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The Numbers: The Odds, The Streak, The Real MVP

Some of you –those who have been following my writing for a long time – might remember that back in the day, I used to write a post every day, and because I did that, you got to see pretty much everything I was tinkering with on a daily basis. Those posts had me following whatever data I was chasing down the rabbit hole at the time.

It's been pointed out to me that some of the best work I did was when I wrote in this style. Interestingly enough, the fact that I don't write every day does not mean that I've stopped messing around with the numbers every day.

Let's see if we can recapture some of that magic and give you a peek behind the curtain as the season draws to it's inevitable conclusion.

I always start with the state of the NBA. I run the season sim pretty much every day. It gives me a good feel as to how the teams are behaving and evolving as the season goes along. I also run the team rank in parallel.

The Spurs are really good right now, and the Heat are the class in the East. Interestingly enough, the Bobcats have moved to number 4 in our rankings, wheras the Pacers are at 17th. Right now, I'd be heavily considering picking the Bobcats over the Pacers in round 1. The Knicks look to be in contol of their own destiny and are favored to get that eight seed in the East. Stunningly, every projected playoff matchup in the East looks to be fun and competitive (the Wizards are the weakest team but a Raps/Wiz series should be fun to watch if you ignore the bad coaching). 

The Mavs somehow still look to be the eight seed in the West and the team most likely to be swept in Round 1.

The full simulation is plenty intriguing as well.

There's a 0.5% chance Indiana fails to win another game this season and takes the Las Vegas under. Philly is still 50/50 to hit 18 wins. San Antonio is winning all its remaining games about 13.9% of the time. It'll jump to around 28% if they win tonight against the Thunder. Time to talk a bit more about the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard, and the streak.

Here's a simple table for perspective on the streak:

That's the 100 most-dominant 19 game stretches in the history of the NBA. As of yesterday, the Spurs clock in at number 6 overall, and, having just overtaken the 1972 Lakers and 1996 Bulls, are the second-ranked team of all-time, behind only the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks. That's crazy impressive. If we look post-merger only these Spurs, the 1996 Bulls, and the 2009 Cavaliers (who got killed by injuries pre-playoffs) have hit a point margin of 16 points or more. 

The Spurs are not just the best team in the NBA this year, but they're putting up numbers like an all-time team. The reason? His name is Kawhi Leonard.

Kawhi Leonard has played 60 games this season and he has been available for the entire game in 59 of these games (he got hurt at halftime of a game the Spurs lost to the Thunder, which I am not counting here). Over those 59 games, the Spurs are 51-8 and +11.32. This projects to 71 wins over an 82 game season. 

Without Kawhi Leonard? San Antonio was outscored by their opponents by about a point per game over 24 games. So Kawhi's presence has meant a 12 point swing for San Antonio (there are some additional factors at play here, but that's outright crazy). That's the equivalent of about 0.500+ WP48.

That means that adding Kawhi to any team in the league automatically makes them a contender.

Quite honestly, he deserves some serious MVP buzz. He'd be number 1 in my ballot right now.

That's really not the only surprising thing about the Spurs, but I have to save something for tomorrow, don't I?

If you're Miami, would you rather get the 1-seed and play the Knicks or the 2-seed and play the Wizards?
Whoops, nevermind, if you get the 2-seed, you are more likely to play Charlotte, who, according to this, is playing even better than the Knicks right now. Charlotte-Indiana could be an interesting series, given how the teams are playing at the moment.
Arturo just did that thing I hate where he didn't control for other variables.

Let's start with who else sat in those games where Kawhi did not play (I haven't looked)?
Arturo acknowledged that there were additional factors at play (what he's basically doing there is a plus-minus type of stat), but a WP48 over .5 doesn't pass the eye test. That's early Magic right there; that's Kawhi and a bunch of scrubs winning half their games. He's very underrated, as I'm sure we all agree, but there's a lot of noise here. The Spurs' numbers in general are just unbelievable, though.
Bovada currently has Knicks +125 to make the playoffs, Hawks -175, which is basically the reverse of the way you have it scored. Hollinger also has Atlanta over NYK.
Hawks really miss Korver, their best player this year, to injury. Hawks are 1-10 without him. I know its not that simple but its telling.
They're locked into the full season numbers too strongly right now. I'm treating the Hawks like the team they are now. A tanking team.
Hey, finally decided to register and comment on the good stuff you guys post. I have been following both your new blog and I was wondering what kind of tools you use to make your simulations (excel, sas,R ?)
My brain can't really figure out why the Clippers aren't projected to destroy teams in the playoffs. Two players above 0.300WP48 and Griffin who is pretty solid. JJ coming back and getting healthy will help and maybe Barnes/Dudley can pick it up.

Then I compared them to the Spurs and found that the Clippers have only three players above 0.150WP48 (minimum 1000mins.) while the Spurs have seven. But depth shouldn't matter as much in playoffs, right?

