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April 26, 2012
Playoff Rotations
Projecting Performance

by Kevin Pelton

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With the benefit of hindsight, last year's playoff run by the Dallas Mavericks was more predictable than the Mavericks' pedestrian regular-season performance indicated. When Dallas was six games into its eventual march to a championship, I took a look at the lineups the Mavericks were using and found they were much more effective than the team's overall performance. Playing without an injured Dirk Nowitzki had artificially limited Dallas' point differential (and record), while the addition of Peja Stojakovic midseason strengthened the bench for the postseason.

As this year's playoffs approach, then, I wanted to take a look at the likely rotations for playoff teams to see who might be underestimated like the Mavericks were a year ago. Since projecting out lineups would be too difficult to do, I instead looked at the on-court results in terms of team Offensive and Defensive Ratings (mostly via BasketballValue.com, but with NBA.com/Stats filling in data for the Memphis Grizzlies and players that changed teams) weighted by projected playing time. Applying the same method to Dallas a year ago doesn't show as dramatic a difference as the lineup analysis, but does improve the Mavericks' projected net differential from +4.5 points per 100 possessions to +5.4.

Here are this year's leaders by conference, along with projected Offensive and Defensive Ratings, rankings, and their unadjusted net differential for comparison's sake.

Team             ORtg     DRtg    Net   ORk   DRk    Net
--------------------------------------------------------
Chicago         106.9     98.4    8.5     6     1    8.8
Miami           107.7     99.9    7.8     5     4    6.6
Philadelphia    104.9     99.2    5.7    11     3    5.5
Indiana         106.7    102.5    4.2     7     9    3.5
Atlanta         103.4    101.7    1.7    14     7    2.3
Boston          101.7    100.0    1.7    16     5    1.0
New York        104.5    102.8    1.7    12    11    2.0
Orlando         105.0    104.3    0.7    10    12    0.6

Team             ORtg     DRtg    Net   ORk   DRk    Net
--------------------------------------------------------
San Antonio     111.8    102.5    9.3     1     9    7.7
Oklahoma City   109.3    102.4    6.9     2     8    6.3
L.A. Clippers   108.8    104.7    4.1     3    14    2.9
Denver          108.5    105.2    3.3     4    15    3.1
Memphis         102.4     99.1    3.3    15     2    1.9
Dallas          103.9    101.6    2.3    13     6    1.3
L.A. Lakers     106.4    104.4    2.0     8    13    1.8
Utah            106.4    106.9   -0.5     8    16   -0.9

For the most part, these results mirror net differential, so the biggest surprises--Philadelphia in the East and Denver in the West are really examples of teams that have underachieved compared to their projected record. In the case of the 76ers, the difference between their expected record based on differential (.651) and their winning percentage (.538) is historic. Only the 1985-86 Sonics (.378 versus .497) have ever underperformed more by this regard, and just five teams--none since 1997-98--have had a difference or more than 100 percentage points.

Note that the Grizzlies' ratings are a little lower at both ends because of the different method used to define possessions by NBA.com/Stats. Memphis is seventh overall in Defensive Rating, so they're not quite as good as that end of the floor as these numbers make it appear, but also not as bad on offense. In terms of net rating, this is essentially a wash.

Let's take a more detailed look at each team's rotation and what's driving any differences.

Atlanta Hawks

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Jeff Teague         32   106.1    102.3
Kirk Hinrich        25   102.9    103.7
Joe Johnson         36   105.7    102.4
Josh Smith          35   105.6    101.5
Jason Collins        5    89.2     95.2
Jannero Pargo       14   101.7     97.5
Willie Green        14   100.3    105.9
Tracy McGrady       14   100.7     98.6
Marvin Williams     27   103.9    103.5
Vladimir Radmanovic  5   102.7     96.9
Ivan Johnson        23   100.1     99.7
Zaza Pachulia       10   104.1    102.9

The Hawks come out a little worse because of injuries. Al Horford isn't expected to play until at least the conference semifinals, should Atlanta advance, and Zaza Pachulia's minutes may be limited. More Jason Collins is bad news for the Hawks.

Boston Celtics

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Rajon Rondo         38   103.6    100.4
Avery Bradley       30   100.5     97.1
Paul Pierce         40   102.6     99.9
Brandon Bass        35   103.4    100.5
Kevin Garnett       34   104.1     98.5
Keyon Dooling       10    94.3    106.9
Ray Allen           18   102.5    101.2
Mickael Pietrus     15   100.5    100.4
Greg Stiemsma       20    95.0    101.2

The Celtics benefit more from tightening their rotation than almost anyone else in the league, given the massive gap in performance between their starters and their reserves. Predict a healthy Ray Allen for more minutes and Boston emerges as the better team than Atlanta.

