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NBA Playoffs: Efficiency Matters

   by ASA - 04/14/2017

Efficiency rating and rankings have become the standard measurement of NBA teams and players and if you are not familiar with those numbers, and you’re a sports bettor, you might want to do a little research and get to know what they mean. Very simply put, Offensive Efficiency (OEFF = points scored per 100 possessions) and Defensive Efficiency (DEFF = points allowed per 100 possessions) are great ways to evaluate teams and players, and measure how good they truly are. The league average for OEFF/DEFF this season was 108.8. It's no surprise the Golden State Warriors was the most efficient offense in the NBA at 115.6 points per 100 possessions while the San Antonio Spurs held the best defensive efficiency rating in the league of 103.6. These numbers can be useful in predicting an NBA Champion if past history tells us anything which we’ll explain below.

Going back to the 2008-09 season, the Finals featured the LA Lakers and the Orlando Magic, which the Lakers won 4 games to 1. The Lakers finished the regular season ranked 3rd in OEFF and 6th in DEFF. Orlando wasn't as good statistically as the Lakers when it came to efficiency ratings as the Magic were 12th in OEFF and 1st in DEFF.

Below are the Finals Champions and their overall efficiency rankings for the past eight Championships.

NBA CHAMPIONS FROM 2008 on and OEFF/DEFF regular season rankings:
2008-09 LA Lakers (OEFF = 3rd, DEFF = 6th)
2009-10 LA Lakers (OEFF = 11th, DEFF = 4)
2010-11 Dallas Mavericks (OEFF = 8th, DEFF = 7th)
2011-12 Miami Heat (OEFF = 8th, DEFF = 4th)
2012-13 Miami Heat (OEFF = 1st, DEFF = 9th)
2013-14 San Antonio Spurs (OEFF = 7th, DEFF = 3rd)
2014-15 Golden State Warriors (OEFF = 2nd, DEFF = 1st)
2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers (OEFF = 3rd, DEFF = 10th)

So you can see for yourself the only team that won a Championship in the last eight years that had an OEFF or DEFF NOT in the top 10 of the NBA for that season was the 09-10 Lakers (11th in offensive efficiency). Every team that has won a Championship in the past eight Finals has had a Defensive Efficiency ranking in the top 10 at the end of the regular season. So using this model (top 11 OEFF and top 10 in DEFF) to predict this year’s Champion we can eliminate everyone but the following teams two teams: Golden State and San Antonio. Toronto, LA Clippers and Boston all ranked in the top 10 in OEFF but were just outside of the top 10 in DEFF.

2016-17 Regular Season Efficiency Rankings for the Math Model "Contenders"
Golden State Warriors: OEFF 1st, DEFF 2nd
San Antonio Spurs: OEFF 7th, DEFF 1st

Outside looking in:
LA Clippers: OEFF 5th, DEFF 12th
Toronto Raptors: OEFF 6th, DEFF 11th
Boston Celtics: OEFF 7th, DEFF 13th

The one 'big' contender that is missing from the above list is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the 3rd most efficient offense in the NBA (OEFF) but rank a horrendous 21st in DEFF. To put that in perspective the Cavs are barely ahead of teams like the Orlando, Brooklyn, Sacramento and New York! But, we won't write the Cavs off entirely because they are in the East and have some of the best offensive weapons in the NBA on their roster. The Cavs have a better overall efficiency differential (OEFF minus DEFF) than Boston and Washington who would be the other contenders in the East, other than Toronto. Cleveland has been awful defensively all season long and everyone is speculating on whether this can 'turn it on' come playoff time. Remember, the Cavs have spent a ton of money on LeBron's hand-picked roster and are millions over the salary cap with a roster full of offensive weapons. I can't even begin to imagine how bad this team would have been had they traded for Carmelo Anthony who isn't known as a defensive specialist. LBJ has been quick to call out his teammates for their lack of defense but maybe he should look in the mirror as he hasn't made 1st team All-Defense for three straight seasons. Last season the Cavs DEFF rating was 104.5, which has ballooned to 110.4 this season and we doubt they can fix things fast enough to win another championship. Remember, this team is just 21-20 SU their last 41 games which is not a confidence boosting record for my money. The Cavs were also just 5-7 SU this year when playing top 5 teams (Golden State 10-3). The big problem with fading the Cavs is that they aligned themselves perfectly in the East. They'll play Indiana and more than likely Toronto, who they've owned (6-2 SU combined record) and avoided Washington who they have matchup problems with. Cleveland may come out of the East but they aren't beating either Golden State or San Antonio from the West.

NBA Champions: Warriors but...

The eventual Champion comes from the West and will be either the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs. Golden State has flexed their muscle down the stretch of the season by winning 15 of their last sixteen games and six of those wins came against current playoff teams. Golden State will more than likely win it all in 2017 but as far as a futures bet they very little value at -$225. If you are looking for a better return on your investment, the Spurs at +$800 are an intriguing proposition. Statistically, the Spurs are nearly as good as Golden State in both OEFF and DEFF but they lack the marquee Super Stars. San Antonio is deep, has veteran leadership, size, toughness, rebounding and the best coach in the NBA. Their efficiency differential was +7.6 which was slightly lower than Golden State's +11.6, but remember that is with Coach "Popp" resting players on a nightly basis all season long in preparation for the playoffs. We feel the Warriors will win it all this season but the Spurs might be worth a small investment at +$800.

Opening Round Series winners: Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards (-$210) over Atlanta Hawks - We like the full body of work the Wizards have done this season and won't be fooled by the Hawks late season success. In our opinion, the Wizards have a shot at winning the East and could represent in the Finals. They are a top 10 team in overall efficiency differential (+1.8) and of course have a dynamic backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal. As far as the first series is concerned, the Hawks finished strong by winning 5 of their last six games, but their season stats tell the true story. Despite being very good defensively, their overall EDIFF ranks in the bottom half of the NBA and their offense has been atrocious. They are 19th in eFG% shooting (Washington 6th), 27th in OEFF (WA 7th) and rank in the bottom ten of the league in points scored per game (Wiz 5th). Atlanta's backcourt of Hardaway Jr. and Dennis Schroder will have their hands full with the Wizards guards as was the case in the regular season when Washington won 3 of four in the series with Wall and Beal +25 total points in scoring. Take the Wizards in the opening round.

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