NBA predictions time

by on November 3, 2013 at 7:24 am in Sports | Permalink

It’s that time of year.   Against the conventional wisdom, I’m going to opt for the Brooklyn Nets.  They have an excellent front line, a very good starting five, and a deep bench.  Garnett and Pierce still have something to prove, although my hypothesis does require an attitude upgrade from Deron Williams.  They are more like some of the old Pistons teams than a “single best player team.”  A healthy Miami Heat is a stronger contender but Wade is already being rested for back-to-back games, which does not augur well for a long playoff run.  Chicago needs a more creative offense and Indiana doesn’t seem quite ready to win a title, though they may knock off Miami in a playoff series.

The most overrated team is the Los Angeles Clippers (Griffin is more a spectacular player than a great player and Chris Paul is bad for team morale).  So who will win the West?  When in doubt, and when it seems no one deserves to win, ask these two questions: a) does the team have world-class defense?  b) which is the team with the single best player?  That leaves you with San Antonio and Oklahoma as the two units with the best chances.  Each seems too weakened to take home an entire title.

By the way, here is a new study of where NBA players come from, note this: “Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the N.B.A. for both black and white men.”

1 albert magnus November 3, 2013 at 7:58 am

The Rockets look amazing in the first three games.

2 Andy November 3, 2013 at 10:07 am

It is a little surprising that Tyler chose not to mention the team with 2 of the top 10 players in the league.

3 mike November 3, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I used to like Dwight Howard but he has utterly failed to be any kind of player than could fit on a championship team. He is greedy about the ball and either doesn’t care whether his team wins or deluded about how games are won in the 21st century NBA. James Harden is similar from a guard perspective, he seems to be of the Jerry Stackhouse mindset, and it’s certainly suspicious that he left a team with legit championship potential over his personal diva issues. Top 10 players in the league? Maybe statistically, but not if you want to build a championship team.

4 mike November 3, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Just to be clear, the problem with the Jerry Stackhouse mindset and the 90s-early2000s mentality specifically is looking at total points scored rather than points per shot or per possession. It’s the mentality that doesn’t bother working the clock and moving the ball for corner threes because you score more by taking early-clock low percentage jump shots from the top of the key. It’s retarded ghetto basketball strategy, and it’s been blown out of the water by intelligently coached teams like the Spurs and the Heat but it just won’t die.

5 Mike in Qingdao November 3, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Actually, James Harden is one of the most efficient guards in the NBA. His game is one of the least like “Jerry Stackhouse”. Harden shoots 3’s, gets to the rim, gets to the foul line, and shoots relatively few isolation mid range jumpers. His true shooting percentage, a measure adjusted for foul shots and 3’s is 14th in the league.

How long have you been watching James Harden?

6 mike November 4, 2013 at 8:40 am

Harden was ultra-efficient his last year with OKC but became a chucker when he was given the opportunity.

7 Mike in Qingdao November 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I’m going to need some evidence of “chucking”. PER, True Shooting Percentage, win shares, plus-minus, something.

8 Will November 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm

James Harden didn’t leave a team with championship potential, he was traded away by a team with championship potential. Big difference.

9 mike November 4, 2013 at 8:38 am

Harden forced a trade because he was unhappy with the way he was being used, and was demanding a max contract.

10 Kdv November 6, 2013 at 1:13 am

Demanded a trade? Revisionist history. He wanted a max contract, just like anyone else who has a breakout year.

11 Alan Coffey November 3, 2013 at 8:05 am

Yea, so do the Sixers ;-(

12 Red Hill November 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

Sports predictions ?

76 experts made 2013 World Series predictions for,,, and prior to the season: Not only did none of the experts predict the Red Sox to win the World Series, none of them even had the Red Sox winning the American League and not one had the Cardinals winning the National League.

13 Rahul November 3, 2013 at 8:12 am

Were these so called sports pundits & commentators or just nerdy statisticians unleashing their algorithms on mountains of Big Data?

