Better Late Than Never: Using Statistics to Rank Every Playoff Team

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Better Late Than Never: Using Statistics to Rank Every Playoff Team
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

If the Miami Heat win the 2011 NBA Championship, everything that we’ve come to know and love about basketball—that you’re only as strong as your supporting cast, that it takes more than one or two or three good players to win a title, that it’s a team sport—is wrong.

Miami boasts a "Big Three" as talented as any trio currently in the league. It’s supporting cast? Probably something that they’d rather not discuss. While LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh make up the most effective 1-3 in the league, everyone else on this roster is horrendous; I’d feel bad for the Heat’s core if I didn’t hate them in such a passionate way. So horrendous, in fact, that, statistically speaking, the Miami Heat are the second worst team in the 2011 NBA playoffs.

Using regular season statistics to compare all 16 playoff teams yielded interesting results, some surprising, others totally understandable. My method was relatively simple: Look at the Player Efficiency Rating (PER; for those that have a life outside of following sports statistics, it’s a conglomerate stat that can be used to evaluate how well a player plays despite actual playing time—15 is a league-average player, 20 is borderline All-Star caliber player and any player playing above 22 or 23 deserves heavy MVP consideration) of the top eight players (based on minutes per game) in every team’s rotation, and average them out.

Miami’s trio of LeBron James (PER: 27.3), Dwyane Wade (25.7) and Chris Bosh (19.4) constitutes the best "Big Three" PER in the league: The three have an average PER of 24.13. The next five players in their rotation boast numbers that reflect the lack of talent on this roster (outside of the aforementioned three): 9.48. That’s terrible. The team has a cumulative PER of 14.975, good for second-worst in the league.

I realize that statistics aren’t everything, that intangibles do play a role in how games are played, that predictions are stupid. Stats are the most objective way to forecast a team’s success, and the following list reflects nothing but numbers. I really wanted to see how the Heat as a collective unit would fare against other, more complete teams. Glad to say that they don’t measure up, at least on paper.

So no matter how many times ESPN talks about how good the Heat are, know that this is a team with three superstars and a bunch of D-Leaguers. And if they somehow manage to overcome the odds and win a championship, they will have successfully taken a crap on the notion of team basketball. If you are rooting for them and you live outside of Miami, you are a bad sports fan, and I hope to God that our paths never cross. 

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