Early look at NBA Net Rating vs Finals Odds

Net Rating is a good stat to figure out how good a team really is. You take the estimate of points produced per 100 possessions (offensive rating) and subtract from it the point allowed per 100 possessions (defensive rating) and you get the Net Rating. The NBA is a league in which the best team wins the title very often. Here’s a look at the past ten years of champions and Net Ratings.

YearChampionNetRtg RankNet Rtg LeaderOutcome
2007Spurs1stSpursChampion
2008Celtics1stCelticsChampion
2009Lakers3rdCavaliersLost in Conf. Finals
2010Lakers5thMagicLost in Conf. Finals
2011Mavericks8thHeatLost in Finals
2012Heat4thBullsLost in Round 2
2013Heat2ndThunderLost in Conf. Finals
2014Spurs1stSpursChampion
2015Warriors1stWarriorsChampion
2016Cavaliers4thSpursLost in Round 2

 

It’s not perfect, but four of the ten years we’ve seen the #1 team in NetRating also win the championship. There was one other year that the top team lost in the Finals. Outside of 2011, which is a huge outlier for many reasons, the champion has been in the top 5 of Net Rating every single year. When you really take a close look at the teams who finished 4th or 5th (2010 Lakers, 2012 Heat, 2016 Cavaliers) you see teams that likely coasted in the regular season for stretches as they knew they would be making a deep playoff run. This isn’t perfect by any means, but it is a good gauge to figure out who actually has a chance to win this thing this year.

 

RankTeamNetRtgOdds
1Golden State Warriors12.73-140
2Los Angeles Clippers10.9+1350
3Cleveland Cavaliers9.49+290
4Chicago Bulls6.38+6600
5San Antonio Spurs6.14+850
6Toronto Raptors5.18+3300
7Houston Rockets4.42+6600
8Utah Jazz4.31+8000

 

Now, before you go placing that big bet on the Bulls +6600 you should remember that it is ridiculously early in the season. They haven’t even played the Cavs yet this season, but that is a pretty big number. We’ll be monitoring that going forward, but I think it is simply a team coming out hot and beating up on lesser teams.

The same can be said about the Clippers who have started to show signs of trouble as they’ve lost the last two games to the Pistons and the Pacers. This is an older team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin getting up there who might not be able to hold up this pace without resting some of the key stars. That should also bring this number down.

Really, if anything this current ranking shows that the Cavaliers and Warriors rematch may just be as inevitable as everyone thinks it is. The Warriors are beating last season’s Net Rating by over two points per game and look to be the best team in the league since teaming Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Lebron James and the Cavaliers are clearly the class of the East this season and, unless the Bulls are for real (which is highly doubtful), we’re looking at yet another rematch.

Of course, as the first table shows anything can happen in the NBA. Winning in the playoffs is hard and to make it to the Finals three years in a row is even harder. We’ll keep looking at this throughout the year to see where we’re at.

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