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The Hawks, Post-Sweep

Posted by Neil Paine on October 28, 2010

I was watching a little of the Hawks-Grizzlies game last night before the World Series, and it sunk in just how much we've all written off the Hawks after last season's embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Magic. The prevailing logic is that Atlanta will still win their 45-50 games this year, finish with a decent seed in the East, and maybe even win another 1st-round series, but the sweep meant that they cannot truly contend with the conference's big guns.

Is one playoff sweep really that telling, though?

Here's the historical progression of all teams who were swept 4-0 from 1959-2007 (mouse over column headers for descriptions):

Sweep Year Sweep Year + 1 Sweep Year + 2 Sweep Year + 3
Sweep Mgn RS W% RS SRS RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs
-10.74 0.603 2.93 0.566 1.92 86% 12% 0.536 1.05 72% 20% 0.523 0.53 68% 10%

Narrowing it down further to teams who, like Atlanta, were swept by an average of 15 PPG or worse:

Sweep Year Sweep Year + 1 Sweep Year + 2 Sweep Year + 3
Sweep Mgn RS W% RS SRS RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs
-18.00 0.600 3.29 0.547 1.18 83% 17% 0.530 0.57 50% 17% 0.504 0.32 67% 0%

Teams swept in the 2nd round:

Sweep Year Sweep Year + 1 Sweep Year + 2 Sweep Year + 3
Sweep Mgn RS W% RS SRS RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs
-10.61 0.591 2.49 0.561 1.88 80% 15% 0.510 0.17 70% 15% 0.507 0.04 70% 10%

And teams who were swept after winning as much as Atlanta did in 2010:

Sweep Year Sweep Year + 1 Sweep Year + 2 Sweep Year + 3
Sweep Mgn RS W% RS SRS RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs RS W% RS SRS Playoffs Conf Champs
-10.56 0.695 6.00 0.652 4.51 100% 11% 0.617 3.43 89% 33% 0.615 3.32 94% 22%

All of these numbers tell a similar story... Being swept is not a catastrophic blow that causes a team to fall off a cliff, or makes them instantly disappear from the playoffs. In fact, while teams do tend to gradually decline after a sweep, their future conference championship prospects are not all that distinguishable from the future 3-year probabilities for any 53+ win team (20% in year+1, 18% in year+2, 15% in year+3).

This is not to say the Hawks won't hit a ceiling again next season, but it does mean we can't definitively judge them as non-contenders on the basis of being swept, no matter how one-sided the defeat. Sometimes sweeps spell future doom for a franchise, and sometimes they merely strengthen the team's resolve. Only in hindsight can we really tell which team falls in which category.

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14 Responses to “The Hawks, Post-Sweep”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Nice job Neil. Another fogotten note on this team is that they have had the most continuity within their roster in the entire Eastern Conference over the last 4-5 years. I wonder if that would account for anything in the statistical equations.

  2. MikeN Says:

    How much of that is influenced by Shaq who gets swept everywhere?

  3. Serhat Says:

    Hey Neil, it's off the topic but you at b-r.com use tesm turnovers or total individual player turnovers regarding possession calculation? It looks like the latter?

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    #2 - Funny point about Shaq teams, who were swept in 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2007. However, those were just 5 of 50 teams swept 4-0 between 1959 and 2007, and the results were kind of mixed anyway -- Orlando went on to be swept again in 96 and then declined after he left, while L.A. followed their sweep(s) up with 3 rings.

    #3 - There are a couple of answers to that question. For full-season & full-playoff stats, that data comes from the official totals, so team turnovers are included in the team data. However, for any numbers that are derived from the game-by-game data -- box scores, game logs, splits, PI game finder searches, etc. -- we don't have team turnovers in the data.

    But when you don't have team TOV, you can approximate the official total by multiplying the sum of individuals' TOV by 1.03. Pretty much every season since they started tracking TOV, the sum of individual TOV = .97 * the official total.

  5. Bronn Says:

    A lot of teams who get swept realize that it's a fault of their fundamental flaws and make serious personnel changes to address those issues. The Hawks' only significant change in personnel is at the head coaching position.

  6. Leroy Smith Says:

    Neil, if you don't remember I'm a Wins Produced (WP) fan, but I love adjusted +/- and the related research as well. I have a question for you that WP can't answer. How is it that Bosh, whom traditional stats say is the worse of the "big 3", has been the far and away best player as far as +/-? I mean, he has Shaq-like numbers circa 2000 when comes to +/- for the first 2 heat games. Please forgive me for not responding to this story guys.

    If anyone else can help me with this, let me know. Oh, and i know it's only 2 games.

  7. huevonkiller Says:

    I think APM is among the most unreliable of advanced stats. I'd wait for Stat plus-minus.

  8. Greyberger Says:

    Re:6, Adjusted +- won't explain why Bosh has been in the most productive heat lineups in the first two games.

    If you want to know why Bosh's +/- numbers in that second game look so good, go to http://popcornmachine.net/cgi-bin/gameflow.cgi?date=20101027&game=MIAPHI . He was in the entire game (a blowout) except for the start of the second and fourth, which coincided with Philly bench rallies. In the first game, his raw +/- was second-worst. To draw any conclusions you have to dig deeper into the other 9 guys on the floor and make subjective adjustments.

    What adjusted +/- does is take many seasons worth of this information and estimates the effects of the other nine players. The more data the better when you're trying to untangle player combinations that either play together too often or not enough to get a true bead on their contributions in small samples.

  9. Neil Paine Says:

    What Greyberger said.

  10. Jason J Says:

    What Greyberger says is absolutely correct, though from a purely logistical (as opposed to statistical) frame of mind, it may make sense for Bosh's numbers to be not so great while his on court value remains high.

    Here's a big who likes to play away from the basket and rebounds well. So, conceptually anyway, a defense may lock one of its big man defenders on Bosh on the perimeter opening greater space for Wade and James to make their drives to the rim. Also (again in theory because I only watched the game against Boston and the game against Orlando and don't actually recall this being the case), his ability to play the pick and pop game promises to open lanes.

    None of that actually leads to any stats for Bosh, but it does help out his teammates.

  11. Greyberger Says:

    Here in Texas we call it the Matt Bonner effect =)

  12. Jason J Says:

    Here in New York we call it a dream of a better tomorrow.

  13. Dave Says:

    Was anybody saying Atlanta were falling off the cliff - no - I think we all just reached the conclusion they hit their ceiling ... which your data kinda confirms for me Neil. Last year was their chance to close the gap, I didn't see it in the playoffs.

    Can you find out how many other teams have been swept in the second round of the playoffs and spent almost $200 million to keep the same unit together???

    I'm still picking Atlanta to be better than every eastern conference team they were better than last year ... except Miami ...

  14. tgt Says:

    Sometimes sweeps spell future doom for a franchise, and sometimes they merely strengthen the team's resolve. Only in hindsight can we really tell which team falls in which category.
    I call BS. The information shows that a sweep means nothing. Why you insist on creating stupid storylines is beyond comprehension.