Chicago Bulls

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Derrick Rose        40   109.4     99.3
Richard Hamilton    25   108.2    101.4
Luol Deng           42   106.2     97.1
Carlos Boozer       30   107.1    102.0
Joakim Noah         30   107.9    101.2
C.J. Watson         12   103.7    103.0
Ronnie Brewer       10   106.0     97.9
Kyle Korver         15   108.0     97.1
Taj Gibson          22   105.7     90.6
Omer Asik           14   101.1     91.6

Chicago comes out weaker by this method than overall. Part of the reason is using C.J. Watson rather than John Lucas as the backup point guard. The Bulls have been far stronger with Lucas on the floor this season.

Indiana Pacers

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
George Hill         35   106.8    102.8
Paul George         32   107.0    100.3
Danny Granger       36   108.9    101.4
David West          33   107.6    101.5
Roy Hibbert         30   108.2    102.6
Darren Collison     18   107.1    103.1
Leandro Barbosa     23   105.4    105.1
Tyler Hansbrough    18   103.0    104.4
Louis Amundson      15   102.0    104.1

Miami Heat

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Mario Chalmers      30   108.7     99.1
Dwyane Wade         38   109.5     99.6
LeBron James        39   109.4     99.9
Chris Bosh          35   109.5    100.0
Joel Anthony        18   111.5    100.3
Mike Miller         18   110.9    102.0
James Jones          8   105.3    101.9
Shane Battier       15   105.3    101.2
Udonis Haslem       24   103.0    100.2
Ronny Turiaf        15    96.1     96.4

Projecting a playoff rotation improves the Heat's projected net differential by 1.2 points, the largest change of any East team. Much of that is removing the ineffective Norris Cole from the lineup. Making these adjustments brings Miami-Chicago to close to a tossup, whereas overall statistics show the Bulls as the clear favorites.

New York Knicks

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Baron Davis         25   106.7    103.4
Iman Shumpert       32   104.9    102.2
Carmelo Anthony     40   105.5    103.7
Amare Stoudemire    30   100.5    104.2
Tyson Chandler      35   103.2    101.8
Mike Bibby          10    97.2    107.1
J.R. Smith          28   107.5    103.3
Landry Fields       20   105.0    100.6
Steve Novak         20   106.2    100.7

I figured the Knicks would improve much more by this method than they did, given how massively different their rotation is now than at the start of the season. However, long minutes for Amar'e Stoudemire could work against them. New York would also do well to excise Mike Bibby from the rotation.

Orlando Magic

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Jameer Nelson       35   109.2    105.3
Jason Richardson    28   107.0    103.1
Hedo Turkoglu       32   108.6    104.3
Ryan Anderson       40   110.2    103.9
Glen Davis          35   100.6    104.0
Chris Duhon         13   101.9    100.8
J.J. Redick         26   104.1    105.1
Quentin Richardson  10    95.0    102.0
Earl Clark           8    91.1    106.5
Daniel Orton        13    98.4    108.3

The back end of the Magic's post-Dwight Howard rotation has been ineffective, but the likely return of Hedo Turkoglu will help significantly.

Philadelphia 76ers

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Jrue Holiday        35   103.5     98.9
Jodie Meeks         25   104.1     97.9
Andre Iguodala      38   103.5     97.6
Elton Brand         34   103.9     97.1
Spencer Hawes       20   104.9    101.8
Louis Williams      30   107.3    100.7
Evan Turner         20   104.6    100.9
Thaddeus Young      28   108.3    100.7
Nikola Vucevic      10   103.3     98.8

The Sixers have been more or less going with their playoff rotation for the last month, so don't expect things to change much, for better or for worse.

Dallas Mavericks

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Jason Kidd          34   103.6    100.9
Delonte West        22    97.8     98.4
Shawn Marion        30   101.5    102.2
Dirk Nowitzki       36   106.3    100.5
Brendan Haywood     17   102.8     99.9
Rodrigue Beaubois   15   105.7    103.6
Jason Terry         34   104.5    104.8
Vince Carter        23   107.3     99.9
Brandan Wright      20   105.7    104.7
Ian Mahinmi          9   103.1    100.5

This year's Mavericks actually improve more than last year's group by projecting a rotation, largely because Lamar Odom was so ineffective. However, Dallas' overall numbers are way, way down from 2010-11, so this still leaves them sixth in the West.

Denver Nuggets

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Ty Lawson           35   107.7    105.2
Arron Afflalo       39   107.3    106.0
Danilo Gallinari    35   108.6    100.9
Kenneth Faried      25   109.5    108.6
Kosta Koufos        15   110.3    104.5
Andre Miller        26   110.6    105.9
Corey Brewer        18   107.3    106.0
Al Harrington       25   108.9    103.9
JaVale McGee        22   106.9    107.3

The Nuggets are another team whose rotation will be almost entirely unchanged, though their results during the regular season have been better than most people have noticed. Denver might be the favorite in a series with the L.A. Lakers.

