Hornets and Bulls Headline All-Improved Teams at the Midpoint

By:
Published: January 25, 2011

Each year I like to go through a little exercise to tell me exactly how the league’s NBA teams have improved.  Now, I’m sure some of you would just point to the standings and say “Duh!  Look there!” but you have to remember that I like statistics even more than I like playing at least a fifth level wizard in Dungeons & Dragons.(Mmmm . . . Fireball . . . )

That means, of course, that I won’t look at win-loss records, which have a bit of randomness built into them, but instead look at team efficiencies and deficiencies.  However, it’s not even that simple, since I can’t take the team efficiencies from the end of  last year and compare them to the current team efficiencies. Why?  Because in the NBA, as the season goes on, losing teams quit and allow more points while some teams coast towards the playoffs and rest starters, and, of course, there’s the fact that teams figure out what offensive sets work the best as the season goes on.

So how do I compare mid-season efficiencies to post-season efficiencies?  I compare rankings.  That gives you how well a team is playing in relation to its competition.  No, it won’t tell you if Chicago is a historically good defense or not, but it will tell you if the Hornets have gained ground offensively this season – or lost ground.

As a result, the following chart lists each team, its Offensive and Defensive Efficiency Rankings last year and this, and any improvement or decline.  Then, it combines the total improvement and decline into a “Total Change” category.

As you can see, the Bulls and Hornets top the charts, while the Cavaliers(duh) and Phoenix top the teams that have declined the most.  Now, it is good to remember that this chart doesn’t try to tell you the relative quality of teams.  Philly is the fifth most improved team in the league, but it’s still only middling overall.

TEAM 09-10 Off Rank 10-11 Off Rank Off Rank Change 09-10 Def Rank 10-11 Def Rank Def Rank Change Total Change
Chicago 28 19 9 10 1 9 18
New Orleans 16 17 -1 22 3 19 18
Miami 19 4 15 3 4 -1 14
New York 15 7 8 27 21 6 14
Philadelphia 20 20 0 23 13 10 10
Minnesota 29 22 7 28 26 2 9
San Antonio 9 3 6 9 7 2 8
New Jersey 30 28 2 25 19 6 8
Boston 13 10 3 6 2 4 7
Indiana 26 24 2 15 10 5 7
LA Lakers 11 2 9 5 8 -3 6
LA Clippers 27 18 9 20 23 -3 6
Memphis 17 21 -4 24 14 10 6
Golden State 14 12 2 29 27 2 4
Houston 18 9 9 17 24 -7 2
Dallas 10 13 -3 12 9 3 0
Detroit 21 23 -2 26 25 1 -1
Oklahoma City 12 6 6 8 16 -8 -2
Denver 5 1 4 16 22 -6 -2
Washington 25 27 -2 18 18 0 -2
Sacramento 22 26 -4 21 20 1 -3
Milwaukee 23 29 -6 4 6 -2 -8
Utah 8 11 -3 11 17 -6 -9
Portland 7 15 -8 14 15 -1 -9
Atlanta 3 14 -11 13 11 2 -9
Orlando 2 8 -6 1 5 -4 -10
Toronto 6 16 -10 30 30 0 -10
Charlotte 24 25 -1 2 12 -10 -11
Phoenix 1 5 -4 19 29 -10 -14
Cleveland 4 30 -26 7 28 -21 -47

Since this is a Hornets blog, it is fun to point out that other than Cleveland’s ridiculous decline on both ends of the floor(Hi Byron!) the Hornets have the largest change in any one category, climbing 19 spots on the defensive efficiency ranking.  Only Miami’s 15 rank improvement on the offensive end comes close.  Honestly, in all the time I’ve been doing this, it is the biggest improvement I’ve ever seen.

Offensively, however, this team has suffered a slight decline from 16th to 17th.  That’s not too surprising, considering the talents of most of our wing players – though if Thornton and Jack continue to improve, that number may change as well.  Still, I’ll gladly pay one ranking of Offensive Efficiency for nineteen of Defensive.

