Wow, that’s a horrible title. Anyway, let’s move past that train wreck and get to the meat of this post. Every week during the regular season (including training camp and the pre-season), ESPN NBA guru Marc Stein graces us with his power rankings. Unlike Hollinger’s number heavy rankings these are based, essentially, on his gut feelings of how teams are playing right now.
People argue bias in every form against the rankings, but what we really need to focus on isn’t "which team is #1", but "are these rankings meaningful at all?"
The ESPN website has a log of these rankings spanning back to the 2002-2003 NBA season. So we have the tail end of the Stockton and Malone era, *plus* those heady Ben Handlogten years, in addition to the modern Deron Williams era worth of data to look at.
Over this span the Jazz have averaged 45.25 wins a season (yup, that’s even including that one season where Jerry played a 35.0 fg% sharpshooting Keith McLeod enough to score 7.8 ppg). The first of Stein’s rankings of the NBA year is his training camp ranking. This season we’re spotted at #9. The average of these rankings over the 8 years worth of data has him putting the Jazz as the 14.44th best team in the league. Of course, the end of the regular season/final week ranking shows the Jazz average out to be the 11.75th best team in the league. This is a ‘correction’ of 2.6944 spots in the Jazz favor. Is this because the team got better over the season, or just that ESPN hates the Jazz but has to admit that they aren’t "middle of the pack" by seasons’ end?
In the Deron Williams (pbuh) era the Jazz have averaged 49.4 wins a season. Stein’s average training camp ranking suggests that Utah is the 12.667th best team over these past 5 seasons. His final ranking? On average in the Deron Williams era the Jazz have been the 9.6th best team in the league when the dust settles over an 82 game campaign. Not too shabby for a small market team that never gets the calls, amirite? This correction is over 3 spots – so that Stein has been guilty of either marking the Jazz low on purpose, or being crazy enough to under-estimate them yearly.
If we look at his rankings as nothing but entertainment and a way to spark conversation then they are fine. However, because ESPN proclaims to be the world-wide leader and filled with "experts" we have to hold them to a higher standard. This isn’t some dumb kid’s blog, this guy is paid to know his stuff. No matter how low the Jazz get ranked the Jazz come out on top. Case in point: in 2003-2004 he put the Jazz as the 29th ‘best’ team in the league with his training camp ranking. At the end of the season we were the 10th best team.
If anything, this post should at least assuage* the fears of Jazz fans if on any given week Stein’s rankings appear unfair to our beloved Jazz team. In the last four seasons, despite never having home court in the 1st round, the Jazz win 5.25 playoff games on average. These 21 playoff wins are more than a lot of other teams that Stein ranks higher than the Jazz have won this same time span.