L.A. Clippers

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Chris Paul          38   112.8    105.7
Randy Foye          24   106.4    105.0
Caron Butler        28   112.8    105.5
Blake Griffin       36   112.2    105.1
DeAndre Jordan      30   110.5    104.1
Eric Bledsoe        12   102.4     98.7
Maurice Williams    24   107.2    107.6
Nick Young          15   103.3    102.2
Reggie Evans         8   100.8    110.5
Kenyon Martin       25   103.7    101.7

The Clippers' current rotation has been solid over the last month and a half. Check out how well the team defends with Eric Bledsoe on the floor.

L.A. Lakers

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Ramon Sessions      28   109.5    106.8
Kobe Bryant         38   106.3    103.0
Matt Barnes         30   107.3    104.6
Pau Gasol           39   106.6    103.0
Andrew Bynum        33   105.3    103.2
Steve Blake         25   104.2    103.1
Devin Ebanks        23   107.2    104.4
Josh McRoberts      15   103.8    110.4
Troy Murphy          9   105.9    104.9

From this limited perspective, Metta World Peace's suspension may actually help the Lakers. They were +1.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor this season, worse than their performance with either Matt Barnes or Devin Ebanks and their overall level of play. Note that I did not include hero of the hour Jordan Hill because he did not play enough minutes with the Lakers for the results to be reliable.

Memphis Grizzlies

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Mike Conley         32   104.4     98.9
Tony Allen          28   102.6     96.0
Rudy Gay            36   102.3    100.5
Zach Randolph       30   106.1     99.5
Marc Gasol          34   102.8     97.9
Gilbert Arenas      10   103.5     97.8
O.J. Mayo           28   100.4    100.4
Quincy Pondexter    10   100.9     98.8
Dante Cunningham    10    97.5     98.6
Marreese Speights   22    98.3    101.2

The Grizzlies take the second-largest leap of any team when projecting their playoff rotation, largely because Gilbert Arenas has been so much more effective than rookies Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby as a backup to Mike Conley. If Arenas' injuries are a problem, Memphis now has Lester Hudson as an alternative to Pargo and Selby.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Russell Westbrook   37   110.0    102.9
Thabo Sefolosha     20   103.5     95.1
Kevin Durant        39   109.8    103.3
Serge Ibaka         28   107.7    101.7
Kendrick Perkins    28   105.5    102.2
Derek Fisher        18   105.8    101.7
James Harden        32   115.0    105.7
Daequan Cook        10   105.9    100.7
Nick Collison       22   114.9    104.5
Nazr Mohammed        6   110.0    103.8

One small way the Thunder could help itself is by directing more minutes to Daequan Cook in small lineups rather than Derek Fisher, though the team has performed reasonably well with Fisher on the floor. Nick Collison finishing games instead of Kendrick Perkins would also apparently be an upgrade.

San Antonio Spurs

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Tony Parker         34   110.1    101.2
Daniel Green        18   109.4    102.1
Kawhi Leonard       19   109.9    104.8
Tim Duncan          34   107.9    100.7
Tiago Splitter      20   113.0    103.1
Gary Neal           20   112.4    106.1
Manu Ginobili       28   121.0    106.2
Stephen Jackson     25   110.5     99.9
Matt Bonner         18   115.8    102.1
DeJuan Blair        12   105.6    105.3
Boris Diaw          12   112.9     96.5

Good luck predicting which of his 11 good players Gregg Popovich will use from series to series, let alone game to game. The Spurs improve more than any other team by this method, for a couple of reasons. First, nobody has had more garbage time than San Antonio. Second, the Spurs have been lights-out with newcomers Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson in the rotation. Check out those net ratings.

Utah Jazz

Player             MPG    ORtg     DRtg
---------------------------------------
Devin Harris        35   108.2    108.4
Gordon Hayward      37   107.4    107.5
DeMarre Carroll     14   109.0    110.4
Paul Millsap        38   108.7    106.4
Al Jefferson        37   109.3    108.3
Jamaal Tinsley      14   106.1    108.5
Alec Burks          12   103.6    104.8
C.J. Miles          17   103.1    105.5
Derrick Favors      26   101.2    103.1
Enes Kanter         10    96.4    104.3

Unfortunately, this method probably doesn't go far enough to demonstrate how the Jazz might be improved in the postseason. Utah has been outscored by 1.9 points per 100 possessions with Derrick Favors on the floor, but as David Locke has noted on Twitter, that's largely because Favors' minutes overlapped with those of rookie Enes Kanter. When Favors was on the floor with another starting big, the Jazz was far more effective. And when Favors played with both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, well, saying it saved the season turned out not to be hyperbole.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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