2011 NBA Finals Preview & Predictions

Sometimes, the best way to predict the future is to take a look at the past.  Let’s be honest, the team with the highest shooting percentage doesn’t always win the championship. Neither does the team with the best defense or the least turnovers.  Furthermore, its not really even a combination of everything that can determine whether you win or not, which is what makes predicting a champion so hard.

This is VERY IMPORTANT –  You Must Read This or You Won’t Get the Rest of the Analysis

At All Sports Talk, we took a very unique approach to determining who will win the 2011 NBA Playoffs.  We took the champions from the past 5 years and looked at their regular season stats.  Sometimes the champion did well in a particular area, in other areas, they might not have fared so well.  What we were left with was the average ranking (1-30) of each of the past 5 champions in 6 major statistical categories.  We will use this as the basis for determining who will win the 2011 NBA Playoffs.  As you will see below, the best statistical team doesn’t always win, but we will try to match each 2011 playoff contender with the champions of 2006-2010.  For example, based on the past champions (See chart below), we would expect this year’s winner to be ranked about 9th in points per game, 7th in team defense, 6th in shooting percentage and so on.  Please keep in mind – our prediction is not based on how well a team did in a particular category, but how closely they compare with the average of the last 5 champions. I don’t want to get a bunch of hate mail from you guys telling me that statistically the Bulls and Spurs are the best team and therefore should win the championship – those emails will be deleted upon receipt because that is not the purpose of this analysis.

How the Champions have Fared

The chart below shows the regular season average of the past 5 champions in a particular statistical category from 1-30 (1 being the best in the league at that stat, 30 being the worst).  The stats tracked are Points Per Game (PPG), Opponents Points Per Game (OPP), Field Goal Percentage (FG%), Free Throw Percentage (FT%), 3-Point Field Goa Percentage (3pt %), and Turnover Differential (TO Diff).

Outcome PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff
Champ 9.2 7.6 6.2 16 14 19
Runner Up 12.2 8.4 11 19.2 11 17.4

 

As we look at this data, a few surprises jump out.  First and foremost, it would seem that you don’t have to take care of the ball very well to make the NBA Finals. In fact, the last 5 champions have averaged more turnovers than the runners up.  Free throw shooting doesn’t seem to be very important either, as both champion and runner up are below league average.  Field goal percentage, team offense, and team defense appear to be very important, however as there hasn’t been a champion in the last 5 years who wasn’t in the top 10 in each of those categories.

How This Year’s Playoff Field Matches Up

Eastern Conference

PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff
Hawks 26 9 12 6 17 7
Celtics 23 1 1 11 11 22
Bulls 19 2 13 26 13 15
Pacers 13 17 26 5 16 4
Heat 8 6 2 12 7 10
76ers 18 12 15 10 15 24
Magic 16 4 16 30 10 7
Knicks 2 27 19 2 8 25

 

Western Conference

PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff
Blazers 24 7 24 3 21 29
Mavericks 11 10 5 8 11 12
Grizzlies 12 13 6 23 27 30
Spurs 6 14 4 14 1 14
Hornets 27 5 18 15 14 25
Lakers 9 8 11 7 17 21
Nuggets 1 21 3 16 3 12
Thunder 5 18 10 1 19 15

 

Each Team’s Chances

Next we will take each playoff team’s current ranking in each of the statistical categories and compare them to the past champions.  We will assign each team a ranking (1-16) based on how close they are to the average positioning of the average of the last 5 champions (basically calculating their ranking’s distance from the mean of the past 5 champions).  The team with the lowest number at the end is the team that most closely resembles previous champions and will therefore be our predicted winner. Ready, Set, Go!

 

Atlanta Hawks (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Hawks 15 3 9 10 8 14 59

The Hawks resemble a champion in just one major category – team defense.  The rest of the categories see them pretty far off the champs average, giving them an overall score of 59.  Since we are going alphabetically, I’m not sure how good that is yet, but I’m going to go with “not very.”

