30 to 16 to 1: An Early Playoff Preview

Posted on 02/12/2011 by


“Here we are, Born to be kings,
We’re the princes of the universe,
Here we belong, Fighting to survive,
In a world with the darkest powers,” -Queen Princes of the Universe

3o to 16 to 1. 2011. Playoffs.

It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Over 50 games into the season it’s time to start thinking about the playoffs. That means it’s time to bring the Half-Baked notion out of mothballs for the uninitiated (and if you’re new please be aware that we are powered by NerdNumbers and if you have questions you’ll need to go to the Basics, thanks in advance).

The Half Baked Notion

The first post I ever wrote for the Wages of Win network (and in fact the first post written for the network) was about my beloved Celtics and how people should not be surprised by their success in the 2010 Playoffs against the Cavaliers (see here). One of the key points in the article was that bad minute allocation and inefficient use of resources doomed the Cavaliers. This led me to think about teams that were successful in the regular season but dramatic failures in the playoff which led to the Half-Baked Notion (full article here ).

The Half-Baked notion is this: what wins in the regular season is not necessarily what gets you the big trophy.

What’s the difference? Minute allocation & how wins produced are affected by that allocation. We continuously hear terms like playoff rotation and playoff minutes thrown around come playoff time. The funny thing is that when we use math and science to take a take a look at the data we see that the pundits may just be right .

The half baked notion tells us that 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.

If we look at 2010 numbers:

  • The best two players accounted for 55% of a teams wins in the 2010 Playoffs.
  • The top three players are just below the pareto threshold
  • The next three (4,5,6th man) account for the rest of the positive win contribution about equally.
  • After that everybody else actually hurt teams in the playoffs.

30 to 16 to 1

30 to 16. When looking at the NBA, we typically focus our energy on what happens in the regular season to turn thirty regular season teams into 16 playoff teams. This is perfectly understandable but I believe it misses the point somewhat.

16 to 1. The true goal of any NBA season is to turn thirty teams into one champion and based on the Half-Baked Notion what gets you from 30 to 16 is not what gets you from 16 to 1.

With 30 to 16 to 1, I focus on the top six players for each team that will make the difference come playoff time.

In the pre-season, I worked my way through every team in the 2009-2010 NBA Playoffs based on my half-baked notion about the difference between the Regular season in the NBA and the Playoffs.

The series went from least productive to most productive team in the Playoffs (based on the table that follows now):

The series looked like this:

A Half Baked Notion about the difference between the Regular Season and the Playoffs (the original piece)

30 to 16 to 1: A Half Baked Review of the NBA Playoffs: Part 1 introducing the Series and the Bobcats

30 to 16 to 1:(Part Deux) An Inglorious Blaze: The Portland Trailblazers

30 to 16 to 1:(Part Three) The Powers To Be: The Bulls (The Second City) & The Heat (The Bad Guys)

30 to 16 to 1:(Parte Cuatro) The Future should have been Now: OKC(Playing it Safe in OKC) & Milwakee (Learning to Worry about that Deer)

30 to 16 to 1:(Part Five) Triple A Ball in Denver: The Denver Nuggets

30 to 16 to 1:(Part 6) Excel-Based Heroes :The Dallas Mavericks

30 to 16 to 1:(Part Seven) Gilding a Turd : The Atlanta Hawks

30 to 16 to 1:(Pt. 8 Rnd2 San Antonio Spurs): The Forgotten Kings

30 to 16 to 1:(Pt. 9 Rnd2): The Forgettable Jazz

30 to 16 to 1:(Pt. 10 Rnd2): This is the End: The Cleveland Cavaliers

30 to 16 to 1: The Rising or Setting Sun? : The Phoenix Suns

30 to 16 to 1: Kryptonite: The Orlando Magic

30 to 16 to 1: The Big One: The Boston Celtics

30 to 16 to 1: 6 for 24 and why size does matter: The LA Lakers

So why should you care? Here’s a table based on the half baked numbers for the last five years for the top 4 teams :

For 2006 it had Dallas, Detroit & Phoenix as tight group at the top. Phoenix had bad injury luck the rest was fairly tight.

For 2007, It got them right.

For 2008, It liked San Antonio better than LA but San Antonio had that charter plane delay before game 1 (and the remarkable 20 point meltdown in game 1). Little hard to predict.

For 2009. Loved LA. It also loved Boston before the injuries. Cleveland failed monumentally.

For 2010. It got them right and Cleveland failed monumentally again.

You’ll note that every champ is at >.900 Cumulative WP48 for it’s top 6 in the playoffs (or on average .150 WP48 per player). So the Half-Baked theory may not be so half baked after all.

Let’s focus on the now shall we?

Spoilers Ahead?

A first look at the playoffs:

Let’s settle something first. Who are the contenders for the Crown?

I came up with another handy dandy equation to help us there as well. The Championship Equation is simply that to win a championship you need :

  • Win 52 or more games (Houston is an aberration that can be explained in one word: Hakeem)
  • Have two star points (either >2 Stars, > Star + Superstar or > 2 Superstars) as determined by Wins Produced in your top 6.

With that in mind, the contenders for this year are (based on my handy rankings):

  1. The Nefarious Heat
  2. The Consistent Spurs
  3. The Champs in LA
  4. The One last run Celts
  5. The Young Bulls
  6. The One Man Magic

This first group has a realistic shot at the title. The Magic are the most flawed of all these teams (as we shall see).

The lurkers and Dark Horses are:

  1. The Aging Mavs
  2. The Pocket Thunder
  3. The Paulettes
  4. The Longshot 76ers & Grizzlies

This second group all have glaring flaws. The Mavs are brittle and lack depth. The Thunder lack size. The Hornets have a hobbled superstar. The  Grizzlies are just happy to be here. And yes the Denver omission was not accidental they stay off until the Melo trade goes down.  The 76ers are too new to evaluate but may sneak in if they keep it up.

So what happens when I look at the contenders and their projected top 6?

Fi rst let’s choose our top 6 for each team:

Let’s give you a by team table:

And the obligatory by now pretty graph (click to enlarge):

What does it mean exactly? The Eastern playoffs will be epic. Boston, Miami San Antonio and Chicago would be clear favorites any other year. LA has real problems after their top 4 (but they know that). Orlando is built to fail in the playoffs. Dallas apes the Lakers and New Orleans the MAgic in their achilles heels. OKC need to fix their big problem (trade Green for Size).

The big takeaway here is that the flaws for these teams are there to see and fix. Time (and the opposition) are not on their side.

After all, there can only be one.

And before you ask a Pirate's life for me

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