The Trail Blazers played more than 2,000 minutes with Wesley Matthews on the floor. The Cavaliers spent 786 minutes of their season trying to make Dion Waiters work. The Hawks gave Elton Brand nearly 500 minutes as they rested players on back-to-backs and deep into routs.
How much does that time matter now?
Matthews is injured. Waiters was traded. Brand will likely fall short of the rotation.
Yet, those minutes – and others like them – cloud statistical evaluations of teams’ playoff chances.
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.
In the two years I’ve used this formula, it has successfully predicted 22-of-30 series – one more than straight seeding. Here’s where the system and seeds differed:
Formula was correct:
- 2014: Trail Blazers over Rockets
- 2014: Wizards over Bulls
- 2013: Grizzlies over Thunder
- 2013: Grizzlies over Clippers
Seed was correct:
- 2014: Thunder over Clippers
- 2014: Clippers over Warriors
- 2013: Heat over Spurs
As always, it’s important to remember the following numbers are not meant to comprehensively predict series. Many other factors are involved that are not accounted for here. But this data is a reference point, one of many to consider.
Here are the ratings for each team in the 2015 postseason adjusted from full season to using only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
- Offensive rating: 111.7 to 118.2
- Defensive rating: 106.9 to 101.0
- Net rating: +4.8 to +17.2
6. Milwaukee Bucks
- Offensive rating: 103.3 to 106.1
- Defensive rating: 102.8 to 98.5
- Net rating: +0.5 to +7.6
5. Washington Wizards
- Offensive rating: 104.3 to 107.7
- Defensive rating: 103.5 to 101.1
- Net rating: +0.8 to +6.6
3. Chicago Bulls
- Offensive rating: 107.7 to 108.6
- Defensive rating: 104. 4 to 103.3
- Net rating: +3.3 to +5.3
1. Atlanta Hawks
- Offensive rating: 109.6 to 109.9
- Defensive rating: 103.8 to 104.9
- Net rating: +5.8 to +5.0
4. Toronto Raptors
- Offensive rating: 111.6 to 112.2
- Defensive rating: 108.3 to 108.0
- Net rating: +3.3 to +4.2
7. Boston Celtics
- Offensive rating: 105.3 to 105.8
- Defensive rating: 105.2 to 105.1
- Net rating: +0.1 to +0.7
8. Brooklyn Nets
- Offensive rating: 105.0 to 107.7
- Defensive rating: 108.1 to 114.2
- Net rating: -3.1 to -6.5
1. Golden State Warriors
- Offensive rating: 111.7 to 116.4
- Defensive rating: 101.3 to 95.7
- Net rating: +10.4 to +20.7
3. Los Angeles Clippers
- Offensive rating: 113.2 to 117.5
- Defensive rating: 106.3 to 105.9
- Net rating: +6.9 to +11.6
4. Portland Trail Blazers
- Offensive rating: 108.7 to 117.2
- Defensive rating: 104.2 to 106.2
- Net rating: +4.5 to +11.0
6. San Antonio Spurs
- Offensive rating: 109.2 to 110.0
- Defensive rating: 102.6 to 100.7
- Net rating: +6.6 to +9.3
2. Houston Rockets
- Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1
- Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0
- Net rating: 3.5 to +9.1
7. Dallas Mavericks
- Offensive rating: 109.8 to 111.1
- Defensive rating: 106.8 to 105.7
- Net rating: +3.0 to +5.4
5. Memphis Grizzlies
- Offensive rating: 106.2 to 108.0
- Defensive rating: 102.7 to 102.7
- Net rating: +3.5 to +5.3
8. New Orleans Pelicans
- Offensive rating: 108.8 to 110.1
- Defensive rating: 107.9 to 107.3
- Net rating: +0.9 to +2.8
- The Cavaliers and Warriors are JUGGERNAUTS with the adjusted ratings. They should absolutely be favored to reach the NBA Finals.
- Neither team’s ascendance should be a surprised. Golden State has dominated all season, and Cleveland has soared since acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to complement LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
- The Warriors and Cavaliers make huge gains on both sides of the ball, Cleveland more so offensively and Golden State defensively. The Warriors’ defense just looks untouchable.
- This system predicts two first-round upsets: Bucks over Bulls and Wizards over Raptors.
- Maybe Milwaukee’s post-deadline problems were due more to Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo getting hurt than a trade altering the roster. With everyone healthy, the Bucks look dangerous.
- The Wizards rated favorably here last year too, and they upset the Bulls in the first round. Washington has flaws, but leaning on a balanced starting lineup and a limited bench can work for this squad.
- The Hawks and the Nets are the only teams with worse net ratings after the adjustment. Atlanta misses Thabo Sefolosha, whose defensive loss is noticeable and makes this deep team more susceptible to upset. The Nets just go from bad to worse, strengthening their position as poster child for playoff reform.
- The Raptors’ defensive problems don’t seem to be caused by players who can just be dropped from the rotation. That’s a problem for Toronto.
- The Celtics are probably a tougher out than their adjusted rating indicates. Isaiah Thomas, coming off the bench, played too much with lesser role players – which limits his impact here. Those other players will be dropped from the rotation, and Thomas could help Boston steal a game if Cleveland loses focus.
- Once Doc Rivers trims the fat from his rotation, the Clippers make nice gains. This team is strong at the top, which I think bodes well for the playoffs.
- Predicting whether injured players make their teams’ rotations is the hardest part of this exercise. This is mostly guesswork, but here are a few key decisions. In: Arron Afflalo, Chandler Parsons, Mike Conley, Tony Allen. Out: Tiago Splitter.
- The Trail Blazers climb much higher than expected, but their sample is the smallest size. Their players projected to be in the playoff rotation just didn’t play much together without someone out of the rotation. Matthews obviously mucks up a lot of lineups, and Afflalo barely registers. So, Afflalo’s health wouldn’t affect much for this projection. But, with or without Afflalo, the sample is too small to draw many conclusions.
- The Spurs get a nice bump with the adjustment, but not as large as I anticipated. Swapping the hobbled Splitter for Aron Baynes doesn’t swing it, either. San Antonio might have just run out of luck getting pitted against the Clippers in the first round. The Spurs have the NBA’s fifth-highest adjusted net rating – with the small-sample Blazers ahead of them – and might not win a single playoff series.
- The Rockets make a bigger leap but don’t climb quite as high as San Antonio. However, claiming the No. 2 seed and getting a much easier first-round matchup should make all the difference for Houston.
- The Mavericks (even with Parsons), Grizzlies (even with Conley and Allen) and Pelicans all get better with the adjustment, but not enough to challenge the West’s top teams. Again, though, Portland’s rating is least reliable. So, don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies – especially if Conley and Allen ge healthy, but maybe even if they don’t – win that 4/5 matchup.