The NBA playoffs – where amazing happens. The postseason starts Saturday, and while TV pundits, professional betters, and normal NBA fans can predict most of the serious championship contenders, there are always a few dark horses that can sneak into the Conference Finals and even win the championship with a few breaks. After combing through the numbers at ESPN.com, we’ve identified empirical evidence correlating to the NBA Finals’ participants over the past 10 years. Granted, there is no magic set of data that will predict a champion; however regular season rankings in key categories may suggest that certain under-the-radar teams have a great chance of overachieving. The Los Angeles Clippers currently are a 9/1 bet to win the NBA championship; their odds may not be as slim as Vegas thinks.
Regular Season Point Differential
Not surprising – if a team easily beats opponents during the regular season it’s a safe assumption they should continue their dominance through the playoffs. Playoff games tend to be closer than say a regular season Bucks-Pacers matchup, but look at the past 20 NBA Finals’ participants:
- 2013 – Miami #2, San Antonio #4
- 2012 – Oklahoma City #3, Miami #4
- 2011 – Miami #1, Dallas #8
- 2010 – Los Angeles Lakers #6 (tied), Boston #9
- 2009 – Los Angeles Lakers #2, Orlando #4
- 2008 – Boston #1, Los Angeles Lakers #3
- 2007 – San Antonio #1, Cleveland #7
- 2006 – Dallas #3, Miami #5
- 2005 – San Antonio #1, Detroit #6
- 2004 – Detroit #2 (tie), Los Angeles #7
Only once did both finalists fall outside of the top 5 in regular season point differential (2010). Every other year, at least one team was the first, second, or third best in the NBA. Excluding that 2010 matchup between the Lakers and Celtics, 9 of the past 10 Finals’ participants were in the top 4; obviously regular season dominance translates to postseason success. The Clippers currently have the second best point differential, trailing only the top winning percentage San Antonio Spurs.
Adjusted Field Goal Percentage
This somewhat obscure yet simple statistic also coincides with NBA Finals participation. AFG%, for short, calculates a team’s point production per shot attempt and illustrates the benefit or detriment of a team’s three point shot selection. The formula for AFG% is [field goals made + (3 pointers made/2)]/field goal attempts; essentially meaning teams that take too many dumb 3s and miss them will have a lower AFG% than teams that take the right amount of smart 3s and make them. Looking at regular season AFG% in the past 10 Finals:
- 2013 – Miami #1, San Antonio #2
- 2012 – Oklahoma City #2 (tie), Miami #5 (tie)
- 2011 – Dallas #3, Miami #4
- 2010 – Boston #5, Los Angeles Lakers #15 (tie)
- 2009 – Orlando #3, Los Angeles #5 (tie)
- 2008 – Los Angeles #4, Boston #5
- 2007 – San Antonio #2, Cleveland #22
- 2006 – Miami #2, Dallas #10 (tie)
- 2005 – San Antonio #6 (tie), Detroit #23
- 2004 – Los Angeles Lakers #7, Detroit #20 (tie)
The Clippers finished the season tied for fourth. The past 6 Finals again outline the importance of AFG%, with 11 of 12 finalists falling within the top 5.
Offensive Rebounding – Hardly Important
But we can’t just cherry-pick the best statistics and ignore the blemishes. Offensive rebounding is thought to be a vital component of slower, grind-it-out playoff basketball. Teams will need every extra shot attempt against better competition in closer games, right? The Clippers are currently 21st in the NBA at 10.5 offensive rebounds per game, but this may be indicative of better shooting (3rd highest percentage) which means offensive rebounds become less pertinent. Regular season offensive rebounding in the past 10 Finals:
- 2013 – Miami #28, San Antonio last (tie)
- 2012 – Oklahoma City #19 (tie), Miami #24
- 2011 – Miami #26 (tie), Dallas #28
- 2010 – Los Angeles Lakers #3, Boston last
- 2009 – Los Angeles #3, Orlando #27
- 2008 – Los Angeles #17 (tie), Boston #23
- 2007 – Cleveland #1, San Antonio #28
- 2006 – Dallas #3 (tie), Miami #20 (tie)
- 2005 – Detroit #6, San Antonio #15 (tie)
- 2004 – Detroit #12, Los Angeles #13 (tie)
Clearly, offensive rebounding has almost no correlation to championship pedigree. Just look at the Detroit Pistons; the #1 offensive rebounding team and their president resigned amidst a disappointing 29-53 season.
The Los Angeles Clippers have the statistics indicating great potential for a deep playoff run. Best point guard in the game – check. Great coach – check. All aboard the Clippers’ bandwagon.