Predicting the NBA Champion -- A parable

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy to predict the NBA Champion with a high accuracy rate. Just always say who isn't going to win.

I can predict the NBA Champion with 96.67% accuracy. Guaranteed. Year in and year out. I have a foolproof system. Would you like to know what it is?

One simply predicts that all 30 teams are going to lose and NOT be the champion. This system will be spot on in 96.67% of the cases. That's a really, really high percentage, I'm sure you would agree.

Conversely, one could predict that a particular team is going to win, and that the other 29 teams are NOT going to win. In that scenario, the accuracy is 93.33% even in the worst case scenario. And there's a pretty good chance that the prediction will be 100% correct, especially if you just pick the Miami Heat because, you know, they have some really good players.

To make one's self look really good, one can always provide some smart sounding reasons that fit well with the conventional wisdom for why Team A or Team B is not going to win.

For instance:

  • The Spurs won't win the title because they lack athleticism and their best players are slowing down.
  • Or the Heat won't win the title because they are too small and will be beaten up on the boards.
  • Or the Pacers won't win the title because their offense is only mediocre and won't be enough in the playoffs.
  • Or the Warriors won't win the title because they are a jump-shooting team and jump-shooting teams don't win in the post season. Sure they can surprise a team here and there, but there's no way they can string four series wins together because at some point they'll run into a cold streak. (This one works for any number of teams. Drop in Blazers for Warriors and you're good to go. Drop in 2011 Mavs and you'll have what everyone was saying then. They were all wrong, but they sounded smart at the time.)
  • Or the Clippers won't win the title because they are soft / can't score in the half court / don't play good defense ... pretty much pick a cliche and it'll probably be right, if right is measured by an absence of rings.

********

That is the end of my parable.

I do not think the Clippers are going to win the NBA title this season, for what it's worth. Heading into the season, I had them right around third, which was probably a little wishful. I was completely wrong about the Thunder taking a step back (though it hardly seems fair that Kevin Durant is doing what he's doing). And the Pacers are much better than I thought they'd be. So now I have the Clippers right around fifth.

There are other teams in that next tranche with the Clippers. Pick your favorite and I'll tell you why they won't win. And I'll probably be right. I'll also tell you why the Clippers won't win, and I'll probably be right.

********

You may have noticed that I got sucked into a twitgument earlier this week. It was stupid of me, if only because I'm not much of a twitter person. (Turns out I was "caping", putting on my superhero cape to rescue the Clippers from the grips of an arch villain. Yay me!)

Moving on, here are some things I know:

  • The Clippers have the fifth best net efficiency rating in the NBA at the midpoint of the season. The four teams ahead of them are the four I mentioned above.
  • The Clippers are one of four teams in the NBA rated in the top 10 in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The other three are all on the list of contenders above (Indiana's offense is rated 17th, but oh my word that defense.)
  • The Clippers have played their last 27 games without one or both of their starting guards.
  • Over the last 30 games, the Clippers rank fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Yes, it's selective end-pointing, but it also happens to be consistent with what Doc Rivers was saying early in the season, that there would be some issues while the team was learning to embrace the new defensive principles, and then things would improve.

All of those things above are facts. Facts that tend to indicate to me that the Clippers are pretty good now, and they may be even better in April and May. We'll have to wait and see if that turns out to be true.

Making a stronger case for Indiana, Miami, San Antonio or Oklahoma City to win the title is not very hard. It's pretty easy in fact. The numbers aren't so great for Miami, but hey, they'll turn it on when it counts right? The case for them winning this year goes something like this: they've won it twice in a row.

Making a stronger case for any of the 25 teams other than those four or the Clippers would not be so easy. For any stat that a Clipper critic can throw out or criticism that Charles Barkley can offer (although he actually praised Blake Griffin this week in his own semi-coherent manner) to damn the Clippers to certain failure, I can produce an equally or more damning one for the other teams. Is the person who swears that the Clippers won't win because of reason X vindicated at the end of the season if the Clippers don't win? That person always seems to believe so. Which is why everyone out there is right almost 97% of the time.

If one's list of contenders is four long, fine. If it's longer than four, and it doesn't include the Clippers, I'm always curious as to why, that's all.

Every team in the NBA is flawed. The Clippers are flawed, but have shown some signs of correcting some of their worst ones and should almost certainly be better for the final third of the season than they have been so far.

But I'm pretty sure they're not going to win the title.

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