How the NBA Playoffs Would Play Out If They Started at the All-Star Break
The NBA Playoffs are now exactly two months away -- and the NBA Finals are still roughly three and a half months down the road. Yes, the most important part of the season is just about to begin, and I can't wait. Still, we are a long stretch away (roughly 30 games per team) from establishing seeds and matchups for the postseason.
As NBA fans, we're allowed to have a little fun before the action picks back up tomorrow night, and we're going to do that with our imagination and some numbers.
What I've done is set up the playoff seedings and matchups based on the current conference standings -- that's the easy part. How are we going to decide who wins what matchup though? With advanced metrics and stats -- the only way we know how to do it here at numberFire.
The playoff matchups will be decided based on each team's respective nERD ranking. If you're unfamiliar with nERD, that's our in-house metric that ranks each team on a scale of 0 to 100, with the league average being 50. The nERD ranking is predictive of a team's ultimate winning percentage.
Of course, this nERD-only approach doesn't take into account how the individual teams would match up against each other or factor in which team has homecourt advantage in the series, so you won't be wanting to fly to Vegas based on these hypothetical outcomes, but the exercise is a fun one regardless.
Our algorithms also have specific championship odds for each and every team.
So, with that in mind, let's take a look at how this year's NBA Playoffs would play out if the season ended at the All-Star break.
|Round 1||Round 2||ECF||EC Champs|
|(1) Atlanta Hawks|
|(8) Miami Heat|
|(4) Washington Wizards||Hawks|
|(5) Cleveland Cavaliers|
|(3) Chicago Bulls|
|(6) Milwaukee Bucks||Raptors|
|(2) Toronto Raptors|
|(7) Charlotte Hornets|
These 1-8 and 2-7 matchups would likely be blowouts in four or five games. The Hawks' nERD of 69.1 is exactly 30 points better than the Heat's 39.1, and they are better both offensively and defensively. Atlanta is sixth in the NBA in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency, compared to Miami's 23rd ranked offense and 24th ranked defense.
As for the Raptors-Hornets matchup, the Raptors are also the far superior team. Their nerd of 62.4 is substantially better than the Hornets and their 46.9 -- but, the two teams differ in their individual strengths. The Raptors possess the second-best offense and the 20th-best defense, and the Hornets have the 29th-ranked offense and eighth-ranked defense in the NBA.
Then there's the two much more competitive and exciting matchups.
In fact, the Wizards (59.3) and Cavaliers (56.3) are separated by just three points in nERD. However, the Cavs are much better offensively as opposed to the Wizards, who are much better on the defensive end. Cleveland maintains an Offensive Efficiency rating 5.1 points higher than Washington while the Wiz have earned a Defensive Efficiency rating 4.5 points higher than the Cavs. It would be a great series, but our numbers give Washington the win.
And then there's the Bulls and Bucks -- two teams separated by just 6.7 points in nERD and five spots in our power rankings. The Bucks, who have the fourth-best defense in the league, would actually have the advantage over the Bulls, by 2.9 points per 100 possessions, but the Bulls have an edge offensively. Their Offensive Rating of 108.3 is eighth in the league and 3.9 points better than that of the Bucks.
In the hypothetical second-round matchup between the Hawks and Wizards, we should have a close matchup -- however, the Hawks have the edge in a few ways. With their team nERD scores separated by 9.8 points, the Hawks are second in our power rankings. The Wizards are 10th. It's true that the Hawks are just slightly better than the Wiz defensively -- 102.8 Defensive Rating to 103.0 -- but when it comes to offense, it's not even close. Atlanta has an Offensive Rating of 109.8 to Washington's 105.5 -- and if that's not enough, the Hawks have bested the Wizards by an average of 14.7 points in three wins.
As good as the Atlanta and Washington matchup might be, the projected Toronto-Chicago matchup would be even better. Both teams are in the top nine in nERD, with scores of 62.9 and 60.3, respectively, and are in the top eight in offensive efficiency. Both teams are also pretty poor defensively, giving up at least 105.1 points per 100 possessions. The Raptors, however, have a 3.9 point edge offensively. That would help give Toronto, whose 9.0% championship odds are third in the NBA, the victory in the matchup.
