As we near midseason, I decided it was time to release the first edition of my 2015-16 NBA ORtg & DRtg z-scores!
For those who missed the work I did on this last season, check out this post and the comment section that goes with it. It contains an explanation of what exactly these are, some FAQs, and lots of good historical stuff in the comments (along with some no longer relevant data from last year ;).
2015-16 Z-Scores (measured through 1/11/16)
So, what exactly are all these numbers?
Column 1 = Abbreviation for each team
Column 2 = ORtg, as calculated by Basketball Reference
Column 3 = DRtg, as calculated by Basketball Reference
Column 4 = ORtg - DRtg, also known as Net Rating
Column 5 = Number of standard deviations from league average ORtg (also known as a 'z-score')
Column 6 = Number of standard deviations from league average DRtg
Column 7 = Off_Z + Def_Z, a measure of overall team strength
Off_Z & Def_Z Scale -
+2.77 = Best defense ever (1992-93 New York Knicks, anchored by Ewing).
+2.61 = Best offense ever (2003-04 Dallas Mavericks, led by Nash & Dirk).
+2.00 or more = Historically Elite.
+1.50 to +1.99 = Elite.
+1.00 to +1.49 = Very Good.
+0.50 to +0.99 = Good.
+0.01 to +0.49 = Above average.
-0.01 to -0.49 = Below Average.
-0.50 to -0.99 = Poor.
-1.00 to -1.49 = Very Poor.
-1.50 to -1.99 = Terrible.
-2.00 or less = Historically Terrible.
-2.61 = Worst defense ever (2005-06 Seattle Supersonics).
-3.45 = Worst offense ever (2002-03 Denver Nuggets).
Net_Z Rating Scale
+3.94 = Best team ever (1995-96 Chicago Bulls).
+3.00 or more = Historically elite. 9 teams, 8 conference finalists (89%), 7 champions (78%).
+2.50 to +2.99 = Championship favorite. 26 teams, 19 conference finalists (73%), 9 champions (35%).
+2.00 to +2.49 = Legitimate contender. 62 teams, 39 conference finalists (63%), 7 champions (11%).
+1.50 to +1.99 = In the picture. 73 teams, 33 conference finalists (45%), 7 champions (10%).
+1.00 to +1.49 = Long-shot. 107 teams, 31 conference finalists (29%), 5 champions (5%).
+0.50 to +0.99 = Nearly impossible. 113 teams, 8 conference finalists (7%), 1 champion (1%). The lone exception: 1994-95 Houston Rockets when Hakeem Olajuwon elevated his play from MVP-caliber in the regular season to Destroyer of Worlds in the playoffs.
-5.07 = Worst team ever (1992-93 Dallas Mavericks).
So, what is the landscape of the league this year? Extremely top heavy. Four teams that are legitimate contenders, but only three other teams are even a long shot. Golden State is on pace to have the best offense ever. San Antonio is on pace to have both the best defense and best team ever (at least according to this measure). Oklahoma City and Cleveland have established themselves as legitimate contenders, even though each has had their struggles so far this year. And that's it, really. Maybe the Clippers work themselves into the picture, but right now only these four have a legitimate shot at winning it all. Despite the 'improvement' from the Eastern Conference, three of these four contenders dwell in the Western Conference, which means the Cavs should have a relatively easy path to the finals.
In all likelihood, neither the Warriors nor the Spurs will be able to maintain their record level offensive and defensive play, respectively. No doubt both will rank as historically elite when all is said and done, but things like this tend to regress as the season progresses. Likewise, I do not expect the Spurs to end up having a better regular season than the 1995-96 Bulls. Kawhi is great, but he's not Pippen, let alone MJ. Duncan is a fantastic team leader, Pop is perhaps the best coach ever, and LMA is a very good player despite his flaws. The are a legitimately great team, but the best ever? I just don't see it. I welcome them, or the Warriors, to prove me wrong, but as it stands I do not expect either 73 wins or the best net rating ever. If I had to guess, I'd say the Warriors end the season with +2.40 Off_Z, +0.85 Def_Z, +3.25 Net_Z. For the Spurs, my guess would be +1.20 Off_Z, +2.35 Def+Z, +3.55 Net_Z.
That said, while I don't expect broken records, I do expect them both to be VERY dangerous playoff teams. I don't think two teams that strong have ever been on the same side of the bracket. The last time two teams this strong met in the playoffs was probably CHI vs UTA in the 1997 NBA Finals. Assuming OKC or LAC doesn't stop either of them, it should be an epic series, with the best offense facing off against the best defense. And yet, the victor may not even be favored in the NBA Finals.
While it is unlikely (but not impossible!) that Cleveland ends the year with the best W-L record or net rating in the NBA, they might still be the strongest team. Since January 15, 2015 the Cavaliers have an 120.3 ORtg and 99.6 DRtg when LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love share the court. During the playoffs, they will share the court a lot. While other teams may be deeper, nobody else has the top end talent that Cleveland can put on the court. Even, Oklahoma City, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, doesn't quite have the same firepower.
Kyrie Irving has only played 9 games this year. The Cavs have won 8 of them, losing only a close game to GSW when Kyrie was clearly not close to being himself yet.
Who is the best team in the NBA this year? I simply don't know. It could be Golden State, with their unprecedented offense centered on Stephen Curry's shooting. It could be San Antonio, with their monstrous defense led by the young star Kawhi Leonard. It could be Cleveland, who has performed just as well as those two since Kyrie's return. It could even be Oklahoma City, who certainly has the offense to stick with anyone but still needs to figure it out on the other end.
What we do know is this: there are some really special basketball teams in the NBA right now, and we should all take the time to enjoy what should be a fantastic finish to the season. Here's hoping all of these teams make it to the playoffs healthy so we can see them go head-to-head to finally prove which one really is the best!
(I plan on posting updated numbers when the season is about 3/4 finished)