 

Boston Celtics (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Celtics 13 12 8 5 5 2 45

From the looks of things, the Celtics do not resemble a champion very well this year either, which is a bit surprising since they have been one of the NBA’s better teams all season long.  They are close in turnover differential and competitive in free throw and 3 point percentage, but in all other categories, they are very far off the mean.  Their overall score is 45 which puts them ahead of the Hawks, but will they be above anyone else?

 

Chicago Bulls (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Bulls 12 10 10 11 3 3 49

Uh oh. This is the best team in the East, but our metrics show that they are nowhere close to being a champion.  They compare well in terms of turnovers and three point shooting, but they are so far off of the average in the rest of the categories that its almost laughable to think they have a chance at playoff glory (by our calculations of course).  The Bulls have a better chance of winning the championship than the Hawks, but not quite as good as the Celtics – pretty close though so they are definitely a team to keep an eye on for now.

 

Dallas Mavericks (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Mavericks 3 5 2 8 6 9 33

Our first Western Conference team comes out of the gates firing.  They are in the top half of 5/6 categories and show a strong resemblance to a championship team in the areas of field goal percentage and points per game.  If the NBA Playoffs were decided with our metrics, the Mavericks would be a shoo-in to win (for now since we are only ¼ of the way through our analysis).

 

Denver Nuggets (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Nuggets 10 15 4 1 14 10 54

Let’s stay out west and take a look at the Denver Nuggets next.  They are pretty terrible in just about every category except for free throw percentage and team shooting percentage.  All other categories see them in the bottom half.  On a positive note for the Nuggets, they aren’t as far-fetched of a champion as the Atlanta Hawks are, but they are definitely low on the totem pole.

 

Indiana Pacers (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Pacers 6 13 16 12 4 16 67

We welcome a new team to the bottom of our list.  The Pacers, so far, least resemble the makeup of a champion according to our analysis.  They don’t turn the ball over at the same rate or shoot free throws and regular shots with the same accuracy as the average of our last five champions.  Their overall score of 67 is the worst yet (but we haven’t covered everyone yet so be patient). If you are rooting for Indy to win this year, you might want to save some enthusiasm for next season.

 

Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Lakers 1 1 7 9 7 1 26

These numbers will blow you away.  The Lakers hold nearly identical statistical comparisons to past champs in the areas of turnovers, points per game and team defense.  Their least similar stat is free throw percentage, but that is barely in the bottom half.  Their overall score of 26 is pretty much murdering everyone so far, but there is still room for improvement.  Will anyone slide in above the Lakers?

 

Memphis Grizzlies (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Grizzlies 4 9 1 7 16 13 50

While they may not be the most likely team to win the 2011 NBA playoffs, they aren’t exactly the worst either.  In fact, their field goal percentage is right on line with the average field goal percentage of the last 5 champions.  If there’s enough to hang your hat on with that stat, be my guest, but if you want my opinion, their turnovers and three point shooting look nothing like the past champions.

 

Miami Heat (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Heat 2 4 6 4 12 11 39

The Heat have been one of the league’s top teams all year long, even though they didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations of winning 75 games this year.  Aside from that, the Heat are one of the most feared teams coming into the playoffs, and we see now that the respect is mostly warranted.  They score like a champion, they defend and shoot free throws sort of like a champion, and their field goal percentage is kinda close to a champion’s.  When it comes to three point shooting and turnovers, however, they look nothing like champions, which is why they are below the Mavericks and Lakers on our list.  They still have a good chance to win, however, let’s not count them out.

 

New Orleans Hornets (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Hornets 16 6 13 2 1 7 45

The Hornets seem to be right around the middle in terms of resemblance to past champions.  They don’t match them stat for stat, but they aren’t way out of bounds with their rankings either.  Of all the playoff teams, they least resemble past champions in terms of team scoring and shooting percentage, but they shoot three’s and free throws very similar to teams who have won it all in the past.  Not our favorite to win the 2011 NBA Championship, but they should beat about half the teams in the field if it were played that way.

