Hornets and Bulls Headline All-Improved Teams at the Midpoint

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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.

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