Our NBA 'AWP Rankings': Spurs, Mavs 1 And 2

The debate: What is the best way to measure and rank the teams in the NBA? Is simple W/L standings good enough? Do they always give an accurate picture? What about the Hollinger rankings? Should "margin of victory" be the driving force behind ranking teams? What about the Stein rankings? Is that too subjective to truly tell us where teams fall in relation to one another? We've got the answer: AWP.

The bigger question is this: What are you trying to measure? Here at DB.com we are bringing back our own rankings that attempt to answer these questions and offer one voice in the midst of the debate.

The "Adjusted Winning Percentage" Rankings.

When setting about to make rankings you have to ask yourself a few questions:

1) What data needs to be gathered?

2) What are the most important factors in measuring a team's prowess?

3) How can all this diverse data come together in a way that is responsible and actually telling?

After considering all these questions and sifting through a lot of possibilities, we chose to bring seven winning percentages together into one single rating. The choice to focus only on winning percentages was threefold: 1) Winning is the goal of basketball, 2) there are many different ways to win and fixating on certain numbers within a box-score can be deceiving, and 3) everything brought together needs to be of a similar quality so we are comparing "apples to apples."

The seven winning percentages we included:

1) Home winning percentage

  • Measures a team's ability to protect its home-court advantage.

2) Road winning percentage

  • This percentage was given slightly more weight than home winning percentage in order to capture the need to be able to win on the road in the playoffs. Strong road teams are more likely to "steal" games in the playoffs.

3) Close-game (3 pts or less) winning percentage

  • This was chosen because winning close games is more than luck and requires BBIQ, veteran savvy, and clutch play from clutch players. There are many close games in the playoffs and the ability to find ways to win more often than not is important.

4) Winning percentage against teams with a +0.500 record

  • This measurement is helpful for measuring a team's ability to "show up" for the big games against tough competition. The playoffs are inevitably against teams with good records and so this measurement can give some insight into a team's ability to play with "the big boys."

5) Pythagorean winning percentage

  • Pythagorean winning percentage is the expected winning percentage based on points scored and points allowed. This is a derivative of "margin of victory" and measures that popular quantity in a winning percentage form. This is helpful because good teams tend to "put teams away" and get larger margins of victory. This is also one way of measuring "killer instinct." This winning percentage receives the largest say in our final rating because it has been shown that there is a strong correlation between Pythagorean winning percentage and playoff success.

6) Last 10 games winning percentage

  • This winning percentage helps determine how "hot" or "cold" a team currently is. This is important for determining which teams are "putting it altogether" and which ones are "falling apart."

7) The winning percentage of all opponents

  • This final winning percentage measures the level of competition that each team has faced during the year. This tends to even out towards the end of the year, but often there will be one conference, which is much stronger than the other, and this can help account for those differences. In our formula this winning percentage is used as a final adjusting factor for the previous six winning percentages.

So when we put these seven winning percentages together into our formula we get what we call "Adjusted Winning Percentage" or AWP. This winning percentage is meant to bring all of the above factors into one rating that can help show the strength of each team in the areas that usually correlate with playoff success (based on the last decade of results in the NBA).

The following are the results for all NBA play through December 1, 2010:

Adjusted Winning Percentage

Last (4/22)

Change

1

Spurs

83.6

9

+8

2

Mavericks

78.4

6

+4

3

Celtics

75.4

12

+9

4

Jazz

71.4

4

0

5

Magic

68.1

1

-4

6

Hornets

67.1

20

+14

7

Nuggets

63.2

5

-2

8

Bulls

62.3

17

+9

9

Thunder

61.6

11

+2

10

Lakers

58.4

3

-7

11

Pacers

57.7

21

+10

12

Heat

56.4

13

+1

13

Hawks

54.0

8

-5

14

Suns

46.8

7

-7

15

Grizzlies

45.6

18

+3

16

Trailblazers

42.5

10

-6

17

Bucks

40.5

14

-3

18

Rockets

39.7

16

-2

19

Knicks

38.2

23

+4

20

Raptors

37.4

19

-1

21

Bobcats

35.6

15

-6

22

Warriors

32.2

22

0

23

76ers

32.1

24

+1

24

Cavaliers

31.5

2

-22

25

Nets

30.2

30

+5

26

Pistons

27.6

25

-1

27

Clippers

23.2

28

+1

28

Wizards

23.0

26

-2

29

Kings

21.1

27

-2

30

Wolves

21.1

29

-1

What do we see in these rankings?

