NBA Power Rankings for 3/6: The Return of the King

“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

(Editor’s note: The rankings are thru 3/05. Games of 3/06 will be referred to though)

It got dark there for a while in Cleveland. When I did the power rankings in January, the Cavs were all the way down at 27th. By the All star break, the Cavs had climbed back into contention.

NBA Rank (1)
Made with


Now? The King has reclaimed the throne, at least temporarily, and moved his court to Ohio.

The season is just about to hit the three quarters mark. As of March 5th , 909 of the season’s 1230 games have been played for 74% completion for the 2014/15 season.

9And a few of the preseason favorites (the Cavs, the Thunder, the Spurs), seem to have figured out some things after flirting with disaster.

Now, If those things are actually sustainable in the playoffs….. (Image courtesy of


Some background for those of you seeing this ranking for the first time. A full explanation of the methods behind it is here. I’ll give you the brief right now:

  • The game data is courtesy of Basketball Reference.
  • I take the results of all the games and use a rather nifty variation of a Kalman Filter to come up with a running estimation of every team’s strength (Editors note: a much more in-depth look at a similar method can be seen here courtesy of Jirka Poropudas).Done right, this method does a very good job of measuring the state of the NBA in real time and we can use it for forecasting the relative ranking of all teams. It lets me quantify some general expectations for matchups and build a simulation and playoff odds report.
  • Some important numbers I work out:
    • Point Margin per Game: (Pts scored by team) – (Pts scored by opponent) / games played
    • Home court Point Margin per Game: Point Margin per game due to the schedule and homecourt advantage.
    • Adjusted Point Margin per Game: (Point Margin per Game) – (Home court Point Margin per Game). Schedule independent point margin (neutral site at sea level)
    • Adjusted Opponent Point Margin: The average Point Margin per Game of a teams opponents.
    • Point Margin Now:This is RPM estimated using the modified Kalman Filter. This is the Number I use to rank.
    • Neutral Site Win % : A win projection using the Point margin Now and the relationship between point margin and win% (RPM/31 + .500 is a quick shorthand but not quite right, we gotta have some secrets)
    • Offensive Possessions: I’m a bit non-classical here. I define an offensive possession as any play after which the shot clock is reset. I approximate this number as
      • Offensive Possessions= Field Goal Attempts + Turnovers + 44% of Free Throw Attempts
      • For Total Offensive Possessions in a game I just add up Team and Opponent Offensive Possessions
    • Offensive Rank: I calculate this based on Team points scored per Offensive Possessions.
    • Defensive Rank: I calculate this based on Opponent points allowed per Opponent Offensive Possessions.

I’ll pull out the flash cards to explain the player metric (explained in detail here):

Player Metrics 1 Player Metrics 2

What have we learned thru three quarters? Let’s go to the numbers. We will be focusing on the numbers since the All Star Break for perspective. Let’s look at the Playoff odds first (live version is here):


The East remains a bit in flux. The 1 (Atlanta) and 2 (Cavs) seem locked. The Bulls, Raptors, Bucks and Wizards seem to be safely in the playoffs but they all have huge issues. Six teams lurk for spots seven and eight and with the return of Paul George and Indiana’s surge, NBA tv is going to get a hell of a first round playoff series.

The West’s eight playoff teams seem locked in at this point. The Thunder are the only one team that is flirting with falling out but I think KD gets it done. The final seeding is anything but locked. Memphis needs to be really careful because San Antonio and Houston are coming.

Now let’s talk teams (remember I’m using player numbers since the All star break and comparing the team rankings to their January rankings).

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers Neutral Site Win:76% (Up 26,#4 in offense, #17 in defense):

PlayerRatingDash (14)

Yes Lebron is back but the difference for Cleveland has been Kevin Love. He’s their actual MVP since the break in terms of total production even if Lebron is the per minute MVP. We’ve been saying all season that the path to success for this team went thru Kevin and they seem to have finally gotten it.  This team shows every sign of being there come conference Finals time. They key though is if J.R Smith will revert to type come playoff time from his superb play (+2.6 pm per 48 since the break) or revert to type and if their two playoff virgin stars (Love and Kyrie) will suffer thru the typical playoff rookie doldrums.

