A Half Baked Notion about the difference between the Regular Season and the Playoffs

Posted on 07/26/2010 by

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The first post I ever wrote for the Wages of Win network was about my beloved Celtics and how people should not be surprised by their success against the Cavaliers (see here). One of the key points in the article was that minute allocation and inefficient use of resources by their coach Mike Brown was what led the Cavaliers on the road to perdition. After I wrote this I started to think on past situation where of teams that were successful in the regular season but dramatic failures in the playoff. This idea stayed in my head and gave birth to a Half-Baked Notion.

Is there something inherently different about the regular season and the playoffs in the NBA? Is there something that jumps out that dramatically changes the game? I believe that there is : Minute allocation & how wins produced are affected by that allocation. We continuously hear terms like playoff rotation & playoff minutes thrown around come playoff time. When we take a look at the data we’ll see that the pundits may just be right (stunning I know but even a broken clock is right once a day).

The Regular Season

First let’s look at the regular season data. I’m using all the data from every season since the merger. I will be ranking the players on each roster by minutes played and then allocation wins accordingly. The data looks like this :

A few interesting points from this table:

  • Your starting five account for 82% percent of your wins in the regular season.
  • Your second unit is important over the course of an 82 game regular season accounting for 18% of your wins
  • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.

The Playoffs:

Now let’s look at the playoff data. Again, I’m using all the data from every season since the merger. I will be ranking the players on each roster by minutes played and then allocation wins accordingly. The data looks like this :

You can clearly see the obvious differences:

  • Your starting five account for 94% percent of your wins in the playoffs.
  • Only the first guy of your bench matters accounting for 5% of your wins
  • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.

So what have we learned. A good deep team filled with average and above average players will get you in the playoffs but to get far in the playoffs you need your wins to be concentrated in your Top 6. So at the end of the day Pat Riley looks even more brilliant (and thus ends my streak of not talking about the Superfriends ).

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