NBA Mid-Season Rankings and Report Cards

Posted on 02/03/2015 by

Jeffrey Goines: There’s no right. There’s no wrong. There’s only popular opinion.
-12 Monkeys

The season is actually way past the Mid-point. As of the monday after the Super Bowl (02/02/2015, yay Pats!), 723 of the season’s 1230 games are already gone the way of the dodo for 59% completion tally for the 2014/15 season.

At this point, the season is more in the past than the present and there is precious little teams can do to change it. In mathematical terms, We are in the highly significant portion of the regular season sample.

It’s fate! No need to get anymore Knicks/Sixers game samples. (Image courtesy of xkcd.com)

It’s all mostly academic at this point (barring game changing trades or injuries of course). We pretty much know who’s in the postseason and the drama really is in the seeding and in any attrition teams might suffer in the interim.

It’s a perfect time to look back and evaluate the teams and make some judgments and recommendations.

Some background for those of you seeing this ranking for the first time. A full explanation of the methods behind it is here. I’ll give you the brief right now:

• The game data is courtesy of Basketball Reference.
• I take the results of all the games and use a rather nifty variation of a Kalman Filter to come up with a running estimation of every team’s strength (Editors note: a much more in-depth look at a similar method can be seen here courtesy of Jirka Poropudas).Done right, this method does a very good job of measuring the state of the NBA in real time and we can use it for forecasting the relative ranking of all teams. It lets me quantify some general expectations for matchups and build a simulation and playoff odds report.
• Some important numbers I work out:
• Point Margin per Game: (Pts scored by team) – (Pts scored by opponent) / games played
• Home court Point Margin per Game: Point Margin per game due to the schedule and homecourt advantage.
• Adjusted Point Margin per Game: (Point Margin per Game) – (Home court Point Margin per Game). Schedule independent point margin (neutral site at sea level)
• Adjusted Opponent Point Margin: The average Point Margin per Game of a teams opponents.
• Point Margin Now:This is RPM estimated using the modified Kalman Filter. This is the Number I use to rank.
• Neutral Site Win % : A win projection using the Point margin Now and the relationship between point margin and win% (RPM/31 + .500 is a quick shorthand but not quite right, we gotta have some secrets)
• Offensive Possessions: I’m a bit non-classical here. I define an offensive possession as any play after which the shot clock is reset. I approximate this number as
• Offensive Possessions= Field Goal Attempts + Turnovers + 44% of Free Throw Attempts
• For Total Offensive Possessions in a game I just add up Team and Opponent Offensive Possessions
• Offensive Rank: I calculate this based on Team points scored per Offensive Possessions.
• Defensive Rank: I calculate this based on Opponent points allowed per Opponent Offensive Possessions.

I’ll pull out the flash cards to explain the player metric:

Got it? Good. Let’s get to the latest and greatest power rankings (All team numbers are as of 02/02/15, player numbers are as of 02/01/15,  the previous one is here if your’re into that sort of thing).

First the ranks (Remember, this is a reflection of how teams are playing now):

And now the simulation for the remaining season (please note that the simulation now includes division winner odds):

Let’s get to the detailed Rankings featuring some really nifty charts. It’s about to get visual:

#1 Atlanta Hawks Neutral Site Win:71.3% (Up 1,#4 in offense, #8 in defense):

Hawks have been a wrecking ball this season. There’s this, which I made when the win streak reached 18.

And this:

The streak may have ended in the court that Cthulhu built down in New Orleans but the Hawks are still #1.

In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dribbling

Korver has been amazing as has Horford. Their top six overall has killed.

Look, normally , I’d be the first calling for caution with the Hawks but given the history of teams on runs like this (they win the title more often than not)  and the fact that the Hawks are pulling the Spurs old “win while not playing players any heavy minutes tricks” (the high man is Millsap at 33.4 minutes per game) I have to be bullish on this team.

They’re going to miss Thabo Sefolosha but their depth and their lead is big enough that it won’t matter. What will be really interesting for this team is how they’ll fare come playoff time particularly against veteran teams. History tells us that it’s very hard for a team of mostly playoff newcomers to get any calls in the playoffs. That, and that fellow in Cleveland with the MVP awards, is what keeps me from calling them prohibitive title favorites.
#2 Golden State Warriors Neutral Site Win:70% (Down 1,#5 in offense, #1 in defense):

The crazy part about the Warriors dominant first half is that they’ve only had their all world defensive center Bogut for about half that time. Curry is your for real MVP by any mathematical measure of production. Kerr has also don a tremendous job of playing the right guys . It’s kinda stunning that they’re also doing all this with Igoudala having, for him, a terrible year.

