Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

October 21, 2008

Who’s got the toughest schedule?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:31 pm

Does strength of schedule matter in the NBA?

The easy answer is yeah, sure it does. Quality of competition always matters. In the NBA, though, the differences in schedules from team to team are relatively minor. In fact, if the two conferences were equal in strength — and some people think that may be the case this season — then I’d go so far as to call strength of schedule a virtual nonfactor in the NBA.

Here are the rankings, based on the aggregate winning percentages from last season for the opponents on each team’s 2008-09 schedule, listed in order of toughest- to easiest-schedule:

Memphis Grizzlies .524
Minnesota Timberwolves .522
Los Angeles Clippers .522
Oklahoma City Thunder .517
Miami Heat .511
Sacramento Kings .510
New York Knicks .507
Golden State Warriors .506
Portland Trail Blazers .506
Dallas Mavericks .504
Houston Rockets .503
New Orleans Hornets .502
Denver Nuggets .502
Indiana Pacers .500
Milwaukee Bucks .499
Phoenix Suns .499
Utah Jazz .498
Los Angeles Lakers .498
Chicago Bulls .496
San Antonio Spurs .496
New Jersey Nets .494
Atlanta Hawks .494
Charlotte Bobcats .493
Toronto Raptors .490
Philadelphia 76ers .489
Cleveland Cavaliers .489
Washington Wizards .488
Orlando Magic .482
Boston Celtics .480
Detroit Pistons .479

My first observation is that if each team won at the exact percentage of its strength of schedule, the worst team, Memphis, would win 39 games. The best team, Detroit, would win 43. That’s the full range of your quality-of-competition adjustment.

Beyond that, a couple of things are apparent. When you look at the teams grouped at the top and the bottom, it becomes apparent that the worst teams suffer from not getting to play themselves. Conversely, the top teams don’t play themselves, either, and that weakens their schedule strength a tad. The other thing to note is that the bottom of the list is cluttered with teams from the East. The top of the list is heavy on teams from the West.

The West has been treating the East like a cat toy for several years now, so this isn’t exactly front page news. More importantly, it seems as if, by and large, that schedule is a minor factor when it comes to teams positioning themselves within their respective conferences.

While it all comes out sort of even in the end, strength of schedule can nevertheless be an important factor when it comes to evaluating teams as the season goes along. Some teams will play more home games early on; some teams will play weaker opponents. It’s something I’m planning to pay a little closer attention to this season and I’ll be sure to share any observations along the way.

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