  • We see 6 teams above the 65.0% mark. Why does this number matter? Over the last decade the average AWP of the NBA Champion was around 70.0% with the only team dipping below the 65.0% mark being the anomalous 2006 Miami Heat (yes, we know it hurts). It is very early in the season and these rankings can change a lot, but it seems that our NBA champion this year will almost certainly come from a team in the 65.0+ bracket. Right now that means that the Spurs, Mavs, Celtics, Jazz, Magic, and Hornets are the only teams that have shown championship pedigree over this first section of the season.

  • In the early going the Spurs have really distinguished themselves as the best team (outpacing the second place Mavs by a remarkable 5.2%) with their long double-digit win-streak, 6-2 record against winning teams, 8-0 road record, and a +9.0 margin of victory. It is remarkable that the Spurs organization continues to put together such successful and sound basketball teams one year after the next.

  • The Lakers are surprisingly ranked an eye-opening, low 10th (and are 6.6% below the 65.0% threshold) even though they have a 13-5 record. Why? The Lakers are a pathetic 1-3 against winning teams, have played one of the weakest schedules in the league, are only 5-5 over the last ten games, and have played most of their games at home. We expect the Lakers to move themselves back into the mix by the end of the season, but at this juncture their 13-5 record is deceptive.

  • The Heat are surprisingly 8.6 percentage points from being in the 65.0+ bracket even though they have one of the best margins of victory (+6.2) in the league. Why? They are a miserable 1-7 against winning teams, 2-5 on the road, and 0-3 in close games. The Heat seem to have enough talent to push themselves back into the championship conversation as the season progresses, but that will require them to gel in a way that frankly seems unlikely to us at this juncture.

  • The Mavs are 2nd place in the league in AWP. Why? They have been stellar on the road (6-1), have played one of the toughest schedules in the league, are a wonderful 7-3 against winning teams, have a decent margin of victory (+5.2 compared to +2.7 last year), and are 8-2 over their last 10 games.

The Big Gainers since last season:

1) Hornets: +14 spots

2) Pacers: +10 spots

3) Bulls: +9 spots

4) Celtics: +9 spots

5) Spurs: +8 spots

6) Nets: +5 spots

7) Mavs: +4 spots

The Big Losers since last season:

1) Cavs: -22 spots

2) Suns: -7 spots

3) Lakers: -7 spots

4) Trailblazers: -6 spots

5) Bobcats: -6 spots

6) Hawks: -5 spots

7) Magic: -4 spots

Here then is a comparison to some other ways of ranking:

AWP

(12/1)

W/L

(12/1)

Hollinger

(12/1)

Stein

(11/29)

Average

Spurs

1

1

1

1

1.0

Mavericks

2

2

4

2

2.5

Celtics

3

2

2

3

2.5

Jazz

4

5

6

6

5.3

Magic

5

2

7

4

4.5

Hornets

6

7

8

7

7.0

Nuggets

7

9

11

10

9.3

Bulls

8

11

5

8

8.0

Thunder

9

8

12

9

9.5

Lakers

10

6

3

5

6.0

Pacers

11

12

10

11

11.0

Heat

12

13

9

13

11.8

Hawks

13

10

13

15

12.8

Suns

14

15

19

14

15.5

Grizzlies

15

17

16

17

16.3

Trailblazers

16

15

20

12

15.8

Bucks

17

20

15

18

17.5

Rockets

18

26

18

20

20.5

Knicks

19

14

17

16

16.5

Raptors

20

20

21

23

21.0

Bobcats

21

20

14

22

19.3

Warriors

22

17

27

21

21.8

76ers

23

27

23

26

24.8

Cavaliers

24

19

25

19

21.8

Nets

25

23

22

24

23.5

Pistons

26

23

24

25

24.5

Clippers

27

30

26

28

27.8

Wizards

28

25

29

27

27.3

Kings

29

28

30

30

29.3

Wolves

30

29

28

29

29.0

So what can we conclude about the Mavs from all this?

The Mavs have been wonderful so far (with a 13-4 record) and stand solidly as the 2nd best team in the league (according to AWP) at this early juncture in the season. The Mavs have played one of the toughest schedules in the league (including a crazy 4 games in 5 nights) and have come out looking strong and full of team chemistry. All this with Roddy B sitting out (healing his fractured foot) and some key players underperforming. With Roddy B coming back in the next few weeks and the possibility of Butler, JJB, and Haywood coming out of their early slumps, the Mavs are poised and ready to make more noise come playoff-time than they have since 2006.

Visit the DB.com Store: DB.com Night at the Mavs on Dec. 28, two tickets and a T-shirt for $22!

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