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John Schuhmann

Statistically speaking, the Hawks and Jazz are two of the NBA's biggest underachieving teams.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Standings not always the best measure of a team

Posted Jan 14 2010 11:17AM

On Wednesday, we looked at the New Orleans Hornets' recent success and called their 19-17 record the most inflated mark in the NBA. After Wednesday's win over the Clippers, the Hornets still are tops in the league when it comes to overachieving.

To figure out who's overachieving and who's underachieving, we use a formula for "expected wins," which takes a team's points scored and allowed to determine how many wins they should have in the amount of games they've played. A team that has scored 4,000 points and also given up 4,000 in 40 games should be 20-20. In that scenario, a 22-18 record is overachieving and an 18-22 record is underachieving.


Using this method, here are the five teams overachieving the most through Wednesday.

Top 5 Overachieving Teams
Team W L Pt. Diff Exp. W Diff.
New Orleans 20 17 -1.5 16.1 +3.9
Chicago 16 20 -3.7 12.4 +3.6
Toronto 19 20 -2.0 16.4 +2.6
Memphis 19 18 -0.9 17.1 +1.9
L.A. Clippers 17 20 -2.1 15.2 +1.8

Of the Hornets' 20 wins, only two have been by double-figures, while 10 have been by five points or fewer. Meanwhile, 10 of their 17 losses have been by double-figures, and just three have been by five points or under. So credit them with being able to execute down the stretch of close games. But their overall numbers indicate that they're not as good as their record says they are. And you shouldn't expect New Orleans to make a serious bid for a playoff spot.

On the other end of the table, we have the teams that are better than their records.

Top 5 Underachieving Teams
Team W L Pt. Diff Exp. W Diff.
Oklahoma City 21 17 2.4 22.8 -1.8
Denver 25 14 5.3 27.2 -2.2
Atlanta 25 13 5.8 27.4 -2.4
Utah 21 17 3.4 24.3 -3.3
San Antonio 24 13 6.5 27.7 -3.7

The Spurs haven't had many tight losses, but they've had a lot of comfortable wins. Incredibly, 17 of their 24 wins have been by double-figures, and 22 of the 24 have been by at least seven points. Wednesday's 109-108 overtime win in Oklahoma City was just the second time they've won by a narrow margin.

The Jazz and Hawks have also had a lot of easy wins. In fact, Atlanta has more wins by 22 points or more (eight) than they do by 10 points or fewer (seven).

Who's really best in the West?

The 30-9 Lakers currently lead the Spurs by five games in the Western Conference. But statistically, San Antonio has been the better team.

The numbers show that the Lakers' record is slightly inflated. According to the expected wins formula, they should be 29-10. But the Spurs should be 28-9, percentage points ahead of L.A. When you run the numbers over 82 games, the Spurs should win 61 games and the Lakers should win 60.

If both teams play the remainder of the season as they have so far, the Spurs would make a run at the top seed in the West.

Of course, it's not that simple for the following reasons:

1. Much has been made of the Lakers' home-heavy schedule this season, but the Spurs have also played more at home (23 games) than away (14). And San Antonio has had the weaker schedule of the two. Their opponents have a combined winning percentage of .479, while the Lakers' opponents have a combined winning percentage of .493.

2. The Lakers have been without Pau Gasol for 17 of their 39 games, and they've been a much better team with Gasol than without him. The Lakers' win total with Gasol projects to 68 wins while its without-Gasol numbers project to 46 wins. Gasol's presence isn't quite worth 22 games in the standings, though, because the with-Gasol schedule has been much weaker and more home-heavy than the without-Gasol schedule.

3. The Spurs haven't missed any of their key players for an extended period of time, but they have needed time to integrate four new guys into their rotation. And the numbers back that up. The Spurs of the first 18 games had the numbers of a 51-win team, while the Spurs of the last 19 games have had the numbers of a 69-win team. Once again, you have to take into account a much weaker schedule over the last 19 games.

Not-so cloudy picture, really

Further down the Western Conference standings, we have what looks like a very cloudy playoff picture. The Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, Hornets and Grizzlies are all within one game in the loss column with two playoff spots available for the five teams.

But when you look at point differential and expected wins, things become a lot clearer:

Expect Wins for 2009-10
Team W L Pt. Diff Exp. W/82
Utah 21 17 3.4 52.5
Oklahoma City 21 17 2.4 49.3
Houston 22 17 0.5 42.6
Memphis 19 18 -0.9 38.0
New Orleans 20 17 -1.5 35.8

The Jazz and Thunder separate themselves from the pack using the expected wins formula, and we seem to have a clear top eight teams in the Western Conference. Utah actually projects to more wins than Portland, Dallas and Phoenix as well.

The only other team that has a decent shot at the playoffs is Houston, mostly because the Rockets have had both the most road-heavy and most difficult schedule of the group. Only 16 of their first 39 games have been at home and their opponents have a current combined winning percentage of .533.

History on horizon?

Further down the standings are the New Jersey Nets, who are 3-35 after getting clubbed by the Celtics on Wednesday. Three wins in 38 games is a pace for just six wins in 82, which would be the worst record in NBA history.

Looking at point differential, the Nets should be at 4-34 right now. (News flash: The Nets are underachieving.) And their expected wins over 82 games are 10, which would be one more than the record-setting 1972-73 Sixers, who went 9-73.

Since winning two of their first three games under coach Kiki Vandeweghe, the Nets have been awful. They've won one of their last 17 games and their point differential in that stretch is that of a seven-win team. With the way things are going for New Jersey, the Sixers' record is very much in danger of being broken.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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