NBA Playoff Projections Watch: January 23
For those of you who don't know what George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series is, first of all: shame on you. Second of all, it has everything you could ever want in a book series and subsequent TV show: a lot of violence, a lot of nudity, and a lot of Peter Dinklage/Tyrion being a complete badass by talking his way out of every situation.
As someone who has recently started re-reading the third book in the series in preparation for the third season of the HBO show (that is still two months away, but have you seen the size of those books?), I've been on a Game of Thrones kick recently. In fact, it's pervaded everything that I do: even how I watch basketball.
Think there aren't similarities? You know nothing, Jon Snow. There are fights between family (Kobe and Cersei would get along nicely, I feel), there are Kings relocated unnecessarily (... for all the gold in Seattle, I mean Casterly Rock), and there are leaders that are brutally overthrown (I don't want to give spoilers as to what happens to Scott Skiles in King's Landing, but...).
So let's count down the NBA best and worst, from least likely to rule the Seven Kingdoms to the most likely. There are no Wildlings to fear here, unless you count Metta World Peace.
The Robert Arryn Category
30. Charlotte Bobcats: 0.0% Playoff Chance
29. Washington Wizards: 0.0%
28. Cleveland Cavaliers: 0.0%
27. New Orleans Hornets: 0.0%
26. Phoenix Suns: 0.2%
25. Sacramento Kings: 0.2%
Sometimes, it's just sad. You're just playing out your days with little hope, whether that's of the NBA playoffs or of ever being a major player in the Game of Thrones. Instead you sit in your desolate castle named Quicken Loans Arena to diminishing crowds and diminishing hopes.
Just for fun, I decided to look at Player Efficiency Ratings (PER) by position for these three teams. Specifically, I decided to look at each position's net PER rating, meaning, "How did this position's efficiency compare to their opponents' on the floor?" Then, I decided to tally which ones had a positive PER. Remember, there are 30 total positions here (five positions times six teams). Here are the ones that were positive:
|New Orleans Hornets||C||+2.2|
|New Orleans Hornets||PF||+2.1|
Yup, that would be six. Out of 30. That's not good.
And of those six, only two (both for New Orleans) had a high enough value that you can consider the position a valuable strength night in and night out. It's all thanks to Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Robin Lopez. Now if only New Orleans didn't have a -6.7 net PER at PG or a -5.4 net PER at SF...
The Jon Snow Category
24. Dallas Mavericks: 5.0% Playoff Chance
23. Orlando Magic: 6.3%
22. Toronto Raptors: 6.8%
21. Detroit Pistons: 9.2%
Sure, there is technically a chance that these four teams could make the playoffs. There is also a chance that the entirety of the world will be engaged in an eternal winter, rendering all but the most fearsome warriors useless against the beings of the North. Doesn't mean that it's going to happen.
The Dallas Mavericks have seen their playoff chances increase slightly. And by slightly, I mean their chances are more similar to Darren Collison's overall rebound rate (4.9 percent) than his offensive rebound rate (0.7 percent). That's still not good, considering that the Mavs want Collison as far away from the rim as humanly possible at all times. And as long as the Mavs don't have a strength (both their offensive and defensive ratings are in the bottom half of the league), their chances aren't going to get better.
Meanwhile, not much has changed for the Eastern Conference trio: they're still only in the playoff hunt if one of the Eastern Conference powers, as well as the 76ers, crashes and burns in historic proportions. You know the old saying about how stars win championships? Well combined, the Magic, Raptors, and Pistons have exactly one player - No. 19 Andre Drummond - in numberFire's current top 25 nERD rankings. (As of this writing, Kyle Lowry is No. 26, and Orlando's best is No. 53 Nikola Vucevic.)
The Arya Stark Category
20. Minnesota Timberwolves: 15.7% Playoff Chance
19. Philadelphia 76ers: 18.4%
18. Portland Trail Blazers: 20.1%
Aww, that's so cute. You think you can play the Game of Thrones with the best of them? Here's a wooden sword; we'll call you in a few years when you have a little more experience under your belt. All three of these teams have strengths (like Arya's quick thinking), but they just don't have the all-around game to pull it out.
For Minnesota, it's the rebounding. They're third in offensive rebounding and fourth in defensive rebounding, and that's even with Kevin Love falling prey to the Pale Mare or something. But both the injury bug (seriously, look at their injury report) and their lack of shooting (27th in the NBA) are holding them back.
In Philadelphia, the strength is being able to hold onto the ball, as their 12.4 percent offensive turnover rate is third in the NBA. But a large portion of that is that they don't take chances, which has led to a free-throw factor (FT/FGA) of .148, dead-last in the league at getting to the line. If they're going to improve their 28th-place 101.5 offensive rating, they're going to have to take a few more risks and drive the lane on offense.
Portland, meanwhile, has regressed to the mean after their 20-15 start; six straight losses is exactly what the doctor... well, figured would happen eventually. The big reason is that their unusually high shooting has gone away. Their season average sits at .484, but they only got within sniffing distance of that mark twice during this streak (four of their games were at .469 or below), and the only time they outshot their opponent was an OT loss to Denver.
The Balon Greyjoy Category
17. Los Angeles Lakers: 52.1% Playoff Chance
16. Utah Jazz: 52.7%
15. Houston Rockets: 63.0%
I suppose they're contenders. They do have a bit of power, after all. But something about them just doesn't sit right, and until they distinguish themselves from the faces in the crowd, than they'll never be more than rabblerousers on the outside looking in. They're fun to talk about, but ultimately won't mean that much without a bit of luck.
