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John Schuhmann

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Oklahoma City's bad defense in the preseason should have no bearing on its regular season.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Believe it or don't, but stats say preseason is valuable


Posted Oct 21 2010 1:38PM

Preseason is not meaningless. Let's just get that straight. It certainly has more meaning for some teams than it does for others, but it no way should preseason wins, losses or stats be dismissed.

To update this story from a year ago: In the past six seasons (2004-05 through 2009-10), 11 teams have gone through the preseason either undefeated or with just one loss. All 11 have made the playoffs. In the same time, eight teams have won just one game - or haven't won any - in the preseason. Only one of the eight, the 2007-08 Cavs, made it to the playoffs.

With just two more days left in the preseason, it's clear that fans of the Grizzlies (who are 7-0 with one game left) should feel pretty good about their team's chance to make the postseason for the first time in five seasons.

Top five offensive teams of the preseason through 10/20
Team Offensive Rating
Orlando 108.6
Utah 106.6
Portland 106.5
Denver 105.5
Oklahoma City 105.1
Offensive Rating = Points scored per 100 possessions
Top five defensive teams of the preseason through 10/20
Team Defensive Rating
Orlando 81.8
Cleveland 89.2
Memphis 91.9
Houston 93.1
Boston 93.3
Defensive Rating = Points allowed per 100 possessions

The correlation between preseason and regular-season success goes beyond wins and losses. Last year's numbers show a fairly strong correlation between preseason efficiency and regular-season efficiency.

Some numbers should be believed more than others. For example, last year's Knicks were the No. 1 defensive team of the preseason, a ranking that had a lot to do with their schedule. They played seven preseason games, with one against a non-NBA team (Maccabi Tel Aviv) and three against the Nets, who began the season with 18 straight losses and were the league's worst offensive team.

As it turns out, the Knicks were the fourth-worst defensive team last season. Other preseason numbers, like Atlanta's offensive improvement and Detroit's defensive regression, were more believable.

With that in mind, here are five noticeable trends from the preseason -- as well as a guide to whether or not you should believe they will translate to the regular season.

Believe: The Magic will be the best team in the league ... at least in the regular season.

Orlando has been incredibly dominant in the preseason, winning its seven games by an average of 25 points. Using a standard statistical formula for expected wins, Orlando's preseason point differential translates to 81-1 record over an 82-game season. So which game will they lose?

OK. So the Magic probably won't break the '95-96 Bulls' record of 72 wins. But Orlando's dominant preseason is a reminder that they were statistically the best team last season, outscoring their opponents by 9.3 points per 100 possessions (Cleveland ranked second at +7.3). The playoffs were -- and are -- a different story, but this team is primed to be a regular-season juggernaut again.

With Dwyane Wade out for most of the preseason, the Heat may need some time to find their rhythm, while the Lakers and Celtics are more likely to deal with injuries and also pace themselves to stay fresh. The Magic will hit the ground running next week and have proven that they can sustain quality in a season.

Don't believe: The Thunder are a bad defensive team.

With one preseason game left, Oklahoma City has allowed its opponents to score 106.8 points per 100 possessions, ranking them last in the league. This comes after the Thunder went from 21st defensively in 2008-09 to eighth last season.

Granted, the Thunder did lose assistant coach Ron Adams, the man behind their defensive improvement, to the Bulls this summer. But ultimately, players dictate defensive play. And the correlation between preseason defensive efficiency and regular-season defensive efficiency last year was not as strong as offensive or rebounding numbers.

Nick Collison had Oklahoma City's best defensive plus-minus mark last season, and he has yet to play a minute in the preseason. Also, the Thunder ranked 27th defensively last preseason, a mark they clearly improved on once the games started counting.

Believe: The Knicks will get killed on the glass.

Last season, the Warriors grabbed just 44.4 percent of available rebounds, which was the worst mark by any team in the last 20 seasons. With one game to go, the Knicks have grabbed 42.1 percent of available rebounds in the preseason -- numbers that include a game against a non-NBA team.

Keep in mind Amar'e Stoudemire has played just 41 percent of his team's minutes. But also keep in mind: Stoudemire is not a very good rebounder for his size in the first place.

In fact, the four big men in coach Mike D'Antoni's rotation -- Stoudemire (9.1 rebounds per 40 minutes), Timofey Mozgov (7.0), Anthony Randolph (6.5) and Ronny Turiaf (7.9) -- have averaged just 7.6 rebounds per 40 minutes in the preseason. As a comparison, ex- Knick David Lee is averaging 14.2 boards per 40, and the Knicks have actually played at a faster pace than the Warriors.

Last year, there was a pretty strong correlation between preseason and regular season rebounding numbers. The Knicks may be trying to trade for Carmelo Anthony and/or Rudy Fernandez, but they ought to keep their eye out for somebody on the market who can clean the glass.

Don't believe: The Suns can't shoot.

With an effective field-goal percentage of 45.9 percent, the Phoenix Suns rank 23rd in the preseason. They rank dead last in 3-point percentage, having made just 24.6 percent of their threes in seven games. Last season, the Suns ranked first in both EFG percentage (54.6 percent) and 3-point percentage (41.2 percent).

A year ago, there wasn't a very strong correlation between preseason and regular-season shooting, especially from outside. Stoudemire's absence will give the Suns' shooters less space on the perimeter, but their fans need not worry much about all those shots their team has been missing.

Phoenix's 2-5 record and offensive inefficiency (they rank 27th at 92.9 points scored per 100 possessions), though, cannot be completely dismissed. They've also regressed in offensive rebounding percentage, a trend that's much more likely to stick with them in the regular season.

Believe: The Timberwolves are better.

When it comes to improvement from last season's numbers, the Timberwolves are right behind the Magic. They're the most improved offensive team and the fourth-most improved defensive team.

Looking at last season's correlations, we know that the offensive numbers are a little more believable. And the Timberwolves' improvement has come from more than just shooting the ball better. They've also been better than the league average when it comes to taking care of the ball and getting to the line.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. 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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