The Formula: Champion’s Edition – The West

Another great week of action, and it get’s no better than this. The war for NBA dominance raged on-yesterday we witnessed the Boston Celtics square off with the surging Miami Heat, and the Orlando Magic butt heads with the LA Lakers. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen that Celtics beat Miami, who defeated the Magic, who trounced the Lakers, who vanquished… the Celtics. What does this tell us? Will the NBA playoffs turn into a Mobius strip of NBA teams beating each other in a sideways 8 of infinity? We wouldn’t want the 2011 playoffs stepping on the toes of the Summer League, so allow me to give you a hand; we continue on our analysis of the true challengers to the defending champs in the run up to the NBA finals.

To recap,last week I submitted for your approval my Championship Formula, which strangely enough wasn’t a formula, and won me not a single championship. Check it out, here. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Basically, I’m basing my championship outlook on 2 things -

  • the whole “franchise player + bunch of great secondary pieces” is a myth; the last 19 of the last 20 champs have had at least 1 star quality running mate to bolster their prime option. In the cases of the ’08 Celtics and the ’04 Pistons, the “star label” was disseminated over 4 and 5 player respectively, with no one dominating superstar, but a collection of established legitimate stars. And the ’94 Rockets, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe (!) were just…I have no idea how that happened, just a perfect storm of weak offenses and having the best center in a center-centric era.

    photo from fanway.com

  • While advanced stats by themselves can be misleading (Kevin Love’s PER of 24.53 is ranked just ahead of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Amare’ Stoudemire and Pau Gasol, but in no way is he better than any of those guys), looking at the PER (John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating) ,  and the Dean Oliver developed Offensive  and Defensive rating (O and D ratings are the points a team scores and gives up per 100 possessions) of the current playoff bound teams can give us an idea of current teams ‘ship potential. We do this by comparing their numbers to the composite numbers of the winners from the past 13 years. The average championship team’s Offensive and Defensive rating, rank, and top 6 players’ PER (starting 5 plus that primary 6th man, ordered by minutes played) from 1998 until last year looks like this:

 

Team X  
Off Rtg 107.7 (7.5th )
Def Rtg 100 (4.5th)
Diff 7.2
Top 6 PER
Player Batman 26.1
Player Robin 21.3
Player A 14
Player B 14
Player C 14
Player D 14
TOT: 103.4 17.2

 Last week, I covered the Eastern Conference’s top 8 teams; only 3 teams there even remotely stacked up: the Celtic are geared to win it all, a healthy Chicago Bulls team is completely capable of giving the Celts and Lakers a run for their money, and while Miami’s top 3 players are incredible, the drop-off in talent and efficiency to the next 3 is profound; their lack of depth make them less likely to swipe the O’Brien trophy. Just in case you were rushing earlier, here is that Eastern Conference post AGAIN. Now, on to the West-

San Antonio Spurs 45 – 9, 1st
Off Rtg 111.3 (4th)
Def Rtg 103.5 (7th)
Diff 7.8
Top 6 PER
Tony Parker 20.7
Manu Ginobili 21.9
Richard Jefferson 13.7
Tim Duncan 21.6
George Hill 14.6
DeJuan Blair 17.2
TOT: 109.7 18.3

With an exceptional O/D efficiency ratio AND rankings, and their own Big 3 of Manu, Parker, and Duncan posting PERs over 20, San Antonio is poised to take a run at the title for Duncan’s swan song.

Dallas Mavericks 38-16, 2nd
Off Rtg 109 (9th)
Def Rtg 105.6 (12th )
Diff 3.4
Top 6 PER
Jason Kidd 14.8
Jason terry 15.6
Dirk Nowitzki 23.4
Shawn Marion 15.5
Tyson Chandler 19.2
JJ Barea 13.9
TOT: 102.4 17.1

Dirk Nowitzki has cemented himself as a tar, but while Tyson Chandler’s PER is strong, but his raw stats (10.5 ppg and 9 rpg) scream role player, not star. Jason Terry will put up points, but that PER is a result of his horrible D and the fact he does absolutely nothing but score. Dirk needs another star, period. That tiny O/D differential also leaves too small a margin for mistakes.

