Sunday, September 30, 2007

Does last year mean anything?

An article in the Inquirer raises the question: does last year's end-of-season success actually mean anything for this coming season?

As the article says:
King believes the players will carry the momentum from the last 26 games of the season, when the Sixers went 17-9.
Normally, I'm not one for putting much stock into a strong end to a season. If you keep playing hard, you get some easy wins over teams that have checked out for the season. Considering the allegations of tanking that floated around the end of this season (so that teams would have a better shot at winning the draft lottery and getting Oden or Durant), this past season seems like it would be a candidate for having even more of these sorts of wins occurring than most years. You can also normally get a cheap win over a playoff team that has clinched its position and is taking its last game or two easy. Players with lingering injuries who might have played through pain earlier in the season often will also shut it down for the remainder of the season if their team isn't going anywhere.

The other reason for not normally putting much stock in late season surges is because there is often enough roster turnover before the start of the next season to make the performance of last year's team not particularly helpful. In the case of the Sixers, there has not been that much roster change so I think the end-of-season performance might give some indication of how they'll perform, particularly since the roster went through such major changes halfway through last season. (Basically, the Sixers added Reggie Evans and Calvin Booth in the off-season to replace Joe Smith and Steven Hunter. I like the addition of Evans, but for now I'll treat it as a fairly equal substitution.)

Andre Miller joined the Sixers on Tuesday, December 26. Then, Chris Webber was released before the Sixers game on January 12 (I don't remember if he was released the day before or not, but he was not on the roster for the game that night). Rather than look at just the last 26 games of last season, I think we can get a better sense of the Sixers by looking at all the games they played since those changes occurred. This method might underestimate them a little bit because it includes games when the new roster was trying to figure out how to play with one another, but it also might overestimate them a little bit because it includes wins in those late season, meaningless games. So with all those caveats, what happened since those changes?

Including the January 12, 2007 game against the Bucks, the Sixers went 26-21 after adding Miller and dropping Webber. Not too shabby considering their overall record. If you break the numbers out by month, you see that the Sixers went 6-6 in January, 5-6 in February, 9-6 in March, and 6-3 in April. Looking at these numbers, I see two plausible scenarios. First, you could say that the Sixers immediately became a .500 team, and then they really came together once they had the days-off to practice around the all-star break. In this scenario, the Sixers' record in March and April (a combined 15-9) is the true indication of their actual ability. This story seems to be the one that the Sixers management and coaching staff believe (or, at least, the one that they're telling to the media). The other scenario is that the Sixers are legitimately a .500 team, as indicated by their record in January and February, and that the better showing in March and April was the result of other teams shutting it down for the season.

Which do I believe? I probably lean a little more towards the latter story, but, in one of the world's great cop-outs, I think the truth is probably in-between the two scenarios. Quite frankly, either scenario would be really exciting. In both cases the Sixers project to being at least .500 this coming year; and in the Eastern Conference, .500 makes you a play-off team. I doubt any of the experts will predict the Sixers to make the playoffs this year, but it shouldn't really come as a surprise if they do.

All of a sudden, I'm a lot more excited for this upcoming NBA season.

1 comment:

Louis said...

It will be a very strange year indeed if the 76ers and Phillies make the playoffs and the Eagles don’t.