Pythagoras Strikes Back
Maybe the most famous non-traditional stat is Bill James’ Pythagorean theorem or expected win percentage. James looked at how runs scored/allowed related to win percentage, and found that you can better approximate how a team will perform year to year by looking at runs scored/allowed than their actual win percentage. By using a team’s expected win percentage, you can identify teams that have been “lucky” or “unlucky” by looking at how their actual win percentage differs from the expected win percentage.
At the top of the lucky pile are two darkhorse contenders on the 2007 season. The Utah Jazz have been a pleasant surprise with the West’s second best record. Unfortunately for Mormons & uranium miners alike, the Jazz’s expected win percentage says the team is no better than 5th. Utah has been fabulous on offense, sporting the league’s 2nd ranked defense behind efficient shooting (51.2% eFG 5th) and strong glasswork (32.6% oREB% 1st). However the Jazz have been merely 21st on defense. They’re the worst team in the league in allowing opponents free points (33.0 FT/FG 30th), which should come to no surprise to those with Jerry Sloan posters on their walls. The Jazz have ranked no better than 25th in that category in the last 7 years, and have finished last or next to last in 5 of those seasons. Talk about the no-layup rule.
Just like Utah in the West, Orlando is an unexpected playoff candidate sitting in second in the Eastern standings. However like the Utah Jazz, Orlando doesn’t have the point differential to make one think that they’re likely to stay there. The Magic are 16-10, despite being outscored by 5 points on the season. Unlike Utah who is having problems on the defensive end, Orlando isn’t getting it done on the offensive end. The Magic are dead last in the league in turnovers (19.5 TO% 30th), and their young star is the main culprit. Dwight Howard averages 3.8 turnovers per 40 minutes, and ranks 10th in John Hollinger’s turnover ratio. Howard isn’t the only problem, as Hill, Nelson, Arroyo, Milicic, and Bogans all average 3.0 turn/40 or more. Combined, the only Magic tricks these players are performing is the old “let’s make our possessions disappear.” That particular trick seems to have been mastered by the ’77 Nuggets (21.4 TO%) who was coached by Larry Brown. Maybe Brown being awoken in the middle of the night by repeated nightmares of that offense throwing the ball out of bounds traumatized Larry and sent him on a 25 year journey to get basketball teams to “play the right way”? Who knows?
While their poor expected win percentage doesn’t doom either of these teams, it does help expose a flaw in each of them. As the season goes on expect one of two things to happen. Either these teams will find a way to address these issues, or their actual win percentage will start to match their expected win percentage.