NBA Team Performance Rankings at the All-Star Break

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IFebruary 14, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 11:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers throws chalk up in the air before their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on January 11, 2010 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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A Performance Ranking anyone can understand—Is it possible?

Of course it is! And, like in most things, simpler is better.

It seems everyone has their own method of ranking NBA teams during the season, as if the number of wins didn't provide a truly objective measure of how well everyone is doing.

Some ranking methods are so complex that one has to wonder if even the owners have any idea of how the results are actually spat out. And some rankings are so subjective, it seems the authors' favorites are just a little out of line with reality.

But many ranking systems have had a lot of thought put into their methodology, and if the authors actually simplified their approach down to what they say is important, perhaps the results wouldn't be so controversial.

The key measures that seem to make sense about how a team is actually performing are:

  1. If a team wins its games by more points than a team with a similar record, then they must be the stronger team.
  2. If one team is Hot (as in winning games now), then at this point in time they are better than a team that is Cold.  Even if their records are similar.
  3. Road wins are harder to earn than home wins and should be afforded a higher value when accessing a team's overall strength.
  4. Strength of schedule adjustments. But these are difficult to be objective about as teams may play well or poorly at different points in the schedule and the further one gets into the season, the less one can argue for this impact. Plus, there is no method to adjust for playing teams missing key players due to injury.

In an attempt to produce an objective ranking system of where NBA teams stand in relation to one another that can actually be understood, *Brothersteve's blog presents its first mid-season Performance Rankings.


NBA Teams Performance Ranking At the All-Star Break


WLGPHOME WinsROAD WinsL 10FactorDifferentialRank
2L.A. Lakers141135425168-266.7786.6
8Oklahoma City630215115157-343.0965.9
11San Antonio530215119115-504.6861.5
14New Orleans28255317115-50-1.1550.3
22L.A. Clippers2131521472-8-6-4.3028.4
23New York1932511272-8-6-2.2727.8
28Golden State1437511041-9-8-3.9014.1
30New Jersey44852311-9-8-11.65-12.4


The ranking system illustrated above weighs road wins approximately 25 percent higher than home wins, adds in the team's points differential, then adjusts for the team's trend over the past 10 games.

(Note: a number after a team indicates current playoff position)

Not surprisingly, Cleveland stands out as the best team in the NBA with the LA Lakers alone in second. Does anyone question that these are the league's top two teams at the moment?

Orlando is solidly in third because of a good road record, positive trend, and solid points differential. They are just not as strong as the two leaders.

Utah sneaks into fourth overall just ahead of Denver, Boston, and Atlanta because they are hot. A 9-1 record indicates Utah is on the move while the teams just behind them are struggling to play .500 ball.

The surprising OKC Thunder sit alone at eighth with a good +3.09 points differential and a positive trend. They may be in eighth place in the West, but they have the third best road record in their conference and are a team on the rise.

Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio are closely ranked at nine through eleven and they should be close. Each team has its flaws and none have played well lately. Dallas may be in fourth spot in the Western Conference playoff race, but their +1.71 points differential says they are going to have trouble staying there.

Another surprising team, the Toronto Raptors is ranked twelfth. A terrible start to the season has now been almost wiped clean as the points differential is down to minus .30 and hot play since the twentieth game of the season is still reflected in the current 8-2 mark. Toronto has rode their improved play into the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The eighth place team in the West, Portland is ranked thirteenth mostly on the weakness of their recent play as they struggle through numerous injuries. Portland is a team that could rebound strongly post All-Star break.

New Orleans, Houston, Milwaukee, and Charlotte follow Portland in a tightly-packed group with the surging Bucks making their play for a spot in the East's playoff race.

The ninth place Bucks have been out-playing the three teams ahead of them in the East's playoff race recently and have surprised teams by not folding after Redd was lost for the season to injury.

Chicago sits just ahead of Memphis and Miami in 18th spot, mostly because they have refused to lose as many games recently as the teams just behind them. But with a points differential of minus 2.66, Chicago is counting on a continued slump from Miami to hold their current position.

The 21st ranked Philadelphia 76ers are the last ranked team to have won more games than they have lost over the past 10. But with a losing home and road record, plus a negative 1.92 points differential, its hard to see the 76ers making any kind of move. Of course they surprised everyone last season.

The teams ranked below the 76ers have two things in common. They are not currently winning many games and they get out-scored by a significant margin. But New Jersey is trying to take losing games to new depths. At this pace, they may just set that all-time record for losses in a season.

Note:  Ten of the top 16 ranked teams are from the West. So the argument for the West looking stronger than the East this season has some objective support. But the two non-playoff teams from the West, Houston and New Orleans, ranked 14 and 15, are well within reach of Milwaukee, Charlotte, Chicago, and Miami. By season's end, the top 16 ranked teams could easily be split 50/50 East/West.


* Brothersteve's Green & Red Raptor Blog


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