NBA Team Improvements – and Declines

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Published: December 2, 2008

Forgive the echo chamber this blog became the past few days – I got hit with probably the worst cold I’ve ever had and am still kinda slow, even managing to exhaust myself today by simply venturing out to purchase a new Christmas Tree.  Yeah, I feel pathetic.  I didn’t even participate in this weeks Blogger Power Rankings, hosted by the excellent Blog Empty the Bench.  Still, you should head over and see the commentary and rankings, as well as where our Hornets are falling in the collective consciousness that is the Blogging Universe.

The Hornets don’t play until Wednesday, when the Pheonix Suns come calling, hoping to avenge their loss earlier in the season.  Already we have one thing against us:  the NBA schedule makers.  Once again they have given us another crazy-long layoff between games, and the Hornets are now 3-8 over this season and the last when they had more than 3 nights off between games.  Bastards.

I’ll tackle that game sometime tomorrow, but tonight I wanted to bring back a fairly popular piece I wrote last year:  Team by Team Improvements and Declines.  It’s not difficult to figure out that the Cavs and Lakers are better this year than the last – you can look at the standings and tell that – but what my tables will tell you is where teams have improved.  Are the Lakers better defensively or offensively?  Is it bad offense that is letting the Wizards plummet in the standings?

One thing that is important to note – this is not an evaluation of the teams, but of their improvement from last season to this one.  Thus, Boston doesn’t look too good on these charts, but Boston was damn good last year, so improvement was a lot to expect.

The numbers I use are Efficiencies, since they better reflect a team’s ability to score and defend than simple “points for” and “points against” numbers.  In the table, Off Eff stands for Offensive Efficiency – or number of points scored per 100 possessions.  Def Eff stands for Defensive Efficiency, or number of points scored by the opponent per 100 possessions.

This first chart is the offensive efficiencies of the Association.  You’ll notice there is a column headed Adj Change.  This number takes into account the fact that the league as a whole is scoring 2.3 less points per 100 possessions this season and adjusts for it.  Essentially, it gives a better idea of improvement and decline relative to the league, rather than relative to the season.  It also points out just how crazy the improvements made by Cleveland, Miami, Portland and New Jersey have been. 

Away we go:

Team 07-08 Off Eff 08-09 Off Eff Off Change Adj Change
Cleveland 104.1 111.8 7.7 10.0
Miami 98.8 104.8 6.0 8.3
Portland 105.0 110.7 5.7 8.0
New Jersey 102.0 106.8 4.8 7.1
New York 102.1 104.3 2.2 4.5
Atlanta 104.7 106.8 2.1 4.4
Minnesota 101.3 100.3 -1.0 1.3
Chicago 101.6 100.3 -1.3 1.0
L.A. Lakers 110.8 109.1 -1.9 0.6
San Antonio 105.5 103.6 -1.9 0.4
Houston 104.6 101.7 -2.9 -0.6
New Orleans 109.7 106.7 -3.0 -0.7
Indiana 104.1 100.6 -3.5 -1.2
Sacramento 105.3 101.8 -3.5 -1.2
L.A. Clippers 99.5 95.7 -3.8 -1.5
Utah 111.2 107.3 -3.9 -1.6
Detroit 108.7 104.7 -4.0 -1.7
Memphis 102.9 98.8 -4.1 -1.8
Toronto 108.3 104.1 -4.2 -1.9
Milwaukee 102.9 98.6 -4.3 -2.0
Oklahoma City 98.4 93.9 -4.5 -2.2
Denver 107.9 103.3 -4.6 -2.3
Boston 108.6 103.9 -4.7 -2.4
Orlando 109.6 104.6 -5.0 -2.7
Phoenix 111.8 106.6 -5.2 -2.9
Washington 106.7 101.4 -5.3 -3.0
Charlotte 103.0 97.5 -5.5 -3.2
Philadelphia 103.8 98.2 -5.6 -3.3
Dallas 109.3 102.8 -6.5 -4.2
Golden State 109.4 102.9 -6.5 -4.2

You’ll note the Hornets have declined some offensively, but when taking into account the generally improved defense in the league so far this season, it’s not really their offense that has been the problem.  I also find it interesting to see how much worse the Dallas offense has been this season – it having tied for the worst decline in the league with the Baron Davis-less Warriors.  Go Jason Kidd.

