Before the playoffs began, I assessed each team based on projected postseason rotation.
Here’s the idea:
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.
The system and straight seeding differed twice for the first round, each method correctly predicting one of those two series:
- My projection correct: Wizards over Raptors
- Seeding correct: Bucks over Bulls
We now have more information – both about which players actually made the postseason rotation and how teams fared in the first round.
Here are the new adjusted ratings from full regular season to pre-playoff projection to pre-second round projection (counting first-round games and updating the postseason rotation when necessary):
5. Washington Wizards
- Offensive rating: 104.3 to 107.7 to 112.3
- Defensive rating: 103.5 to 101.1 to 100.9
- Net rating: +0.8 to +6.6 to +11.4
Kevin Seraphin, not Kris Humphries as I predicted, made the playoff rotation. That would have boosted the Wizards’ pre-playoff projection even higher, and they were already a sleeper based on this model.
A sweep of the Raptors supported all the positivity these numbers suggested about Washington.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
- Offensive rating: 111.7 to 118.2 to 114.2
- Defensive rating: 106.9 to 101.0 to 105.6
- Net rating: +4.8 to +17.2 to +8.6
I left James Jones out of my projected playoff rotation. Including him would have weakened the Cavaliers’ pre-playoff adjusted numbers on both ends of the floor, but they still would have ranked second in the league behind the Warriors for adjusted net rating.
Of course, Kevin Love is the big issue headed into the next round. It’s unclear how David Blatt will replace the power forward, but I added Mike Miller and Shawn Marion to the rotation. If it’s just one of the two or neither with no other replacement, the Cavs’ adjusted net rating would be a little better.
Remove J.R. Smith, who’s suspended the first two games though counted as part of the rotation here, and Cleveland actually fares a little better on both ends (with Miller and Marion in the rotation) than it would with Smith.
Still, the picture is clear: Cleveland gets downgraded significantly without Love. Enough to lose to the Bulls? Not according to this model.
3. Chicago Bulls
- Offensive rating: 107.7 to 108.6 to 108.4
- Defensive rating: 104. 4 to 103.3 to 102.5
- Net rating: +3.3 to +5.3 to +5.9
I didn’t include Tony Snell in the Bulls’ playoff rotation, but he stuck, even when Kirk Hinrich was healthy. Had I included Snell, Chicago would have fared slightly better in my first-round projections.
To the surprise of many, the Bucks pushed the Bulls to six games, but that doesn’t give me pause about Chicago. The pre-playoff projection was high on Milwaukee, and though the model actually rated the Bucks above the Bulls, I think the actual result showed the point of the projection. It’s one data point of many, and the lesson should have been that the first-round series could be closer than expected – which happened.
1. Atlanta Hawks
- Offensive rating: 109.6 to 109.9 to 110.0
- Defensive rating: 103.8 to 104.9 to 105.1
- Net rating: +5.8 to +5.0 to +4.9
I incorrectly left Shelvin Mack out of the predicted rotation, though he wouldn’t have changed much.
There were reasons to be concerned about the Hawks entering the playoffs based on this model. A six-game series against the Nets was surprising, because Brooklyn also looked weak. But the first-round matchup also exposed issues with Atlanta this model predicted.
Pick the No. 1 seed to advance at your own risk.
1. Golden State Warriors
- Offensive rating: 111.7 to 116.4 to 114.7
- Defensive rating: 101.3 to 95.7 to 99.1
- Net rating: +10.4 to +20.7 to +15.6
I didn’t include Marreese Speights and Leandro Barbosa in the Warriors’ rotation, but Steve Kerr did. If I had, Golden State’s projection would have suffered on both ends of the floor.
The Warriors are favored here regardless, but I believe if necessary, they can trim their rotation and become even stronger.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
- Offensive rating: 113.2 to 117.5 to 118.8
- Defensive rating: 106.3 to 105.9 to 105.4
- Net rating: +6.9 to +11.6 to +13.4
I mistakenly had Spencer Hawes in the playoff rotation, but it’s clear Doc Rivers doesn’t trust him. Removing Hawes doesn’t make much difference, though it improves the Clippers’ adjusted rating a bit on both ends of the floor.
The big issue: Will Chris Paul be healthy? A playoff rotation without him projects to have an offensive/defensive/net rating of 97.0/108.1/-11.1. That’s disastrous, but it’s a small sample and overly relies on bench-heavy units. Blake Griffin and the Clippers’ other starters just didn’t play that much without Paul.
If Paul is healthy, the Clippers rate better than the Rockets. If not, lower – though it’s not clear just how much lower Los Angeles actually should be.
2. Houston Rockets
- Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1 to 112.3
- Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0 to 101.2
- Net rating: 3.5 to +9.1 to +11.1
Clint Capela, not Joey Dorsey, was Houston’s backup center – and that would have boosted their pre-playoff projection on both ends of the floor.
For the most part, the Rockets are the steadier team in their second-round matchup. It’s Paul’s health that should determine everything.
Make no mistake, though: Houston’s playoff rotation is good and will require the Clippers to play well to advance.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
- Offensive rating: 106.2 to 108.0 to 109.1
- Defensive rating: 102.7 to 102.7 to 102.8
- Net rating: +3.5 to +5.3 to +6.3
I included Mike Conley in this projection. If he can’t play, the offensive/defensive/net splits go to 107.3/101.6+5.7.
That’s not as large a drop as I anticipated, but it probably doesn’t matter much. The Grizzlies land well behind the Warriors either way.