Our #2 team may have hit a rough patch recently but, say it with me Golden State Fans, if healthy this team is the class of the West and perhaps the NBA. My only concern with them remains the lack of any real playoff experience. This is a roster with zero minutes played in the conference finals and the NBA finals.

I love this team but I feel their fate remains a heartbreaking loss in the Conference Finals unless they make a trade (KG for David Lee works) or they run into a rejuvenated Spurs team in round 1.

#3 Dallas Mavericks Neutral Site Win:68% (No Change,#2 in offense, #16 in defense):

Why exactly are the Mavs here at number#3 you ask? Tyson Chandler is a franchise, championship winning center and is playing like it. They’ve been playing better recently but this is a team built more for the postseason than the regular season.

The real challenge for them is actually this:

Aminu and Rondo have been their two best players recently but, given their offensive limitations, it’s hard to play them together against an elite defensive team. This wouldn’t be a problem if Parsons and Harris weren’t their worst players per minute currently. They need Parsons not to be a complete atrocity on the defensive end to actually have a shot. Either that or Rondo being passable on offense would help.

It’s kinda interesting how Parsons left the Rockets and all of the sudden their defense was way better no?

I’m going to call Dallas contender #3 and the first with the historical pedigree (Tyson,Dirk, Rondo, Carlisle) to actually win it all.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers Neutral Site Win:67.1% (Up 1,#1 in offense, #24 in defense):

What to make of the Clippers at number 4? Much like the Mavs this is a team with some great pieces and deep flaws. Chris Paul has been amazing as he always is, pretty much at everything. DeAndre is a top five center again. Blake has been good (+1.2 per 48) But as you can observe from the chart up top, everyone else has been just meh.

However if you have two top ten players (CP3 and DeAndre) at the point and the five and you throw in an all star at the four (Blake) you can get away with a bad rest of the roster.

Adding the coaches son (Austin and his -1.7 per 48) has only made the bad roster worse. This is a good team with the the talent to win but that is too dependent on their top three. Every year, one (or two) of their big three get hurt or banged up come playoff time.

I don’t see this year as being any different.

#5 Memphis Grizzlies Neutral Site Win:66.9% (Up 3,#9 in offense, #6 in defense):

ZBO! Memphis brings the grit and grind with Zbo and Marc leading the way (+3.2 and +2.3 respectively). This roster is kinda the opposite of the Clippers. This is a deep crew with lots of redundancy built in.

Let’s see them since the Jeff Green trade.

Jeff Green’s numbers are good (+1.5 per 48) but they’re made way better by the virtue of his replacing Tayshaun’s bad (-1.3 per 48). That +2.8 point margin per 48 improvement is Robin to ZBo’s Batman since the trade went down. It looks like the only question mark for this team right now is at the point where Conley has been in a funk and Calathes has been cooking.

Right now Memphis is contender #4 and my favorite to come out of the West. We ready for the ultimate Barbecue, wrestling and fried food Finals?

#6 Cleveland Cavaliers Neutral Site Win:64.8% (Up 21,#6 in offense, #20 in defense):

The full season chart for the Cavs is interesting but it doesn’t really tell the right story. Or at least, it hides it.

Let’s do some clarification.

Before the Waiters trade, this team was a mess. Thompson, Lebron, Love, Varejao and Marion were all net positive players (+2.6, +1.2, +.9, +1.5 and +.5 respectively) but it was all being offset by the rest of the teams massively negative performance.

The backcourt was a disaster with Waiters (-2.6 per 48, which if you think about is really hard to do when no one is actually guarding you) dragging the talented Kyrie to just an average player (+0 per 48 is the definition of average).

Kyrie looks like an out and out superstar without Waiters. Having competent backcourt mates has completely turned him around. Mozgov has been a decent addition as well, giving the Cavs slightly above average center play (+.2). Throw in the fact that Lebron and Love still don’t look to be 100% and this is now starting to look like what we expected before the season.

Cavs are contender#5 and history gives the edge over the Hawks to get to the Finals (if they have Lebron). We shall see how it goes.
#7 Milwaukee Bucks Neutral Site Win:60.4% (Up 2,#21 in offense, #2 in defense):

That’s not a typo. It’s the freaking Deer at number 7. With their killer defense (number 1 in the NBA since the start of 2015), they just keep beating good teams.

