Guts & Domination Revisited: NBA ’10-11 Elite vs Elite Records
With 4 of the top 8 teams playing against each other today, I thought it was a good time to look at how the top teams are doing against each other. Here they are, with the explanation and takeway conclusions below.
What I Did & Why I Did It
-Compared games between the Top 8 teams in the league. This is a good cutoff both because these are the teams expected to get to the 2nd round, and frankly, the 9th best team (the Hawks) don’t feel elite to me. Know though, that had I included the Hawks, they’d have the least impressive “elite” records of the group.
-Early in the season basketball-reference did an analysis of the meaningfulness of winning close games vs not-so-close games, as well as winning against good teams vs winning against bad teams. It should be noted that his takeaway conclusion from it was that it was more important to decisively beat bad teams, than to win close games against good teams – and he used that to say there was really no basis for worry about the Heat losing to good teams. The analysis also showed though that the single most telling trend was winning decisively against good teams, so his was a statement really meant more about clutch-luck more than the importance of beating bad teams.
I took that analysis as a bit of an inspiration here except that I just looked at the truly elite teams, and that I broke down close and not-so-close games differently. b-r, called games decided by 5 or less close, and games decided by 9 or more not-so-close. Well, I don’t want ignore the 6-8 point margin games, and I also don’t have any particular use for creating a 3rd category. So for me, not-so-close games are those decided by 6 or more points.
1. There seems to be an awfully high correlation between which teams are winning against other elites by significant margins, and which are not. I think the conclusion that we should care more about the significant margin games than the close games is fine – but clearly, it’s not very often that a team has a terrible record against elite teams in general, but looks good if you ignore the close games.
2. Clearly, the Spurs, the Mavericks, and the Celtics, come away here looking quite good. These are not teams just getting by winning close games. The Mavs and the Celtics in particular have played more games against the elites than anyone else, so they aren’t getting where they are simply because they’ve avoided the tough teams.
2. The Thunder look like a “happy to be here” team. They have established themselves as a 2nd round team, but whenever they go up against the true contenders, they are exposed.
3. The Magic should be encouraged. Despite their disappointing record (compared to their high expectations), when they face the big boys, they are not overmatched. Not even the elites have a reliable answer for Dwight Howard.
4. The Lakers don’t look good. I’ll have to look more into how they’ve done in previous seasons. This might be damning – but I have a hard time worrying too much about the two-time defending champs. Not that should be the title favorites right now, but there’s no team out there that I think the Lakers absolutely can’t beat in a series.
5. The Bulls‘ record doesn’t tell us very much other than we should take them significantly more seriously than the Thunder. Wait and see on these guys.
6. That leaves the Heat. Still don’t look that great. It’s true that going 2-3 in the “decisive” elite games is only 1 game below .500, so it’s certainly not the case that I think the Heat aren’t true contenders. They absolutely are. However, I think it’s quite fair to say that the Heat haven’t proven anything big yet against the other contenders. They would seem to be in the same “wait and see” category as the Bulls.
I am a believer in SRS’ utility. I use it all the time in fact. However, I think anyone using at the Heat’s SRS along with their stellar record the last couple months to say that the Heat have figured everything out that they need to is fooling themselves. Simply put, this is not a team that can reasonably be claiming to coast to a strong-but-not-amazing record, and after now falling to 0-3 against the team that ended LeBron & Wade’s post-season last year, I have no doubt that the Heat themselves no that.