2016 NBA Playoff Probability Model

Hello again basketball fans,

It’s that time of year again, everybody is getting excited for the start of the NBA Playoffs, the thing we’ve all been waiting for. Last year, I debuted my playoff probability model for determining the likely outcome of specific games and applying it to a playoff series and the whole playoffs. If you would like to read up on the finer points of how it works, you can do so here. This article, however, will focus primarily on interpreting the results of this year’s data.

Absolute Model

While it is a bit of a bastardisation of statistics, the absolute model is always a good place to start when it comes to the playoffs. Figuring out which teams are chalk and the single most likely path to the NBA Championship is always interesting. It doesn’t allow for much flexibility, but let’s have a look at how things are most likely to fall into place.

WEST

1

GOLDEN STATE

0.94471087992732

4

8

HOUSTON

0.0552891200726802

1

4

CLIPPERS

0.722588694531871

4

5

PORTLAND

0.277411305468129

1

2

SAN ANTONIO

0.973154022027252

4

7

MEMPHIS

0.0268459779727475

0

3

OKLAHOMA CITY

0.865586033788547

4

6

DALLAS

0.134413966211453

1

EAST

1

CLEVELAND

0.781272507835133

4

8

DETROIT

0.218727492164867

1

4

ATLANTA

0.707338094725949

4

5

BOSTON

0.292661905274051

1

2

TORONTO

0.695089397073879

4

7

INDIANA

0.304910602926121

1

3

MIAMI

0.483887327493713

2

6

CHARLOTTE

0.516112672506287

4

The first result is not too much a surprise to anybody, the Warriors should smash the Rockets in the first round. The model predicts Houston to take one game, probably as a result of the fact that the Warriors only have a 66.6% chance of winning a game played in Houston. (I know! only 66% on the road) This is a fair thing to assume seeing as the Rockets have the all-star talent to compete against the Warriors and will at least give them a run for their money. That being said, this series is not in doubt. For the Clippers against the Trailblazers, the series is not the foregone conclusion of the 1v8 matchup, but the most likely end result is much the same, a 4-1 series victory.

San Antonio vs Memphis promises to be more of a whitewash than the Warriors’ first round matchup, with the rare occurrence of the model actually predicting a 4-0 clean sweep. This is somewhat to do with the fact that the Grizzlies have been rolling out replacement level players for months to try and plug holes in an injury-ravaged roster. The Spurs are 73.3% favourites in Memphis, so a 4-0 victory is quite likely. Finally, Oklahoma City vs Dallas seems to be a pretty predictable series similar to the rest. I’m confident the Mavericks can take one game in the series, given they have a 38.8% of winning a game played in Dallas. These two teams have had interesting playoff matchups in the past, maybe we can hope for another interesting matchup this series. However, that’s unlikely, and I’d have to put the over-under on games won by the losing team at 3.5.

In the East there at least promise to be some interesting matchups. Cleveland vs Detroit looks to be a pretty predictable conclusion. However personally, I think it will be a frisky matchup because of the contrast between the pampered, unappreciative Cavaliers who whinge and complain all the way to the finals, and the unimpeachable enthusiasm of the happy-go-lucky Pistons. The 4v5 matchup between Atlanta and Boston doesn’t appear to be the close, exciting matchup it might first seem. This is most likely because of Atlanta’s road strength resulting in a 56.1% chance of winning a game played in Boston. While the single most likely result is a 4-1 series, the over-under should be put at 6 games in the series, as the 50th percentile of probability would result in a 4-2 series. And just as much of a possibility to consider in a 4-3 series, which at that point could go either way.

Toronto vs Indiana appears to be a pretty uninteresting matchup, with a 69.5% chance of Toronto winning the series. It’s most likely that the Pacers will take at least one game given their strength at home. Miami vs Charlotte looks to be the most interesting series in the first round, with the Hornets pulling off the upset over the 3rd seed in a very close series. There’s almost nothing between these two sides, but the biggest strength is the Hornet’s 64% chance of winning a game played in Charlotte, and that looks to be the deciding factor.

Second Round

GOLDEN STATE

0.852616270754272

4

CLIPPERS

0.147383729245728

1

SAN ANTONIO

0.697841551815112

4

OKLAHOMA CITY

0.302158448184888

1

CLEVELAND

0.644809408549719

4

ATLANTA

0.355190591450281

1

TORONTO

0.645999031198189

4

CHARLOTTE

0.354000968801811

3

The Golden State vs Clippers matchup looks a lot like those of the first round matchups, a disappointing sight for a Clippers fan such as myself. The Warriors have a 56.4% of winning in Los Angeles, so the Clippers have the chance to at least home home court, but this series will most likely be a 4-1 series, maybe 4-2. San Antonio vs Oklahoma City promises to be a more exciting matchup, with a 70% chance of the Spurs advancing thanks to their home dominance. While the model says the single most likely result is a 4-1 series, the 50th percentile occurs at a 4-2 series win for the Spurs, so there’s at least something in this matchup.

In the East, Cleveland vs Atlanta looks to be a reasonably close series, and it very much resembles the Spurs vs Thunder matchup from above, both in home court strength and likely result. And Toronto vs Charlotte looks to be a really exciting series, with the result being Toronto winning in a game 7.

Conference Finals

GOLDEN STATE

0.567784275220779

4

SAN ANTONIO

0.432215724779221

3

CLEVELAND

0.60235080881409

4

TORONTO

0.39764919118591

3

The Golden State vs San Antonio matchup is what we’ve all been waiting for. A really close matchup that ends up being decided purely on Golden State’s home court advantage in the 7th game of the series. The Warriors have a 62.5% chance of winning in Oracle Arena, and the Spurs have a 59.6% chance of winning in the AT&T Center. This series is going to be awesome, and an upset win on the road will most likely be the ultimate decider here.

