NBA Power Rankings – December 20th Edition

Over our two week hiatus from Squared2020.com, there were 52 NBA games played, bringing us to a third of the season completed. During this time, we finally saw the Golden State Warriors drop their first game of the season, managing to go 24 consecutive games before their first loss in Milwaukee on December 12th. We also saw the Oklahoma City Thunder return to their 2013-14 form as they went 7-1, picking up quality wins over Grizzlies, Jazz, and Hawks; but dropping a close 100-104 game in Cleveland.  The Thunder’s streak pushed them well ahead of the pack in the Northwest Division, and well into third place in the top-heavy Western Conference.

A striking disparity to note is that the Cleveland Cavaliers only managed to have 4 games played during the 14 day period; going 4-0 against the Trail Blazers, Magic, Celtics, and Thunder. Despite having half of the games as the Thunder, the Cavaliers played tougher quality opponents and secured one spot higher in our rankings than the Thunder.

Here is the distribution of games played by each team over the past 14 days across the NBA:

  • 9 Games: Memphis (4-5)
  • 8 Games: Oklahoma City (7-1); Detroit (5-3); L.A. Clippers (5-3); Chicago (4-4); Phoenix (4-4); Washington (3-5); L.A. Lakers (1-7)
  • 7 Games: San Antonio (6-1); Toronto (5-2); Charlotte (4-3); Dallas (4-3); Houston (4-3); Indiana (4-3); New York (4-3); Boston (3-4); Miami (3-4); Brooklyn (2-5); Milwaukee (2-5); Minnesota (2-5); Portland (2-5); Utah (2-5); Philadelphia (0-7)
  • 6 Games: Golden State (5-1); Orlando (4-2); Atlanta (3-3); New Orleans (2-4)
  • 5 Games: Denver (3-2); Sacramento (3-2)
  • 4 Games: Cleveland (4-0)

Using a Beta regression model, we still maintain an high r-square value of 0.67. This shows a ranking based on wins and strength of win between opponents are adequate and follow the distribution quite well.

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 10.55.02 AM

Beta regression that predicts percentage of scoring by a “first team,” determined by alphabetical order (red), compared to actual results (blue). Results of prediction above 0.5 (black line) indicate the “first team” team should win.

From the regression models, we find that the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs maintain a stranglehold on the top spots. Cleveland inched their way three spots to take the third spot in the league, first in the Eastern Conference. Similarly, Oklahoma City’s 7-1 run help pushed them into 4th overall.

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 12.02.01 PM

NBA Power Rankings based on wins between opponents and strength of win determined by score. Results are based on the first 402 games of the 1230 games of the 2015-16 NBA season.

Using the rankings, we are able to predict out the remaining games of the season. Here, we still find that the Warriors are not predicted to win 70+ games yet. This is mainly due to two factors: it’s still relatively early in the season and the Warriors have yet to play a slate of the top teams. Here is the distribution of games played by the Warriors this season:

  • Atlanta Hawks: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Boston Celtics: 1-0
  • Brooklyn Nets: 2-0
  • Charlotte Hornets: 1-0
  • Chicago Bulls: 1-0
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Dallas Mavericks: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Denver Nuggets: 2-0
  • Detroit Pistons: 1-0
  • Houston Rockets: 1-0
  • Indiana Pacers: 1-0
  • LA Clippers: 2-0
  • LA Lakers: 1-0
  • Memphis Grizzlies: 2-0
  • Miami Heat: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 1-1
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: 1-0
  • New Orleans Pelicans: 2-0
  • New York Knicks: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Orlando Magic: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Philadelphia 76ers: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Phoenix Suns: 2-0
  • Portland Trail Blazers: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Sacramento Kings: 2-0
  • San Antonio Spurs: NOT PLAYED YET
  • Toronto Raptors: 2-0
  • Utah Jazz: 1-0
  • Washington Wizards: NOT PLAYED YET

As you can see, the Warriors have yet to play the best teams in the league: San Antonio Spurs (2nd), Cleveland Cavaliers (3rd), and Oklahoma City Thunder (4th). That’s 9 games against the best teams in the league yet to be played. Until these games start to play out, the Warriors prediction of gaining 70+ wins won’t start to become relevant.

Despite situation such as the Warriors playing only 18 of the 29 possible opponents, we are able to predict the final standings per the rankings model.

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 12.23.31 PM

Predicted final standings for the 2015-16 NBA Season; based on the first 402 NBA games played.

One final note to make is that we are back to relative even strength between the conference as there have been 77 inter-conference games with the East and West having an identical 77-77 record. Despite the even records, the West manage to have three exceptionally strong teams:  Golden State, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. Whereas the East has a plethora of good-to-strong teams with ten teams maintaining winning records. If the season barrels on as it has for the first third of the season, we should expect a San Antonio-Golden State showdown with the winner facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

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