Introducing the Caroline Scale

This year, we're going to introduce a new rating scale in our team previews: The Caroline Scale. The scale was invented by our brilliant collaborator Ari Caroline, who, when he isn't busy crunching data to cure cancer, also applies his keen analytic mind to basketball statistics. Here's how it works.

Each team's offseason is given a rating from 1 to 5. The rating measures the team's improvement from the previous season (or lack thereof, or worsening). A 1 indicates the team got much worse, a 5 means the team got much better, and a 3 means the team is about as good as it was the previous year.

The catch is that in general this is a zero-sum game; the scores across the league must average to 3 (but I will let you flub a little; my first attempt came out to 2.96667). This is because even though every fan-boy/girl of every team would like to believe that his or her team improved significantly in the offseason, they can't all have. While it is possible that the influx of new talent from the draft and Europe could mean that the overall level of talent in the NBA has increased, the relative increase won't be the same, and wins remain a zero-sum game. I guess the simplest way to explain it is that for every team that wins ten games more than in 2013/14, some other teams have to lose those ten games.

Bear in mind two things:

  • The scale is probably not linear. The difference between 4 and 5 is probably not the same as the difference between 3 and 4 when we translate to wins. That is, if a team goes from 40 wins to 50, we might rate them a 4. But that doesn't mean they would have to win 60 for us to rate them as a 5 because it becomes marginally more difficult to add wins.
  • It's obviously hard for some teams to improve (worse). For instance, it is very hard for the Spurs to get a 4 and nearly impossible for them to get a 5, and I'd rate them a 3. This is not a condemnation of their offseason; despite the non-linearity of the scale, when you are already the best team in the NBA it is very hard to do anything actually to get better. Conversely, it might be easy for the Bucks to get a 4, but it would be very hard for the Bucks to get a 2 because there simply isn't much room for them to get any worse.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be rolling out some articles that grade every team on the Caroline scale. Think of this as a preview before the preview. And, as a pre-preview of these articles, I'll offer up an easy example.

Minnesota Timberwolves (Caroline Scale: 2.0)

For a fanbase that just lost a bonafide superstar, Timberwolves nation sure is excited. And maybe they should be (as long as their win/loss expectations aren't high). Given that the Cavaliers are the only recipient of a 5 in my ratings, one would think the loss of Kevin Love would earn them a lower ranking than 2. But there are mitigating factors.

  • JJ Barea was the worst point guard in the NBA last season, if only by virtue of (mystifyingly) being allowed to play more minutes than his "competitors" John Lucas III and Dennis Shroeder. Mo Williams is not good, but sometimes bad is an upgrade. Furthermore, Flip is pretty unlikely to give Williams preference over Rubio in the fourth quarter the way Adelman overplayed Barea.
  • Corey Brewer has had a career year living off of Kevin Love outlet passes. In spite of this, he is not a good player. Andrew Wiggins is unlikely to be much worse, despite the fact that he is overhyped. And Wiggins is likely to take a lot of Brewer's minutes. #1 overall draft picks generally get lots of playing time.
  • I feel fairly confident that Gorgui Dieng is the real deal. I expect we will see lots of him at both center and power forward. When he's paired with Pekovic, he'll play PF because Pek doesn't have the footwork and mobility to guard the PF position, and when he is paired with Young, he will play the 5. Given Pek's injury history, I suspect we will see lots of Young/Dieng lineups.
  • Speaking of Young, I expect a bit of bounce back from him. That Philadelphia team was not a good situation for him.

More minutes from Dieng, more minutes from Rubio, and fewer minutes from Barea all probably mean that the Timberwolves got worse, but not disastrously so. This team is still a much better team than the real bottom dwellers like the Lakers, Kings, Bucks, etc.

We will, of course, have more numbers soon, but right now we are still crunching!