This is a young solid team with three budding stars (Knight +3, Giannis +1.2, Middleton +1.5). I love the addition of Jared Dudley to this young core that keeps improving.

The model has them at 30% odds to get a top four seed and 15% odds to win the Central. Goddamn, Kidd is a miracle worker. They’re not winning the title or even making the Finals barring some catastrophic injuries in front of them but at this point winning a first round series seems like a distinct possibility.
#8 Portland Trail Blazers Neutral Site Win:59.6% (Down 2,#11 in offense, #5 in defense):

Don’t lie: Did you  know that the #8 Blazers are missing a really good defensive center in Robin Lopez (+2.3)  since the 17th of december? Non-All Star, Damian Lillard (+2.3) has been putting together numbers that’ll likely draw some MVP votes. LMA, by my numbers (+2.1), is having his best season ever.

It’s the overcoming of the Lopez injury that’s impressed me though.

Thomas Robinson has been an able replacement (+1.3) and honestly he’s been fantastic defensively. If Batum (-.2 for the year) can figure out his game and get back to form and Lopez gets back this team should make some postseason noise again.

Lopez is key as he’s the only starter on this team that’s actually played in a Conference Finals. If I where running this team, I’d be looking to add a veteran big (call Billy King!) and shooting for a Conference Finals as my goal for this young squad.
#9 Houston Rockets Neutral Site Win:59.5% (Down 2,#15 in offense, #3 in defense):

Given the injuries (Dwight, a dissapointing +.1) , the lackluster additions (Ariza +.2) and the ridiculous pickups (Josh Smith with a laughable -2 pm per 48 ) nobody has done more with less than the MVP in the clubhouse, Mr. James Harden (+4.1 pm per 48).

The Rockets are in a weird spot. With Harden, they might have the best player on the floor on any given night. With Smith, they also likely have the worst. This does not bode well for their title odds.

However, if they can control Josh Smith from taking bad shots, if they can get Ariza back to his Wizards form, if they can get Dwight healthy and if they can keep Harden healthy, they have a shot. I have a four if minimum for my contenders so they’re hanging on barely to that distinction right now.
#10 New Orleans Pelicans Neutral Site Win:56.5% (Up 5,#8 in offense, #17 in defense):

Anthony Davis (+5.8 pm per 48) is the best pure big man to play in the NBA since prime Duncan and KG. Omer Asik (+1.4) is a shut it down defensive Center who’s a slight negative on offense. In the East? this team is a top four seed and a frightening prospect for the Hawks and Cavs (seriously, who covers Davis?). In the west, the fact that they’re a two and a half men team (with Jrue Holiday as the smart alecky kid) is keeping them just on the edge of a playoff spot.

I would love if this team made some sort of a trade to shore up that backcourt. Perhaps something like this:

Not going to happen. I see a nine seed in their future.

#11 Phoenix Suns Neutral Site Win:56% (No Change,#7 in offense, #18 in defense):

Are the Suns doomed to another season on the outside looking in in the West? The numbers right now say no. A seven seed and, perhaps,a first round war with Grizzlies seem in the cards. Their margin is non-existent though. The kicker is that this is a really nice roster. Bledsoe (+2.1), Dragic (+1.4) and Thomas (+1.4) have all been good. If there was a weakness in this roster it was the big men spot and that’s coming along nicely.

Between the Wright (+2 per 48 for them so far) trade and the On-going development of Alex Len (-.5 per 48 for the year but +1.7 since January 11th), the future in Phoenix is quite sunny.

Is it enough to make the playoffs? It looks like the answer is yes right now. If not, the Lakers lottery pick might be a nice consolation.
#12 Chicago Bulls Neutral Site Win:55.4% (Up 8,#12 in offense, #9 in defense):

Jimmy Butler (+3.4 pm per 48) and Pau Gasol( +2.5 pm per 48) have been carrying the Bulls this year on their backs. The Bulls have two main problems though.

The first is the health of the player who has been at the heart of their success in the Thibbs era in Chicago. Joakim Noah has been the pillar on which this Bulls team has built their success. When he’s close to 100% the defense is a force of nature. Without him they’ve faltered. They need him healthy if they want to be a contender.