If Kobe Bryant was a Game of Thrones character, there is no doubt in my mind that he would be a Greyjoy. Ruthless, cutthroat, willing to do whatever it takes to win... and ultimately without much power, seeing as how he's stuck on the island that is L.A. The Lakers have a 19.2 PER from the shooting guard position this year, with a net PER of +5.9 over their opponents. They also have a net PER of +3.7 (solid, but not spectacular at center). They need those ratings, though, as their have a net PER of -5.5 at PG and -1.0 at SF.
The Jazz and Rockets both have similar problems with extreme strong and weak points on their roster. Utah registers a +5.5 PER at power forward, but a -5.8 PER at point guard. The Rockets, meanwhile, have a +5.9 PER at shooting guard with James Harden, but the -4.3 PER at power forward remains a problem. Expect all three of these teams to be active on the trade market to try and fill holes before playoff time.
The Stannis Baratheon Category
14. Milwaukee Bucks: 81.3% Playoff Chance
13. Boston Celtics: 88.2%
12. Golden State Warriors: 88.9%
Now we're starting to move towards legitimate contenders to the throne. A King? Perhaps. Legitimate case? Indeed. But there's something significant, be it an entire body of water or a age or what have you, that are keeping these legitimate cases from being favorites.
In Milwaukee, the problem's down low. Yes, Larry Sanders is a surprise hit. Yes, he's leading all players in block percentage. Yes, he's also 12th in total rebound percentage. And all of those things would be great... if Sanders played 48 minutes a game. But he doesn't, and the Bucks currently see a -2.5 net PER at both the center and power forward positions when compared with their opponents. They're shooting from below .500 eFG% from all five positions on the floor, a big reason why their offense is 27th with a 102.2 offensive rating. They can play D just fine, but if they want to contend, their big men are going to have to score.
Boston, meanwhile, has Winterfell-sized holes at shooting guard and power forward. Think that the loss of Ray Allen isn't hurting? Boston shooting guards are putting up a combined 9.7 PER. That's atrocious; the league average is 15, and opponents of the Celtics are at 13.4. The problem's even worse at power forward, where the Celtics have a net PER of -4.7. Think that the loss of Kevin Garnett has... wait, he's alive? Oh. Well this is awkward.
Which position is the loser on the roulette wheel for Golden State? That would be... center! They're actually not that bad there, registering a 15.1 PER, slightly above-average. It's just that opponents are even better, shooting .530 eFG% from that spot (.046 higher than any other position on the floor) and, importantly, averaging 1.3 less fouls per game. That has netted the position a -3.3 net PER loss for Golden State.
The Robb Stark Category
11. Brooklyn Nets: 95.3% Playoff Chance
10. Atlanta Hawks: 97.8%
9. Memphis Grizzlies: 98.0%
8. Denver Nuggets: 98.1%
7. Chicago Bulls: 99.0%
6. Indiana Pacers: 99.2%
Warning: there are legitimate challengers to the throne. And they have the backing of some of the strongest players in the game.
In direct contrast to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, which as we showed earlier has some huge inefficiencies, this group might just have the star power to compete with the big names. Combined, these six teams have six players in numberFire's top 25 nERD rankings. Two teams have two a piece - the Memphis Grizzlies (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) and the Indiana Pacers (George Hill and David West). Of the two teams that don't have top 25 players, the Hawks have two in the top 35, and the Bulls have three in the top 45 (plus Rose returning soon).
The most interesting team in this mix this week is the Brooklyn Nets, who jumped nearly ten percentage points in the past week to become effectively surefire playoff participants. That recent seven game winning streak and winning nine of ten might have something to do with it. But even more impressive is how they've absolutely attacked the offensive boards with wildfire - and surprisingly been able to sustain their torrid pace.
The Nets have grabbed 25 percent of available offensive boards in an unbelievable ten straight games. They've also had a better offensive rebounding percentage than their opponents in nine of those ten games (only Toronto bested them). They brought down 52.5 percent of offensive board opportunities against Sacramento on Jan. 5. And Brooklyn's offensive rebound percentage has now jumped to 30.5 percent on the season, fourth in the NBA.
The Robert Baratheon 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%
He doesn't need anybody to tell him that he might be King: he is the King. And if you want to get to the top, he's the one that you're going to have to push off.
There have now been no changes to the order of the top five from the past three weeks either, with the Clippers squarely planted as our No. 1 team in terms of efficiency. Given the advanced metrics that we like to use, it's not hard to see why. They're fourth in offensive rating, fifth in defensive rating, fourth in offensive eFG%, first in opponents' turnover percentage, and in the top 11 of the league in every single offensive Four Factors category and in two of the four defensive categories. They're also registering a positive net PER at every single position except SG, where they're a massive... 0.1 behind their opponents.
The most amazing stats from the Clippers, though, are coming from the combined play of their point guards Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe. Combined, the two are putting up a PER of 25.5, or over 60 percent better than the average player. That's incredible on its own. But when coupled with the fact that they're holding opposing point guards to a 9.2 PER, for a staggering net of +16.2 for the Clippers PGs. I don't have data on what the record net PER would be, but I would have to think that would be close.
On the season, Clippers point guards as compared to their opponents are shooting .073 eFG% better, turning the ball over less (1.2 less per game), with higher per game averages for assists (+3.9), rebounds (+1.8), and free throws attempted (+1.9). In almost every conceivable metric, the Clippers have a point guard advantage at every moment on the floor. And that's a good problem to have.
But even Kings can fall; that's why we play the game. And it'll be fun to see who wins this NBA Game of Thrones.