Making the Leap

Published: July 31, 2013

Yesterday, James Grayson took a look at the Pelican push for the playoffs. Today, I look at whether the leap that will be required of the Pelicans this season is feasible from a historical perspective.  Can a team that finished with a 27-55 record and as the 5th worst team in the NBA make the jump to the playoffs in its next season?

There are two questions in play.

1. How much would the Pelicans win total have to improve in order to reach the playoffs?

The Western Conference is very, very good. So good, in fact, that the Western Conference, as a whole, registered a 262-188 record versus the Eastern Conference last year. In the D League- er, Eastern Conference, only 3 teams (Miami, New York, and Indiana) recorded a winning record versus the West and one (Atlanta) broke even. To give an even better idea of the disparity in conference strength, New York was 37-15 versus its Eastern Conference opponents and 17-13 versus Western Conference ones. ‘Nuff said.

Here is the amount of wins registered by the last ten #8 seeds from the Western Conference.

     Year     Wins
2003-04 43
2004-05 45
2005-06 44
2006-07 42
2007-08 50
2008-09 48
2009-10 50
2010-11 46
2011-12   45*
2012-13 45

*Utah’s adjusted win total from the shortened season

The amount of wins necessary to make the playoffs is going to vary year-to-year, but the mean of this data set is just under 46 wins per season, and looking at the data, 46 wins seems like a good benchmark. In order for the Pelicans to reach the 46 win benchmark, they would have to increase their win total by 19 (from 27 to 46).

2. How many teams have made a jump of this magnitude in the past?

I compiled data from 2002-03 to last season in order to get an idea of how many teams have made a jump of 19 or more wins from one season to the next.  2002-03 served as the starting point and every year after that gives, in wins, the improvement or regression of each team.

Note that Charlotte Bobcats have no record in 2003-04. Their first season as an expansion team was in 2004-05.

Example of how to read this table: New Orleans, in 2002-03, finished with 47 wins. The next year, 2003-04, they finished with 41 wins. This is where the value under 2003-04 (-6) comes from. Easy enough. I left out the wins from the first year as to avoid confusion for those of you who will skip reading explanation sections, and I don’t feel bad, because you probably aren’t reading this.

Team 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Atlanta -7 -15 13 4 7 10 6 -9 6 -6
Boston -8 9 -12 -9 42 -4 -12 6 -8 -7
Brooklyn -2 -5 7 -8 -7 0 -22 12 3 22
Charlotte 18 8 7 -1 3 9 -10 -25 12
Chicago -7 24 -6 8 -16 8 0 21 0 -17
Cleveland 18 7 8 0 -5 21 -5 -42 7 -2
Dallas -8 6 2 7 -16 -1 5 2 -12 -4
Denver 26 6 -5 1 5 4 -1 -3 -3 10
Detroit 4 0 10 -11 6 -20 -12 3 1 -2
Golden State -1 -3 0 8 6 -19 -3 10 -7 18
Houston 2 6 -17 18 3 -2 -11 1 -1 3
Indiana 13 -17 -3 -6 1 0 -4 5 15 -3
LA Clippers 1 9 10 -7 -17 -4 10 3 18 6
LA Lakers 6 -22 11 -3 15 8 -8 0 -6 -6
Memphis 22 -5 4 -27 0 2 16 6 5 5
Miami 17 17 -7 -8 -29 28 4 11 -1 9
Milwaukee -1 -11 10 -12 -2 8 12 -11 4 -1
Minnesota 7 -14 -11 -1 -10 2 -9 2 15 -1
New Orleans -6 -23 20 1 17 -7 -12 9 -20 1
New York 2 -6 -10 10 -10 9 -3 13 3 9
Oklahoma City -3 15 -17 -4 -11 3 27 5 3 2
Orlando -21 15 0 4 12 7 0 -7 -6 -26
Philadelphia -15 10 -5 -3 5 1 -14 14 2 -9
Phoenix -15 33 -8 7 -6 -9 8 -14 1 -16
Portland -9 -14 -6 11 9 13 -4 -2 -13 -2
Sacramento -4 -5 -6 -11 5 -21 8 -1 3 1
San Antonio -3 2 4 -5 -2 -2 -4 11 1 -4
Toronto 9 0 -6 20 -6 -8 7 -18 7 5
Utah -5 -16 15 10 3 -6 5 -14 6 -2
Washington -12 20 -3 -1 2 -24 7 -3 2 4


  • Wins from the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12 were adjusted to an 82 game format. The numbers were then rounded for simplification.
  • The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers missed a game last year due to the Boston bombing. These win totals were also adjusted to 82 games.
  • Some teams have rebranded since the beginning of the study. I chose to use the current cities/names.


13 squads made a jump of 19 games or more over the time period covered in the analysis

Every year besides the season of the lockout featured a team who jumped at least 19 wins

Teams of Interest

Team     Wins Before     Wins After Outcome
Denver Nuggets 17 43 Lost 1st Round
Memphis Grizzlies 28 50 Lost 1st Round
Boston Celtics 24 66 Won NBA Championship
Brooklyn Nets  27* 49 Lost 1st Round
Chicago Bulls (04-05) 23 47 Lost 1st Round
Miami Heat 15 43 Lost 1st Round
Oklahoma City Thunder 23 50 Lost 1st Round
Phoenix Suns 29 62 Lost Conference Finals
Toronto Raptors 27 47 Lost 1st Round
Washington Bullets 25 45 Lost Conference Semis


*Brooklyn’s 27 wins are an adjusted total from the lockout-shortened campaign from 2011-2012.

