The Predictive Power Of Point Differential (Kings = -0.8)

Bricklayer

Don't Make Me Use The Bat
Staff member
#1
So, a note I have been pushing repeatedly for the last few weeks. The Kings are 9-15. Not so good. But the Kings are also carry a mere -0.8 Point Differential (i.e. they lose the average game by 0.8pts), and the thing is that's the 8th best Differential in the West, and the 15th best in the league. In other words, according to point differential we are not actually a bad team, we are a dead average team on pace to win somewhere in the range of 38-44 games and sneak into the playoffs.

Now all very nice, very academic. But of course the naysayers note, we haven't been winning those games. Some of the more clueless ones even try to attack Point Differential as a predictive factor.

Well here is why I continue to push this: Point Differential has ALWAYS been highly predictive in the NBA. You could ignore ORtg and DRtg and Pace and all the rest, and just pan to the point differential and 9 times out of 10 it's going to give you a good idea of how strong a team was and what the team's record was that year. We may not be finishing games now, but if our point differential remains at this level, history says we will sooner or later.

Below is what point differential has looked like for every team in the last 5 years at the end of the season:

2015-16


2014-15


2013-14


2012-13


2011-12


Records of every team in the last 5 years with a Differential between -0.1 and -0.9:

15-16 WSH -0.5Diff 41-41
15-16 DAL -0.3Diff 42-40
14-15 PHX -0.9Diff 39-43
13-14 CHA -0.2Diff 43-39
13-14 ATL -0.5Diff 38-44
13-14 NYK -0.8Diff 37-45
12-13 BOS -0.2Diff 41-40
12-13 UTH -0.1Diff 43-39
12-13 DAL -0.6Diff 41-41
11-12 PHX -0.2Diff 33-33 (strike year, 41-41 equivalent)
11-12 POR -0.6Diff 28-38 (strike year, 36-56 equivalent)
* note in 2014-15 the Pistons had a statistical outlier with a -1.0 that only resulted in 32-50
 
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#3
We have lost an absurd amount of close games this year, which has made the rare blowout losses seem that much worse. If Portland loses tonight vs Thunder, we are actually tied in loss column for 8th seed. Would be nice if we could get 2 of the next three on the road.
 
#4
This is one of the reasons I have expected the Lakers to come back to Earth. They have a point differential of -6.4.
It's also one of the reasons I've argued that Memphis' recent success (outside of the very impressive GS win) isn't that great. They mostly barely beat bad teams at home. They miss a couple plays like we have and suddenly it's a 1-5, 2-4 streak.
 
#6
I would say the games we have blown are the road Miami game, home Laker game with big lead, road Washington game and the home Knicks game. If we win those four we are 13-11 right now. If we even split those we are 11-13 and mathematically in the 8th seed. With that said, this is exactly the script from last season.
 
#7
Blazers have worst defense in the league and they have been healthy. They have a higher potential than us though. They have underachieved and we are probably where most people would have though we would be.
 
#8
Blazers have worst defense in the league and they have been healthy. They have a higher potential than us though. They have underachieved and we are probably where most people would have though we would be.
Or maybe Blazers just return, to where they should be: they had a few impending FAs last season, and now that small extra motivation is gone.
 
#9
I don't understand - your argument shows that the last 3 years, the teams in the 7th-10th spots in the Western Conference are contradicting your Point Differential argument....?

If anything, your fastidiously-collected-and-displayed data proves that making the Western playoffs is about pulling out WINS, not playing close.

Your data suggests that teams who have reliable coaching systems and clutch players that can be relied on in the final minutes (i.e. Grizzlies, Mavs) have a much more likely chance of making the playoffs, despite them having worse Point Differential than teams that are unreliable, inconsistent, chokers who melt in adversity and don't even know who their best 5 players are.
 

kingsboi

Hall of Famer
#10
Stats are a cool look at and get a general idea of what's going on...but it doesn't tell the whole story IMO. Year in and year out, we see teams that play a lot of close games and lose them...some of them are good teams but the majority are lottery teams, at least based off all the games I watch in a 82 game season. I know you have to start somewhere, and they have...It's great to see them compete in nearly every game they've played. However, there needs to be at least 2-3 players that I can name that should no longer be playing and I think once that happens, we MIGHT see some more wins that otherwise would be close losses. Either that or continue down this path until a reasonable trade is made that makes sense and fits with the purpose of constructing this team around 15.
 