Funnily enough I tweeted two appropriate things about the Cavs:



#2 Atlanta Hawks Neutral Site Win:68.8% (No Change,#5 in offense, #7 in defense):

PlayerRatingDash (9)

Why yes, that is two Eastern teams in the top two slots. Will wonders never cease! The Hawks have been here all season and have zero to play for. They’re also on the Spurs patented minute restriction plan. Translation? They have another gear. I still consider them the favorites to come out of the East and the overall title favorites.  

Just ask the Cavs if they consider the Hawks the favorite in the East. I certainly do.


#3 Oklahoma City Thunder Neutral Site Win:68.8% (Up 10,#13 in offense, #4 in defense):

PlayerRatingDash (29)

The Thunder are here by sheer virtue of the talent and ability of Russell Westbrook (a superstar worthy +5.3 pm per 48).  There is a lot of bad on this team though. Waiters (-3.4 pm per 48) and Singler (-3.9 pm per 48) had them scrambling to turn another historic Westbrook night on 3/4 into a just barely win over the Sixers. In OT. At Home.

KD cannot get back soon enough and Waiters not making the playoff roster wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I don’t trust Brooks or this team at all against an elite defense that can take out Russ an KD out of the offense (Memphis, Golden State, Portland and San Antonio just nodded).

Quick Thunder fans, ask a Jazz fan if you should trust this current Kanter play (+3.2 pm per game).

I will however reiterate:

#4 Los Angeles Clippers Neutral Site Win:68.8% (Up 1,#1 in offense, #23 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (21) Someone said that as good as Blake Griffin is he’s the third banana on this team and losing him would be no great problem. I was right. DeAndre has been a defensive destroyer (+6.2 pm per 48). Chris Paul has been himself (+5.9 pm per 48). Jamal Crawford has been good as well (+2.4 pm per game). There’s a real good chance the Clippers will have 2 of the three best players on the court on any given night. The big problem lies in that with Austin, Hawes and Big Baby they could also have 2 of the 3 worse. Eventually a CP3 team has to make the conference finals right? I can’t talk myself into it.  


#5 Golden State Warriors Neutral Site Win:68% (Down 4,#2 in offense, #1 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (18) The Warriors remain the best team in the West. Don’t be fooled by them taking the foot somewhat off the gas. Curry has an insane per minute number (+8.2 pm per 48) and while Draymond (-.1 pm per 48) and Bogut have come back to Earth recently (+.9 pm per game) others on this ridiculously deep squad have come up (David Lee (+4.3) and Shaun Livingston (+4.3) . My only concern remains is the lack of conference finals experience. I consider this team a lock for the Conference Finals and a loss there.  


#6 San Antonio Spurs Neutral Site Win:65% (Up 4,#9 in offense, #8 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (35) The Spurs? Still good. Tim looks like a rock (+4.3 pm per 48). Tiago has come back to form (+4.0 pm per 48). Kawhi has been excellent but not quite himself. The problem has been the terrible play of the Spurs scoring guards. Yes, Tony Parker looks terrible (-3.0) but Patty hasn’t gotten back to pre-injury form either. I still think the Spurs can catch the Grizz and get a top four seed but I worry about them having the endurance to make a fourth straight conference Finals. Matchups will be key for them. Houston and OKC must be avoided.  


#7 Portland Trail Blazers Neutral Site Win:61.6% (Down 1,#10 in offense, #3 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (33) Portland remains quietly in the mix for the title. Losing Wes Matthews (+2.1) hurts badly. At least Robin Lopez is back and playing well (+4.8). I continue to feel that the Conference Finals appearance would exceed all reasonable expectations for this team.  