The 10 teams that I’m interested in are listed above, and each has something in common- each made the playoffs a year after missing them, and each was nowhere near playoff contention the year before it took the leap. The other 3 (out of the 13 teams from above) either were already in the playoffs (Cleveland and Chicago 10-11) or had jumps that weren’t enough to enter postseason play (our own New Orleans squad from CP3’s rookie season).

Also, Boston is included because it fits the criteria, but their ridiculous jump resulted from the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

What you’ll find from the data above is that most of these teams were putrid the season before their leap. Remember, last year’s unhealthy/inexperienced New Orleans squad had 27 wins, and no team listed above posted a significantly better record  in its down year than our squad did last year. Most of these teams were also ousted in the first round of the playoffs.


The findings from this analysis are simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. The notion that a team in the Pelicans position ( <30 wins) cannot improve itself to playoff contention after a bad year is undoubtedly wrong- in the past 10 seasons, it has happened virtually every year.  However, it has happened roughly only once per year. There is no mandate dictating how many teams will make “the leap,” but if there is only roughly one team per year improving its win total by the amount New Orleans will likely need to make the playoffs, the odds are not exactly stacked in our favor.

The intention of this analysis, however, was not to determine whether or not we enter the playoffs this year; rather, it was to ascertain whether it’s possible to make the leap in the standings that the Pelicans will likely have to make, and the answer is a resounding yes. And for me, that’s enough.




This article begs the question, if not the Pelicans, then who?

To get this kind of win total improvement from last year to this next year, who is in a better position to improve their record by 19+ wins over last year? We look at Houston first, with Howard going there you have to say they improved significantly, but will that translate to 19 more wins next season? That would mean they win 64 or more...hmm, that would be a lot, even OKC didn't win that many last year, only Miani did. Minnesota, Portland, Dallas? They would each have to win 50 or more, Dallas would actually have to win 60, that's a lot for a team who's best player still is in the final days of his career. None of the other Western Conf. teams could pull it off, unless maybe Golden State has a Golden year and gets to 66 wins, which is improbable to say the least.

Then, to look in the Eastern conference, the most improved team is probably Brooklyn, but they would have to get to 68, unlikely. Chicago will be better with Rose back, but 64 wins seems like a real stretch even for him. Maybe Detroit will be better with Jennings? Hardly be that much better though. No, I'd say the one team that does stand the best chance of improving by 19 games over last season is in the East though, that would be the Cavaliers...if Bynum actually plays and is effective on the year.

If it will be just one team next year that improves by 19+ wins on the year, and goes from lottery to playoff contender, my money would be on either the Pelicans or Cleveland, and honestly I like our odds in that comparison because Cleveland is counting a lot on a player who disappointed another team last year by not getting on the court. Of course, we have similar with EG, but we have a contention plan for that with Evans. And for us, if we do get Odin, he would be more of a factor for possible playoff contention, in my mind. I don't think we'd be as dependent on his contributions to get us to the playoffs. I think Cleveland really needs Bynum to get them to the playoffs.

Pelican Poster
Pelican Poster

Nice article Michael...I think another factor to consider when utilizing the data above would be to cross reference the avg point differential for those teams in their poor previous year and then compare it to ours for last year.  Much has been said about how last year's squad may have not been blessed with a lot of  talent (and health), but that we always were scrappy and fought until the end, often losing close games without a "closer".  I'm curious to know if this is represented by a lower point differential for us vs these other teams before their ascendance the next year.  I'd think if ours was better (lower), than our additions could prove even more positive for the coming year.


Really enjoy the article. But I think an analysis of the 10 teams you liked above would cast a strong light on what it has taken, historically, to add 19 wins and make the playoffs. And I am not sure it would make Pelican fans optimistic about the Pelicans doing it.


i know is possible, but in the east would be a lot mor easier, last year we had a top 5 in opponents´ record, and this year Houston will be better(10/15 W more i think) Dallas will have a healthy Dirk, SA is SA(but Duncan can´t have another career year... right?), Portland and Wolves will be a lot better, and even tanking teams like Utah will be hard to swallow, ugh.

BTW, i´m curious about how the team perform last year in WS, i know the avg is .100 and a team with all the min b/t players in that level could win 41 games. Holiday for his career has an avg WS, Evans is in that level too, Gordon is his best year was well above average, Rivers was actually negative... would be fun is one of you guys do an analysis with some cases, like Rivers in .60(isn´t that rare actually, people like Cousins took higher climps), Davis jumping a little bit, Gordon returning to a more normal level and minutes, Anderson in something in b/t Orlando(super stardom) and last year(.120+/-), and so on, that would complement this post! thanks for effort!


I think 8 seed is a certainty at this point. Unless we don't mesh properly.


I think you are seriously overlooking Minn.


  1. […] Besides the articles linked above, Pellissier looked at some data that says what sort of odds the Pelicans are fighting in making the playoffs. […]