The Championship Equation and the 2011 Contenders rev1

Over the past months, I’ve written many a piece about the NBA playoffs and how to build a championship team. As a result of this, a curious thing has occurred. In my mind, an equation formed of what it takes to win a championship in the NBA and this equation permeated my work. The existence of this optimal formula for success became clear in my mind as I was responding to a comment on Kobe Bryant. To me, Kobe is a star (>.200 WP48) and not a superstar (.300 WP48) and that means he is a complementary player. My brain was clear that you’re not winning a title with just a star; you either need two stars or a superstar to have a shot at the title and you need to display a certain level of competence in the regular season (as measured in actual wins).  Now while this all sounds well and good, I decided that rather than just going with my gut on this I was going to try to prove and codify it. So here is the Championship Equation.

Basics (skip if familiar)

This article uses Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] to evaluate player’s performance.* This measure uses three key components to evaluate a player:

  • The player’s per minute box score statistics
  • The player’s team’s per minute box score statistics
  • The average performance at the player’s position (PG, SG, SF, PF or C)

A full explanation can be found here. To give a general scale, an average player has a WP48 score of 0.100. The very best players in the league usually have a WP48 over 0.300. To put this in perspective; an average player who plays a full season at 40 minutes a game would generate around 6.83 wins for their team.  In contrast, a player posting a 0.300 WP48 would generate about 20.5 wins at 40 minutes a game over an 82 game season.

I may also talk about the half-baked notion and Wins over replacement Player (WORP).

The Championship Sample

For this exercise were going to focus on every championship team from 1980 on (78 & 79 are strange years in terms of data) and we will look at the following for each championship team:

  • Wins in the regular season
  • Qty of Players in the Playoff Top 6 in Minutes who were Stars (.200-.300 Wp48) in the Previous Regular Season, that Regular Season and the Playoffs
  • Qty of Players in the Playoff Top 6 in Minutes who were Superstars (>.300 Wp48) in the Previous Regular Season, that Regular Season and the Playoffs
  • Star Points (1 for a Star, 2 for a Superstar)

If we get that all together what do we see?

The championship equation is clear and consistent:

  • Win 52 or more games (Houston is an aberration that can be explained in one word: Hakeem)
  • Have two star points (either >2 Stars, > Star + Superstar or > 2 Superstars)

And if you don’t meet the criteria, you will not be winning the title. What’s interesting about this is that if we use the data from the previous regular season the pattern holds. So if we combine our Win projections (here) and a list of stars and superstars last year we should be able to separate the contenders from the pretenders very quickly.

Stars and Superstars in 2010

Compiling the List of stars and superstars in 2010 is a simple process. We find every player who played more than 400 minutes last year (sorry Yao) and posted a WP48 of greater than .200.  There were 40 players who met that criteria in 2010. 10 were superstar (and worth 2 star points) and 30 were stars (and worth one star point).

It’s an interesting list and I realize that there are some surprising names on it. Four in particular (Oden, Biedrins) because of injuries and somewhat unheralded young players Batum and Brockman jump out but keep in mind that the stats have no bias. This list does point out the obvious flaw in any Carmelo Anthony (a .100 WP48 player) trade rumor that involves any player on this list (say Kirilenko or Noah).  Now let’s use the data to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

The Contenders in 2011

If we look at every team’s current roster and tally their projected wins and the number of star points we can divide the league into those teams that have a shot at the title and those who don’t. For this version , I will remind you that I’m using the Build 0.1 projections and not the updated final projection (see the Bulls example).

Eight teams currently meet the criteria established by the championship equation: The Heat, Blazers, Lakers, Magic, Spurs, Mavs, Celts,  Bulls.  The Nuggets, Thunder and Suns don’t currently have the stars on their rosters (although a Melo trade could change this for Denver, Josh Childress is a strange case). The Thunder look to be a year away as they will most probably meet all the criteria in 2011. Atlanta,  Golden State, the Jazz, Bobcats and Bucks have the stars but not the wins. I will of course update this before the season starts and as the season goes along but for now, adjust your preconceived notions (and your  bets :-) ) accordingly.


