Adjusting to playoff rotations, or holy moly Warriors and Cavaliers!

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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.

So, I’m parsing the numbers with a system I’ve used the last two years:

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:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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

WESTERN CONFERENCE

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

Observations:

  • 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.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.

Magic center Mo Bamba had coronavirus

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.

Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11

The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.

“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.

“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”

Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.

I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.

At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.

After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.

False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.

Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

“This one stings, for sure.”

That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.

The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.

How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.

Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.

Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).

Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.

2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss

There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.

That much seems obvious after Thursday’s action, where Jusuf Nurkic was dunking on Bol Bol and Portland was picking up a 125-115 win over Denver.

That win has Portland half a game back of  Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.

Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.

Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.

The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.

Memphis controls its own destiny. But without Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Ja Morant struggling from three, a sharp turnaround is needed.

3) Milwaukee wraps up No. 1 seed in East

This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.

While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.

Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.