Other Items of Note:

  • Atlanta, despite not changing much from season to season, has declined 11 spots offensively, and that’s with Horford playing well.  Joe Johnson needs to start earning that contract, I think.
  • A reason not to get excited by Blake Griffin?  His presence has helped improve their offense dramatically, but they’ve actually gotten worse defensively.  Ouch.
  • Portland is feeling the sting of losing Brandon Roy.  The loss of his efficient shooting has dropped them 8 spots to a purely average offense.
  • Phoenix has declined four spots on the offensive end, but it’s really the other end that is killing them, as they’ve slipped 10 spots to 29th.  Maybe Amare Stoudemire wasn’t the “awful” defender everyone accused him off.  Perhaps he was closer to adequate?
  • Charlotte’s defense, once the envy of most of the league, has fallen apart this season, falling ten spots and to mediocrity.  Their offense, of course, is still terrible.
  • I have a feeling Toronto should show up worse in this rating system, but since they were the worst defense in the league last year, they can’t lose points there.  Still, a -10 overall isn’t something to be proud of.
  • With this rating, you can see why Orlando felt they needed to blow things up.  Despite remaining elite, they had actually slipped 10 slots from last year.  Those Celtics fought their way through a damn fine team last year.
  • I’m still trying to figure out where Memphis’s 10-rank defensive improvement is coming from.  Tony Allen hasn’t played that much – so what gives?
  • Reason to not fear Utah?  They’ve declined on both ends of the floor.  I guess assuming Boozer wasn’t worth a damn was kinda jumping the gun.
  • Dallas is pretty much the same as it ever was.
  • Despite Nick Young’s scoring exploits and the addition of Wall, the Wizards have actually taken a step back offensively – and still suck defensively.
  • Boston has improved across the board.  They are always scary when healthy.
  • The same can be said for San Antonio.
  • Minnesota has improved 9 spots total, good for the sixth best in the league.  Sadly, if they manage that again next year, they’ll still be purely mediocre.  Ouch.
  • Let’s hope the Lakers keep declining.
40 comments
m_W
m_W

@Ron. In a sense, all numbers all b.s. Because all they do is tell you the past. It doesn't matter what % Green shoots from beyond the arc, he could miss every single 3 he takes the rest of his career; conversely, Buckets could hit every single 3 he takes the rest of his career. Unlikely, but entirely possible. Hell, it is a mathematical certainty that a 1000 monkeys in an office smacking away on 1000 typewriters would eventually come up with Hamlet. Numbers, statistics, and the like, however, can be used to evidence general trends within certain limitations. Ryan very clearly stated his goals and the limitations of his approach. For what his intention is, the numbers are a very useful tool of analysis. Do these numbers tell the whole story, of course not. But neither did Ryan suggest they would. I think people understand your point, and your suggested alternative method, but if you think that a better way exists, why not do a Journal post with your numbers, state what you think it shows, and see what kind of a response you get? Otherwise, I don't know what purpose is served by continually complaining about "problems" with Ryan's numbers. I think his point was merely to get us to discuss teams that have improved or regressed more than others. So. We've improved more as team than Miami. Sweet. Both teams had big make-overs in the offseason. I can honestly say I would look forward to playing them again this season.

Ron
Ron

Hell, it is a mathematical certainty that ... would eventually come up with Hamlet. Well, no. But I understand your point. Numbers, statistics, and the like, however, can be used to evidence general trends within certain limitations. Ryan very clearly stated his goals and the limitations of his approach. I just think that, even with his stated caveats, the amount of raw data available to us is inadequate to the task that Ryan wants to accomplish. continually complaining One original complaint and then lots of defending and explaining and analogizing. Do these numbers tell the whole story, of course not. But neither did Ryan suggest they would. People (Americans, at least), though, tend to see Numbers As Reality, despite all the caveats.

42
42

Yes. It is a certainty. Infinity is big, and that is the key. It sounds like some of your assumptions about your fellow readers are flawed.

Ron
Ron

If you are looking for any numbers to be `right’ about anything having to do with `goodness’ Sigh. No analysis is perfect because the data doesn’t model reality perfectly. There's slightly imperfect, and then there's really imperfect.

42
42

There is also the sky and rock. You will clearly never be satisfied. I have no problem with that. Enjoy the other articles.

Ron
Ron

You will clearly never be satisfied. With this (I think flawed) statistical analysis.

42
42

Right. So enjoy the other articles. They are good.

Ron
Ron

we would have, according to your analysis, not exhibited any improvements. Correct. However, if we finished 15th this year compared to 20th this year that would be a 5 ranking jump..again the same analysis can be said the other way around, Sure. But *we* have not improved. They have gotten worse. but you see how all of this is relative? Sure, but I still think it's an invalid comparison. Here's a (simplified) car analogy: The 2009 Corvette engine produces 300 Hp, and the Nissan 370Z produces 325 Hp. The 2010 Corvette engine produces 300 Hp, but the Nissan 370Z produces 275 Hp. Has the Corvette improved? Should Corvette fans cheer? No! But, but, but... The Corvette is now #1 !!! Yay!!!! Why, though, cheer Chevrolet when they didn't do anything?

