Evaluating The Playoff Race At All-Star Break Through Four Factors: Western Conference

Click here for the Eastern Conference.

We’re at the halfwaypoint, and some things we know, and some things we think we know. We think we know how good the Cavs, Lakers, and Nuggets are. We know how bad the Nets are. We know that the Western playoff race will likely come down to the end. We know the Hawks have the Celtics number, and the Magic have the Hawks number, and everyone has Golden State’s number. What we don’t know is just how good the playoff teams are, and if their record is befitting their performance. So I decided to take a look.

For this little exercise, I wanted to examine both playoff races with regards to the Four Factors. The goal was to see if the order in which teams stood at the All-Star Break was indicative of how their statistical performance has been in each of the factors Dean Oliver identified as most important. I decided to use differential on each measure as a means of saying “If they’re winning more than they’re losing, then they should be outperforming their opponents in the four factors via differential.”

Today we examine the Western Conference. I decided to include the Rockets, Hornets, and Grizzlies, despite them being on the outside looking in.   All data from HoopData.com.The regression line is mostly meaningless, but I wanted to include it in case you were curious. No refunds, rebates, or exemptions. Some restrictions may apply. Click on each image for the bigger version. Let’s start with eFG%, the factor Oliver and most stats artists think is most relevant (usually weighted really heavily):

WAS NOT EXPECTING THAT. Versus the East, which had at least something you might possibly consider a slope, we’ve almost got a Bell Curve here. But then, you also notice that the differential is higher for the West than the East overall, which makes sense. It’s also striking to me that the three teams on the outside looking in are the only teams on the chart with negative eFG% differential. Dallas looks like it belongs much further down, the Hawks of the West, if you will. San Antonio looks much better by this metric (a trend we’re going to see going forward), and Portland’s hangin’ on by their chinny chin chins.

How about turnovers? Again, turnover differential has been flipped, so if you have a negative turnover ratio differential, meaning you turn it over less than your opponents do, it’s reflected as a positive rather than a negative.

Again, just like with Atlanta, we see a vulnerable team in the top four, Dallas, getting by with Turnovers. Six of the top eleven teams in the West have a negative turnover differential. Yo usee here where the Spurs are really hurting, and that’s indicative of what we know, that they struggle with the little things, the things which used to make them invincible. The Hornets are living on turnovers, which is better than a prayer, but…

Here’s Offensive Rebounding Rate differential.

Got a little bit of inconsistency here, do we? Got a… got a little problem with controlling the glass? Huh? Got a… Got a little bit of difficulty in creating possessions off misses? Not playing all that well in the halfcourt bigset? Have a few good teams? Maybe a few bad? Eh?

It’s not that Phoenix is bad at some of these, it’s that they’re SO bad at so many of the Four Factors. Meanwhile, you might as well describe this graph as “teams that are tougher than you plus the Lakers because they’re really long and talented.” Spurs still getting it done, OKC outworking, Portland and Houston hustling, Memphis killing it. Denver being on the negative side of this is a little stunning, and you can see from this why the Haywood deal was big for Dallas. Of course, Dampier got hurt last night, so there goes that bright idea.

Here’s Free Throw Rate.

OKC’s mark here is interesting, as it’s the only mark that it hits over the regression line. New Orleans is just not good at traditional NBA values, like rebounding, creating free throw opportunities, etc. Then again, injuries probably have a huge impact on this one. Memphis on the other hand really did have a fantastic first half, but I’d expect this puppy to regress to the mean as the second half goes on. Utah, not so hot here.

Okay, so there are your four factors. Now, I wanted to take a look at their cumulative status.

CAUTION: WE’RE HEADING INTO RELATIVELY MEANINGLESS ANALYSIS WATERS HERE. BE ADVISED! KEEP ALL HANDS, FEET, AND OTHER OBJECTS INSIDE THE BOAT. DO NOT FEED THE CONJECTURE FISH.

One of the big things with Four Factors is that they’re not created equal. If you hit a higher percentage of your shots than the other team, you’re going to win a lot of the time. I know, this is groundbreaking stuff. But I did want to see what it looked like when you combined their differentials, since they’re all constant across teams.

AGAIN, THIS MEANS LARGELY NOTHING, IT’S JUST KIND OF NEAT.

If you were just using the four factors, it looks like Utah, Dallas, and Phoenix are frauds. Of course, if you were only using the four factors, you’d also be a moron who needs to watch more actual basketball. But it does help with looking at things like San Antonio, who you’d expect to be catastrophic, but who is actually doing quite well, and OKC, who is largely validated by these measures.  It’s also nice to know that New Orleans is really overachieving, especially when you consider their injury issues. It would be interesting to track this month by month as well, to see how Portland shifted after the injury plague.

I wanted to examine one other set in this format before I called it a day, so I looked at efficiency differential and offensive versus defensive efficiency. Here’s each measure separately, on one graph.

Oklahoma City is defending like crazy is the first thing that jumps at me. Denver’s not quite as good defensively as you might have thought, but offensively, they’ve been pretty superb.Utah also looks good by this measure, hitting right about where they should be.

So what does their differential in efficiency look like?

Hey, look at that, the Lakers are awesome. SHOCKING. Denver’s lack of domination here is kind of surprising, as is the Spurs looking much better than they do on screen. The Spurs have become paper tigers. Weird. Again, you see OKC is really not a sham by this analysis, and Nate McMillan deserves coach of the year. Memphis gets murdered by this analysis, and again, you notice that the three teams on the outside looking in are all in the negative in terms of efficiency differential. And as much as I like the roster, there’s no way to look at this and not start biting your fingernails if you’re a Mavs fan.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.