These days I kinda trust the latter group’s predictions more that the former. The more we validate punditry (in sports, elections, etc.) versus hard data we discover the hollowness of the expertise of a lot of traditional theorizing commentators.

14 Careless November 3, 2013 at 10:37 am

Baseball is much more random than the NBA, aside from major injuries to stars.

15 Max Factor November 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Agreed – big data isn’t useful with MLB. The best MLB teams always have the least injuries and the most “where did he come from” breakout performances. Big data simply averages out the last three years of a player’s stats and picks a safe projection for the following year. But it’s all about outliers and health. And some guys are too random to project (e.g. Alex Rios – he alternates between star and scrub).

16 Frederic November 3, 2013 at 8:43 am

Tyler Cowen is a polymath.

17 Go Kings, Go! November 4, 2013 at 3:25 pm

These digressions offer instructive reminders. When Profs. Cowen & Tabarrok wander into areas where I feel knowledgable to make below average observations (i.e., traffic flow, NBA, pop-culture, legal practice, statutory law), it reminds me that their expert opinions on economics could suffer from similar flaws.

Having said that, Prof. Cowen’s right about the Clippers, with the possible difference being the most excellent Doc Rivers (remember when Bill Simmons demanded that the Celtics fire him as a crappy coach? Yeah, experts).

Brooklyn’s 12-1, go make money. I liked Warriors at 25-1.

18 Gbenga November 3, 2013 at 8:45 am

Wade is being rested on the second night of back-to-backs so he can make a long playoff run. Last year he hurt himself during their 27 game winning streak which limited his availability in the playoffs.

19 Brooks November 3, 2013 at 10:38 am

Agreed; it’s quite possible that Wade’s rest on second halves of back-to-backs now should actually raise the likelihood of another Heat championship.

20 Mike November 3, 2013 at 8:56 am

The NY Times piece makes it sound like it’s a rarity for an NBA player to have grown up as a poor black kid, but leaves out the distribution of the population in each of the county quintiles. While I don’t doubt that an individual player who grew up in a richer neighborhood may have a greater chance, I suspect the distribution of players is such that more black NBA players come from the poorer quintiles than from the richer ones.

21 Chappy8 November 3, 2013 at 11:08 am

OK, I think Tyler must be referring to the 2000s version of the Pistons when he is comparing them to the Nets. I can agree there since both teams have many players of high average quality, but I still think he is off. Pierce, Garnett and Williams are all top all time players and the 2000s version of the Pistons didn’t really have one of those guys. If Tyler is referring to the 1990s Pistons then he knows nothing about basketball or is very seriously underrating Isiah Thomas.

22 mike November 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Garnett is running on fumes at this point. Rasheed Wallace in his years with Detroit was comparable to Garnett now, and Chauncey Billups was a better pure point guard than Deron Williams is now, has ever been, or ever will be.

23 tj November 3, 2013 at 11:09 am

Just as with bounceyball, I’m going to tune in for the last few comments of this thread

24 Robert November 3, 2013 at 11:13 am

The Heat? They should be there in the end but they came within 28 seconds of losing last year’s NBA championship by 5 points & are now resting Wade for the long grind of the season and playoffs. No doubt it will be harder for them this year. Brooklyn? I sense Pierce and Garnett may be out of gas. Chicago? They have a great defense but I can’t see their offense taking them to the championship. Indiana is probably the team to beat in the East.

25 mkt November 5, 2013 at 2:25 am

I find this the best of the comments (and better than Tyler’s predictions). But I still favor the Heat in the East. Yes, they have to baby Wade by limiting his playing time. But the most innovative thinker along those lines has been none other than the Heat’s foe last year’s finals, Popovich, who for years has been giving massive amounts of rest to his top players in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs. As you point out, it came within 28 seconds of working.

Popovich has been so extreme in this rest-your-players-during-the-regular season strategy that he literally got fined by the NBA last season for deliberately not playing some of his best players. That’s the sign of an outside-the-box thinker, the transgressive innovator. And Pop’s track record is without peer, now that Jackson and Riley are retired from coaching.