The other is their lack of productive guard play outside of Butler. I’m looking at you Derrick Rose (-2.2 pm per 48).

Rose has shown flashes this year but has been unable to sustain them. History tells us this is to be expected. Not shoring up the backcourt was a huge mistake.

Given the emergence of Mirotic and the pieces at hand, it makes real sense to try to move Taj Gibson for some backcourt insurance. Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich for Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins, who says no?

Given their health and the way this roster is built, I don’t believe in the Bulls as a contender right now.
#13 Oklahoma City Thunder Neutral Site Win:54.8% (No Change,#19 in offense, #4 in defense):

The Thunder, 13th in the rankings and likely out of the playoffs. Even with KD in superstar mode (+3.7 pm per 48). What’s going on with them?

Let me offer a simple explanation.

Remember how Kyrie’s numbers skyrocketed with the subtraction of Waiters?

Russell Westbrook was a +2.9 per 48

Kevin Durant was a +4.4 per 48

Westbrook is at +0 per 48 (same as Kyrie with Waiters, eerie…)

KD is at +3.1 per 48

Waiters himself is at -2.6 per 48

Waiters is apparently the NBA’s version of Typhoid Mary. I think this might very well be the end of the Thunder’s run.

Prepare for the Kevin Durant free agent saga. It’s going to be simply enchanting.

#14 Toronto Raptors Neutral Site Win:54.4% (Down 2,#3 in offense, #19 in defense):

By default, the Raptors currently hold the easiest ticket in the NBA to a first round home playoff series in the Atlantic division title. After a hot start, they’ve cooled off massively.

The Reason?

Valanciunas and Patterson have been the only net positive performers in the new year and Patterson is the only net plus defender. The collapse of Lowry has been the biggest factor to their regression.

As of right now, given the state of the East, I don’t trust this team to get out of Round 1.
#15 Detroit Pistons Neutral Site Win:53.8% (Down 11,#25 in offense, #14 in defense):

The Pistons really had something after cutting Josh Smith (an atrocious, almost unbelievable -4.4 pm per 48 for them).

Here’s the Pistons before:

And after:

Monroe (+4.0 per 48), Drummond (+3.2) and Jennings (+3.6) were all playing like top 10 players and this was very much starting to look like Stan Van Gundy’s Orlando teams.

The Jennings injury took some of the air out of that balloon. D.J. Augustin, not unexpectedly, has been an able backup. I still like this team to claw their way in and give us a fun series against the Hawks or Cavs.

#16 Miami Heat Neutral Site Win:53.7% (Up 10,#17 in offense, #23 in defense):

It’s all about Hassan Whiteside for this team (a ridiculous +7.1 pm per 48 ). Whiteside is currently putting up the best defensive numbers per 48 in the NBA and the second best overall per 48 numbers (just behind Curry). However, for some inexplicably reason the Heat aren’t playing him as many minutes as humanly possible.

Look, if a player this good has a high per 48 foul rate you need to leave him out there so he can get the reps to figure out how to lower it and so that you force the refs to take him out and not inflict the wound on yourself.

Somehow, Miami seems to have lucked in to a max level superstar center at the minimum for the next two years (after which they have to pay him the Max). The trick then is that, all of the sudden, Chris Bosh (+0 pm per 48 or exactly average), having his worst year as a pro on a max deal is a redundant asset.

You can’t trade Wade and you should be building around Whiteside. You can get a haul for Bosh (who has the stink of a big man starting to age like cheese). Your backcourt stinks.

#17 Washington Wizards Neutral Site Win:52.1% (Down 1,#13 in offense, #13 in defense):

The Wizards are humming along quietly. Wall (+2.4) and Gortat (+1.9) are having good years. Otto Porter (+1.2) is emerging. Their entire top five is plus players.

Why are they so low right now?

They do seem to be playing Butler and Webster too much right now. Porter really should be getting the reps. They can afford to play.

This Wizards team is a very blue collar team. Excellent and solid if not remarkable. Almost as if they’re built in expectation of a superstar homecoming.
#18 Utah Jazz Neutral Site Win:51.5% (Down 4,#16 in offense, #26 in defense):

As with Miami, the real story with Utah is down to their young center. Rudy Gobert (+4.8 per 48) is good.

Recently he’s been even better.

Wanna know why the Jazz are winning all of the sudden? Look no further than Gobert rising steadily up the depth chart.