Eastern Conference Finals
So that leaves us with Atlanta and Toronto in the Conference Finals. Toronto leads the season series 2-1, but Atlanta took the last meeting in Toronto by 21 points. The Raptors have an advantage on the offensive end of the floor, as they boast the league's second-best offense, compared to the Hawks' sixth-best. But, defensively the Hawks are far superior as they rank sixth in the league in Defensive Efficiency. According to the numbers, chalk holds and the Hawks, who have an 18.0% chance to win the title, head to the Finals.
|Round 1||Round 2||WCF||WC Champs|
|(1) Golden State Warriors|
|(8) Phoenix Suns|
|(4) Houston Rockets||Warriors|
|(5) Dallas Mavericks|
|(3) Portland Trail Blazers|
|(6) Los Angeles Clippers||Clippers|
|(2) Memphis Grizzlies|
|(7) San Antonio Spurs|
Though it may be packed with offensive firepower, the matchup between Golden State and Phoenix would be a short series waiting to happen. The Wariors still have the highest nERD in the league (82.3), and the Suns -- well, we're not even sure if the Suns will actually make the playoffs, but they're in as of the All-Star break. They possess a nERD of 52.2 -- nearly 30 points fewer than the Warriors -- and have just a 25% chance of making the actual postseason, according to our projections. There's no need to go into detail. The Warriors are in a whole different league and would likely move on with ease.
The other three first round games could not possibly be as short. At this point in the season, they all look like six- or seven-game series.
The showdown between Memphis and San Antonio could be a classic because the teams are so evenly matched. The Grizzlies and Spurs are ranked fifth and eighth in our power rankings, respectively, as a mere 3.1 points separate their nERD scores from one another. They are also ranked fifth and third in the league in Defensive Efficiency, and 11th and 13th in Offensive Efficiency among all NBA teams. Memphis also has a slight 2-1 edge in the season series, and our nERD score gives them the narrow first-round win.
The Blazers and Clippers is another intriguing matchup fans would get to see if the playoffs started today. The Blazers are seventh in our power rankings with a nERD of 82.3 -- due in large part to their second-ranked defense. They have the edge over a struggling Clippers defense on that end. What about offense though? Both teams have a duo of superstars, but the Clippers, according to our Offensive Efficiency rating, are the number-one offense in the league -- and they've shown the Blazers that this season. They've put up an average of 103 points in their two wins against Portland this season. They've proven that they can best the Blazers in this matchup.
The 4-5 matchup of Houston and Dallas might also be a series worth hoping for -- or not. Though the Rockets currently lead the Mavs by two games in the loss column, we would expect the Mavs to win this series more handily than most may think. Their nERD of 68.4 is 9.7 better than Houston's, and their Offensive Rating of 111.6 is third in the NBA and nearly five points better than the Rockets. Even though the outcome of this series could depend on Dwight Howard's health, our numbers give Mark Cuban and his Mavs the series.
The Warriors and Mavs square off in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs in what would be a very high-paced, high-scoring series. Both teams are in the top three in offensive efficiency and score over 111 points per 100 possessions. To say the Mavericks couldn't keep up with the Warriors offense isn't be true. On the other hand, the Mavericks wouldn't be able to score with the Warriors as they boast the league's top defense. That's why -- just as the Warriors have done already twice this season -- they would likely best the Mavs.
The Clippers and Grizzlies make up the other second-round showdown -- and it sure would be a good one. The Clips and Grizz are ranked third and fifth in our power rankings, respectively. They're two of the top teams in the league, but both have their apparent strengths and weaknesses. Offensively, the Clippers are nearly 6 points better than the Grizzlies per 100 possessions, and defensively, the Grizzlies are 4.5 points better per 100 possessions. With a more substantial advantage offensively, the Clippers, who have a 7.4% chance to win the title, find their way into the Conference Finals ahead of the Grizzlies, whose odds are at 4.6%.
Western Conference Finals
The Clippers meet the Warriors in a matchup between two offensively gifted teams -- a meeting in which the two teams have split one win a piece over the season series. As the most efficient offense in the NBA, the Clips have a slight upper hand offensively. The other end's a different story, however. The Warriors have over a six-point advantage per 100 possessions, and the Clippers have struggled defensively this season. Golden State's defensive power is enough to overcome L.A. as they head off to the Finals.
The NBA Finals: Hawks vs. Warriors
The "If-the-Playoffs-Started-Today Finals" is a rematch from February 6th during which the Hawks beat the Warriors 124 to 116 -- and in that game, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson scored a combined 55 points while the Hawks made 15 threes on over 55% shooting from beyond the arc.
The Hawks completely out-shot the Warriors -- but from the final score of that game, it seems as though the Hawks would have to do that four times to win a series against the Warriors. Don't get me wrong -- on paper, the Hawks are really good, but the the Warriors are better. Their nERD is 13.2 points better, their offensive rating is 1.7 points better per 100 possessions, and their league-leading defensive rating is 2.3 points better per 100 possessions.
Golden State's all-around attack is why they have a 32.1% chance to win the NBA Finals. It could take up to seven games to get the job done, but, according to our metrics, the Warriors are the projected winners of our midseason NBA playoffs.