Computer simulations say NBA playoffs are assured for Thunder, but title hopes are tiny
Thirteen of the 16 NBA playoff spots virtually are settled. Not the order, but the participants.
And the Thunder is in the 13.
Both ESPN and basketball-reference.com estimate the Thunder’s playoff chances at virtually certain – ESPN at 99.8 percent and basketball-reference at 99.9 percent.
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Here’s how ESPN and basketball-reference arrive at their numbers.
Basketball-reference.com: “The playoff probability reports will be generated on a daily basis until the end of the regular season. The probabilities are empirical estimates based on simulating the remainder of the season 7,500 times. The method has been tried and tested: it was used to win the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown in both 2007 and 2008.”
So there. Here’s ESPN’s explanation: “ESPN's NBA BPI Playoff Odds estimate the likelihood for each team to make the playoffs and win the NBA title. The BPI Playoff Odds are based on ESPN's NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI), a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team. Each day, the season is simulated 10,000 times, according to BPI and the remaining schedule for each team.”
Those same methods give the Thunder little chance of winning the NBA title, which frankly not even the die-hardiest fan imagines.
ESPN gives the Thunder a 0.1 percent; basketball-reference gives the Thunder a 0.7 chance. And that’s about right. Maybe even on the high side. You’d probably give the Thunder a 25 percent chance to win a first-round series, then a 20 percent chance to win any subsequent series. So that’s a two percent chance to reach the Western Conference Finals, and even worse odds going forward.
Of course, such percentages speak to the benign nature of the regular season. Every team would like to finish as high as possible, but not to the extent that it will forego some load management plan. Having players healthy for the playoffs are more important than whether a team finishes third or fourth.
Right now, the only playoff spots up for grabs are eighth place in the West (the Thunder has a 4-1/2 game lead over Memphis, and an easier remaining schedule) and seventh and eighth place in the East (eighth-place Brooklyn has a three-game lead over ninth-place Chicago and a 4-1/2 game lead over 10th-place Detroit.
Here are the playoff chances for each team, with ESPN listed first, followed by basketball-reference.
LA Lakers 36-10 (99.9%, 100%)
LA Clippers 33-14 (99.9%, 100%)
Utah 32-15 (99.9%, 100%)
Dallas 29-18 (99.9%, 100%)
Denver 32-15 (99.9%, 100%)
Houston 29-18 (99.9%100%)
Oklahoma City 29-20 (99.8%, 99.9%)
San Antonio 21-26 (38.3%, 31.6%)
Memphis 24-24 (15.5%, 27.8%)
Portland 21-27 (33.9%, 23.4%)
New Orleans 19-29 (10.7%)
Phoenix 20-27 (9.6%, 6.1%)
Sacramento 17-30 (2.6%, 0.5%)
Minnesota 15-32 (0.1%, 0.0%)
Golden State 10-38 (0.1%, 0.0.%)
Milwaukee 41-6 (99.9%, 100%)
Toronto 33-14 (99.9%, 100%)
Boston 31-15 (99.9%, 100%)
Miami 32-15 (99.9%, 100%)
Philadelphia 31-17 (99.9%, 100%)
Indiana 31-17 (99.9%, 100%)
Orlando 21-27 (96.4%, 95.4%)
Brooklyn 20-26 (77.4%, 78.3%)
Chicago 19-31 (19.6%, 19.4%)
Detroit 17-32 (5.1%, 4.4%)
Washington 15-31 (1.3%, 1.7%)
Charlotte 16-31 (0.2%, 0.8%)
New York 13-36 (0.1%, 0.0%)
Atlanta 12-36 (0.1%, 0.0%)
Cleveland 13-35 (0.1%, 0.0%)
NBA championship chances
OK, here are the NBA title chances for each team, with ESPN listed first:
Milwaukee 62.1%, 54.4%: What? Seems outrageously high. And frankly, it is askew. No team outside of Golden State-domination should be above 50 percent. You figure in a season like this, the NBA Finals will be close to a 50-50 proposition. So even if you give the Bucks a 55 percent chance in the Finals, they still have to navigate some tough series in the East. So this is too high. However, Milwaukee as a clear favorite makes perfect sense, since the Bucks have by far the best chance to get to the Finals, and that’s the only way to win the title. Make the Finals.
LA Lakers 14.8%, 14.8%: This seems fairly close. How many teams are capable of winning it all? Really capable, without some kind of divine intervention? Ten? Maybe nine, maybe 11? Give Milwaukee the odds they ought to have, somewhere around 30 percent, and give the bottom three or four teams the meager odds they ought to have, 3-4 percent, and that leaves five teams or so in the middle to divvy up 50 percent. Put the Lakers on the high side, and that’s around 14 percent.
LA Clippers 8.3%, 8.4%: I actually like a healthy Clippers more than I like the healthy Lakers, but I assume computer assessments disagree.
Boston 3.4%, 4.6%: Seems low. Not way low. But the Celtics, if they got hot and a little luck, would have a chance.
Toronto: 3.1%, 5.7%: Hmm. Wonder what the Raptors’ chances were this time last year?
Dallas 2.5%, 5.3%: The computers love them some Mavericks. I don’t get it. Above the Jazz? Above the 76ers?
Utah 2.2%, 1.9%: Too low. Way too low, comparatively. I’d put Utah in the 7-8 percent range.
Houston 1.1%, 1.1%: I think this is too low. All it takes is for the officiating crews to get whistle happy, and the Rockets zoom up the list.
Philadelphia 1.0%, 1.1%: If this was Vegas, and 1.0 percent chance meant 100-to-1 odds, which is exactly what a 1.0 percent chance means, I would suspend my anti-betting crusade and grant permission to lay some decent money on the 76ers. Put down $100, and you might have found yourself a vacation to Italy and Ireland.
Miami 0.6%, 1.1%: Milwaukee has a 100 times better chance than does the Heat? I don’t think so.
Denver 0.5%, 0.5%: Why couldn’t the Nuggets be the 2019 Raptors? A little bit of luck, solid play, and Denver’s right there.
Indiana 0.3%, 0.3%: Probably about right. The Thunder of the East. You can’t kill their hopes.
Oklahoma City 0.1%, 0.7%: So you’re saying there’s a chance.
Orlando 0.1%, 0.0%: Probably too high. Kansas has a better chance of winning the 2020 national championship in college football.
San Antonio less than 0.1%, 0.0%: I’d like to know how far past the decimal point before you get to a zero.
Portland less than 0.1%, 0.0%: Hard to see how the Blazers ever lose. Damian Lillard never seems to miss a shot.