The Defensive chart follows the same format as the one above:

Team 07-08 Def Eff 08-09 Def Eff Def Change Adj Change
Milwaukee 110.5 102.2 8.3 6.0
L.A. Lakers 103.4 95.4 8.0 5.7
Orlando 103.2 96.7 6.5 4.2
Miami 108.0 102.3 5.7 3.4
Charlotte 107.4 102.1 5.3 3.0
Cleveland 104.2 99.1 5.1 2.8
Memphis 109.8 104.9    4.9    2.6
Indiana 105.4    100.6    4.8    2.5
Minnesota     109.4    105.1    4.3    2.0
Philadelphia     104.3    100.0    4.3    2.0
Denver    104.0    99.8    4.2    1.9
Dallas     103.8    100.4    3.4    1.1
Portland     106.0    103.3    2.7   0.4
New York  110.1    107.6    2.5   0.2
Atlanta     106.5    104.0    2.5   0.2
Chicago 105.0    103.0    2.0    -0.3
Boston   96.8  94.9 1.9    -0.4
L.A. Clippers 106.9    105.1    1.8    -0.5
Houston    99.3    98.0    1.3    -1.0
Utah 104.6     103.3    1.3   -1.0
Oklahoma City 107.5    106.8    0.7    -1.6
Phoenix     105.5    104.9    0.6    -1.7
Toronto 105.1   105.0    0.1    -2.2
New Orleans   103.5 103.6 -0.1 -2.4
Golden State  107.3 107.7 -0.4 -2.7
Washington     107.5    109.0    -1.5    -3.8
New Jersey     107.2    108.9    -1.7    -4.0
San Antonio   100.1    102.3    -2.2    -4.5
Sacramento     107.8    110.8    -3.0    -5.3
Detroit     100.9    105.2    -4.3   -6.6

Here is where the Hornet’s problems become obvious.  While their defense is producing numbers that are almost the exact same as last year, when you take into account the improved league-wide defenses, the Hornets have slipped. As for the rest of the league, this table has some fascinating bits:  For all the talk about San Antonio struggling to score without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, it’s been their defense that has declined dramatically this year.  Bruce Bowen being ineffective and slow, perhaps?  Sacramento’s defensive numbers are pretty sad – considering they were one of the worst teams last year in this category – and have managed to decline even more.  These two tables also make it very clear the value of Chauncey Billups as a defensive Point Guard, since Detriot has gotten 4.3 points worse, and Denver a similar number better.

At the other end of the spectrum, Scott Skiles is working his defensive magic, pushing Milwaukee up from abysmal to at least serviceable on that end.  The Bynum-Ariza addition in Lakerland has generated a crushing defensive attack, and in Orlando, the team is showing a surprising improvement on the defensive end.

The final table takes the total differential from the two seasons( number of points scored per 100 posessions minus points given up per 100 posessions) and then determines what teams have improved the most from last year to this one:

Team 07-08 Diff 08-09 Diff Change
Cleveland    -0.1    12.7    12.8
Miami     -9.2    2.5  11.7
Portland     -1.0    7.4    8.4
L.A. Lakers    7.4    13.7    6.3
New York     -8.0    -3.3    4.7
Atlanta     -1.8    2.8    4.6
Milwaukee    -7.6    -3.6   4.0
Minnesota    -8.1    -4.8   3.3
New Jersey    -5.2    -2.1    3.1
Orlando    6.4    7.9    1.5
Indiana     -1.3    0.0    1.3
Memphis     -6.9    -6.1    0.8
Chicago     -3.4    -2.7    0.7
Charlotte     -4.4    -4.6    -0.2
Denver     3.9    3.5    -0.4
Philadelphia     -0.5   -1.8    -1.3
Houston     5.3    3.7    -1.6
L.A. Clippers     -7.4    -9.4    -2.0
Utah     6.6    4.0    -2.6
Boston     11.8    9.0    -2.8
New Orleans    6.2    3.1    -3.1
Dallas     5.5    2.4    -3.1
Oklahoma City  -9.1    -12.9    -3.8
Toronto     3.2    -0.9    -4.1
San Antonio     5.4    1.3    -4.1
Phoenix     6.3    1.7    -4.6
Sacramento     -2.5    -9.0    -6.5
Washington     -0.8    -7.6    -6.8
Golden State     2.1    -4.8    -6.9
Detroit     7.8    -0.5    -8.3

Unsurprisingly, Cleveland, Miami, Portland and the Lakers top this list, as each have improved greatly in the standings.  New Orleans is floundering along having declined a net 3.1 points per posession.  Houston has managed to decline despite their addition of the much-touted Ron Artest(I prefer Battier still) Detroit has the honor to have declined the most of any team in the league, and despite my agreement that Iverson isn’t anywhere near as effective as his reputation, their collapse to a below average team is pretty shocking. 

Perhaps the saddest numbers of all belong to Oklahoma City, who managed to be the worst team in the league last year and have somehow managed to get much, much worse.

Anything surprise you about these numbers?  Fire away in the comments.

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