In playing around with the Sporting Charts statistical database, I stumbled across a couple significant things when it comes to picking an NBA champion. Yes this leaves out advanced analytics, injuries, and other pertinent items that a seasoned NBA handicapper would deem valuable. But nonetheless, these are a couple tidbits that have been extremely accurate.
Point Differential (per Game)
The idea is fairly simple, the team over the course of a season that consistently scores more points than their opponent is the better team. They'll have the higher seed entering the playoffs, and hence a better chance at winning. Our database of NBA stats goes back to the 1990-91 season.
Interestingly, using point differential since 1990, there have been just 4 NBA champions that have finished outside of the Top 5. They were the:
- 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks (8th overall with +4.19)
- 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers (6th overall with +4.72)
- 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers (8th overall with +3.36)
- 1994-95 Houston Rockets (11th overall with +2.07)
That is 83% of teams winning the NBA Final Championship who finished in the Top 5.
Here is the end of season list for the 2013-14 season:
(Click here to see Differentials since 1990)
Using this rational, I'm left with the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Warriors, and Heat. Not exactly hanging out on limb there, but that's a 1 seed, two 2 seeds, a 3 seed, and a 6 seed.
Opponent Points per game
Taking it one step further I noticed that there has only been 2 NBA champions since 1990 that have allowed over 100 points per game over the course of a full regular season. That was the 1994-95 Houston Rockets allowing 101.4 points per game, and the 1990-91 Bulls allowing 101.0 points per game.
If you look back at the grid above, the Clippers are the only Top 5 team to allow more than 100 points. Going through the rest of the NBA Playoff bound teams here are teams that didn't keep their Opp PPG below 100:
- Los Angeles Clippers (101.0)
- Houston Rockets (103.1)
- Portland Trail Blazers (102.8)
- Dallas Mavericks (102.4)
- Atlanta Hawks (101.5)
Good luck NBA fans with your selections this year, hopefully this has helped you look at some fairly rudimentary data analysis to narrow down your shortlist. There's no question a team out of the Top 5 and/or allowing over 100 points per game will become a champion, but until that happens, I'm riding this trend.