Preseason vs. Regular Season

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Published: October 26, 2009

Lots of people will tell you that exhibition games are meaningless; a team’s record in the preseason is a poor indication of how they’ll perform in the regular season. Is that really the case?

We dived into the numbers from every Hornets’ preseason and regular season. Here’s what we found.

Win Percentage

Season Preseason Regular Season
1988-89 .286 .244
1989-90 .500 .231
1990-91 .625 .305
1991-92 .375 .378
1992-93 .444 .537
1993-94 .500 .500
1994-95 .285 .610
1995-96 .500 .500
1996-97 .250 .659
1997-98 .500 .622
1998-99 .000 .520
1999-00 .625 .597
2000-01 .571 .561
2001-02 .625 .537
2002-03 .250 .573
2003-04 .625 .500
2004-05 .375 .219
2005-06 .375 .463
2006-07 .286 .476
2007-08 .500 .683
2008-09 1.000 .598
2009-10 .250 n/a

That data in a graph:

Hornets preseason vs. regular season win percentage

As you can see, there is some correlation between the two outcomes – but nothing that is fixed in stone.  I looked around for studies about the correlation between pre-season and the regular season and found an average correlation of .34 between NBA’s pre-season and Regular season.  A correlation of 1.0 would mean they are an exact match.  A correlation of 0 means that they are completely independent – i.e. you can draw nothing from pre-season at all.  A correlation of -1.0 means that they are exactly opposite.(I.E. a team that wins 25% of its games in the preseason would win 75% of its regular season games)

For the football fans among you, it looks like there is a .25 correlation between football’s regular and pre-season.  So the NBA’s pre-season is slightly more predictive, but not much.

Here are a bunch of other stat comparisons for you to consume as well.  In essence, they tell much the same story as the record – but they are still interesting on their own.

Points For

Average points scored by the Hornets.

Season Preseason Regular Season
1988-89 101.7 104.5
1989-90 102.8 100.4
1990-91 107.4 102.8
1991-92 113.8 109.5
1992-93 115.9 110.1
1993-94 112.6 106.5
1994-95 110.3 100.6
1995-96 100.9 102.8
1996-97 97.5 98.9
1997-98 99.0 96.6
1998-99 76.5 92.9
1999-00 103.0 98.4
2000-01 94.1 91.9
2001-02 87.4 93.9
2002-03 83.5 93.9
2003-04 93.9 91.8
2004-05 94.6 88.4
2005-06 93.8 92.8
2006-07 94.3 95.5
2007-08 100.4 100.9
2008-09 99.9 95.8
2009-10 93.3 n/a

That data in a graph:

Hornets preseason vs. regular season points for

Points Against

Average points scored by opposing teams.

Season Preseason Regular Season
1988-89 109.6 113.0
1989-90 99.6 108.2
1990-91 102.0 108.0
1991-92 119.4 113.4
1992-93 122.0 110.4
1993-94 112.1 106.7
1994-95 113.7 97.3
1995-96 101.9 103.4
1996-97 103.4 97.0
1997-98 97.8 94.6
1998-99 87.0 93.0
1999-00 100.9 95.8
2000-01 88.7 89.8
2001-02 85.3 92.9
2002-03 92.4 91.8
2003-04 90.9 91.9
2004-05 93.6 95.5
2005-06 95.6 95.6
2006-07 101.9 97.1
2007-08 101.4 95.6
2008-09 84.9 94.3
2009-10 103.3 n/a

That data in a graph:

Hornets preseason vs. regular season points against

Points Differential

The difference between the average points scored by the Hornets, and the average points scored by their opponents.

Season Preseason Regular Season
1988-89 -7.9 -8.5
1989-90 +3.2 -7.8
1990-91 +5.4 -5.2
1991-92 -5.6 -3.9
1992-93 -6.1 -0.3
1993-94 +0.5 -0.2
1994-95 -3.4 +3.3
1995-96 -1.0 -0.6
1996-97 -5.9 +1.9
1997-98 +1.2 +2.0
1998-99 -10.5 -0.1
1999-00 +2.1 +2.6
2000-01 +5.4 +2.1
2001-02 +2.1 +1.0
2002-03 -8.9 +2.1
2003-04 +3.0 -0.1
2004-05 +1.0 -7.1
2005-06 -1.8 -2.8
2006-07 -7.6 -1.6
2007-08 -1.0 +5.3
2008-09 +15.0 +1.5
2009-10 -10.0 n/a

That data in a graph:

Hornets preseason vs. regular season points differential

So what does it all mean?  It means that there is a loose correlation between pre-season and regular season, but that there is enough difference in the results that teams regularly differ greatly.

In other words, I’d ignore the record, and instead focus on how individual players seemed to fit into the rotations.

Note for those still wanting a silver lining: Okafor projects to be either the 2nd or 3rd most productive player on the team based on various advanced statistics.  Diogu also projects to have the same sort of impact, though most likely in limited minutes.   Missing guys that important would tend to have a major impact on a team’s wins, even before we consider the fact that their minutes were used primarily by . . . Hilton Armstrong.

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