I’ve been an NBA basketball fan since the 1983-1984 season. There are countless others who were fans from decades earlier. There are many more fans now today who have come after me. My point of view on things are skewed based upon what was ‘normal’ during my formative basketball watching years. I suspect that this is the case for all of us. In order to help divorce myself from my own biases I tried to make sense of the remarkable play of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs over the last few seasons. So I calculated up every single season for every single Western Conference team over the last 20, 15, 10, and 5 years before this 2016-2017 season.
I ranked each team by seed, and collected up the seed data outside of divisional hokey-pokey. (Like in the days of two divisions the #2 seed in the West may be worse than the #3 team in the other division; or in the days of three divisions before a rule change, the 4th best team may be the 3rd best seed, and so forth.) What I found, primarily, is how many wins each team should have at the end of 82 games, by what seed they end up in. (The data set did include data from two lockout shortened seasons, but doing this by cumulative win% allowed for the data to be included, and not tossed.)
The other thing I found out is that with the rise of “Superteams”(TM), the Western Conference middle class is going the way of the real world middle class.
Furthermore, I didn’t bother doing this for the Eastern Conference because screw those guys. Their conference doesn’t follow any rules - the team with LeBron James is the #1 seed, and has been for almost every year he’s been in the league.
Hint: The Brightest green is the best win % for each seed, so the 2016-2017 1st Seed (the current GSW) have the highest win % for all 1st seeds over the four experimental groups (20 years, 15 years, 10 years, 5 years) and the control group (the 2016-17 season).
Hint Part Deux: The % Difference is how much better this year’s seed is from the 20 year group (n = 20).
- There is only supposed to be one 60 win team
- There is supposed to be only five teams that win 50 or more games
- The worst four teams are all supposed to drop off as under 30 wins
These are the simple observations based mainly upon the n=20 source data. It’s the largest sample size, after all. The skew is towards better top level teams and better bottom level teams. The bias for this season is hilarious / worrying.
The 2016-2017 Teams:
The Golden State Warriors are on pace for 67. It’s a bit off of their massive 73 wins the season before, but it’s still would be tied for the 2nd highest win total for a #1 West seed over the last 20 years.
The San Antonio Spurs are on pace for about 65 wins. That’s better than all but about four #1 seeds in the West during the span of this data set. But they’ll be #2 this year.
At #3 the Houston Rockets are solid and a little bit better than average for a #3 seed.
As a Utah Jazz fan, the team is currently in 4th place. That means they should, on average, finish the season with 53 wins. At their current win % they should hit 51. But looking at the schedule I don’t know if they can reach 50.
The Los Angeles Clippers look to be right around 50 as well, and could leap-frog Utah. But like Utah they are not winning as much as they should be on average compared to where they are seeded.
This is a trend which continues from UTA and LAC all the way down to the 11th seed in the West. And the one easy culprit may be that the bottom teams are playing better than they should be. But it seems to be more like the best teams in the West are eating the middle sized fish with regularity. (The W/L matrix I am working on will probably back this point up.)
I don’t expect the Los Angeles Lakers or Phoenix Suns to maintain their winning % as the last few weeks of the season rolls around. But the lack of a defined terminal point of the playoff seeds means that we may see teams as far down as #11 or #12 fighting for the #8 spot in April. We haven’t seen anything like that since the lockout shortened 66 game season (which was coincidentially the last time the Jazz made the playoffs).
It shall be interesting to see what happens down the stretch. San Antonio is peaking right now. Having two 65+ win teams to top this conference could be scary for everyone else. Especially the West’s middle class.