurs: 100.0%
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: 100.0%
1. Los Angeles Clippers: 100.0%
If you're in this category, then you're Kevin Durant: hot, unstoppable, and ready to take over the rest of the NBA. Oh yeah, and have a stronger chance of being elected President than missing the playoffs this season.
I've ordered these five by order of our nERD rankings, which measures the efficiency of each NBA team. And it might surprise some to see Lob City at the top of the rankings. But it shouldn't.
The 27-8 Clippers are third in the NBA with a 110.3 offensive rating, fourth in the NBA with a 105.6 defensive rating, and sit in the top 11 of the league in six of the eight (offensive and defensive) Four Factors criteria for winning games. Their absolute strength is forcing turnovers, where their 16.3 percent turnover percentage is easily first in the NBA. A big reason is both Eric Bledsoe and Chris Paul, who sit one and two in individual steal percentage with both stealing on above four percent of possessions.