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NBA Handicapping – Inside the Numbers, By Big Al McMordie
Feb. 11, 2008
As we pass the mid-point of the NBA season, let’s take a look at some overall season stats. What correlates more with success, a good offense or good defense? Well, let’s take a look at the highest scoring teams in the NBA: They are, in order, the Suns, Warriors, Lakers, Nuggets, Jazz and Magic. What stands out is that these are good teams in the postseason race, all with winning records. However, don’t get too carried away with that, because usually that’s not the case. Most seasons, the top teams in scoring will be a mixture of good teams, bad teams, playoff teams, those on the bubble and those out of it.
Despite the fact that they are all having good seasons, you can’t look at that group and say offense is what makes them a strong team, with the exception of the Suns and Warriors. Those teams have been built round a unique style of uptempo attack. Golden State shocked the NBA world last season by upsetting the Mavericks in the first round. They did it with an attacking, uptempo offense.
Yet, while the Suns have had that style for years, they never have advanced to the NBA Finals because of a weakness in other areas, such as defense and rebounding. The Warriors experience that, too, and after beating Dallas, they were pounded on the boards by Utah as the Jazz advanced.
Part of that is what prompted the Suns to pull off the big trade for Shaquille O’Neal, a controversial move giving up a good player (Shawn Marion) for a 350-pound, 35-year old center who is rarely healthy anymore. O’Neal also brings a different element to the Suns, and his biggest benefit might bet that Amare Stoudemire will stay out of foul trouble.
In six seasons as a head coach, the post players in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced system have included Raef LaFrentz, Jake Voskuhl, Jahidi White and Steven Hunter – basically, nobody. This move was more strictly for defense and a weapon against the Spurs, who the Suns can never beat in the playoffs. Defensively, the Suns hope O’Neal can make up for Shawn Marion’s absence. Marion often found ways to deflect passes in the lanes. Notice that in last week’s loss to the Hornets, their first game without Marion, the Suns had one steal in 58 minutes, tying a franchise low. That only happened once with Marion, and in that game Marion had the lone steal!
For totals players, note that the Suns are 14-8 over the total at home, the Warriors are 15-9 over at home, LA is 12-11 over at home, while Denver is 12-12 over at home. So the top uptempo teams are a combined 53-40 over at home.
Now let’s examine the teams that have allowed the fewest points in the league: The Celtics, Pistons, Spurs, Rockets, and Hornets. From that small group you have a collection of the NBA’s elite – and defense historically is a larger factor in winning titles. That appears to be what the Suns are thinking (Phoenix is 6th worst allowing 103 ppg, while Golden State is dead last allowing 107 ppg).
The Celtics have been the biggest turnaround team with Kevin Garnett, while the Hornets have been the biggest surprise. Notice that Boston allows 42% shooting by opponents, tops in the NBA. Both have been outstanding on the road, and note that New Orleans is 9-4 SU/ATS as a dog! Strong defense gives dogs an excellent chance to win or cover.
The point is, the better defensive teams are the dominant ones in the NBA and ones that are likely to be in the NBA Finals or the NBA Final Four. It’s no coincidence that last year’s NBA Finals participants, San Antonio and Cleveland, were dominant defensive teams.
Here’s a list of the teams that have allowed the most points in the NBA: The Warriors, Grizzlies, Pacers, Nuggets, Sonics, Suns, Kings, Lakers, Bucks, T-Wolves and Knicks. What stands out about that group? Only a handful have a shot at the postseason and most of them stink!
The best indicator of defense is how opponents shoot against them. Here are the 5 worst teams in the NBA allowing over 46% shooting by opponents: The Timberwolves, Heat, Bobcats, Bucks, Knicks and Grizzlies. That’s a lot of easy lay-ups! What stands out about that group? They’re awful AND will be battling for the top spot in the draft lottery. Defense is key in the NBA playoffs and down the stretch. It can also show up in great disparities in spread marks. Bad defense can often mean poor spread marks and more games over the total than under at all times of the season. Good luck, as always…Al McMordie.
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