Tuesday, August 23, 2005

How Good Were the Spurs?

Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis good.

No, seriously, that's a good team. I can't believe Detroit took them to a seventh game. Possibly the miracle of the young century.

We've crunched the numbers here at el Bloggo del Sacramento Kings and it's not pretty. Using proportional scoring margins (we'll explain why below), we calculated the rankings for the Western Conference for the last regular season. Phoenix may have had the most wins, but you'll see here that San Antonio was a much, much better team.

Here's the meat:

Team Scoring Margin
SAS 8.83
PHX 6.89
DAL 5.94
HOU 4.43
MEM 2.52
SEA 2.37
SAC 2.13
DEN 2.08
MIN 1.52
LAC -0.80
GSW -2.14
LAL -2.91
POR -4.13
UTA -4.39
NOH -7.41

The number is the proportional scoring margin for each team. The scoring margin for a team is easy - it's a team's points scored for minus the point's scored against. The proportional scoring margin is, then, the margin divided by the points against.

For instance, the above stats show us that San Antonio, over the course of 82 games, scored 8.83% more points than it allowed. New Orleans scored 7.41% less points than its opponents.

Why scoring margin and not wins? Well, there's a reason Sportscenter shows you that the Kings lost 122-118, not just that the Kings lost. A small margin tells you that the teams that played were pretty evenly matched that night. A wide margin tells you one team played much better than the other.

But the Suns won more games than the Spurs! Yeah, but some of those were close "toss-up" games and some of the losses were baaaad. The Spurs were more consistent - they typically won games solidly and didn't lose big when they did lose. (And because of SA's horrible foul-shooting, they probably lost some close ones they should've won - thus skewing the won-loss column.)

It's been proven that over the course of a season, a margin will tell you how many games a team should win with very reasonable accuracy - it makes sense because scoring and not allowing your opponent to score decides who wins and loses. (See this Dean Oliver article for more in-depth analysis on the scoring margin-winning percentage correlation.)

So why proportional scoring margin, then? Because raw scoring margin tells you a lot, but not everything.

For example, if Phoenix beats Houston 113-100, its scoring margin for that game is +13. San Antonio then beats Seattle 80-70, for a scoring margin of +10. Phoenix was better than SA, right?

Wrong. Phoenix scored 13% more points than its opponent. But SA scored 14.2% more than its foe - which is more impressive. This deflates the heightened pace the Suns play at and normalizes the scoring margins. It makes visceral sense, too - 10 points in a low scoring contest (where every point counts) is more valuable than 13 points in a higher scoring affair (where opportunities are plentiful thanks to pace).

Questions in the comments. Suggestion for further analysis likewise. Tylenol and decaf appreciated.

6 Comments:

Anonymous actionBERG said...

Interesting stats. But you I don't think you can really say San Antonio was a "much, much better team." Sorry for this being so long...

"And because of SA's horrible foul-shooting, they probably lost some close ones they should've won - thus skewing the won-loss column."
I think a mark of a good team is its ability to win close games down the stretch in the 4th quarter. If Pheonix is winning the close games and San Antonio is not because of foul shooting, I would say that Pheonix is the better team (in that situation).

The proportional scoring margin may be a good indicator of how a team will do, but in the end, I think wins and losses still determine who the better regular season team is, especially in an 82 game season.

"For example, if Phoenix beats Houston 113-100, its scoring margin for that game is +13. San Antonio then beats Seattle 80-70, for a scoring margin of +10. Phoenix was better than SA, right?"
I would say that you can't answer this question. What if Pheonix was up by 30 and then played their bench for the whole 4th quarter. What if San Antonio was only winning by 2 late in the 4th, and won by 10 because the other team had to foul. I would say that Pheonix was the better team (in this situation).

But bottomline, San Antonio won the championship, even though I think if Rasheed doesn't let Horry shoot that 3, that Detroit would be celebrating instead.

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Editor:
Tom Ziller

The Sacramento Kings are a tough act to follow, literally.

SKB does the dirty work so you can forget about the blood, sweat and tears.

Oh, you'll still need the tears in April, though.

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