Adjusting for playoff rotations says Warriors and Cavaliers should be favored to reach NBA Finals

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The Hawks went 60-22, Cavaliers 53-29, Warriors 67-15 and Rockets 56-26 this season.

How much do those record tell us about those teams entering the conference finals?

Something, but definitely not enough.

Players like Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters, Justin Holiday, Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas all factored into their team’s regular-season results. But – due to injury, trade or shortening of playoff rotations – they likely won’t play a part of the conference finals.

So:

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.

We did this exercise before the playoffs and before the second round. I’ve updated the numbers with second-round results and modified projected rotations where necessary. As always, remember, this is only one data point in a complex picture when evaluating teams.

Here are the conference finalists’ ratings – actual regular-season to projected based on expected rotations:

Eastern Conference

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 114.9
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 103.3
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +11.6

1. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 110.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 103.0
  • Net rating: +5.8  to +7.5

Thoughts:

  • The big question: Will Kyrie Irving play? This projection assumes he does.
  • Without Irving, Cleveland actually rates better by this model (114.7 offensive rating/91.4 defensive rating/+23.3 net rating). This doesn’t mean the Cavaliers actually are better without Irving. Of course, they’re not. That stellar play without Irving comes in just 273 minutes, a small sample that was at least partially self-selected by David Blatt. Cleveland surely wouldn’t fare as well if it had to play its Irving-less minutes against the starters of a 60-win team, but that will be the predicament the Cavs would face without him here. This indicates, though, the Cavaliers might fare better than expected without Irving. That’d mean more responsibility for LeBron James, which often works out well. It’s hardly a sure bet, though – just a clue.
  • In the same vein, even with Irving included for Cleveland, the Hawks’ projected rotation players have play more than 2.5 times as many minutes together as the Cavaliers’. Before the playoffs began, Cleveland looked poised to run through the Eastern Conference. But Kevin Love’s injury threw a wrench into the projections. Not only do the Cavaliers rate worse than with Love, we have less information by which to assess them.
  • This model does not account for game location, and Atlanta has home-court advantage.
  • Bottom line: We know the Hawks are good. The Cavaliers – at least those that project to play these Eastern Conference finals – have looked better than Atlanta, but we also know less about them.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 97.9
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +17.5

2. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1 to 112.3 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0  to 101.2 to 104.2
  • Net rating: +3.5 to +9.1 to +11.1 to +7.2

Thoughts:

  • The Warriors’ projection includes includes David Lee and Festus Ezeli, not Marreese Speights, who’s out at least Game 1. If Speights can play, Golden State rates even better on both ends.
  • As noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, the Rockets are the first team since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams to reach the conference finals while being outscored in the postseason. Most teams – at least the ones that avoid injury – see their projection rise as they win during the playoffs, but Houston’s has fallen. The Rockets are still well ahead of their actual regular-season production, though.
  • One big reason this model underrates Houston: Dwight Howard doesn’t factor as prominently because he missed so much time due to injury. As long as he remains healthy, the Rockets will rely on him more than projected here – and they’ll be better for it.
  • Bottom line: The Warriors, as has been the case all along, are the clear favorites.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

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Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results:

 

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

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Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

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Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.