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BBR Mailbag: Most Consistent Franchises of the 2002-2011 Decade

Posted by Neil Paine on January 17, 2011

BBR reader Prashant wrote in with a good question yesterday:

"I just read John Hollinger’s article about the sustained success of the Spurs and Mavs and was wondering if there was any way to calculate the average deviation of a given team’s record over time? Basically, which teams are the most consistently good/bad/average over a set timeframe, say a decade? I would imagine the Spurs/Mavs/Clippers are atop that list, while the Celtics and Heat probably have a pretty wild deviation (from lottery team to title contender)."

Sure, the easiest way to look at this is to calculate the standard deviation of each franchise's year-to-year winning percentages over the given timeframe.

Of course, if we're going to include 2011 in the sample, we also need to make sure this year's records follow the same distribution as full-season records from the past. To do this, we regress every team's 2011 record to the mean by adding 4.5 games of .500 ball to their current record (40 games into the season, 4.5 is the amount of .500 games required to minimize the error between regressed wpct and end-of-season wpct):

Team Won Lost W% Regressed W%
Atlanta Hawks 26 15 0.634 0.621
Boston Celtics 30 9 0.769 0.741
Charlotte Bobcats 15 23 0.395 0.406
Chicago Bulls 27 13 0.675 0.657
Cleveland Cavaliers 8 32 0.200 0.230
Dallas Mavericks 26 13 0.667 0.649
Denver Nuggets 23 17 0.575 0.567
Detroit Pistons 14 26 0.350 0.365
Golden State Warriors 16 23 0.410 0.420
Houston Rockets 18 23 0.439 0.445
Indiana Pacers 16 21 0.432 0.440
Los Angeles Clippers 14 25 0.359 0.374
Los Angeles Lakers 30 12 0.714 0.694
Memphis Grizzlies 19 21 0.475 0.478
Miami Heat 30 12 0.714 0.694
Team Won Lost W% Regressed W%
Milwaukee Bucks 14 23 0.378 0.392
Minnesota Timberwolves 10 31 0.244 0.269
New Jersey Nets 10 30 0.250 0.275
New Orleans Hornets 25 16 0.610 0.599
New York Knickerbockers 22 17 0.564 0.557
Oklahoma City Thunder 27 13 0.675 0.657
Orlando Magic 26 14 0.650 0.635
Philadelphia 76ers 16 23 0.410 0.420
Phoenix Suns 17 21 0.447 0.453
Portland Trail Blazers 21 20 0.512 0.511
Sacramento Kings 9 29 0.237 0.265
San Antonio Spurs 35 6 0.854 0.819
Toronto Raptors 13 27 0.325 0.343
Utah Jazz 27 13 0.675 0.657
Washington Wizards 11 27 0.289 0.312

Once we've regressed 2011 to the mean, we can simply look at the standard deviation of each team's yearly winning percentages:

Rank Team Avg Stdev
1 San Antonio Spurs 0.710 0.057
2 Dallas Mavericks 0.687 0.063
3 Philadelphia 76ers 0.466 0.074
4 Milwaukee Bucks 0.439 0.083
5 New York Knicks 0.396 0.085
6 Toronto Raptors 0.425 0.091
7 Golden State Warriors 0.419 0.095
8 Charlotte Bobcats (7 years) 0.386 0.098
9 Indiana Pacers 0.501 0.104
10 Utah Jazz 0.561 0.104
11 Los Angeles Clippers 0.390 0.105
12 Houston Rockets 0.536 0.110
13 Los Angeles Lakers 0.635 0.113
14 Washington Wizards 0.415 0.113
15 Charlotte/New Orleans/OKC 0.510 0.125
Rank Team Avg Stdev
16 Portland Trail Blazers 0.496 0.133
17 Chicago Bulls 0.463 0.134
18 Phoenix Suns 0.583 0.137
19 Memphis Grizzlies 0.417 0.141
20 Seattle/Oklahoma City 0.472 0.144
21 Denver Nuggets 0.523 0.144
22 Orlando Magic 0.538 0.144
23 Detroit Pistons 0.585 0.148
24 Atlanta Hawks 0.430 0.150
25 New Jersey Nets 0.467 0.157
26 Boston Celtics 0.573 0.165
27 Miami Heat 0.512 0.167
28 Minnesota Timberwolves 0.428 0.180
29 Sacramento Kings 0.492 0.194
30 Cleveland Cavaliers 0.505 0.201

Prashant's intuition was spot-on; the Spurs and Mavs were indeed the two most consistent teams, while the Heat and Celtics were among the highest-variance teams of the last 10 years.

It was the Cavs, however, who truly stood above everyone in terms of wild talent fluctuations:

Season WPct
2002 0.354
2003 0.207
2004 0.427
2005 0.512
2006 0.610
2007 0.610
2008 0.549
2009 0.805
2010 0.744
2011 (regressed) 0.230

This particular period of time saw Cleveland bottom out with the collapse of the Ricky Davis era, draft LeBron James, climb to respectability, dominate the '09 & '10 regular seasons, and then fall apart again after James' departure. It's really amazing how they've literally run the entire gamut as a franchise in just 10 years.

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3 Responses to “BBR Mailbag: Most Consistent Franchises of the 2002-2011 Decade”

  1. Sean Says:

    I predicted Spurs when I saw the title. It makes sense, they've been good for 55-60 wins most years, in fact I don't think they've had a sub-50 win season in the Duncan era.

  2. BSK Says:

    Any way you could do something similar but looking at an individual team over a single season? What I mean is, can you find out how far a team deviated from its final winning percentage at any point in the season? This might give an idea of which teams played consistent ball wire to wire. For instance, this year's Heat team (thus far) would probably grade out as very inconsistent, as they have an overall gaudy record but achieved it with a slow start, torrid middle, and recent struggles. I'm not sure of what use this would be or if it'd demonstrate what I think it would, but it'd be interesting to see what teams had consistent years and what teams were real roller coasters. We could then compare year to year data to see if any patterns emerge for a given franchise or in the arc of a season compared to playoff results or something.

  3. Prashant Says:

    BSK - that'd be pretty cool to find out. I'd imagine the 2004-05 Bulls would be wildly inconsistent, I remember they had a nine-game winning streak AND a nine-game losing streak in the same season.