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Using Point Differential to Predict the 2013-14 NBA Champion


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:

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:


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.



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