Previewing the NBA Finals – A First Cut

Posted on June 6, 2007 by


Let’s cut to the chase. San Antonio is a better team than Cleveland.

We can see this clearly in the regular season numbers. In 2006-07 the Spurs scored 106.4 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs, meanwhile, scored 102.3. From this we see the Spurs are better offensively.

On defense the Spurs allowed 97.3 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs allowed 98.2. So the Spurs are also better on defense.

Wins in the NBA are determined by how well each team does on offense and defense. The regular season record tells us that Spurs are better at both ends, so it’s hard to see how the Cavs can be picked to win this series.

When we look at efficiency differential (offensive efficiency – defensive efficiency) this becomes even clearer. The following table ranks the 68 teams to reach the NBA Finals since 1974.

Table One: Efficiency Differential of the NBA Final Participants

On this list the Spurs rank 6th. Of the five teams that ranked higher, only the Jazz lost in the Finals. And that was because the Jazz played the second ranked team on the list, the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls.

The Cavs rank 53rd on the list. Yes, it’s possible to be ranked this low and win a title. But in this case, it seems unlikely. The Spurs have an efficiency differential of 9.1. Cleveland’s differential is 4.0. Since 1974, no team that is five or more off its opponent has managed to win the title.

Let me add that efficiency differential, by my count, seems to matter a bit more than won-loss record or home-court advantage. Since 1974, the team with the better efficiency differential has won 70% of the time. The team with the home-court advantage, again by my count, has only won 64% of the time.

There is much more I wish to say about this, but I am out of time today. Tomorrow I hope to comment on a few historic upsets that were really not upsets. I also wish to go through each team’s Wins Produced and note which players got the Spurs and Cavs to this point. In the process I hope to throw a bit of water on the drive to immortalize LeBron James. But again, all that will have to wait until tomorrow.

– DJ