I began by creating my database, compiling all of the rankings from ESPN and accompanying them with each players' PER, WS/48, WP48 and MEGASTAT (2010, 2011, 2012 weighted average). Easy enough.
First problem: rookies.
I had to assign some kind of value to the rookies if I was going to properly evaluate each team. I sorted by ESPN's ranking---because honestly, I have no idea where to put 90% of these kids---and then to calculated the value I'd use for each rookie's minute's played, PER, WS/48, WP48, and MEGASTAT, I took the average of the 5 players ESPN-ranked above them and the 5 players ESPN-ranked below them. This is probably the least accurate part of this analysis, so I have also analyzed the teams without counting rookies.
Second problem: weighting the rankings/stats for each player.
If I weighted everything equally, then the deep teams like the Clippers would be ranked too high, and the shallow teams like the Lakers would be ranked too low. It's extremely likely that the Lakers are probably going to play their starting 5 (Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol, Howard) more minutes than the Clippers will play their starting 5 (Paul, Billups, Butler, Griffin, Jordan). The Clippers will likely use their depth, going 10-12 deep, while the Lakers will likely use their star power, going 8-10 deep. Therefore, we can't just take the average of the rankings for each teams. No, we have to weight those rankings depending on the player.
Using 2012 minutes played (or in the case where a player didn't play in 2012, their most recent minutes played multiplied by 66/82), I gave each player a weight for their team based on their minutes as a percentage of the team's total minutes. Now, even though only 15,840 minutes were played by each team last year (5 players, 48 minutes, 66 games in 2011-12), I figured that proportionally, the minutes distributions would be mostly the same. For example, the Heats' minutes look extra high because they added Ray Allen off the bench, but I figured he would still get plenty of playing time on his new team, and everyone else would take a minor hit. The total minutes are well above 15,840 for Miami, but Ray Allen's weight being similar to Udonis Haslem's weight seems appropriate. Besides, the differences in weight are extremely minor. LeBron has the highest weight with 13%, while Allen is at 9%. Maybe LeBron's weight should be 13.2% and Allen's should be 8.8%? It's not going to change the outcome much.
So, where do the Clippers stack up?
If you sort this data, you'll find that the Clippers have the 3rd highest ESPN-ranked team, the highest PER in the league, the 4th highest WS/48, the 3rd highest WP48, and the 4th highest MEGASTAT (all weighted-average of course).
This changes things a bit, since the rookies were bringing down a lot of other teams' ranks, and the Clippers have no rookies at all. Now the Clippers have the 6th highest ESPN-rank, the 2nd highest PER, the 5th highest WS/48, the 6th highest WP48, and the 5th highest MEGASTAT (all weighted average, again).
Why are the Clippers ranked so high?
Depth, depth, depth. The Clippers have 9 players ranked 130 or higher. Boston has 7, which is the closest anyone comes (then again, Boston ranks pretty darn high as well). Still, the teams that best the Clippers, whether including or excluding rookies, are the teams with more star power combined with some measure of depth. The Lakers have the star power, but with only 6 players ranked above 200 and the other 9 below (2 rookies, though), lack of depth hurts them enough to pull down their team ranking. But the Thunder have more star power than the Clippers, combined with enough depth to make them truly in a class of their own. The Heat and Celtics also have more star power than the Clippers, and have some depth that puts them in the top group as well. Of course, if you remove rookies from the equation, then you get teams like the Nuggets, Nets, Knicks and Sixers all in the mix as well.
What conclusions can we draw from this?
The Clippers are good. They will probably be very good during the regular season because of this depth. They will be able to withstand the usual injuries better than any other team, and they will be well-rested going into the playoffs. But does this mean that the Clippers should be one of the favorites to come out of the west, even more so than the hyped-up Lakers? Not necessarily. During the playoffs, rotations get tightened and star players tend to play more minutes. Teams go 8 deep when they'd normally go 10 deep. Whether this is a good strategy or not is beside the point---it's just something that happens, and it happens for pretty much every team. This is where star power starts to tip the scales. As great as it is to have a guy like Matt Barnes as probably our 9th guy off the bench (when he'd be 7th or 8th on most teams), that doesn't mean much in the playoffs. Barnes is never going to be able to match his production up against the other team's 9th player, and providing an extra 15 minutes of rest for the starters probably won't have an effect over a 7 game series.
I encourage you to take this data, copy it into MS Excel, and then sort the data by different columns. It may be interesting to see which teams are above and below the Clippers in the various categories. Also, keep in mind that my weighting methods are all based on actual minutes played in 2012 (or 2011, adjusted), which may be causing some problems in terms of placement for teams with major moves that caused former starters to play bench roles, or former bench players to start (e.g. Heat, Lakers, Magic, Nets, Clippers, etc.). It's not perfect, but it's not too far from the truth.