If one of their backcourt lottery balls hit. This team will be good going forward.
#19 Charlotte Hornets Neutral Site Win:49.4% (No Change,#27 in offense, #12 in defense):

The Hornets best player per minute is Bismack Biyombo (+2.8 per 48). He doesn’t play. They stink. Let’s keep moving.
#20 San Antonio Spurs Neutral Site Win:46.6% (Down 10,#10 in offense, #7 in defense):

Getting to three straight Finals is a hard goal. This has been a hard season for the defending Champs.

Start with the injury to their best player Kawhi Leonard (+4.3 Pm per 48) and Tiago (+2.6) and Patty Mills (+.6) missing significant time. Add in Tony Parker (-1.0 Pm per 48) and Diaw (-.7 pm per 48) having less than stellar seasons.

Throw in all the crazy overtime losses in the early season and we have the reason why their playoff odds sit at an anemic, for them, 60%.

As they’ve gotten healthier, the Spurs have started to look more like themselves. It’s telling that starting five Pop likely wants (Patty, Danny, Kawhi, Tim, Tiago) is still not what he’s really putting out there.

However, you can see that even if Tim Duncan looked gassed recently (-.9 per 48 in 2015), Danny, Kawhi, Patty and Tiago all do look like themselves.

You can see that a Spurs run is coming. I still feel the road to the title goes thru the Alamo and their the last of the contenders.
#21 Boston Celtics Neutral Site Win:46.4% (No Change,#20 in offense, #15 in defense):

As a Celtics fan, I’m going to miss Rajon Rondo for the next few years until this team is good again. At least the Pats are good!
#22 Sacramento Kings Neutral Site Win:44.1% (No Change,#14 in offense, #25 in defense):

Rudy Gay is Sacramento’s best player and it isn’t close (+1.5 per 48).

Boogie, after a killer start, lost his mojo and his smile when Mike Malone left.

#23 Indiana Pacers Neutral Site Win:42.3% (Down 5,#28 in offense, #11 in defense):

The Pacers playoff odds sit at 5.6% right now. Larry Bird is still holding on to the possibility of a Paul George return.

With a depleted East, I thought this might be a good idea. With the surging Hawks and Cavs? not so much. Let him rest and get a better pick Larry.
#24 Brooklyn Nets Neutral Site Win:40% (Down 1,#24 in offense, #22 in defense):

The Nets have one good player in Mason Plumlee (+2.6 pm per 48) and little else. I know Billy King is trying to drive up the price of Brook Lopez but, responsibly, he needs to make a move that starts filling the coffers back up.

The key is trying to get young players and picks while offloading the veteran pieces. Given the exploding cap situation, I suspect that Joe Johnson and Deron Williams are tradeable than they have been in a while.

The Nets need to liquidate this roster ASAP though.

#25 Philadelphia 76ers Neutral Site Win:37.8% (Up 5,#30 in offense, #10 in defense):

The Sixers have been scrappy lately. I’m keeping the stub for my over bet on them handy.
#26 New York Knicks Neutral Site Win:37.1% (Up 2,#26 in offense, #27 in defense):

Why are the Knicks winning recently?

Calderon is back to his historical form and that is getting Melo playing well.  At this point, a lottery pick is pretty much a sure thing so playing well is not an issue.
#27 Los Angeles Lakers Neutral Site Win:36.5% (Down 3,#18 in offense, #29 in defense):

It looks like the Lakers will finish with the fifth worst record in the NBA and keep their lottery pick.

Mission accomplished!

Oh and look, a Byron Scott team is going to finish with a bottom five defense again.
#28 Denver Nuggets Neutral Site Win:35.2% (Down 11,#23 in offense, #21 in defense):

The weird thing is, we’ve seen this roster be good with better coaching.

George Karl is apparently a better coach than Brian Shaw.
#29 Minnesota Timberwolves Neutral Site Win:30.9% (No Change,#29 in offense, #30 in defense):

Fun fact: If you’re best players don’t play (Rubio +2.5 pm per 48) or get cut (Jeff Adrien +2.4) and you play mostly rookies, you’re going to stink.

Good news, Twolves fans! Wiggins has shown brief flashes.

#30 Orlando Magic Neutral Site Win:29.9% (Down 5,#22 in offense, #28 in defense):

Free Vucevic.

Before I send you home, here’s a visual showing the full simulation as of today.

Bring on the All Star Weekend.

-Arturo

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