42
42

Here's an example from basketball: you only need to beat the other teams that exist at the moment to win the title, not the greatest team ever in all of history, future included. Moving up in this fashion is then reason for rejoicing if rejoicing-reason is monotonically related to 'distance' from the title.

Ron
Ron

The Vette did not move up... The Z went down. So, the Nissan fans should be sad, and the Chevy fans exhibit schadenfreude. I do agree, though, that the change does make it more likely that the Vette will win.

Ron
Ron

I never claimed to be judging the quality of rankings. Gack! In fact I explicitly stated that using rankings doesn’t allow you to make determinations as to the overall quality of a ranking. Double, no, triple gack. The mathematical wrongness is deep.

42
42

You don't have to trust me on this, but you are wrong. If you are looking for any numbers to be `right' about anything having to do with `goodness', then you are in for a long a sad life. If you are looking for numbers to tell you something about how some teams are playing, then look right here. No analysis is perfect because the data doesn't model reality perfectly. It's making statements about games that will never happen based on some games that did happen, only some of apply to an extent to the game you may be picturing (say, us against Golden State). Such is the world of data, as someone as experienced in such matters as yourself knows well.

hewhorocks
hewhorocks

Good stuff. I'm still digesting this ...though Ryan you should come to the dark side that is 4th edition D&D ...fireball at first level.....

Ryan Schwan
Ryan Schwan

I have drawn my line in the sand and staked out my future "old fogie" position. On the far side are scary things like 4th edition D&D rules, twitter and social networking sites.

Ron
Ron

Rankings are egregious statistical lies. My reasoning: http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/teamstats/_/sort/defensiveEff/order/false We're 3rd place in Def Eff, 0.3 pph (points per 100 possessions). The gap between #5 Orlando and #7 San Antonio is only 0.4 pph. Even "worse", the distance from #9 Dallas to #14 Charlotte is 0.9 pph. Likewise, #16 to #21 is 0.8 pph.

Ryan Schwan
Ryan Schwan

Rankings simply tell you where you are in relation to your peers. When based on hard efficiency numbers, they can tell you a lot. It's not like I'm using rankings derived from anecdote.

nikkoewan
nikkoewan

if you REALLY want a comprehensive analysis, you need to make use of variables and derivatives. Maybe create a function out of the efficiencies of the teams, then take of from there. But that would take significant statistical analysis i.e. Regression Analysis and the like.

Ryan Schwan
Ryan Schwan

While that is true, I never claimed to be judging the quality of rankings. In fact I explicitly stated that using rankings doesn't allow you to make determinations as to the overall quality of a ranking. If what you want is a measure of which team has the highest quality of ranking, then you'd look elsewhere. Personally, I would have preferred to be comparing mid-season efficiencies from last year to this year, but I have no access to data that takes a snapshot of efficiencies at the midpoint of last year. For the purposes of seeing who has improved relative to their peers, whoever, this data is sound.

Ron
Ron

Rankings simply tell you where you are in relation to your peers. Exactly, but I assert that such relations have no temporal meaning for all the reasons you mentioned and darned little point-in-time meaning either, because (for example) the pph distance from #1 to #2 is 1.9 pph and the distance from #4 to #8 is the just slightly larger 2.1 pph. Thus, *right now* you need to do just as much work to get from #2 to #1 as you do to get from #8 to #5. So, one team gets a +1 jump and another gets a +3 ranking jump for doing the same thing. That's just not valid... Defensive Efficiency of the top 8 teams: #1. Chicago, 96.4 #2 Boston, 98.3, -1.9 #3 New Orleans, 98.6, -0.3 #4 Miami, 99.3, -0.7 #5 Orlando, 100.0, -0.3 #6 Milwaukee, 100.1, -0.1 #7 San Antonio, 100.4, -0.3 #8 LA Lakers, 101.7, -0.3

42
42

Trust me: you exaggerate. Rankings are very useful in situations like this. What analysis would you propose instead?

nikkoewan
nikkoewan

@ Ron: that would be very relative as well. Consider had the Hornets finished with the same defensive efficiency from this year to last year, say 100. and the top team in defensive efficiency finished say 96 in both years. we would have, according to your analysis, not exhibited any improvements. However, if we finished 15th this year compared to 20th this year that would be a 5 ranking jump..again the same analysis can be said the other way around, but you see how all of this is relative? I'm a mathematician so i understand the difficulty of analyzing a team relative to the other teams. But its a good snapshot of how we've improved.

