NBA Inside RPI strongly favors Cleveland

This weekend I was watching ESPN and they were discussing their bracketology; who might be “in” the NCAA tournament, who might be out. 

One of the measurements they used was called “Inside RPI”.  I’m sure most of you know what it is.  Basically it measures how well each team has performed against the top 50, I believe, NCAA basketball teams.

My “NBA Inside RPI”

I thought it would be interesting to do somewhat the same for the NBA.  What I came up with was a simple measurement I’ll call “NBA Inside RPI”.  Its a misnomer because the calculation really has nothing to do with “RPI”, but the statistic seeks to answer the same basic question as Inside RPI, namely, who performs best against the best competition.  This season that team is the Cleveland Cavaliers, far and away.  By contrast, the popular pick to win the World Championship, the Los Angeles Lakers, has performed poorly against the best teams.  But more on that in a second.

“NBA Inside RPI” is dummy simple.  Its a comparison of the Basketball Geek’s current Top 10 NBA teams (by adjusted efficiency) against one another, using pythagorean winning percentage as the measurement. 

To account for any imbalance between home and away, I simply gave each home team +3 points and each away team -3 like Vegas does.

Okay, with that background, here are the rankings.  The results are surprising to say the least:

NBA Inside RPI Rankings

1. Cleveland Cavaliers_________.670%

2. Denver Nuggets___________.595%

3. Orlando Magic_____________.560%

4. Boston Celtics_____________.524%

5. Utah Jazz_________________.507%

6. Los Angeles Lakers__________.504%

7. Oklahoma City Thunder______.502%

8. San Antonio Spurs__________.429%

9. Portland Trailblazers________.423%

10. Atlanta Hawks____________.410%

As you can see, the Cleveland Cavaliers, or at least the version of the Cleveland Cavaliers that performed in the first half of the season, are clearly the dominant team amongst the dominant teams.  Really, it isn’t close.  

By contrast, the Lakers have performed very meakly against good competition.  They do not seem nearly as strong as popular perception would have one believe.

Of course, popular perception, if you’ve ever noticed, is always one year behind.  In other words, until the intelligentsia has seen a team win the world championship, they cannot conceive of them doing it.  Thus they will default on the team that won LAST YEAR.  Because they saw them do it.  The exact phenomenon occured the season the Celtics won the championship.  Everyone picked the Lakers when the Celtics were clearly superior.  Then the next season the Celtics were everyone’s pick when they were clearly weakened by injury.  So it goes.

The one team that should really give the Lakers a run at coming out of the West is Denver.  They’ve been tremendous this season against the best competition and have thus far beaten the Lakers soundly.

The San Antonio Spurs, a team that was supposed to be geared up for another championship run, appears to be a total impostor.  But, as I stated above, because the team still features key players from past championship teams they are always a “team to watch out for”.  My calculations say you shouldn’t have to watch real hard.

The other big impostor appears to be the Atlanta Hawks.  Their overall Basketball Geek ranking is much higher than their Inside RPI.  Maybe, like the Bucks, they’re preying on the weak. 

Amongst the Eastern elite, the Hawks have had their way with the Celtics, but the Cavs, and especially the Orlando Magic, have absolutely destroyed them.

2 Responses to “NBA Inside RPI strongly favors Cleveland”

  1. brgulker Says:


    How much stock do you put into match ups? As a former player myself, I tend to think that match ups matter, and I think they matter especially in a seven-game series.

    I know the response from the statisticians will focus on sample sizes and randomness.

    Just curious what your thoughts are, because you’re into the stats, but you’re also a guy who watches a lot of games.

    Oh, and Go Pistons tonight!

    • tywill33 Says:


      I put a lot of stock in the intra-conference series between teams. Those usually play themselves out in the playoffs, for example the Golden State upset of Dallas a couple of seasons ago.

      But not so much in the interconference, mainly because its only a two game sample set. (I think Orlando bested LA last season, but obvioulsy didn’t in the playoffs).

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