I think Kenny Smith was exactly right

I meant to write this post two weeks ago after New Jersey won their 10th game to assure themselves of surpassing the 1973 Philadelphia Sixers NBA worst record of 9-73.

At the time, in a radio comment, Kenny Smith of TNT said all the celebrating by New Jersey was “embarrassing.”  He contended that he could assemble a team of hard-playing D Leaguers who could get at least 11 wins in an NBA season.

You know what, I think he’s EXACTLY right.

Lets assume Smith is referring to a collection of at least reasonably competent bottom level NBA players.  If so, by my calculations, the team would have to be unbelievably unlucky to win fewer than 12 games.

Why?  Because, as I stumbled upon, and others have shown, 29% of NBA games are not won by the stronger team, they are decided randomly.  That’s 24 games in a season, roughly.

Lets assume that those games are decided by coin flip.  You ought to be able, just through dumb luck, to win half.  That’s 12 games.  That’s why I said earlier this season, when the Nets were not slated to win even 8 games, that the team would almost assuredly win more than the Sixers record worst 9 games.

The 1973 Philadelphia team had the misfortune of playing before the 3 point shot evened the field a bit, and during the time when the already shallow talent pool of basketball players was divided between the maximum number of ABA teams and the NBA.

On the other end, the same logic, along with the kind of “give up” games that we saw today in Cleveland, is what makes the Bulls 72 wins nearly insurmountable.


4 Responses to “I think Kenny Smith was exactly right”

  1. TC from Racine Says:

    I hadn’t seen that (the Nets celebrating), but that reminds me of a few years back when the Wizards busted out t-shirts after they won their first round series against the Bulls. And I only heard about that due to my cousin lamenting said series.

  2. Palamida Says:

    I think your argument and thinking is faulty in this particular instance.
    You argue the following: “Why? Because, as I stumbled upon, and others have shown, 29% of NBA games are not won by the stronger team, they are decided randomly. That’s 24 games in a season, roughly.”
    That’s true. However the word randomly is problematic, i’ll try to explain:

    let’s imagine a league in which all the teams would have an efficiency differential of 0 and would thus be expected to win half of their matches. In such a league (disregarding HC adv. for a moment) every contest would virtually be a coin flip.
    Since that imaginary league would only be 82 games long and not say… 10000 or an infinite amount of games we would surely see variance meaning not all teams would finish with 41 wins but that’s to be expected.
    Let’s take a closer look at “our” league:
    Since every game is played but once, in a sense every single outcome is determined by “luck”. for example if we assume 3 pts for HC adv. a team with an eff. Diff of 5 playing at home against an opponent with a diff of -5 would arguably have about 88% of winning.
    5 (diff) -(-5) (opp. diff) + 3 (HC adv) = 13. (13*2.4)+41=72.2
    Mind u this is a game in which the home team is a 53 wins caliber team and the opponent is a 29 wins team. the home team is a clear favorite but still would be expected to lose 12% of the time.
    Since many games are closer to begin with we end up with the 29% number.

    But that’s within a closed system! if you compile a team of 6 year olds and match them up with pro players (even very poor ones) the 6 year olds would NEVER notch an upset. How close are a team of D-leaguers to a bunch of children? they’re not. but we need to compile such a team, Calculate it’s expected Pythagorean expectancy and then surmise how many games would they be expected to win vs. NBA competition. It’s not like the 29% rule is some fixed constant. In confined systems, where even the lousiest of competitors isn’t THAT far removed from the elite, and with HC adv. being what it is in pro Bball, that’s what we come up with.
    Saying that a “luck” factor governs the game in such a way that would make just anyone win around 12 games a season is simply not true.
    A team with an efficiency differential of -17 for example would be expected to win exactly 0 of their 82 competitions. Are d-leaguers that bad? it depends who u pick :p, some D-leaguers would be above average performers in the league and you could probably comprise a marginal playoff team with those, if u pick the worst, u would probably be a lot closer to that -17 than u think :p

    P.S You’re right in arguing that that Bulls record is virtually insurmountable, but it’s only because of those Gimme games u mention. A team like that would clinch every possible thing there is to “clinch” long before the season will end, and will have no incentive to play their top guys – leading to losses.
    If however such a team was compiled (and with the wages distributed as they are) it is in fact theoretically possible even with the current cap rules to compile a better team than the 72 wins Bulls team, if for some reason say… for breaking that record? they did decide to play their top players to the end.
    it would be entirely possible.
    That Bulls team btw had an eff. diff of about 12.3 and was in fact expected to win “only” about 70.5 games :p

    Just to clarify I totally agree that a random team of D-leaguers would probably be “up for the task” and would win somewhere around 10-13 games.
    We actually saw something close to that In Miami the season Both Wade and Shaq where hurt: The heat for about half the season basically played a team of D-leaguers.
    Merely pointing out that it isn’t a necessity by any means! U can, if u want compile a team of pro players (even ones with actual NBA resume) that would be expected to “break” the Sixers “record”. Dejuan Wagner, anyone?

    • tywill33 Says:

      You know, I think you’re right. There is a gigantic hole in my logic.

      There has to be some point at which a team is bad enough never to be lucky… plus my math is a little sketchy, you’re right about that too.

      You know, I was thinking about that when I was for a second or two thinking about how the women Huskies of Uconn never get beat. How much better do they have to be than their opponents to be upset proof?

      Whatever that level is, UCLA’s men were at it in the 1970s. Does that mean the women’s college game is right now where the men’s game was in the early 70s?

      Its not important enough to ponder on too long 🙂

      Good comment!

  3. Palamida Says:

    Thanks and well, u know me – I love to ponder 🙂
    No subject that’s worth commenting on isn’t worth commenting on at length 🙂 and as u may have seen already I practice what I preach among other places at ur wonderful blog.
    P.S I already said it in the initial comment but i’ll say it again:
    As to the point in which a team is bad (or good) enough to take the luck factor out of the equation:
    In theory, in The NBA, that point is a team whose Efficiency differential is -17 on one end or +17 on the other.

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