#11
I like point differential as a benchmark for making the playoffs. If you're on the green side you have a chance, if you're on the red side you're most likely on the outside looking in. At least in the Western Conference. You'll notice that the West was historically bad last year -- for about 10 years you could not make the playoffs in the West with a negative point differential and yet two teams managed that last year. It's possible that's the start of a trend and the results so far seem to back that up. Dallas is shockingly bad. Minnesota hasn't take then leap forward most expected them to take this year. Portland is starting to make last season's 5th place finish look fluke-ish. Everyone else is in the same boat as us talent-wise so that #8 spot could be up for grabs. On the other hand, we're 24 games into an 82 game season so a lot can change. Last season could end up being an outlier, it's too early to spot the trend.

Had you posted this topic yesterday before the 24 point Lakers blowout, we were at -1.8 on the season. If nobody else steps up I suppose "best of the rest" could be good enough to squeak into the playoffs as sacrificial lambs but considering how many players we're losing to free agency, I personally wouldn't view that as a success. You make the playoffs with a winning record and a positive point differential and that's one thing. Signs of steady progress and a clear path forward if you can upgrade your talent at a few positions without losing any of your core pieces. If you make it with 40 wins and a -1.8 point differential though all you're really accomplishing is the loss of a lottery pick and an additional 2 games to sell to your fans in mid-April. The gap between the top 4 teams and a 40 win team is so huge that the 8th spot is false hope at that point.

Here's why I don't find our point differential all that encouraging yet:

24 games is a small enough sample that 2 blowout wins over terrible teams can skew the results pretty dramatically. Last week we beat Dallas by 31 points. Last night we beat LA by 24 points. If you remove just those two games from our schedule, our point differential falls to -3.3. Our ability to stomp over a terrible Dallas team and a game in which the Lakers manged to get called for 6 technical fouls (!) probably aren't indicative of our ability to win overall. Once you start cherry picking games you could go the other way of course. But my point is simply that staying in games longer really just means that we have a chance at being a .500 team this year. We do have a chance at making the playoffs still from where we are now -- especially if Portland continues to play poorly -- but only if we find a way to play better. If we go 32-26 the rest of the way, our final record would be 41-41 which is the bare-minimum required even if the rest of the West remains awful. So that's your benchmark.
 
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#15
I like point differential as a benchmark for making the playoffs. If you're on the green side you have a chance, if you're on the red side you're most likely on the outside looking in. At least in the Western Conference. You'll notice that the West was historically bad last year -- for about 10 years you could not make the playoffs in the West with a negative point differential and yet two teams managed that last year. It's possible that's the start of a trend and the results so far seem to back that up. Dallas is shockingly bad. Minnesota hasn't take then leap forward most expected them to take this year. Portland is starting to make last season's 5th place finish look fluke-ish. Everyone else is in the same boat as us talent-wise so that #8 spot could be up for grabs. On the other hand, we're 24 games into an 82 game season so a lot can change. Last season could end up being an outlier, it's too early to spot the trend.

Had you posted this topic yesterday before the 24 point Lakers blowout, we were at -1.8 on the season. If nobody else steps up I suppose "best of the rest" could be good enough to squeak into the playoffs as sacrificial lambs but considering how many players we're losing to free agency, I personally wouldn't view that as a success. You make the playoffs with a winning record and a positive point differential and that's one thing. Signs of steady progress and a clear path forward if you can upgrade your talent at a few positions without losing any of your core pieces. If you make it with 40 wins and a -1.8 point differential though all you're really accomplishing is the loss of a lottery pick and an additional 2 games to sell to your fans in mid-April. The gap between the top 4 teams and a 40 win team is so huge that the 8th spot is false hope at that point.

