Analytics back Bucks, Nuggets
April 12, 2019
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4 NBA Contrarian teams to win the NBA Championship
So, you're thinking about a future wager on the NBA Championship and you're not sure who to take?
We can help you with some proven statistics that accurately predict who this year's champion may be, and rule out the most obvious media darling pretenders.
The backbone of this research is centered around efficiency ratings/rankings compiled through the regular season.
The average overall efficiency rating this season in the NBA was 1.104 points scored/allowed per possession or 110.4 points per 100 possessions. The Golden State Warriors were the most efficient offense in the NBA at 116.0 points per 100 possessions (1.160PPP) while the Houston Rockets were a close second at 1.156PPP with the Blazers (1.146), Bucks (1.137) and Raptors (1.132PPP) rounding out the top five.
The Milwaukee Bucks own the top defensive efficiency rating in the league of 105.2 or 1.052 points per possession allowed this season. The other four teams that round out the top five are Utah, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Toronto.
If history tells us anything, these numbers can be extremely useful in predicting the NBA Champion.
This trend started in 2008-09 when the NBA Finals featured the Los Angeles Lakers with head coach Phil Jackson and HOF'er Kobe Bryant, facing the Orlando Magic and a young Dwight Howard. The Lakers won that Finals series in dominating five-game fashion (4-1).
The Lakers finished the regular season ranked 3rd in offensive efficiency ratings (OEFF) and 6th in defensive efficiency (DEFF). Orlando had efficiency numbers that ranked them 12th in OEFF and 1st in DEFF. This was the beginning of the "efficiency" Champions in the recent decades.
Below are the Finals Champions and their overall efficiency rankings for the past ten Championships.
NBA CHAMPIONS FROM 2008 on and OEFF/DEFF regular season efficiency rankings:
2008-09 LA Lakers (OEFF = 3rd, DEFF = 6th)
2009-10 LA Lakers (OEFF = 11th, DEFF = 4th)
2010-11 Dallas Mavericks (OEFF = 8th, DEFF = 7th)
2011-12 Miami Heat (OEFF = 8th, DEFF = 4th)
2012-13 Miami Heat (OEFF = 1st, DEFF = 9th)
2013-14 San Antonio Spurs (OEFF = 7th, DEFF = 3rd)
2014-15 Golden State Warriors (OEFF = 2nd, DEFF = 1st)
2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers (OEFF = 3rd, DEFF = 10th)
2016-17 Golden State Warriors (OEFF = 1st, DEFF = 2nd)
2017-18 Golden State Warriors (OEFF = 3rd, DEFF = 11th)
2018-19 Who will it be this year?
You can see for yourself that every team that has won a Championship in the last 10 years had an OEFF and DEFF in the top 11 for that season.
Using this model, teams that finish the regular season eleventh or better in both offensive and defensive efficiency, to predict this year’s Champion we can eliminate everyone but the following teams: Milwaukee, Toronto and Boston from the East, Denver from the West.
There are clearly some favorites or notable names that did not make the list. The Golden State Warriors have the best offensive efficiency in the NBA, but rank 13th in defensive efficiency. The Houston Rockets are 2nd in OEFF but 17th in DEFF.
The next big favorite not on the list is Philadelphia who are 8th in OEFF, but 15th in DEFF.
2018-19 Regular Season Efficiency Rankings for the Math Model "Contenders"
Milwaukee Bucks: OEFF 4th, DEFF 1st
Toronto Raptors: OEFF 5th, DEFF 5th
Boston Celtics: OEFF 10th, DEFF 7th
Denver Nuggets: OEFF 6th, DEFF 10th
Using the aforementioned guidelines our Money is on...the Milwaukee Bucks from the Eastern Conference at 6/1 odds
The eventual Champion comes from the East and will be the Milwaukee Bucks. Did you know the Bucks were favored in 72 games this year, second only to the Golden State Warriors (75), of which the Bucks won 54 straight up. In their 60 wins this season, 45 were by double-digits!
Milwaukee was 27-14 straight up against all of the other playoff teams this season and two of those losses were in the last few games when they had solidified the best record in the NBA. They have the best average point differential in the league at +8.9 PPG which is 2.4 PPG better than the second place Golden State Warriors at +6.5 PPG.
If we look back at the past five NBA seasons we see there has been two differentials greater than the number that separates first and second place this season. That was in 2016-17 when Golden State was +4.4 points better than San Antonio and in 2014-15 when the Warriors were +3.5 points better than the Clippers. It demonstrated just how much better the Warriors were than the rest of the league and it led to a pair of NBA Championships in those two seasons.
Four of the last six NBA Champions have finished the regular season either first or second in net differential ratings. Clearly the Bucks have one of the very best players in the NBA in MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo along with a great supporting cast featuring former All-Star Eric Bledsoe and current All-Star Khris Middleton. What separates the Bucks from the rest of the league is their depth.
Milwaukee brought in veteran guard George Hill which is key with Malcom Brogdon being out until the Conference Finals. They also acquired Nikola Mirotic from the Pelicans who gives them another perimeter shooter. Mirotic has been injured but is expected back in the first round. We haven’t even gotten to center Brook Lopez who shot a career best 36.5% from beyond the arc with 187 made 3-pointers this season.
The Bucks roster and team chemistry is special as this team is built around Giannis who inspires his teammates with an unbelievable work ethic and loyalty. LeBron should maybe take a page out of Giannis’s book and see what it means to lead players.
Milwaukee gets the Pistons in the first round who are the worst team in the post-season and should breeze through the opening series. They then get either the Celtics who have under-achieved all season or a Pacers team that has exceeded expectations. Unless there is an upset, that leaves getting by the Raptors or 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Bucks were a combined 5-2 against those teams this season. Maybe the biggest advantage the Bucks have over anyone that comes from the West is potential rest and home court advantage. Odds are the Bucks would face the favorites to come out of the Western Conference which would be either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets. Those two teams are going to face brutal playoff series which will include facing each other baring a first round upset. Why not take the best team in the NBA, with the best statistical support AND the best player to win it all at 6/1 odds.
LONGSHOT: If you are looking for a better return on your investment, the Nuggets at +5000 are an intriguing long-shot proposition. Statistically, the Nuggets qualify in our math model efficiency rankings theory as they rank in the top 10 in both OEFF and DEFF. Being the No. 2 seed was critically important with how things shook out as they avoid both Houston and Golden State until the Conference Finals, and those two will be coming off a series against each other. If either the Jazz or Rockets can knock off the Warriors that would also mean home court advantage for the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. If the Bucks or Raptors get knocked out before the Finals, and the Nuggets represent the West they would again hold home court. Denver wasn’t great the second half of the season but they had their moments this season.
Overall this shapes up to be one of the best NBA playoffs in a long time and we can't wait! Best of luck with all your wagers.
NBA FUTURE ODDS
Golden State Warriors 1/2
Milwaukee Bucks 6/1
Houston Rockets 10/1
Toronto Raptors 15/1
Boston Celtics 20/1
Philadelphia 76ers 30/1
Oklahoma City Thunder 40/1
Denver Nuggets 50/1
Utah Jazz 75/1
Portland Blazers 200/1
San Antonio Spurs 250/1
Los Angeles Clippers 500/1
Detroit Pistons 500/1
Indiana Pacers 500/1
Brooklyn Nets 500/1
Orlando Magic 500/1
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