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You read that right, folks.


The Boston Celtics are currently the team with the best odds to win it all in the East, according to stats gurus FiveThirtyEight. Before you throw the prediction out the same window you throw the likes of those from certain blowhard, so-called "analysts", though, consider they do have a fairly rigorous methodology behind their prediction, and while imperfect for a variety of reasons, overall, it's pretty solid as far trying to predict really complicated things like basketball seasons. How does it work? According to FiveThirtyEight themselves,

"This forecast is based on 50,000 simulations of the season and accounts for team fatigue, travel distance to games, and home courts with higher altitudes. Elo ratings are a measure of team strength based on head-to-head results and quality of opponent, while our CARMELO projections estimate a player’s future performance based on the trajectory of other, similar NBA players. Our CARM-Elo ratings, which power the forecast model, blend these two metrics to measure a team's quality based on both its game results and its roster."

Fair enough - last season, they were one win off of Boston's win total, and while things like injuries threw their totals off for some teams, it's about as good as we have for these kinds of projections (for a deeper dive into their methodology, click here). But what does the latest data say, exactly? Well, in a nutshell, the site uses a combination of individual player projections with data to account for context to get a more nuanced prediction that just "eyeballing" it. What this means is it takes into account all the data a good basketball mind does in terms of roster makeup and recent trends, and uses historical development curves for similar players, tacks on data about how tired those players will be from playing back-to-backs, in high altitude, and so on, to come up with an even finer-grained analysis than most humans can.


The data from last night (unsurprisingly) LOVES the Golden State Warriors to win it all - it gives them 51% odds, after all - but after that, the projection gets a lot murkier. You would think the reigning champs, returning with an arguably better roster than last season, would be the clear-cut second-place holder...but they are not. That honor falls to the San Antonio Spurs, which - if you have been following them this season - actually DOES make sense. They lead the Cleveland Cavaliers by nearly ten games in the standings, and are a juggernaut unto themselves in the wake of Kawhi Leonard's emergence as a legitimate MVP candidate this season.

Then, things get weird - a good weird, though, at least for Celtics fans. The third-best odds to win it all? A tie, between the reinvented, Mike D'Antoni-led Houston Rockets and the Celts. The Cavs came in a close fourth, a percentage point behind the Rockets and Celtics, and the same ahead of the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards. This is, presumably, a result of the exceedingly difficult remaining schedule the Cavs face over the next three weeks, one of the hardest in the league. Boston might have had a bone to pick with the league the last few years in terms of scheduling - but not this year.


As a parting gift to you, let me pump the brakes on this projection - as of today, the odds have changed, placing the Celts on even odds with the Cavs to win it all (the horror!), and more importantly, we need to keep in mind these are PROJECTIONS, not predestination. Injuries can happen - to the Celts, the Cavs, the Warriors, and the Spurs all (though it does feel great to be keeping such company rhetorically speaking not even four years after blowing it all up, I'm not gonna lie), and there's no way to learn how all that will play out aside from playing the games, so...

Let's get on with 'em, already!

For more stories about FiveThirtyEight on Celticslife, click here. For more by Justin, click here.




Data and image via FiveThirtyEight.com
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 3/22/2017 12:10:00 PM Edit
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