Anyway, the reason for the post is it would be cool to have a tool that allowed you to compare teams, kind of like the player vs player tool.
I am a fan of Kawhi but I don't buy him being the MVP at all. The sample of games he did not play is too small, you have to look at other factors here. Also how come he played 60 games and spurs played 24 games without it? Or did I understand you incorrectly? Anyway, you can easily compensate for this sample by looking at minutes instead of games. According to spurs outscore opponents +10.6 when he is on the floor and +7.2 when he is not on the floor (and keep in mind he plays with other starters at the beginning of each game...) Also "That means that adding Kawhi to any team in the league automatically makes them a contender." just does not convince me, he is a very young player and you probably have to give Spurs a lot of credit for his success, he might have been a bench warmer if other team would have taken him.

I believe Arturo meant Leonard played in 60 games (61 as of 4/3/2014) and in the 15 he's missed, the SAS have been outscored by roughly ~1.0 pt/g. The 24 is probably a miscalculation on his part (I assume he meant 14, which leaves for a relatively low margin of error, relative to the 15 games Leonard has missed).

As for your contention, it does bear some merit. There does seem to be (indirect) correlation with respect to player productivity and Popovich and his coaching staff. Which could have something to do with their ability to recognize how to maximize a particular position player's strengths, thus putting them in positions to flourish, and exploit match-ups.

That said, Leonard seems to have all the fundamental skills necessary to succeed on any team: He's a solid rebounder, solid shot-blocker, and is an absolute terror on the wing (he's one of the few guys in the league who forces more turnovers than he concedes, Chris Paul being another, all the while, staying out of foul trouble). He's also a respectable passer, and quite an effective scorer—one suspects, because he's taking a majority of his shots inside 10 feet (high percentage shots), and limiting mid-range shots (shit shots). Second highest shot rate actually comes from behind the arc. He's playing some really smart basketball, and is clearly the best small forward not named Durant or LeBron. I don't think he would have been a bench warmer on an another team, chances are, if healthy, he'd have played a more integral role (higher mins).

That said, we again return to the question of whether Leonard's recognition of fundamental basketball could be a discipline/reflection of his coaching? Ofc, it's not a question of skill set, clearly he has the skills, but would he focus on his strengths as much in another organization? Josh Smith is a good example of a player with some good skill sets, but who never maximized them: Good ball-thief, good passer, good rebounder, great shot-blocker, and you wouldn't know it from his shooting percentages, but a great finisher (yes, he's a career 65+% shooter at or near the rim). Unfortunately, Smith never focused on his strengths, and is a shit player as a result. When you're that good at finishing near the rim, there's no reason for you to take more jumpers than dunks, oops, lay-ups, put-backs, and tip-ins. What a waste of talent. Smh.
kyrshook "But depth shouldn't matter as much in playoffs, right?" Your top 6 matters for the way most teams distribute minutes. Some teams like the Pacers will likely play 8-9 players significant minutes, so it is skewed for them. But for the Spurs, they cut down their rotation like you would expect.

So, would you rather have the Spurs top 6 players, or the Clippers top 6?
I think this is another instance of a great player in a perfect circumstance. For instance, Lebron and Wade both made huge jumps in efficiency when they started playing together and I think Pop's system allows Leonard to play only to his strengths. Should he get credit for not messing that up? Yes, but I think the team/coach deserve credit as well. There are very few players who can take a completely mediocre crew and still have a great team (Timmy and Lebron are the only two that did so in my memory - Timmy after 1999 when Robinson was obviously on the downside and prior to the other parts of the team arrived and acclimated and Lebron from his second year until he went to Miami). I love how Leonard plays and he is obviously one of the keys to this being a great team, but I am not sold on him yet as an MVP candidate due to the team's overall depth and Pop's coaching.
Very bizarre that you look at games available vs not available when you could just look at minutes on the floor vs minutes off the floor. As tiredtime mentioned, the Spurs' margin with Kawhi on vs. off is relatively modest (+1.2 per 48 according to 82games: ).

Adjust for teammates, opponents, etc. and he's around a +1.8. I'm not by any means suggesting the conversation starts and ends with plus minus, but if you're going to make a plus-minus type argument (there vs. not there), why not be more precise?
I don't think that Kawhi gets enough credit for his off-ball play. He finds the negative floorspace as well as anyone in the league. On top of that, he's incredibly good at bolting for the fast break when his defender loses track of him. He does it EVERY SINGLE OPPORTUNITY that he gets. It's true that he focuses on shots that have an extremely high ROI, but he takes an average number of shots for his position, so we're not talking about a Reggie Evans situation. Kawhi creates shots by being in scoring position at times when almost no other replacement players would be. He's a pure off-ball player so he gets overlooked when discussing good shot creators, but the guy flat out creates scoring opportunities out of situations where others wouldn't.

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