The NBA season is less than 4 weeks old but analyzing the play by play data from each game enables us to obtain many interesting insights. Our approach (called Adjusted +/-) looks at how the movement of the game score depends on the 10 players on the court. After adjusting for the strength of the players a given player plays with and against, we come up with player ratings. A player rating of +10 points for say Josh Howard, for example, indicates that after adjusting for the players Howard played with and against our best estimate based on the season to date is that Howard’s team would win a game by 10 points if he played with 4 average NBA players against 5 average NBA players.
We can also rate lineups. A lineup with a +10 rating, for example, would be expected to beat an average NBA lineup by 10 points per game. So what have we learned so far (through November 18)? All figures below are per 48 minutes and are adjusted for strength of opponent.
Who are the Best Teams?
- Boston 12.1 points better than average.
- Portland 10 points better than average
- Atlanta 9 points better than average
- Houston 7.3 points better than average
- Dallas 6.9 points better than average
Who are the Worst Teams?
The Nets, Knicks, and Timberwolves have all played more than 10 points worse than an average team.
Who is the Early Season MVP?
Unquestionably the best player to date has been Dirk Nowitzki. We have been computing Adjusted +/- numbers for ten years and we have never seen a 12 game run like Dirk’s. Dirk’s Adjusted +/- so far is +42 points. He causes the Mavs to score 19 points more per game than an average offensive player and amazingly he causes the Mavs to give up 23 fewer points than an average defensive player. The following stats make it clear how great Dirk has been:
- When Dirk is in the Mavs has played 20 points better than an average NBA team and when Dirk is out the Mavs have played 34 points worse than an average NBA team.
- When Dirk, Marion, Kidd and Terry are in the game, the Mavs play 31 points better than average. Amazingly, when Marion, Kidd and Terry are in but Dirk is out the Mavs play 35 points worse than average!!
How are the Cavs doing?
The Cavs 8-4 record is a far cry from last season, when the Cavs led the league in regular season victories. Actually, things are worse than most fans think. After adjusting for the strength of schedule, the Cavs are playing 1 point per game worse than league average. LeBron should bear none of the blame for the Cavs disappointing play. His adjusted +/- is 20 points better than average. The Shaq/LeBron experiment has not worked out so well. When the King and Shaq are in together the Cavs are an average team. When the King is in and Shaq is out, the Cavs play 9 points better than an average team. Also with James, Parker and Varaejo in and Shaq out the Cavs play 29 points better than average. The recent insertion of Hickson in the starting lineup has helped a lot. Hickson, Mo Williams, James, Shaq and Parker have played 22 points better than average.
What is the League’s Best lineup?
By far the league’s best lineup is the Atlanta Hawks quintet of Josh Smith, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, Joe Johnson and Jamaal Crawford. In 82 minutes this lineup has played an amazing 64 points per game better than an average lineup! The Hawks appear to be a genuine contender for the Eastern Conference Title. We have Jamaal Crawford ranked so far as #2 in league behind Dirk. He has really found a happy home in Atlanta.
Who are the Top Rookies?
Two days before he scored 55 points, we blogged that Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings was the league’s top rookie. Of course, he still leads the pack with a +19 points Adjusted +/-. Steven Curry with his +13 Adjusted +/- ranks 2nd in the NBA. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan ranks 3rd in the league with a +12 rating.
What keys the Rocket’s Surprising Success?
Aaron Brooks (+14 rating) and the incredible Chuck Hayes (+24 rating) have enabled the Rockets to compete at a high level without Yao and Tracy McGrady. When Brooks and Hayes are both out, the Rockets play 20 points worse than average. The rest of the time the Rockets play 13 points better than average. Chase Budinger has been a super sub, playing 11 points better than average.
Which Team has the Best Dynamic Duo?
Batman and Robin have nothing on the Oklahoma Thunder’s dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Westbrook has played 21 points better than average while Durant has played 19 points better than average. Last season, Durant’s Adjusted +/- ranked him in the bottom 10% of the league, so he has really improved in doing the “little things” that win games. For the season the Thunder play 2 points better than average and should have a good shot at making the playoffs. When KD and Westbrook are both out the Thunder play 24 points worse than average. The quartet of KD, Westbrook, Collison and Sefelosha has been great, playing 24 points better than average.
In a few days we will have another post chock full of surprising insights into this exciting NBA season. See you then!