#8 Chicago Bulls Neutral Site Win:58.5% (Up 12,#12 in offense, #9 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (12) The inevitable breakdown of this team continues. Noah is back to form (+5 pm per 48)? Butler and Rose are gone. Do you trust this team to have enough bodies to survive a playoff series versus Milwaukee, Miami or the Wizards? I have a really hard time seeing it. I suspect they barely scrape by in Round one and pray really hard for some health and the Cavs in round 2. Why the Cavs? The Cavs have a size problem that Chicago if healthy could exploit. If healthy. I just can’t buy it.  


#9 Memphis Grizzlies Neutral Site Win:58.5% (Down 1,#11 in offense, #6 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (23) Memphis is teetering on the break of real danger. Outside of Calathes (+2), Tony Allen (+2.2) and Courtney Lee (+.9) everyone else is playing below par. This could very quickly turn a first round home series against the Mavs into a first round road series at Houston or (god forbid) San Antonio. I liked their title odds in January but I’m now feeling more like I did in the preseason. Which is not very positive.  


#10 Houston Rockets Neutral Site Win:56.8% (Down 3,#14 in offense, #5 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (19) James Harden has been the MVP this season.  He’s basically carrying a top four playoff seed in the West by himself this season and his play since the break (+6.1 pm per 48) has been no exception. He’s been doing what Russ has been doing in the last few weeks for the entire season. More successfully too. He’s the entire focus of the other team’s defensive plan and they can’t stop him. How would a Houston (Harden) and Memphis (Green) conference finals play in OKC? Thankfully for them, it really doesn’t look likely. I love Harden but if he carries this team to the Finals? I’m breaking out the Michael Jordan comparisons. Jordan never took a team this crappy anywhere in the playoffs.  

#11 Dallas Mavericks Neutral Site Win:56% (Down 8,#6 in offense, #14 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (15) Rondo is the elephant in the room for the Mavs. He’s playing the worse ball of his career (-3.5). This is really looking like a bad marriage with Carlisle. Barea (-2.7) and Monta (-2.2) are not making it better. This is especially galling when you consider the amount of quality PGs that got traded at the deadline. I get what Cuban was trying but Carlisle was right. Should have kept the monster team they had to start the season together. This is the team everyone in the West wants in round 1.

#12 Utah Jazz Neutral Site Win:55.7% (Up 2,#16 in offense, #18 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (37) I wouldn’t trade Rudy Gobert for any player outside of Anthony Davis right now. Even then I’d have to think about it. OKC needs to thank it’s lucky stars that Utah decided to waste a half season of Gobert messing around.   Look at Utah since the deadline. 5-2, + 9.7 per 100 possessions and a 92.4 DRating. Utah has found a franchise cornerstone.


#13 Milwaukee Bucks Neutral Site Win:55% (Down 4,#23 in offense, #2 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (25) Trading your best player (Brandon Knight)? Not a good idea. Bucks decide to pass on trying the rest of the year. Oh, they’ll compete but they’ll be lucky to get to a round one game seven. They will be really good next year.  


#14 Detroit Pistons Neutral Site Win:54.7% (Down 10,#22 in offense, #15 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (17) After the Josh Smith cleanse this team had something. Losing their point guard (Jennings) really hurt. Reggie Jackson has been a less than stellar replacement (-1 pm per 48). The other side effect is that Monroe (-1.4 pm per 48) has lost the mojo that he had acquired.  I think Stan Van Gundy has this ship headed in the right direction, it’s just some bad luck that took them out as a real possible scrapper in the playoffs.  


#15 Charlotte Hornets Neutral Site Win:51.8% (Up 4,#27 in offense, #12 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (13) Why is Charlotte playing better? Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Gerald Henderson. They look like the most likely eight seed and the likely NBA tv first round opponent for the Hawks.  


#16 Indiana Pacers Neutral Site Win:51.1% (Up 2,#25 in offense, #11 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (20) We really have to congratulate the Pacers coaching staff for getting their team to this point. With the Paul George comeback, this team has a puncher’s chance of getting the Finals simply by default. It’s not large but it exists.  