Here's why I don't find our point differential all that encouraging yet:

24 games is a small enough sample that 2 blowout wins over terrible teams can skew the results pretty dramatically. Last week we beat Dallas by 31 points. Last night we beat LA by 24 points. If you remove just those two games from our schedule, our point differential falls to -3.3. Our ability to stomp over a terrible Dallas team and a game in which the Lakers manged to get called for 6 technical fouls (!) probably aren't indicative of our ability to win overall. Once you start cherry picking games you could go the other way of course. But my point is simply that staying in games longer really just means that we have a chance at being a .500 team this year. We do have a chance at making the playoffs still from where we are now -- especially if Portland continues to play poorly -- but only if we find a way to play better. If we go 32-26 the rest of the way, our final record would be 41-41 which is the bare-minimum required even if the rest of the West remains awful. So that's your benchmark.
If you are going to eliminate the Kings blowout wins from their pt differential, it's only fair to remove their blowout losses as well. Otherwise, you're still not seeing the real picture.
 
#16
Looking ahead, the schedules are lined up for a potential game for the eighth spot.

Kings next three games:

@ Houston - L
@ Memphis - W
@ Dallas - W

Record - 11-16

Blazers next three games:

v. Thunder - L(?)
@ Denver - W
@ GS - L

Record - 13-16

Then we play Portland at home. A win puts us at 12-16, they go to 13-17, and we are basically tied for eighth.

:D
 
#17
If you are going to eliminate the Kings blowout wins from their pt differential, it's only fair to remove their blowout losses as well. Otherwise, you're still not seeing the real picture.
Right, I acknowledge that. But my point wasn't to skew the point differential to make it look worse, my point was it's only 24 games. If 1 game can change it from -1.8 to -0.8 and 2 games can change it from -3.3 to -0.8 it's probably too early to draw conclusions from point differential alone about our competitiveness. It's the same phenomena that leads to "let's blow it up" talk after every loss and "playoffs here we come" talk after every win. We played this game already last season -- predicting wins and losses, marking them off, counting eggs before they hatch. My attitude at this point with this team is prove it. You think you're a.500 team? Play .500 ball for a month and I'll call you a .500 team. You want to make the playoffs? Go 32-26 the rest of the way and you might make it. You can break it down into little 1 week chunks if it's helpful to think of it that way, but it still has to get done.
 
#19
I think point differential is a pretty good indicator of where you are at as a team. It is generally a good guild line but of course it isn't an exact science either. Last year the Jazz missed the playoffs entirely but according to their point differential they should have been the 5 seed.
 
#20
Yep I like the point differential stat as well and have been following it all season also.

Other side notes..

This time last year we were also 9-15. We went on a decent run and were 20-23. Then that crushing loss to Charlotte in OT where Demarcus scored 56 points. And the major tailspin began going 13-26 after that Charlotte game.
 
#21
Point differential got a significant 1 point boost in the positive direction after the Kings turned the tables on the Lakers ans ended up blowing them out.

Still, it's a nice stat. But it only means something of the Kings can keep moving in that direction and unfortunately we've seen this film before - Kings are just on the outside and could make the playoffs if they just put it together and make a push. But they never make that push.

Maybe this year's team is different. But if not the story plays out with the Kings gradually slipping away, Cuz missing a game or two due to accumulated technicals and then guys start getting rest for "injuries" down the stretch as the young guys finally get minutes and the Kings settle in to the 7th or 8th pick.

Because while they are now only 2.5 games back of Portland, they are also only 3 games away from the worst record in the NBA which is currently a tie between Dallas and Philadelphia. Two teams that I'm guessing will soon bounce back and be better than Sacramento as the Kings continue to flounder in that no man's land of not being good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to draft a player good enough to turn things around.
 
#23
Point differential got a significant 1 point boost in the positive direction after the Kings turned the tables on the Lakers ans ended up blowing them out.

