Just Chuck It: Playoff Ruminations

And the NBA Playoffs are upon us. I have done no major analysis, but lucky for you American Numbers has. So check that out if you're looking for a model with odds, etc. That said, let's do a quick rundown of the NBA playoffs with some thoughts from the geeks.

Eastern Conference Playoffs.

Honestly, I could put a giant "who cares?" around the entire first round and be done. But we have a few thoughts, let's go over them.

Pacers vs. Celtics

Patrick's Take:

I think Pacers over Celtics would be fun, but my heart does not believe it.

Brian's Take:

Injuries will be a factor in BOS/IND, Oladipo should be a much bigger loss than Smart is. I've been a Boston supporter lately, but I have to admit both these teams have looked "meh" down the stretch.

Dre's Take:

We get into some interesting territory here. The Celtics, on paper, are a stronger squad. However, the loss of Marcus Smart is pretty significant. Also, the Pacers best player is Sabonis, and how much time will he get? It's hard to know how this series will go, but I think I still lean towards the Celtics.

Toronto vs. Orlando

Now, please forward all comments to @AmericanNumbers on Twitter. That said, I had to comment on this. Arturo thinks the Raptors are a slight favorite with the most likely outcome being a loss in six games. I don't see it. The Raptors easily feel much stronger and I don't buy this for a second, but had to put it out there.

As for the rest of the East? Wake me in two weeks. Onto the West!

Western Conference Playoffs

Nuggets vs. Spurs

I just want to comment that somehow the Nuggets lucked into arguably the easiest draw out West. They'll avoid the Warriors, Rockets, and Jazz (the top teams out West by SRS) until the Conference Finals. Of course, I'm always worried about the Spurs, and a real question comes down Jakob Poeltl, arguably the Spurs best player. If Popovich gives him major minutes, which he might against the Nuggets, it's a series. If not, I easily feel the Nuggets got this.

Rockets vs. Jazz

Patrick's Take:

I love the Jazz as a spoiler, but holy shit did they get unlucky with Houston, which is like the one team besides GSW that I think gives them the most difficult matchups and does the best job of neutralizing Gobert's impact.

Brian's Take:

I'm really big on Utah right now and think they have a shot against Houston for a few reasons:

  • Their body of work - Utah played well late and actually finished ahead of Houston in SRS (4th overall versus 5th overall)  
  • Health - Everyone is back now, especially Sefolosha
  • Lineups - Utah seems to be willing to play Gobert/Favors more than Houston will play Capela/Faried, and Gordon is an even worse high minute negative win producing anchor player than Mitchell is
  • Altitude - Even though Utah has fewer home games, those home games should be a bigger advantage than Houston's are.
  • I love Houston too though

Dre's Take:

Arturo doesn't just think Utah is the favorite here; he thinks they're the heavy favorite. Honestly, I'm on board. Yes, Mitchell is still a below average guard, but relatively he's better than Eric Gordon. The Jazz have fewer holes than the Rockets, maybe. This series could come down to coaching. Both the Jazz and Rockets have some potholes (Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and Jae Crowder), so whoever plays the right players could win. Also, James Harden has traditionally had much worse numbers in the playoffs. He'll need to buck that trend this year to win.

Trail Blazers vs. Thunder

Patricks' Take:

The only upset I would pick is Thunder over the Blazers.

Brian's Take:

OKC falling back this season has been puzzling to me so I took a quick look at some numbers:

Their big three look fine compared to last year, Westbrook is almost exactly the same and Adams is slightly worse but still really good, but George is, of course, having a career year, so they are not the culprit.

It's more likely to be the role players - adding Schroder and giving him 2300+ minutes of bad play was a mistake, and expanding Ferguson's role all while he played worse per minute was too. This may mean they play better in the playoffs with a shortened bench.

Roberson didn't play this year and won't in the playoffs, but did get played a bit last year, that could also partially explain the regular season wins delta.

I am not as down on Portland after the Nurkic injury as some people, Kanter is not significantly worse, so I still think it'll be a really close series. 

Dre's Take:

Losing Nurkic should have sunk the Blazers, but as Brian notes, Kanter has stepped up. The real question is how much the Blazers play him. If the end of the season is any indication, we could be in for a good series. The Thunder are a top-heavy squad, so more minutes to their core should help them in the playoffs. I think OKC takes this, but I'm not too committed one way or the other.

Last Meta-Analysis Point

In reviewing some playoff predictions, I just wanted to make an overall point. One thing we've known about the playoffs forever is that injuries to key players happen. As Bill Simmons noted a few years ago, it's a coin flip that a given playoffs deserves an asterisk due to key players being injured. And in a seven-game stretch, a lot of variance can happen. In short, I feel a lot of playoff models leave out things we know impact the playoffs. What's annoying is we can't really know who will get injured, who will get cold, who will get hot, or which coach will make boneheaded lineup plays. But my general feeling is if you see odds above 80% for a team to win anything in a round (let alone, say, make the Finals), I'd say it's maybe a bit optimistic.