Sunday, 19 May 2013

Consistency of NBA Franchises from 1974 to now - are Indiana the most boring team?

As another NBA season draws to a close, I've started to think a little about what makes NBA success work in the long term. Why is it that some teams (the Spurs) seem to make a deep playoff run every year where as others (Dallas perhaps) go up and down like a yo-yo? Well first I wanted to visualise these differences in consistency to see if my impressions of the different franchises are actually correct. Hence the viz below.

Looking at franchise performance in terms of regular season wins from the 1973/74 season to now, I've used the average season wins and the variance in season wins to split the NBA franchises into four groups:

1. Consistent Winners - These guys win games year after year. Some do it in serious style and end up with titles (like the Lakers), while others plod a long as above average winners, but never go on to wn it all (Phoenix).

2. Inconsistent Winners - The Bulls, the Heat and The Mavericks all embody this trait perfectly. Periods of superstar led brilliance, followed by seasons of regrouping and rebuilding. I was surprised to see Boston in this group.

3. Consistent Losers - Every year these teams seem to perform below par, little surprise this group includes the Clippers and the Raptors.

4. Inconsistent Losers - There are only three teams in this group since 1973/74, the Cavs, the Grizzlies and the Timberwolves. Mostly these guys are in the doldrums, but on occasion something happens (something like LeBron James) to lift them to heady heights.

There is also I think a fifth distinct group, which are really the most boring  teams to follow in the NBA (the stats are saying it not me). I'm looking here at Indiana, Milwaukee, Atlanta and New York. Maybe thats a little unfair to the Knicks because the chat starts just after their last title, but hey that was 40 YEARS AGO! These teams are very consistent, have average seasons of 41 wins and don't win anything.

Which leads to another conclusion. Every team except Orlando in the Inconsistent Winners quadrant has won at least one, and often multiple, titles. But in the Consistent Winners quadrant there are 6 title-less teams. Maybe these results echo the appetite for risk of each team's owners. Some would rather aim for the occasional big win where as others want a consistent winning team but aren't willing to take the risks of crashing and rebuilding. And you have to take your hat off to the Spurs and the Lakers ownership and management for such high levels of consistent performance.

This being a Tableau viz there is of course the option to interact with it, so please go ahead and click on teams to compare, or change the period of time you're looking at. What else can you find?

Below is a screen shot comparing some of the key teams in the 'post Jordan' era.

Since 1999, San Antonio have shown an other-worldly ability to be consistently good, year after year after year with an unending supply of talented and overlooked players*. Other teams like Cleveland have seen their stock rise only to fall off a cliff when a key player departs.

My team is Chicago, I'm just hoping for an injury free season in 2013/14.

* @datajedininja has done an analysis of all the players the Spurs have drafted since 1966, check it out here 

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