Adjusting for postseason rotations: Should Clippers be title favorite? Are Trail Blazers sleeping giant?

Clippers players Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Rajon Rondo and Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard
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Luke Kennard played 1,232 minutes for the Clippers this season. His playing time slipping, he might not crack the postseason rotation.

Jaylen Brown played 1,999 minutes for the Celtics this season. Injured, he probably won’t play in the postseason.

Gary Trent Jr. played 1,262 minutes for the Trail Blazers this season. Traded to the Raptors, he won’t play in the postseason.

Most postseason projections consider full-season results. But teams’ identities can radically change by the playoffs. What does it matter now how the Clippers played with Kennard, Celtics with Brown and Trail Blazers with Trent?

So, I measured team performance when the entire five-man lineup is comprised of players projected to be in the postseason rotation.

It’s only one data point among many that should be considered, and there are plenty of shortcomings. Playoff rotations can be difficult to predict. Individual playing time in the narrowed sample might not be commensurate with postseason minutes. Opponent quality varies. Some sample sizes are small.

Still, I find it a useful indicator of the effectiveness and chemistry of players who’ll actually be on the court together in the playoffs.

Here are each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings from NBA WOWY adjusted from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the postseason rotation:

Eastern Conference

7. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 113.1 to 108.7
  • Defensive rating: 111.7 to 95.7
  • Net rating: +1.4 to +13.0

5. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 114.2 to 121.4
  • Defensive rating: 111.9 to 109.2
  • Net rating: +2.3 to +12.2

1. Philadelphia 76ers

  • Offensive rating: 112.7 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 107.2 to 105.6
  • Net rating: +5.5 to +9.8

3. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Offensive rating: 117.1 to 113.9
  • Defensive rating: 111.3 to 106.1
  • Net rating: +5.8 to +7.8

8. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 110.7 to 119.3
  • Defensive rating: 112.4 to 112.7
  • Net rating: -1.7 to +6.6

2. Brooklyn Nets

  • Offensive rating: 117.1 to 113.8
  • Defensive rating: 112.7 to 109.1
  • Net rating: +4.4 to +4.7

4. New York Knicks

  • Offensive rating: 110.2 to 108.6
  • Defensive rating: 107.9 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +2.3 to +4.0

6. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 110.9 to 113.3
  • Defensive rating: 110.9 to 110.8
  • Net rating: 0.0 to +2.5

10. Charlotte Hornets

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 112.8
  • Defensive rating: 112.5 to 110.5
  • Net rating: -2.0 to +2.3

9. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 111.9 to 116.0
  • Defensive rating: 111.8 to 117.1
  • Net rating: +0.1 to -1.1

Western Conference

4. L.A. Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 116.7 to 120.9
  • Defensive rating: 110.3 to 105.9
  • Net rating: +6.4 to +15.0

6. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 117.1 to 121.0
  • Defensive rating: 115.2 to 107.5
  • Net rating: +1.9 to +13.5

8. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 118.1
  • Defensive rating: 109.4 to 105.9
  • Net rating: +1.1 to +12.2

1. Utah Jazz

  • Offensive rating: 116.6 to 117.7
  • Defensive rating: 107.3 to 106.7
  • Net rating: +9.3 to +11.0

7. Los Angeles Lakers

  • Offensive rating: 110.0 to 111.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.2 to 104.1
  • Net rating: +2.8 to +7.0

2. Phoenix Suns

  • Offensive rating: 116.7 to 118.6
  • Defensive rating: 110.8 to 113.2
  • Net rating: +5.9 to +5.4

5. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 114.8 to 116.7
  • Defensive rating: 112.5 to 112.3
  • Net rating: +2.3 to +4.4

9. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 111.6 to 113.4
  • Defensive rating: 110.6 to 109.2
  • Net rating: +1.0 to +4.2

10. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.3 to 108.9
  • Defensive rating: 112.1 to 109.9
  • Net rating: -1.8 to -1.0

3. Denver Nuggets

  • Offensive rating: 116.5 to 113.6
  • Defensive rating: 111.5 to 114.9
  • Net rating: +5.0 to -1.3

Observations:

  • The Clippers have looked awesome with their top players on the court, and this supports the eye test. L.A.’s adjusted net rating (+15.0) rates No. 1. This team looks like it could excel both offensively and defensively in the playoffs.
  • The eighth-place Warriors (+1.1 to +12.2) pass the No. 1 seed Jazz (+9.3 to +11.0) and the seventh-place Lakers (+2.8 to +7.0) pass the Suns (+5.9 to +5.4) in adjusted net rating. Add even more hype to the play-in teams.
  • The Lakers’ rise is no surprise. They’re obviously way better with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both of whom missed significant time.
  • Golden State’s larger leap is less expected. But the Warriors are shaping up to have only their best, most-cohesive players on the floor in the postseason (no James Wiseman, no Kelly Oubre Jr.). A big question: Will Golden State coach Steve Kerr lean hard on those top players (especially Stephen Curry and Draymond Green) or call on lesser reserves to fill a deep rotation?
  • Phoenix feasted with Dario Saric earlier in the season, but Frank Kaminsky has seemingly surpassed him as backup center. The Suns remain good, but maybe their early success was slightly unstainable.
  • The Trail Blazers – lousy defensively overall this season – have actually defended very well when Jusuf Nurkic plays with other members of Portland’s postseason rotation. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum still pack an offensive punch. This team could be dangers – especially against the Nuggets.
  • Denver is the biggest faller in the adjusted net rating (+5.0 to -1.3). Injuries to guards Jamal Murray, Will Barton and P.J. Dozier sting. Even with impending MVP Nikola Jokic on the court, the Nuggets’ adjusted net rating is just -2.6. Denver has the offensive talent to outperform that. But it will require lineup combinations that haven’t played well together figuring things out on the fly.
  • Atlanta essentially had two bench units behind Trae Young this season – with Rajon Rondo (terrible) then with Lou Williams (mediocre). Because the Rondo units don’t count here, that leaves too much weight on the Hawks’ top lineup and inflates their adjusted net rating (+12.2). Still, there should be consideration to how well Atlanta played as key players got healthy. Plus, Williams shoring up the troublesome bench is no small issue.
  • The 76ers improve offensively and defensively with the adjustment. That doesn’t seem fluky. A healthy Joel Embiid is transformative.
  • The Bucks’ defense slipped this season as they experimented with different styles, but this suggests their top players can still crank it up on that end.
  • The adjustment doesn’t do much for the Nets because they played so little with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving together. But everyone knows they’re dangerous.
  • The Wizards have been way better lately, especially as Russell Westbrook elevates his play. But Washington’s new center rotation, featuring Daniel Gafford, has also boosted the team.
  • I wouldn’t read too much into the Celtics’ high adjusted rating (East-best +13.0). That’s a tiny sample without Jaylen Brown. But I’d least be open to the idea Boston’s remaining players can work well together.
  • The Knicks, Heat, Mavericks and Grizzlies look like solid teams. This method doesn’t reveal much untapped potential, though. That’s especially surprising for Miami, which has battled numerous health issues and played better with Jimmy Butler in the lineup.
  • The Pacers, Hornets and Spurs don’t look threatening.