Ron
Ron

What analysis would you propose instead? Use "percentage improvement in distance from #1". Last year in Defensive Efficiency, NOH finished -7.1 pph behind #1. This year, they're -2.2 pph behind #1. That's a +4.9 (69%) pph improvement.

42
42

That fails to let you compare the apples of defensive efficienct to the oranges of offensive efficiency.

Bob
Bob

Um, I'm fairly certain that Cleveland's drop is more due to LeBron leaving than Byron Scott coaching.

pinoy_hornet
pinoy_hornet

btw, can anyone please tell me how,s CP? hope he,s OK..

Trey
Trey

One possible explanation for the Clippers defensive decline may have little to do with Griffen. At this point last year, the Clippers still had Marcus Camby, whereas he was gone by the end of the year. The change is probably more due to a defensive falloff at the 5 rather than any change with Blake.

HiMyNameisSteven
HiMyNameisSteven

deandre jordan is averaging like 3 blocks a game since starting so i think it has more to do with them running the ball more with kaman out causing a faster pace which in turn allows points to be scored

HiMyNameisSteven
HiMyNameisSteven

42- good point my bad it would be based on average 100 possessions... but still pace would effect this since teams who run and gun (even though the clippers dont) tend to not play as great defense since they look more for steals and get tired. But yes i have seen almost every clipper game and blake is a good defender. not the best help defender though.

42
42

Yes, but that effect is much more muddled and could be dwarfed by other stuff. Also, recall Ryan's (serious) post on Peja having a postive effect on our defense. It's not because he struck fear in other teams, swatting balls, and tearing their hearts out on hard fouls. He was smart, got into the right spots, and played good team defense. Griffin being the opposite tye players may have the opposite effect. There is a social psychological effect called the halo. It refers to a group false extending awesomeness-at-this to awsomeness-at-that. An example would be assuming that since Nancy is great at shooting a pistol, then she's also great at shooting a rifle. It may not be true and such assumptions can lead to bad group dynamic. Picture me and you balling . . . Dude comes at me . . . You say "42 is sooo awesome and good-looking . . . smart too . . . I'm sure he'll back that joker down . . . I'll go over here to make sure he doesn't dump it off to his idiot friend . . . . Now, you may be right, and I totally handle the guy like the specimen I am, but such a course of action may still lead to higher average scoring due to me laying out a 'good foul' half the time rather than dumping it to the idiot who can't make a layup but 30% of the time.

jib
jib

They lack a little length without Kaman, although Griffin, considering all the hops, could maybe get some highlight blocks once in awhile along with improved defense? If that comes he would be ridiculous scary.

42
42

Ryan's stats are about efficiency. I don't think pace would have a first order effect on such numbers.

QueenBee
QueenBee

I think the players are enjoying playing for Monty moreso than they would have Thibodeau. They are responding very well to him.

ktrufant
ktrufant

Indeed, my complements on the stats and the post. I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed when the Hornets lost the Thibodeau sweepstakes but you can't argue with these results. I'm thinking Williams and Okafor are behind this improved defense. I was thinking about this recent when streak and looking at some numbers (the nerdnumbers blog and arturo galletti's blog) and I have a theory that the guys behind this recent surge are West (finally has a WP48 of >.140) and Thornton (with a WP48 slightly above .100 and seeing the floor more). If this continues, I really think the Hornets could contend next year. (as a side note, it looks to me like Thornton's above average play is in his three point shooting and defensive rebounding ... )

42
42

Good work. Shout out to Denver! Hilarious!

nicks65
nicks65

As an Econ student, I really love the in depth statistics on this blog. I am surprised there arent a lot more members here honestly.

Ryan Schwan
Ryan Schwan

There are a lot of lurkers. Our numbers are very good among blogs. They're great when you take into the account our team is in a small market.

Stefan
Stefan

It's okay. I love the small community feel this blog has. It is almost as if I "know" many of the members here.

42
42

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." -- Yogi Berra

Adit D
Adit D

I agree with Stefan