LA Lakers 38-17, 3rd
Off Rtg 112.4 (2nd)
Def Rtg 104.8 (10th)
Diff 7.6
Top 6 PER
Pau Gasol 23.6
Kobe Bryant 25.1
Lamar Odom 20.4
Ron Artest 10.8
Derek Fisher 9.2
Andrew Bynum 20.6
*TOT: 109.2 *18.2

*Lakers are the only team with 4 of it’s top 6 players having a PER over 20. Derek Fisher is absolutely abysmal, and Ron Artest, . Great Offensive/Defensive rating numbers, plus the Alpha-est of Alpha dogs in Kobe’, the Lakers look primed to defend their title. 

OKC Thunder 34 – 19, 4th
Off Rtg 110.4 (5th)
Def Rtg 108.4 (17th)
Diff 2.0
Kevin Durant 24.3
Russell Westbrook 24.1
Jeff Greene 12.6
Thabo Sefalosha 10.2
James Harden 14.5
Serge Ibaka 17.5
TOT: 103.2 17.2

The good news: OKC’s shown remarkable offensive efficiency rating improvement, jumping from 12th (108.3) to 5th in the NBA. The bad news is that their D rating plummeted from 9th (104.4) to below average 17th , giving up almost 4 points more per 100 possessions this year (that’s a lot). OKC needs to find it’s lost defensive chops to be considered true contenders. 

NO Hornets 33 – 23, 5th
Off Rtg 105.6 (21st)
Def Rtg 102.9 (6th)
Diff 2.7
Top 6 PER
Chris Paul 25.1
David West 20.6
Trevor Ariza 10.8
Emeka Okafor 16.6
Marco Belinelli 10.3
Willie Green 10.3
TOT: 93.7 15.6

N’awlins is making the most out of what it has. Chris Paul is as efficient as always, but his scoring, assists, and PER all have dropped precipitously from the levels they were during the Hornets ’08 playoff run. As good as he is, and as solid as West is, their terrible O rating shows that this team simply doesn’t have the firepower to run with the top NBA teams. 

Denver Nuggets 31 – 24, 6th
Off Rtg 112.8 (1st)
Def Rtg 109.9 (23rd)
Diff 2.9
Top 6 PER
Aaron Afflalo 14.0
Carmelo Anthony 21.4
Chauncy Billups 18.9
Nene’ 21.6
JR Smith 15.5
Ty Lawson 16.9
TOT: 108.3 18.1

Denver’s offensive numbers are awesome, but they’re like the anti-Hornets,the 23rd ranked defensive efficiency rating won’t cut it.  

Utah Jazz 31 – 24, 7th
Off Rtg 108.6 (10th)
Def Rtg 108.8 (18th)
Diff -0.2
Top 6 PER
Al Jefferson 18.4
Deron Williams 22.4
Paul Millsap 19.8
Andrei Kirilenko 16.4
Raja Bell 9.0
CJ Miles 15.2
TOT: 101.2 16.9

Jerry Sloan or not, the Jazz are what they are; efficient, just not very good. Utah’s 1 0f only 2 team in the 16 currently playoff bound that gives up more points per 100 possessions than it scores. That’s not a good sign. The Jazz have a great #1 player, and a #3 in Al Jefferson; if they can somehow bring in another top-flight talent, they’d challenge the best of the best. 

Portland Trailblazers 30 – 24, 8th
Off Rtg 107.6 (13th)
Def Rtg 107.2 (15th)
Diff 0.4
Top 6 PER
LaMarcus Aldridge 21.7
Wesley Matthews 15.1
Andre’ Miller 18.9
Nicholas Batum 14.2
Rudy Fernandez 14.0
Donte’ Cunningham 8.8
TOT: 92.7 15.45

 

from bostonbias.blogspot.com

I’ll say it- LaMarcus Aldridge is a star. I’ll also say that no one else that the Blazers trot out is. The middling O/D ratings and miniscule O/D rating differential isn’t conducive to championship basketball. 

Based on the “Star Theory” and the numbers, I’d have to say only San Antonio and the Lake Show are the real deal, with Dallas, Denver, and the Hornets just too flawed to be taken seriously as contenders. So, by my extremely scientific count, there are 5 teams legitimately in the hunt from the crown- the Boston Celtics, the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers, with the Miami Heat and a healthy Chicago Bulls a half-step behind those 3. Don’t argue with me, it’s just the facts.

Have a bone to pick with my fastidious predictions? Questions about the numbers used? Want me to write your kids a bed-time story? Leave a comment, or hit me on Twitter, @SnottieDrippen

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.