So Wade is aging and needs to be handled with kid gloves? BFD, Popovich has been dealing with that for years, successfully. Spoelstra shows every sign of being willing to follow Popvich’s innovative ways, good news for the Heat.

You’re right though that the Pacers represent even more of a threat this year than they did last year. Given a choice I still go with the Heat though.

26 zz November 3, 2013 at 11:17 am

Agree with everything here. excellent analysis Tyler.

I’m surprised more people don’t talk about the negative impact Chris Paul has on a team. Charles Barkley comes close when he says “the toughest guy on your team can’t be 5’7” “, but I think he means this as an implicit criticism of players other than Chris Paul, which misses the key point….

27 will November 3, 2013 at 6:32 pm

What is the criticism on Paul? Googled and couldnt find any.

28 basketball comment November 3, 2013 at 9:22 pm

google chris paul aggressiveness (lack thereof, in his own opinion)

29 greg November 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Seems like Tyler should expand on why he thinks Chris Paul is bad for team morale. I don’t believe this is conventional wisdom around the league, although I know Paul and Blake were not getting along at points last year.

30 derek November 3, 2013 at 11:56 am

I really can’t agree with the Thunder analysis. Outside of Durant, this team has basically no offense, and the rule changes make it much more difficult for a non-penetrating scorer to dominate. Even if Lamb makes a significant leap, this team can’t score, and its defense is only pretty good rather than elite.

31 Ethan November 3, 2013 at 1:11 pm

The most fake and rigged sport in the world.

32 Hadur November 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Yes. Our grandchildren will mock us for thinking that NBA outcomes are not scripted.

33 zz November 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I find this is a common sentiment, yet I do not understand why.

Do you feel it is rigged with \ without the player’s participation? If so, what is the mechanism? Referees or something else?

34 Levi November 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Foul calls in basketball do seem a bit more random than in other sports. Given the smaller area than football (so possible fouls can have a greater effect than in say football) and increased action than say baseball, it’s much more likely that a missed call or bad call will determine an outcome. That plus the Donaghy allegations means some folks will jump to the conclusion that the games are rigged.

Personally, I don’t see it while admitting there have been some terrible examples that go against my belief like Game 6 of the Kings/Lakers series in 2002 and the 2007 leaving the bench penalties against the Suns. Both teams got a raw deal and, in all likelihood, would’ve had a good chance or would’ve won the NBA title if not for the way the game was officiated/regulated. Even with my belief in the sanctity of the game, as a Mavs fan, I don’t look forward to Danny Crawford officiated games given our track record in them, see here for an advanced look at this.

The more generalized claim from Donaghy that certain refs have particular biases towards types of play seems much more plausible than refs having vendettas against individual players or organizations. It seems possible that a given ref prefers a certain style of play that would benefit a certain team. Like a ref preferring slow, methodical, tough basketball rather than an open, anti-hand checking style. Though a lot of that is nonsense, see this story.

35 Vali1005 November 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm

The NBA finals series of Spurs – Nets, Spurs – Pistons, Spurs – Cavaliers and ’06 Mavericks – Heat would like to have a word with you…

36 Jay November 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Ask yourself, “Does the distribution of NBA players by race match the general population?” If it doesn’t, in true liberal fashion one must boycott the NBA for being racist.

37 billb November 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Indiana – Trailblazers

38 Michael Josem November 4, 2013 at 6:14 am

I’m surprised that an economics blog makes predictions of this sort without any coherent statistical analysis.

You should check out at who have done some sophisticated regression analysis to actually find out what causes teams to win.

39 bartman November 4, 2013 at 9:14 am

Blogs don’t make predictions. People do.

40 Apso November 5, 2013 at 11:35 am
41 EnerGeoPolitics November 5, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Golden State . . . if they can stay healthy; a big if given the histories of Curry and Bogut

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