Adjusting for playoff rotations shows Trail Blazers’ and Celtics’ vulnerabilities

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Most team statistics used for playoff predictions – from won-loss record to more-complicated metrics – rely on full-season data.

But by the time the playoffs begin, teams often look radically different than they did at various points of the regular season.

The Clippers traded Tobias Harris. Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a season-ending injury. The Nuggets will likely drop Trey Lyles from their postseason rotation.

Yet, those players, and many others like them, heavily influenced their teams’ regular-season results.

So, I measured team performance when the entire five-man lineup is comprised of players projected to be in the first-round rotation. It’s a glimpse into the effectiveness and chemistry of the players who’ll actually be on the court in these series.

It’s only one data point among many that should be considered. I don’t know precisely how each team will set its rotation, so I must predict. The playing-time distribution among players in the rotation can change into the postseason. Opponent quality varies. Some sample sizes are larger than others.

Still, I find it a useful indicator.

Here’s each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings from Basketball-Reference adjusted from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the first-round playoff rotation:

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

Offensive rating: 115.9 to 121.9

Defensive rating: 109.5 to 106.2

Net rating: +6.4 to +15.7

4. Houston Rockets

Offensive rating: 115.5 to 117.3

Defensive rating: 110.7 to 107.2

Net rating: +4.8 to +10.1

5. Utah Jazz

Offensive rating: 110.9 to 113.9

Defensive rating: 105.7 to 104.5

Net rating: +5.2 to +9.3

2. Denver Nuggets

Offensive rating: 113.0 to 116.1

Defensive rating: 108.9 to 108.1

Net rating: +4.1 to +8.1

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Offensive rating: 110.3 to 116.0

Defensive rating: 107.0 to 108.2

Net rating: +3.3 to +7.8

7. San Antonio Spurs

Offensive rating: 112.9 to 116.9

Defensive rating: 111.2 to 110.3

Net rating: +1.7 to +6.6

3. Portland Trail Blazers

Offensive rating: 114.7 to 114.0

Defensive rating: 110.5 to 109.1

Net rating: +4.2 to +5.0

8. L.A. Clippers

Offensive rating: 112.4 to 115.3

Defensive rating: 111.5 to 111.9

Net rating: +0.9 to +3.4

Eastern Conference 

2. Toronto Raptors

Offensive rating: 113.1 to 122.4

Defensive rating: 107.1 to 106.5

Net rating: +6.0 to +15.9

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Offensive rating: 113.8 to 115.7

Defensive rating: 105.2 to 107.1

Net rating: +8.6 to +8.6

3. Philadelphia 76ers

Offensive rating: 112.6 to 115.8

Defensive rating: 110.0 to 107.3

Net rating: +2.6 to +8.5

7. Orlando Magic

Offensive rating: 108.9 to 114.0

Defensive rating: 108.1 to 107.9

Net rating: +0.8 to +6.1

8. Detroit Pistons

Offensive rating: 109.0 to 114.7

Defensive rating: 109.2 to 110.2

Net rating: -0.2 to +4.4

5. Indiana Pacers

Offensive rating: 109.9 to 110.3

Defensive rating: 106.5 to 107.4

Net rating: +3.4 to +2.9

6. Brooklyn Nets

Offensive rating: 109.7 to 112.2

Defensive rating: 109.7 to 111.7

Net rating: 0.0 to +0.5

4. Boston Celtics

Offensive rating: 112.2 to 110.6

Defensive rating: 107.8 to 110.4

Net rating: +4.4 to +0.3

Observations:

  • The Trail Blazers really miss Nurkic. Portland’s adjusted net rating would have been about twice as good with him. As is, Portland falls behind its first-round opponent – Oklahoma City – after the adjustment.
  • Marcus Smart‘s absence affects the Celtics nearly as much. He has been so good as a glue player with higher-usage teammates. Put more of those ball-dominant players on the court together, and Boston’s chemistry could get bumpy.
  • The Pacers also their net rating drop with the adjustment, though. They rank ahead of the Celtics but might not be good enough to pull an upset without homecourt advantage.
  • The Raptors and Warriors improve the most with the adjustment. I trust that more with Golden State, which I project with a deeper rotation that can be trimmed if necessary. Toronto might need to go deeper into its bench with OG Anunoby sidelined.
  • The teams with the second- and third-best adjusted net ratings in the West, Houston and Utah, play each other in the first round. The winner advances to face the team with the conference’s best adjusted net rating, Golden State. That’s a brutal section of the bracket.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell are banged up for Milwaukee. As they get healthier, expect the Bucks to vault toward the top of the league.
  • Joel Embiid is included in the 76ers’ rotation. If he can’t play, Philadelphia’s adjusted offensive/defensive/net ratings drop to 110.2/109.3/+0.9. Yikes.
  • The Spurs and Magic could be punchier than expected.