Are the Warriors championship favorites? Adjusting for playoff rotations says yes

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It no longer matters how the Warriors played with Andrew Bogut (injured), how the Bulls played with Luol Deng (traded) or how the Heat played with Michael Beasley (out of the rotation).

Most playoff projections analyze full-season information, but teams have changed since October. Those changes will increase when rotations shrink for the playoffs.

I think it’s important to account for that, and I’m again running a model I used last season:

In an attempt to get better data, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only the lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s post-season rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for opponent or weigh lineups based on how often they’ll be used in the postseason, and it’s impossible to precisely predict a team’s playoff rotation.

I’ll add one more major caveat: nba wowy! appears to be missing some plays this seasons. I’m hopeful the included plays are representative, but I can’t guarantee it.

Last season, filling out the postseason bracket using my rankings yielded better results (11 of 15 series correct) than using straight seeding (9 of 15 series correct).

OKC OKC Seeds MIA MIA
HOU MIL
OKC MIA
LAC LAC BRK BRK
MEM MIA CHI
OKC MIA
DEN DEN IND IND
GSW ATL
SAS NYK
SAS SAS NYK NYK
LAL BOS
OKC OKC Me MIA MIA
HOU MIL
MEM MIA
LAC MEM BRK BRK
MEM SAS CHI
SAS MIA
DEN DEN IND IND
GSW ATL
SAS NYK
SAS SAS NYK NYK
LAL BOS

A full outlook follows, but here are a few takeaways from this year’s projections:

  • Eastern Conference standings remain largely unchanged. The only predicted upset through the conference finals is Wizards over Bulls.
  • The West, on the hand, gets turned upside down. Warriors over Clippers and Trail Blazers over Rockets are both projected as first-round upsets.
  • In fact, Golden State has the best adjusted net rating in the league. However, the Warriors face the biggest loss in the playoffs in Bogut, meaning their results are highly volatile. These numbers say Golden State is the favorite. An added dose of logic says they are not. As always, use models like these only as a piece of evaluation – not definitive projections.
  • The Wizards are the East’s big riser, moving from the No. 5 seed to third in the projections and barely behind the Heat. Because the Pacers and Heat remain 1-2, though, that projects only one series win for Washington. The Wizards have played very well when healthy, and considering they’re healthy now, it makes sense their projected playoff rotation rates highly.
  • The Thunder take a big tumble, but the model does not include a large number of Russell Westbrook minutes. I suspect Oklahoma City will fare better in real life by playing Westbrook more.
  • The Clippers also fell substantially. They have struggled mightily when Danny Granger and/or Glen Davis – two players I, perhaps mistakenly, included in Los Angeles’ rotation – see the court. Doc Rivers can avoid the downturn by managing his rotation well.
  • The Clippers, Thunder and Mavericks each have lower adjusted net ratings than overall net ratings.
  • The Nets, Bobcats and Hawks each make solid gains, but considering all three were outscored this season, they still remain at the bottom of the East.

Here are the full results of each team, with its overall ratings adjusted to include only lineups comprised completely of players in its playoff rotations:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 106.0 to 110.4
  • Defensive rating: 101.1 to 101.9
  • Net rating: +4.9 to +8.5

2. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 110.9 to 111.8
  • Defensive rating: 106.2 to 105.4
  • Net rating: +4.7 to +6.4

5. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 106.2 to 109.5
  • Defensive rating: 104.3 to 103.2
  • Net rating: +1.9 to +6.3

4. Chicago Bulls

  • Offensive rating: 103.0 to 106.7
  • Defensive rating: 101.0 to 100.7
  • Net rating: +2.0 to +6.0

3. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 109.5 to 111.6
  • Defensive rating: 105.4 to 106.1
  • Net rating: +4.1 to +5.5

8. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.5 to 116.9
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 113.1
  • Net rating: -0.2 to +3.8

6. Brooklyn Nets

  • Offensive rating: 106.4 to 108.0
  • Defensive rating: 108.4 to 105.1
  • Net rating: -2.0 to +2.9

7. Charlotte Bobcats

  • Offensive rating: 103.9 to 105.2
  • Defensive rating: 104.3 to 102.8
  • Net rating: -0.4 to +2.4

WESTERN CONFERENCE

6. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 107.6 to 118.4
  • Defensive rating: 102.5 to 106.8
  • Net rating: +5.1 to +11.6

1. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 112.3 to 114.9
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 104.8
  • Net rating: +8.5 to +10.1

5. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 114.3 to 118.5
  • Defensive rating: 110.1 to 112.0
  • Net rating: +4.2 to +6.5

4. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 111.8 to 115.5
  • Defensive rating: 107.5 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +4.3 to +5.0

3. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 114.0 to  116.4
  • Defensive rating: 106.1 to 111.8
  • Net rating: +7.9 to +4.6

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 108.7 to 107.9
  • Defensive rating: 103.0 to 103.9
  • Net rating: +5.7 to +4.0

7. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 116.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.8 to 112.4
  • Net rating: +1.8 to +3.7

8. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 111.9 to 112.7
  • Defensive rating: 109.4 to 112.3
  • Net rating: +2.5 to +0.4