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The Lakers and Hot November Starts

Posted by Neil Paine on November 25, 2008

I probably don't need to tell you this, but I'm going to anyway: the Los Angeles Lakers are torching the NBA right now. They're currently 12-1, they rank 3rd in the league in offensive efficiency with an ORtg of 111.4, and they have the NBA's best defense (96.5 DRtg) -- better even than the Boston Celtics, whose stifling D was one of the major reasons the Lakers lost in the NBA Finals this past June. With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the fold full-time this season, we knew they'd be a formidable team, but I think it's safe to say they've exceeded even their most optimistic expectations going into the season.

Exactly how good have the Lakers been so far? Well, here at, one of our favorite tools for measuring team quality is something we call the "Simple Rating System". It's basically a team's average point differential per game, but also adjusted for strength of schedule, and we've already proven that it's one of the best predictors of future performance available. Through 13 games, the Lakers' SRS is an eye-popping 14.00, easily tops in the league (Cleveland is 2nd with 9.64).

Just for comparison's sake, last year's Celtics, who streamrolled the league en route to 66 wins and an NBA title, had an SRS of "only" 9.31. In fact, the best full-season SRS mark ever belongs to the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, who also rolled up 66 wins and an NBA crown, thanks to the efforts of Oscar Robertson and league MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Their SRS score that year? 11.91, more than two points per game worse than L.A.'s current clip.

Here's the list of the NBA's all-time best teams by SRS:

Year    Team    W    L     SRS  Result
2009    LAL*    12    1   14.00 ???
1971    MIL     66   16   11.91 NBA Champions
1996    CHI     72   10   11.80 NBA Champions
1972    LAL     69   13   11.65 NBA Champions
1972    MIL     63   19   10.70 Lost-WCF
1997    CHI     69   13   10.70 NBA Champions
1992    CHI     67   15   10.07 NBA Champions
2009    CLE*    10    3    9.31 ???
2008    BOS     66   16    9.31 NBA Champions
1986    BOS     67   15    9.06 NBA Champions
1994    SEA     63   19    8.68 Lost-WCQF
1986    MIL     57   25    8.67 Lost-ECF

However, one month does not a season make. The Lakers may be red-hot right now, but it's very difficult (nigh-impossible, actually) to maintain that level of intensity and skill over the course of an entire season. Factors like injuries, fatigue (physical and mental), and regression to the mean can all conspire to drag a team down as the long season wears on. So, given that, how remarkable is Los Angeles' November run so far? And how does it bode for the Lakers' future? Here are the all-time best November starts (with a few October games sprinkled in) by SRS, along with the team's eventual W-L, SRS, and playoff fate:

Year    Team   Nov_W-L Nov_SRS  W    L     SRS   Result
1997    CHI     15-1    14.604  69   13   10.697 NBA Champions
1991    POR     12-1    14.269  63   19    8.471 Lost-WCF
1964    BOS     15-1    13.382  59   21    6.934 NBA Champions
2009    LAL     11-1    13.349  11    1   13.349 ???
1985    BOS     13-1    13.184  63   19    6.467 Lost-NBA Finals
1972    LAL     20-3    13.173  69   13   11.652 NBA Champions
1992    CHI     13-2    12.867  67   15   10.068 NBA Champions
1970    NYK     23-2    12.753  60   22    8.423 NBA Champions
2008    BOS     13-2    12.688  66   16    9.307 NBA Champions
2003    DAL     15-1    12.604  60   22    7.905 Lost-WCF
1994    SEA     11-1    12.277  63   19    8.676 Lost-WCQF
1986    LAL     14-2    12.238  62   20    6.842 Lost-WCF
1989    DEN      9-4    11.784  44   38    0.913 Lost-WCQF
2002    LAL     14-1    11.757  58   24    7.145 NBA Champions
1982    BOS     13-2    11.618  63   19    6.348 Lost-ECF
1967    PHI     20-2    11.580  68   13    8.500 NBA Champions
1971    MIL     18-3    11.514  66   16   11.913 NBA Champions
1978    POR     16-3    11.461  58   24    5.916 Lost-WCSF
1973    NYK     20-4    11.267  57   25    6.067 NBA Champions
1972    MIL     21-4    11.254  63   19   10.699 Lost-WCF

As you can see, only 3 teams have had a better start by SRS than the '09 Lakers, and 2 of them ended up winning a title; in fact, the entire list is populated with a lot of eventual NBA Champions. All told, the correlation of a team's November SRS and its final winning % is 0.81, and the correlation of November SRS and final SRS is 0.84, which isn't bad at all for just a month's worth of games (it also backs up what we observed earlier in terms of each month's predictive value). This is good news for Laker fans, as it basically ensures (barring injury) that Los Angeles will be a title favorite by season's end -- in NBA history, 84% of the teams leading the NBA in SRS after November went on to finish in the top 3 in final SRS, and 55% finished #1 overall. In other words, this is definitely one case where a small sample can tell you a lot about the NBA's big picture.

4 Responses to “The Lakers and Hot November Starts”

  1. Ben Says:

    Very interesting stuff. Cleveland is more suprising than Lakers to me. Any kind of prediction interval on them? Does previous season SRS still have predictive value after November?

  2. woodulakers Says:

    Kind of scary stuff to the rest of the league considering that the Lakers have yet to play a complete game. They are still learning the new defense, Pau and Drew are still learning to play with each other and Kobe shot has been off and on. I can only wait to see them put it all together, hopefully it will happen on Xmas day! GO LAKERS

  3. mejason Says:

    Very cool, thanks for the good read.

    I agree with Woodulakers... Kobe is also playing his fewest amount of minutes since 97-98 and he said he's never felt this good 13 games in. If they keep everyone averaging under 35 mpg like they currently are... all i can say is look out. :)

    Ahhh, balance is good.

  4. I got Lakers Playoff Tickets Says:

    As a UK-based Lakers fan, I found your blog on google and read a few of your other Lakers posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.