Adjusting for playoff rotations: Warriors soar, Mavericks rise, and Cavaliers expand lead in East

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Meyers Leonard played 1,333 for the Trail Blazers this season. Courtney Lee got 1,489 with the Grizzlies. Ian Clark saw 578 with the Warriors.

Any full-season metric used to predict the playoffs will factor those three players.

But Leonard (injured), Lee (traded) and Clark (likely dropped from the rotation) won’t affect those teams in the postseason.

There are numerous other players around the league who skew the full-year data and will have zilch to do with the playoffs. So, to account for that, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s postseason rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It’s hard to predict a team’s exact playoff rotation. Even if you know it, teams have used their playoff-rotation players against different opponents and in varying combinations during the regular season.

But this is another data point, one I find useful, for predicting the postseason.

Here’s each team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.4 to 116.4
  • Defensive rating: 105.1 to 106.0
  • Net rating: +6.3 to +10.4

2. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 110.9 to 112.2
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +4.9 to +7.6

6. Charlotte Hornets

  • Offensive rating: 107.9 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 105.1 to 103.2
  • Net rating: +2.8 to +6.9

5. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 107.2 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 104.8
  • Net rating: +3.2 to +6.6

3. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 107.2 to 111.1
  • Defensive rating: 105.3 to 104.7
  • Net rating: +1.9 to +6.4

4. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 105.9 to 106.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.0 to 101.8
  • Net rating: +2.9 to +4.7

7. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 104.9 to 104.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.3 to 101.6
  • Net rating: +1.6 to +2.9

8. Detroit Pistons

  • Offensive rating: 106.7 to 108.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 105.7
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +2.6

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 114.9 to 119.7
  • Defensive rating: 104.1 to 98.8
  • Net rating: +10.8 to +20.9

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 109.8
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.7
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.1

4. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.3 to 105.0
  • Net rating: +4.6 to +10.4

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 114.5
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 105.9
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +8.6

6. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 106.7 to 113.6
  • Defensive rating: 107.2 to 105.4
  • Net rating: -0.5 to +8.2

8. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 108.8 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 108.6 to 107.2
  • Net rating: +0.2 to +4.2

5. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 111.0
  • Defensive rating: 108.2 to 107.9
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +3.1

7. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 105.7 to 108.9
  • Defensive rating: 108.3 to 116.4
  • Net rating: -2.6 to -7.5

Takeaways:

  • The Warriors posted the best record in NBA history, but they project to be far better in the playoffs. Their top players are incredible. Golden State’s adjusted rating is similar to last year, when the Cavaliers came somewhat close at +17.2. This year, nobody even nears the Warriors.
  • The Mavericks are the next-biggest riser, improving on both ends of the floor. But they still rank behind their first-round opponent, the Thunder, who also hold home-court advantage. That could be a better series than anticipated, especially with Rick Carlisle facing an untested Billy Donovan.
  • The Cavaliers had the East’s best net rating in the regular season, and they expanded their advantage over the rest of the conference when the ratings got adjusted. It’ll be tough to keep Cleveland out of the Finals.
  • The Hornets and Celtics are the only lower seeds to have better adjusted ratings than their first-round opponents, but that’s hardly surprising. The Heat, Hawks, Celtics and Hornets all finished 48-34. Boston topped Atlanta and Charlotte topped Miami in net rating before the adjustment. These teams are close. Again, the Heat and Hawks holding home-court advantage matters in a way not reflected by this formula.
  • The Grizzlies are the only team to get worse with the adjustment, though that’s hardly surprising. They lost contributions from key injured players like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Though their sample is the smallest, it matches what’s expected of Memphis.