Boston and Memphis look better in the playoffs, but I still expect the Heat and Thunder to prevail

Posted on May 1, 2011 by


After the first round, I am in fourth place in the TrueHoop Smackdown.  Our picks for the second round were due yesterday and I thought I would briefly note the reasoning behind my choices.

The model I have employed in this contest is quite simple.  Two variables have been considered:  The difference in each team’s regular season efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) and home court advantage.  This simple model seems to do fairly well (after all, I won this little contest a couple of years ago).

Arturo Galletti, though, has argued that the regular season is not quite the same as the playoffs.  Here is some of what Arturo has observed:

  • Your starting five account for 82% percent of your wins in the regular season.
  • Your second unit is important over the course of an 82 game regular season accounting for 18% of your wins
  • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.

In the playoffs, the story changes.  Arturo notes in the post-season…

  • Your starting five account for 94% percent of your wins in the playoffs.
  • Only the first guy of your bench matters accounting for 5% of your wins
  • After that everybody else is statistically meaningless.

What explains the difference?  In the post-season teams play their starters more minutes.  And that means, we need to do more than consider team performance in the regular season.  We also need to consider who is going to play in the post-season.

For the first round of the playoffs, this presents a problem.  We don’t know exactly who is going to play.  For example, I really thought the Celtics were going to give Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green significant minutes in the first round.  But that isn’t what happened.

In the regular season, Green and Krstic played more than 23 minutes per game.  In the first round, though, Green only played about 17 minutes per game.  And in four games, Krstic only played 23 total minutes.  With these two players on the bench, the Celtics went on to sweep the Knicks in the first round.

Now that the first round is complete, we can see who is going to play and sit in the playoffs (assuming first round and second round rotations are not going to change much).  And that allows us to re-evaluate these teams.

To illustrate,  consider the marquee match-up of the second round.  In the regular season, Miami had a 7.96 differential while the Celtics had a mark of 5.77.  And Boston’s mark was much worse after the trade that brought in Green and Krstic.  These marks suggest that Miami – who also have home court advantage – should be the clear favorite in the second round.  But let’s consider who has actually played in the post-season.

The table below reports the following information:

For the regular season we see position played, minutes played, Wins Produced, and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. For the playoffs, we have position and minutes played in the post-season.  We also have how many wins each player would have produced across an entire 82 game season given the position played and minutes allocation in the playoffs.  So Wins Produced in the playoffs is not what the player actually did in the post-season.  It is what the player would produce in the regular season if he played the minutes and position we see in the playoffs.

For the Heat, these two views really don’t tell a different story.  For the Celtics, though, the story is quite different.  In the regular season the Celtics had 55.1 Wins Produced. The minutes allocation in the post-season, though, improves the Celtics to a team that would be expected to win about 63 games in a regular season.  And that means the Celtics and Heat are actually quite close.

The Heat, though, do have home court advantage. So I am taking the Heat in seven games.  But I think is going to be very close; and for fans, very entertaining.

The other playoff series to start today is between Oklahoma City and Memphis.  The Grizzlies were one of the surprises of the first round.  When we consider the allocation of minutes, though, Memphis was not quite as surprising as it first appeared.

In the regular season, the Grizzlies’ efficiency differential translated into about 47 wins.  Facing the Spurs in the first round, whose regular season efficiency differential was worth about 56 wins, it was expected that Memphis would once again exit in the first round (as they have done throughout their limited playoff history).

When we consider how minutes were allocated, though, Memphis was a much better team.  The above table indicates the Grizzlies – given the minutes played in the post-season – were actually a 56 win team (the Spurs –given their post-season allocation – had a projected Wins Produced of 61.6).  So although Memphis was not quite as good as San Antonio, the differences were not that great.

A similar story can be told about the second round.  Oklahoma City – now that Green and Krstic are sitting elsewhere – are clearly improved.  And the Thunder should be expected to defeat Memphis. Again, though, Memphis is closer than their regular season efficiency differential suggests.  This is why I am picking the Thunder to win this series in six games.

The other two post-season match-ups begin on Monday.  I will post the tables for these two series tomorrow (although I have already made my picks).

– DJ

P.S.  One last comment on Memphis… how many fans of the Grizzlies have now re-considered the value of Rudy Gay?  Yes, Gay was above average this year.  But he clearly is not the most productive player on the roster and he has been adequately replaced by Shane Battier.  More will be offered on this issue in the future.