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Archive for November, 2010

Excuse me for a second.

<Tuuuuuurrrrkeeeeeeeey….graaaaaavvvyyyyyyy…..uugggggghhhhhhhhh……>

Good. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here’s an update on the Milwaukee Bucks’ Pythagorean Stats:

Click to enlarge

See how good things were looking around Game 9? Yeah, that’s where we were last time. At the time, the theme was “How quickly things change.” The new theme is, “Good God, if Salmons kills another possession by picking up his dribble at the free-throw line I’m gonna scream.” While Milwaukee’s defense has stood fast as one of the best in the league (top ranked in ORtg, top-5 or top-10 in a host of other metrics), the offense has continued it’s hellish decent to the bottom of the NBA. The result? A somewhat counter-intuitive disparity between their true winning percentage and their expected winning percentage using the Pythagorean prediction, as you can see in the graph above.

While Milwaukee has lost four in a row coming into tonight’s game against fellow cellar-dweller Detroit, they’ve lost their last two by three points combined! Going through the whole season up to now, Milwaukee has an average point differential of +13 in their 5 victories and -7 in their 9 losses. In other words, when they win, they win big; when they lose, they lose not-so-big. Remember, the Pythagorean prediction is based on points scored and points against. While the Bucks’ true record has taken some hits, their 82-game projection still pegs them as an 42-win team. That’s a playoff team in the East (John Hollinger gives Milwaukee a 75% chance to make the playoffs), even if one game over .500 isn’t what we might have hoped for at season’s outset.

So while there’s reason for concern that Milwaukee is just never going to score points with ease, the self-assurances still have some value. The Bucks are not going to lose every one or two point game this year – the ball just doesn’t bounce that way. They’re not going to continue shooting 40% from the field. I repeat, they’re not going to continue shooting 40% from the field. It may be time to temper our expectations and realize that even this revamped team might not eclipse the feel-good story of last year’s squad, but it doesn’t mean the season is lost. I repeat (to myself), it doesn’t mean the season is lost.

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We’re more than 10 percent done with the NBA season already, which is a sad thought. But fear not, for I bring good tidings of estimated winning percentages, courtesy of our good friend Pythagoras (and also Bill James, Dean Oliver, and John Hollinger)! ¬†As you can see below, before last Tuesday’s game against the Knicks, Milwaukee had an estimated winning percentage under 0.40. Just three days later, Milwaukee is expected to win almost 50 games! How quickly things can change when the ball starts finding the bottom of the net. This number will continue to change significantly for a while before starting to stabilize around mid-season.

The “True Winning Percentage” currently lags behind the expected percentage simply it is calculated from a smaller sample of games. Still, for now it’s interesting to see how winning games and point differential affect a team’s projected record. For those of you who are curious, I’m using an exponent of 14 in the Pythagorean expectation calculation. John Hollinger typically uses 16.5, but Dean Oliver explains in his book Basketball on Paper how 14 works well for slower-paced NBA teams. Frankly, you can’t spell slower-paced without Milwaukee.

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