#17 New Orleans Pelicans Neutral Site Win:50.4% (Down 2,#8 in offense, #22 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (27) On the strength of Alexis Ajinca (+3.3), Omer (+2.4) , Tyreke (+1)  and Eric Gordon (+1) this team has survived a critical no Anthony Davis stretch with a slimmer of playoff hope. I don’t believe they can do it though. I do like their future.  


#18 Miami Heat Neutral Site Win:49.7% (Up 8,#15 in offense, #25 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (24) Goran has been a great complement to Whiteside. It’s a real pity about the loss of Bosh for the season and the continuing injury plagued Wade season. This could have been something. Adding Henry Walker and Michael Beasley is not going to make a big difference. There’s still the vague hope of Wade somehow finding his former form but it’s a slim hope at best.  


#19 Boston Celtics Neutral Site Win:47.2% (Up 2,#20 in offense, #16 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (10) The Celtics, as much as they’ve been winning and fun recently, are still not a good team. Let’s move on.  


#20 Toronto Raptors Neutral Site Win:44.5% (Down 8,#3 in offense, #21 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (36) The Raptors, after dominating the early part of the season, are in freefall mode. Lowry’s numbers have fallen off a cliff (-6.9 since the deadline is plain terrible). This is before losing to the Hornets tonight. I’m guessing, they’re getting a four seed by default and proceeding to blow it to the fifth seed in round 1, like as not.  


#21 Washington Wizards Neutral Site Win:40.4% (Down 5,#17 in offense, #13 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (38) I will point to a series of tweets from tonight:


#22 Brooklyn Nets Neutral Site Win:40% (Up 1,#21 in offense, #19 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (11) Markel  Brown (+2.2 pm per 48) joins Plumlee and whatever they can get for Lopez remain the only true assets on this team. The good news for them is at least the cap is rising right?


#23 Phoenix Suns Neutral Site Win:39.5% (Down 12,#7 in offense, #20 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (32) The Suns examined the landscape and apparently decided to bail on this season and get a few more assets. Looking at the rest of the west, who can blame them? Tucker and Wright are the bright spots right now and nothing else seems to be working. Not an unexpected surprise when you trade your starting point guard.


#24 Philadelphia 76ers Neutral Site Win:38.8% (Up 6,#30 in offense, #10 in defense): PlayerRatingDash (31) Noels (+1.9 pm per 48) seems to be rounding into form. There’s also this:


  1. Andrew Sutton
    March 7

    Just made a $30 bet on the Hawks to get to the finals and the gripe the guy who made the bet was that Atlanta didn’t have a star player. Sigh…sins of a father. My confidence in Atlanta is tempered but to say that, I just had to make the bet. Love their odds especially if Chicago can hold the second seed, which I doubt they will do since Butler is hurt. Something tells me that George won’t play this season.

      March 9

      The odds on them are really good and very easy to middle. They look like a buzzsaw. Them and the Warriors.

  2. Andrew Sutton
    March 9

    Hawks are eerily looking like the 2014 Spurs with the depth and minute allocation/resting. A lot of the eastern teams are souring too. Then they have a pick in the lottery. Adding another big would be great for Hereford insurance.

  3. brgulker
    March 9

    Reggie Jackson has been a less than stellar replacement (-1 pm per 48). The other side effect is that Monroe (-1.4 pm per 48) has lost the mojo that he had acquired

    These two things may very well be related.

    The Pistons shipped out all their shooting at PG and SF at the deadline. Once again, just as with the Josh Smith Pistons, teams can completely stack the paint to stifle Detroit’s offense.

    Pre trade deadline, SVG had things going in the right direction. Today? Not so much. And if Monroe leaves this summer…yikes.

      March 9

      I agree with this. I think SVG thought he could fix Reggie’s jumper. Spacing and outside shooting is what always makes SVG team’s work. Without it it’s a crapfest.

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