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NBA Playoffs 2012: Looking deep into going deep in the playoffs - Part 1 "The Teams"

"So, how many tickets did you leave out for Warriors players to watch the Playoffs  this year?" "Only 10, one for each of the ucks I give about their sorry franchise."
"So, how many tickets did you leave out for Warriors players to watch the Playoffs this year?" "Only 10, one for each of the ucks I give about their sorry franchise."

Unless you own a team for the purpose and prestige of losing money while having courtside seats, you own a team because you're in it to win. But it must be noted that there is more to winning than just winning the title. Some people win by putting out a winning team. Others win by keeping a team profitable(-ish, we'll never know, the NBA Owners don't even open up their books to the NBA Player's association). The very lucky few win by winning titles. Ideally, as a fan who doesn't have to pay Al Jefferson 's $15m contract, I'm all about winning games in the playoffs. (We had zero this year) I want MY team to be a winner. That means winning at least 8 playoff games a year. While the Utah Jazz never won a title, I did get used to that level of winning as they went to the Western Conference Finals 5 times in 7 years back when I was just at the right age to really follow a team like crazy (a teen).

I'm starting a long analysis of how teams go deep into the playoffs. And while we don't have a game preview and review to do every game anymore -- we're still going to look at one of these every day (I hope). The first step, clearly, is to define all my terms and look at the facts.


I'm going to be looking at the teams that win. That is not limited just to teams that win the ring, or teams that make the NBA Finals. Instead, the effective NBA Final Four -- the Conference Finalists. These teams all have to pass through the gauntlet and beat two teams to get to this level. Now this means winning at least 8 games. Previously (in the era of the Best of 5 first round) this meant winning 7 games. Well, games matter - but what matters more to me are series wins. The teams I care about get to the Final Four.

The time periods I'm going to be looking at are the last 30, 20, 10, and 5 NBA seasons. This way we can take a look at a number of things -- like sustained excellence, ancient glory, or if a franchise is peaking right now. No doubt, the largest factor in winning these playoff games has to be the players.

we're going to be looking at the Top 4 player of each of these teams. The more data the better, right?

  • Final Four Teams (Eastern Conf Finals teams + Western Conf Finals teams), for ever year
  • Every year, for the last 30 years
  • And the Top four players on each of those teams

For those of you following along at home, that's 120 teams, and 480 players. Previously I've been accused of using smaller sample sizes (Dudes, there just isn't a lot of data to look at if you're analyzing Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos!). Most other bloggers you read will NOT go back in history for 30 years like I'm doing here.


The "Winning" Teams:

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Winner Loser Winner Loser
2011-2012 Miami Heat Boston Celtics . Oklahoma City Thunder San Antonio Spurs
2010-2011 Miami Heat Chicago Bulls . Dallas Mavericks Oklahoma City Thunder
2009-2010 Boston Celtics Orlando Magic . Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns
2008-2009 Orlando Magic Cleveland Cavaliers . Los Angeles Lakers Denver Nuggets
2007-2008 Boston Celtics Detroit Pistons . Los Angeles Lakers San Antonio Spurs
2006-2007 Cleveland Cavaliers Detroit Pistons . San Antonio Spurs Utah Jazz
2005-2006 Miami Heat Detroit Pistons . Dallas Mavericks Phoenix Suns
2004-2005 Detroit Pistons Miami Heat . San Antonio Spurs Phoenix Suns
2003-2004 Detroit Pistons Indiana Pacers . Los Angeles Lakers Minnesota Timberwolves
2002-2003 New Jersey Nets Detroit Pistons . San Antonio Spurs Dallas Mavericks
2001-2002 New Jersey Nets Boston Celtics . Los Angeles Lakers Sacramento Kings
2000-2001 Philadelphia 76ers Milwaukee Bucks . Los Angeles Lakers San Antonio Spurs
1999-2000 Indiana Pacers New York Knicks . Los Angeles Lakers Portland Trail Blazers
1998-1999 New York Knicks Indiana Pacers . San Antonio Spurs Portland Trail Blazers
1997-1998 Chicago Bulls Indiana Pacers . Utah Jazz Los Angeles Lakers
1996-1997 Chicago Bulls Miami Heat . Utah Jazz Houston Rockets
1995-1996 Chicago Bulls Orlando Magic . Seattle SuperSonics Utah Jazz
1994-1995 Orlando Magic Indiana Pacers . Houston Rockets San Antonio Spurs
1993-1994 New York Knicks Indiana Pacers . Houston Rockets Utah Jazz
1992-1993 Chicago Bulls New York Knicks . Phoenix Suns Seattle SuperSonics
1991-1992 Chicago Bulls Cleveland Cavaliers . Portland Trail Blazers Utah Jazz
1990-1991 Chicago Bulls Detroit Pistons . Los Angeles Lakers Portland Trail Blazers
1989-1990 Detroit Pistons Chicago Bulls . Portland Trail Blazers Phoenix Suns
1988-1989 Detroit Pistons Chicago Bulls . Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns
1987-1988 Detroit Pistons Boston Celtics . Los Angeles Lakers Dallas Mavericks
1986-1987 Boston Celtics Detroit Pistons . Los Angeles Lakers Seattle SuperSonics
1985-1986 Boston Celtics Milwaukee Bucks . Houston Rockets Los Angeles Lakers
1984-1985 Boston Celtics Philadelphia 76ers . Los Angeles Lakers Denver Nuggets
1983-1984 Boston Celtics Milwaukee Bucks . Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns
1982-1983 Philadelphia 76ers Milwaukee Bucks . Los Angeles Lakers San Antonio Spurs