  1. 9/29/2010

    Nice work,
    Do we dare insult his Airness and the Bobcats by pointing out their amazing resources and yet severe liklihood they’ll be staying at home (They passed on Calderon and let Felton walk!)

  2. some dude

    Miami won with 1 star point in the playoffs, not 2.

    Kobe and Lamar flipped in the playoffs. Also, Kobe is closer to .2 when healthy, IMO so Lakers should be at 4 star points.

    Have you ever tried adjusting this? Like, say for instance, .18 and above? I know you’re focusing on .2 because it’s double the average, but is there a reason to believe that double is more meaningful than another point? You should try to find the breaking point like you did with wins.

    batum only played 37 games. Also only 24mpg. I personally think the threshold should be around 28mpg.

    That said, I agree with the entire list except for Dallas. I think they’re a pretender.

    • 9/29/2010

      Actually, I double checked. I’m using the older version of the Playoff data (which goes back to 1978). Wade is a .275 WP48 there and 100% as a SG. The newer version has him at .311 WP48 so they get two star points. They also had Posey at .192 and Dick Bavetta at a solid .199 in limited minutes :-). Fixed now so good catch (you may now request a post).

      In terms of setting the line, this is a first pass but the results are good. The line may take some tweaking i’ll have to test it to see.

      As for Batum, he was good in 2009 and great in 2010. That’s almost 2500 minutes as a sample. His 2010 stats:
      His % were 50/40/84? As a 21 year old 2nd Year guy? And he’s considered a defensive stopper?I’d take him of their hands in a second

      I may agree on Dallas once I do the full build.

  3. some dude

    Ah ok, you updated your miami data. I was actually surprised to not see Wade at >.3 that playoffs, but didn’t want to question it.

    It wasn’t Bavetta, btw. It was Salvatore (and the Mavs also never win with Dan Crawford).

    I think Batum is good too, I just personally don’t like counting someone with just half a game worth’s of minutes. Same with Brockman. I just have my doubts if they extend their minutes (less so with Batum, though). Matthews could eat away Batum’s minutes, as well. I also wonder if it’s bad to be “too deep” as Portland might be. Then again, with their injuries they almost have to be.

    Obviously .2 is a good data point and your analysis shows it. I’m just curious where the exact line may be.

    • 9/29/2010

      I am too. I’m saving it for a future post (and I guess we can consider that your no prize :-))

      As for the refs, you’re right I didn’t double check.

      Batum is now officially on the want list for my fantasy team (those % are awesome). Brockman is interesting because he’s a cheap rebounding machine but his position adjustment is a bit off so he’ll probably come off the next rev.

  4. Almighty J

    Arturo, did you consider playoff rotations when you listed teams as contenders? You’ve gone into great detail about the difference in minute allocation between the regular season and the post-season and how that favors a top heavy team (Miami, Boston, LA) versus a team with great depth. I’m just thinking out loud, but would that explain why Dallas has a high expected win total, but our natural inclination suggests they won’t compete for a title?

    On an unrelated note, how much does Greg Oden factor in to your Portland prediction? It’s higher than I anticipated (even though a full season of Marcus Camby should help considerably).

    Keep up the great work.

    • 9/30/2010

      Everything is based on the top 6 in the Playoffs.
      Kidd and Dirk show up for the playoffs but Dallas is getting killed by having at least two stinkers (<-.01 WP48) in their playoff top 6 each of the last three years. Only one team has won with two of those (2005 SAS) and they had Ginobli and Duncan playing like Superstars.
      They have two superstars (Camby and Oden) and a Star (Batum) and a bunch of good players at every position. That team is for real even without Oden.

  5. sq

    Kobe is not a star or a super star what planet do you watch hoops on?

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