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  1. BlazerManiac
    Posts: 777

    Posted 03/28/2012 2:31 PM

    Quantifying NBA Variability

    by Kevin Pelton


    The Orlando Magic's two meetings with the Chicago Bulls this month showed the extremes of the team's performance. Playing in front of a national TV audience on March 8, the Magic went to Chicago and knocked off the league-leading Bulls by a 99-94 final. When the teams met a week and a half later in Orlando, Chicago played without reigning MVP Derrick Rose. Yet the Bulls still held the Magic to 59 points, the fewest allowed in franchise history, during a 26-point win.

    The divergent results fit into the narrative about the Magic. Because Orlando shoots so many threes--more than one in three of the team's shot attempts come from beyond the arc, the league's highest mark--the logic goes that the Magic's performance is unusually liable to fluctuate from game to game. Or, as you're likely to hear on TV, "Live by the three, die by the three." There is evidence behind this line of thinking. At the NCA level, College Basketball Prospectus contributor John Ezekowitz recently found that shooting more threes is associated with larger variance and less consistency.

    However, when I ranked NBA teams in terms of their consistency based on the standard deviation of their scoring margin from game to games, I was surprised to find that the Magic did not rank near the top of the league. In fact, Orlando's standard deviation of 12.8 points per game is almost exactly league average (12.7). Here, instead, are the teams that have been most and least predictable:

     MOST INCONSISTENT MOST CONSISTENT Team SD Team SD ------------------- ------------------- Portland 16.8 New Orleans 9.8 Philadelphia 15.2 Oklahoma City 9.9 New York 14.0 Minnesota 10.0 Indiana 13.8 L.A. Lakers 10.1 Sacramento 13.6 New Jersey 11.4

    In part, what we're measuring here is how often teams play blowouts. So it's no surprise that the Portland Trail Blazers, with three wins by at least 38 points and a 42-point loss on their ledger, have been the league's most Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit. The Philadelphia 76ers, too, have tended to destroy lesser competition this season. In the case of the Sacramento Kings, it's more about getting blown out while pulling off the occasional surprising upset. On the other side, Minnesota, New Orleans and Oklahoma City have all played a number of games decided down the stretch. The Thunder has gone 10-4 in games decided by five points or fewer, while the Hornets have won just five of 14 such games.

    I am a fan of WES, the heart and soul of the Blazers.
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