Wow, I know you care, so I'll tell you. Over the last 30 years only 11 different East franchises got to the ECF. And only 11 West franchises got to the WCF. That's 11 on each side, and both conferences have 15 teams in it. So that's 4 teams who have sucked every year for the last 30 years. I'm looking at you Golden State Warriors. I'm looking right at you.


A Breakdown:

What does this look like for the last 30 years?

Team # Team #
LAL 16 . DET 11
SAS 9 . BOS 9
PHO 7 . CHI 9
UTA 6 . IND 6
OKC / SEA 5 . MIA 5
POR 5 . MIL 4
HOU 4 . NYK 4
DAL 4 . ORL 4
DEN 2 . CLE 3
SAC 1 . PHI 3
MIN 1 . NJN 2

Wow, LAL, DET, SAS, BOS, and CHI all seem to have really brought it. It would not be hard to say that those are the five best teams in the last 30 years at all. You had Showtime, Bird's teams, the Jordan rules, Bad Boys and those Rip / Big Ben / Billups teams, and last but never forgotten, the Duncan Zombies.

Then next echelon holds PHX, UTA, IND, OKC(SEA), POR, and MIA. So far save for the Heat, that's a group of really good teams that never got over the hump and won a title in the last 30 years. But they have been "in" it for a number of years.

The third tier are groups of teams that rose and fell quickly, or had distinct peaks. Houston won 2 rings and was never heard from again. Dallas got 1, but didn't get to this stage a lot. Milwaukee is years removed from relevancy. Orlando got pretty far under Shaq and Dwight. But there were lean times in their respective absences. New York? I'm not even going to talk about them.

Finally , there's the group who have gotten to the Final Four in the NBA 3 (or fewer) times in the last 30 years. For the point of this exercise these teams are more like accident than real contenders.


The best teams keep winning, the bad teams are always bad:

This statement seems to hold true over the last 30 years. The most attractive franchises have the best history, best owners, better GMs, and got the better players. It's also no surprise that LAL, CHI, and BOS are huge media markets as well. DET used to be much bigger but we're working on it. The Spurs seem like the only small market team to really break into the big boys club - and that was mainly because they got super-duper lucky and drafted Tim Duncan.

It's a good point, if I say so myself . . . if you have an awesome player you may eventually be able to rise beyond systematic limitations to have a few good teams. I guess this is precisely what happened with Reggie Miller's pacers, and the Stockton and Malone Jazz. Those teams had a number of good players, but their front offices did not really go out there and attract the best talent to help the guys they were lucky enough to draft.


The Future:

Well, we're going to get more into this in Part 2 (right now there are like 8 parts), but Miami and OKC seem like they'll only go to more Final fours in the next few seasons. Teams always rise and fall; but the best franchises keep rising to the top. I am going to keep bringing this series back to the Jazz . . . but we have to look at the full model before isolating our scope.

Next post: Going deeper into the success curves of each of these teams in the 30 / 20 / 10 / 5 year breakdowns and postulating on the revealed data.