 

New York Knicks (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Knicks 9 16 14 15 11 8 73

HOLY CRAP what have we here?  This is the worst total number we have seen in our analysis to date.  They are in the bottom half of 5/6 categories and barely in the top half of the last category.  When we compare the Knicks to teams who have won it all in the past 5 years, they couldn’t be anything further from what we would want to see.  They might be a good team on paper, but they don’t quite match up with the rest of the 2011 NBA Playoff teams.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Thunder 7 14 5 16 10 4 56

This is another team that doesn’t quite look like a champion.  Their turnovers look the closest, and even then, they are ranked 4.  It just gets worse from there until it bottoms out at free throw percentage. Out of the 16 playoff teams in our analysis, they shot free throws at a rate further from the Champion’s average than any other team.  Probably not this year Thunder.

 

Orlando Magic (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Magic 8 7 12 14 9 15 65

Surprisingly, this team is pretty low in the rankings.  Although they were a competitive team in the Eastern Conference all season long, when you compare them to past champions, there is something off about them.  Their best comparative category is team defense, and they are only the 7th most similar team on the list.  They aren’t last in anything, which is a good sign, but based on our metrics, I wouldn’t expect them to be hoisting any championship banners at the end of the season.

 

Philadelphia 76ers (Eastern Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
76ers 11 8 11 6 2 5 43

The surprises just keep on coming, I guess, as we find the Sixers up near the top of our rankings.  Not quite as good as the Lakers or Mavericks, but very comparable to past champions in a few areas.  Their weaknesses are in team offense, team defense, and team field goal accuracy, but they are fairly strong in free throw shooting, three point shooting, and turnovers. Their ranking is definitely a surprise as we go through each 2011 NBA Playoff team.

 

Portland Trailblazers (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Blazers 14 2 15 13 13 12 69

Well, if it wasn’t for the Knicks, the Blazers would be far and away the least comparable team to a past champion.  In fact, if it wasn’t for their team defense looking so similar, they would be in the bottom 25% of nearly every single category – not exactly what you want to see when you look at your team’s chances.  This isn’t to say that the Blazers are a bad team, it just means that when we compare them to past champions, they look nothing like them.

 

San Antonio Spurs (Western Conference)

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Spurs 5 11 3 3 15 6 43

The last team (alphabetically) on our list is the spurs, and from what we can tell, they are definitely similar to past champions in a lot of different categories, however, bad rankings in team defense and three point shooting pull this team down below our main contenders.  Word to the wise, however, just because the Spurs stats are skewed by a couple bad categories doesn’t mean that they won’t make a serious run at the title.

We hope you enjoyed a different look at the 2011 NBA Playoff previews than you’re used to seeing.  It is going to be a fun couple of months as the playoffs wrap up.  I’ll be curious to see how well the past NBA champions can predict future winners.  Also, I saved the full set of ranking until the end.  For all you math nuts out there, I basically took the absolute value of the difference between the ranking of the average champion from the last 5 years and the current playoff team rankings from the 2010-2011 season.  Then I sorted them from low to high and assigned each stat a number from 1-16 (one being very close to the average ranking and 16 being pretty far off).  The rest is pretty obvious.

Team PPG OPP FG % FT % 3pt % TO Diff Total
Lakers 1 1 7 9 7 1 26
Mavericks 3 5 2 8 6 9 33
Heat 2 4 6 4 12 11 39
76ers 11 8 11 6 2 5 43
Spurs 5 11 3 3 15 6 43
Celtics 13 12 8 5 5 2 45
Hornets 16 6 13 2 1 7 45
Bulls 12 10 10 11 3 3 49
Grizzlies 4 9 1 7 16 13 50
Nuggets 10 15 4 1 14 10 54
Thunder 7 14 5 16 10 4 56
Hawks 15 3 9 10 8 14 59
Magic 8 7 12 14 9 15 65
Pacers 6 13 16 12 4 16 67
Blazers 14 2 15 13 13 12 69
Knicks 9 16 14 15 11 8 73

 

 

About Aaron Garcia

Aaron is an avid sports fan who passionately follows the NFL, NBA and MLB, in addition to NCAA Sports. He is an Arizona State University grad who loves the Dodgers and the Patriots.

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