29. December 2010 01:33
LeBron James' contraction brouhaha got me thinking about an exercise I like doing periodically in all the professional sports. Focus on what the best teams in the league are doing only against each other to see if you develop a better sense of how everyone really stacks up.
When I saw that the LA Lakers were visiting the San Antonio Spurs tonight, it seemed like the ideal time to present the concept of a Superleague to you. I have to say...what I learned from crunching the numbers took me by surprise.
Wherever you make the cut-off for a Superleague study is always going to be arbitrary. The last team in is going to be borderline. The first team out would whine if they knew what you were doing. I try not to let my personal feelings get in the way. I let won-lost records or key indicator stats suggest a logical cut-off. For today's exercise, I decided to use the differential between offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored and allowed per 100 possessions) for each team.
It's good to have about a third of the league involved, so it's not too small...but we don't get too big and drift down to .500 caliber teams. Let's see what the differentials show.
(Compiled Tuesday afternoon 12/28)
3...San Antonio +9.3
5...LA Lakers +6.4
8...New Orleans +3.1
9...New York +2.6
10...Oklahoma City +2.5
That's an even dozen right there, a little more than a third of the league. Next in line would be Denver, who entered Tuesday action at +1.5 (0.8 to 1.1 behind that compact cluster of four teams that closes out the sample). I'm sympathetic to the thought that Denver belongs...but their record was just 16-13 entering the day, and there's a chance Carmelo Anthony won't even be on the team in the very near future. It's not hard to add them down the road if they take their efficiency differential up to +2.5 or better.
For now, let's stick with those dozen and call them the Superleague. Here's everyone's won-lost record through Tuesday Night's games within the Superleague. Again, these are only games played within the subset of elite teams. You don't get any credit for beating the lesser lights. An upset loss to somebody like Milwaukee or Indiana doesn't count against you either. We want to see what the best teams are doing against each other.
(Including Tuesday Night's action)
San Antonio 8-3
New York 4-5
Oklahoma City 5-7
New Orleans 5-8
LA Lakers 1-4
Whoa, what's happened to the World Champs?! They were 1-3 entering tonight's game at San Antonio, then lost badly. You probably watched their loss on Christmas Day to Miami. They were just 1-2 before that.
*The Lakers are playing poorly vs. quality.
*The Lakers are playing an amazingly soft schedule! Most teams are up around 11-12 games in the Superleague. The Lakers lag behind everyone with just five.
This is either evidence that the Lakers are less likely than everyone realizes to finish off their three-peat. Or, it's evidence that the Lakers are pacing themselves for the long haul. There's no trophy for being great in December.
Time will tell. Monitoring Superleague results throughout the season should help us see when the Lakers kick things up a notch. Or, it will show us that they've lost that extra gear they thought they had.
Right now, the standings are showing us how much better Dallas, Boston, and San Antonio are than everyone else. Miami has surged to 7-7 with a string of recent victories, so it's probably better to think of them as part of a "big four" at the top of the league than a 7-7 team.
I'll monitor Superleague results as the season progresses, and provide updates periodically. On the schedule in the coming week:
LA Lakers at New Orleans
New York at Orlando
San Antonio at Dallas
New Orleans at Boston
Atlanta at Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City at San Antonio
Challenging week for the Spurs.
Would you have guessed that the Lakers had only won 20% of their efforts vs. the top dozen teams in the NBA? Or that they had played only half as many games vs. quality opponents as most everyone else?