In the East, a less close but probably similarly exciting matchup is going to go down between Cleveland and Toronto. The deciding factor is the 50/50 nature of games played in Toronto. If the Raptors are to pull off an upset of the 1 seed, they’ll need to hold home court and pull off the 41.5% chance of beating the Cavaliers at home.

Finals

GOLDEN STATE

0.779957658270466

4

CLEVELAND

0.220042341729534

1

This looks to be an almost repeat of the same finals matchup we saw last year:

GOLDEN STATE

CLEVELAND

0.77231315859749

0.22768684140251

4-1 WIN

Almost exactly the same. Golden State’s relative increase in dominance has been matched by Cleveland’s increase in attaining the top seed in the East. We’ll probably see almost exactly the same result as well, a 4-1 win to the Warriors. Why am I not surprised?

Probabilistic Model

Now for the real deal, the model that accounts for every single possibility in the fall out of the playoffs. Read up on last year’s article for a more detailed explanation of how it works, but here I’ll go through the predicted results for every team.

WIN CONFERENCE SEMIS

1

GOLDEN STATE

0.831564662237668

2

SAN ANTONIO

0.71171406663822

1

CLEVELAND

0.611241117020462

2

TORONTO

0.47246401788129

3

OKLAHOMA CITY

0.275855523155884

6

CHARLOTTE

0.217613191031987

4

ATLANTA

0.206032505330248

3

MIAMI

0.172783791336251

7

INDIANA

0.137138999750471

4

CLIPPERS

0.129562772628827

5

BOSTON

0.0993505861405786

8

DETROIT

0.083375791508711

5

PORTLAND

0.0214138651858404

6

HOUSTON

0.017458699947665

7

DALLAS

0.00915097052567799

8

MEMPHIS

0.00327943968021826

The odds of winning in the second round of the playoffs and making it to the conference finals don’t come with any surprises for the top 5 teams, and these are the teams which are considered to be the contenders this post-season. The first surprise is the Hornets, who jump above heat thanks to the likelihood of a first round upset over Miami, and their subsequent relatively good matchup against the Raptors. Atlanta jumps above the Heat as well, thanks to the fact that they have an easier matchup in the first round. The biggest surprise is how low the Clippers are, but this is almost entirely because of their impending Warriors matchup in the conference semi-finals. The only interesting things at the bottom of the list are the high odds for Detroit compared with the 5-8 seeds in the West. This is most likely because the bottom seeded Western Conference teams all have very difficult matchups in the first and second round thanks to the juggernaut top seeded teams.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION

1

GOLDEN STATE

0.509894738843795

1

CLEVELAND

0.402470870514094

2

SAN ANTONIO

0.35934556145901

2

TORONTO

0.236511454787246

4

ATLANTA

0.105711934024377

3

OKLAHOMA CITY

0.0991444531961068

6

CHARLOTTE

0.091155111322623

3

MIAMI

0.0592052077624748

7

INDIANA

0.046857460596964

5

BOSTON

0.0304294701923865

8

DETROIT

0.0276584907998341

4

CLIPPERS

0.027156423486168

5

PORTLAND

0.00185687769931837

6

HOUSTON

0.00159832431602761

7

DALLAS

0.000819347027150694

8

MEMPHIS

0.000184273972424295

In the probabilities for the eventual conference champions, we see much of the same, with the top 2 seeds 1st and second respectively in their conferences for likelihood to make the Finals. We don’t see any of the anomalies of the Clippers/Spurs in last year’s model, thanks to the seeding being a lot more sensical. Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Charlotte each have about a 10% chance of making the finals, and then the rest are all under 6%. The 4-8 seeds in the west are all shunted to the bottom of the list amazingly, showing just how dominant the top 3 seeds in the Western Conference are.

CHAMPION

1

GOLDEN STATE

0.430867495224729

2

SAN ANTONIO

0.30034047968401

1

CLEVELAND

0.104910022252147

3

OKLAHOMA CITY

0.0649931197327366

2

TORONTO

0.0436546468759919

6

CHARLOTTE

0.0147048159767159

4

CLIPPERS

0.01321875494538

4

ATLANTA

0.00948918037371775

3

MIAMI

0.00568379816142752

7

INDIANA

0.00472936681828004

5

BOSTON

0.00364924486409851

8

DETROIT

0.00259974086000893

5

PORTLAND

0.000484601036206965

6

HOUSTON

0.000448137088936561

7

DALLAS

0.000196654101541757

8

MEMPHIS

0.0000299420040720599

We see here that Golden state is the favourite with a 43.1% chance of winning the Championship. This is down from last year’s odds despite their dominant season thanks to one factor: The Spurs. We see the Spurs second with a 30.0% chance of Pop bringing home a 6th title, followed by a 10.5% chance of Cleveland breaking its 3-team championship curse after 52 years. Oklahoma City and Toronto are the only two other teams with considerable chances, at 6.5% and 4.4% respectively. We see the Clippers take a rise thanks to the fact that if, by some chance, they do make it to the finals, they would be a good chance of winning against their opponent.

The Warriors are going to have a tougher time defending their title than you would expect from a team that only lost 9 games in the entire season, thanks to another historically good team nested in their own conference. For that reason, I can’t feel comfortable making any wagers on so few losses like I did with my co-host last year, but it will make for much more exciting playoffs. A 7 game series between the Warriors and Spurs is going to be absolutely amazing, and we have about a 60% chance of seeing these two playing each other in the Conference Finals. I can’t wait, these Playoffs are going to be great.

 

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