Still, it's a nice stat. But it only means something of the Kings can keep moving in that direction and unfortunately we've seen this film before - Kings are just on the outside and could make the playoffs if they just put it together and make a push. But they never make that push.

Maybe this year's team is different. But if not the story plays out with the Kings gradually slipping away, Cuz missing a game or two due to accumulated technicals and then guys start getting rest for "injuries" down the stretch as the young guys finally get minutes and the Kings settle in to the 7th or 8th pick.

Because while they are now only 2.5 games back of Portland, they are also only 3 games away from the worst record in the NBA which is currently a tie between Dallas and Philadelphia. Two teams that I'm guessing will soon bounce back and be better than Sacramento as the Kings continue to flounder in that no man's land of not being good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to draft a player good enough to turn things around.
If Dirk can actually play this season, they should get better but maybe not by much. If it's his Achilles that's bothering him he probably won't ever be 100% this season. Barnes and Matthews can play though, Bogut is all defense but he's good at what he does. It's kindof amazing in retrospect that they had no backup plan for a Nowitzki injury considering he's 38 and has a lot of miles on his sneakers. They also need a better PG badly so it wouldn't surprise me if they put up the white flag and shift the engine into 'tank' at some point. Philly is a different story. If Ben Simmons can come back with half a season left they could go on a bit of a run especially if a Noel trade nets them an impact player or two. That's potentially bad news for our draft stock so keep rooting for Philly losses!
 
#24
If Dirk can actually play this season, they should get better but maybe not by much. If it's his Achilles that's bothering him he probably won't ever be 100% this season. Barnes and Matthews can play though, Bogut is all defense but he's good at what he does. It's kindof amazing in retrospect that they had no backup plan for a Nowitzki injury considering he's 38 and has a lot of miles on his sneakers. They also need a better PG badly so it wouldn't surprise me if they put up the white flag and shift the engine into 'tank' at some point. Philly is a different story. If Ben Simmons can come back with half a season left they could go on a bit of a run especially if a Noel trade nets them an impact player or two. That's potentially bad news for our draft stock so keep rooting for Philly losses!
Since I figured the Kings might trade Cousins this season and rebuild, I've already been rooting for Philly losses!
 
#25
Thanks Brick. These stats back up the eye test. The Kings seem like a middling team--a team that let about three games slip away this year.
Not sure if this was a sarcastic comment or observational, but real question is what the heck does everyone expect a successful season to be? A .500 season would be a great boost for the morale of this franchise (playoffs or not), but it is the definition of middling.
 

Bricklayer

Don't Make Me Use The Bat
Staff member
#28
I don't see why. If you can't conceive of a way of how to adjust point differential to take into account one game where three starters didn't play that's on you.

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water and all that jazz.
Tonight was closer to a forfeit than anything else.
 
#29
It's going to be extremely hard for any team to give up the kind of looks the Kings do from the three point line and not expect an up and down W/L record that fluctuates depending on how the opposing team is shooting from deep. Teams are making threes against the Kings in the top 5 and the Kings are letting them shoot top 6 percentage wise.

Houston, we have a problem. Wait a minute, I think they may have figured that out already.
 
#30
If Dirk can actually play this season, they should get better but maybe not by much. If it's his Achilles that's bothering him he probably won't ever be 100% this season. Barnes and Matthews can play though, Bogut is all defense but he's good at what he does. It's kindof amazing in retrospect that they had no backup plan for a Nowitzki injury considering he's 38 and has a lot of miles on his sneakers. They also need a better PG badly so it wouldn't surprise me if they put up the white flag and shift the engine into 'tank' at some point. Philly is a different story. If Ben Simmons can come back with half a season left they could go on a bit of a run especially if a Noel trade nets them an impact player or two. That's potentially bad news for our draft stock so keep rooting for Philly losses!
To be clear, my point wasn't that I expected Philly and Dallas to bounce back and be better than the Kings THIS season but rather within a few seasons.

Teams tend to be horrible, get a top pick or two and then start getting good again. Teams that aren't the Kings anyway.