NBA Stats

Feb 24 2014 3:34PM

A Look at the Pythagorean Standings

By Jay Cipoletti

Winning basketball games is fundamentally about scoring more points than you allow. The percentage of times this happens, on a possession-by-possession basis (Net Margin), should correlate strongly to the percentage of wins and losses on a team's record. These projections are called, variously, Pythagorean Wins, Expected Wins, or Pythagorean Winning Percentage. For the most part, Pythagorean Wins and Actual Wins are in concert throughout the season.

However, at any point in each season we will see a few teams whose actual record differs from their Expected Wins by more than one Standard Deviation. Depending on the direction of that differentiation, it could be cause for optimism with the playoff race entering March ... or cause for concern.

This point in the season presents two teams currently among the top eight in their respective conferences who fit the outlier criteria, and one more sitting just outside the playoff standings whose fans may want to start rooting hard for a regression to the mean.

Pythagorean Wins Standings

EASTWL
1Indiana4213
2Miami3915
3Toronto3521
4Atlanta2827
5Chicago2827
6Washington2828
7Charlotte2631
8Brooklyn2430

Actual Standings

EASTWL
1Indiana4213
2Miami4014
3Toronto3125
4Chicago2926
5Washington2828
6Brooklyn2628
7Charlotte2730
8Atlanta2629

Eastern Conference -- Toronto Raptors

While the Pythagorean Win Standings shake up the Eastern Conference quite a bit, slotting the Hawks in a tie for fourth with the Bulls instead of holding onto the last playoff spot, the biggest outlier is one that doesn't change spots.

The Raptors, currently 31-25, have a Pythagorean Wins record of 35-21. That would put them 5.0 games back of second place Miami, and 6.5 games clear of fourth place. Their current record has them only 1.5 games ahead of fourth and 10 games out of second. For Toronto, the Pythagorean Standings indicate that they are solidly the No. 3 team in the East and should enter the final months of the season confident in that regard.

Pythagorean Wins Standings

WESTWL
1Oklahoma City4215
2LA Clippers4117
3San Antonio3917
4Houston3818
5Golden State3719
6Phoenix3421
7Portland3422
8Dallas3423

Actual Standings

WESTWL
1Oklahoma City4314
2San Antonio4016
3Houston3818
4L.A. Clippers3820
5Portland3818
6Golden State3422
7Phoenix3322
8Dallas3423

Western Conference -- Portland Trail Blazers

The same cannot be said of Portland. Currently tied for the third best record in the West, the Trail Blazers' are in seventh in the Pythagorean Standings, just a half game ahead of the eighth place Mavericks. Portland and Dallas, the third and fourth most efficient offenses in the League, fare no better than seventh and eigthh in the Pythagorean Standings due to defenses that rank 23rd and 22nd, respectively. The difference between the two has been a little bit of luck, and a little bit of late game Lillard (though some would argue those are one in the same).

Western Conference -- Minnesota Timberwolves

No team's actual win-loss record trails their Pythagorean Wins more than the 27-29 Timberwolves. Their Net Margin of +2.2 translates to a record of 32-24 in the Pythagorean Standings, putting them just 1.5 games behind the Mavericks for the final playoff spot. With Dallas sitting squarely on their projected 34-23 mark, Minnesota fans must hope their T-Wolves maintain their level of play and a regression to the mean brings their Win/Loss outcomes more in line with their possession by possession output.