Schedule Imbalances Distorting Current Records

Michael Salfino
January 9, 2024 4:11 PM

NBA teams are viewed as if they’ve played a fair schedule when it comes to games against winning teams and playing half their games at home.

But there is wild variance and this imbalance makes some teams seem much worse than they are and others much better.

I’ve long wanted to figure out a way to model these imbalances.

Home games are simple.

Every team should be assumed to have played 50% of their games at home.

Those way under or way over than number should be expected to win more or less games going forward.

The record against .500 teams is trickier. I

f you play in a strong division and conference, it’s not necessarily going to balance out.

In other words, this can remain unfair.

But we can still at least assess teams as if they played the league average percentage of games against losing teams, which right now is 43.4% of games.

Normalizing Home Games, Games vs. Losing Teams

So adding up these two numbers, the percentage of games at home and games vs. losing teams, the league average team should be 93.4.

Lower means they’ve had it harder and their current win total is suppressed.

I divided 93.4 by their number for an index and then multiplied their actual wins by that number to come up with expected wins. (Note all these numbers are through Monday’s games.)

If we look at home games through Monday, the Knicks have had it toughest with just 39% of their games at Madison Square Garden.

The Hawks (40%), Jazz (42%), Grizzlies (44%), Wizards (44%) and Pistons (44%) are all notable. Obviously, the Knicks are the big story here. They’re underrated.

On top of that, the Knicks may be better than their performance to date against their very tough schedule given their trade for OG Anunoby, never mind any reported trades that they still have a lot of chips to acquire (including expiring contracts, the underpaid and injured Mitchell Robinson, a very valuable Pistons first-round pick that could be as high as No. 8 overall eventually).

On the other side of the spectrum, the Rockets have played 60% of their games at home, followed by the Suns (59%), Warriors (58%), Kings (57%), Cavs (56%) and Pacers (56%).

The disappointing Warriors and Lakers aren’t that disappointing when you discover they’ve played only 25% and 27% of their games against losing teams, respectively (league average again, 43.4%). The Spurs are 34% but at five wins, who cares?

On the fortunate side, the Suns have played an absurd 62% of games against losing teams. Remember, they had 59% of games at home, too.

And they’re disappointing.

Expecting them to rebound seems irrational considering these facts.

The Heat (58%) and 76ers (54%) are also well over the expected portion of their schedule against bad teams.

Lakers, Knicks Better Than Their Record

I drew a line at schedule difficulty to date resulting in at least three fewer wins than you would have with a league-average schedule.

Similarly, I’m highlighting teams that have at least three more wins than they would have with a league-average schedule due to their schedule being ridiculously easy.

Add it all up and I have the Lakers at 4.17 more wins with a neutral schedule.

We all wonder how the Lakers could be struggling given that LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been healthy and playing well.

Well, here you go.

They should have about a .600 win percentage.

They probably don’t need to make the dramatic moves that many are suggesting to right the ship.

They just need to play the normal allotment of losing teams and home games.

The Jazz should have 3.33 more wins.

The Knicks 3.27 more (they’re playing like a 55-win team vs. an average schedule).

The Timberwolves are light by 3.19 wins and the Hawks by 3.02.

The Suns Unlikely To Rise

The Suns should have 4.42 less wins, or a 32.3-win pace over 82 games.

This seems crazy, I know.

They also haven’t been healthy. But that’s hardly a surprise, to be fair. Bottom line: fade the Suns.

The 76ers have benefitted by 3.25 wins because of an easy schedule and should be expected to be worse than the Knicks.

No other team is inflated by at least three wins, though Oklahoma City is close (2.81, more like a 50-win team than a 56-win team, their current pace).

Here’s the entire chart:

TEAMWLWIN%% Home% vs. LosingIndexNeutral winsAdj win %Exp. win/82 g
Lakers18190.48649%27%1.2322.170.59949.13



Jazz
18200.47442%37%1.1821.330.56146.02



Knicks
21150.58339%42%1.1624.270.67455.27



Timberwolves
25100.71446%37%1.1328.190.80666.05


Hawks
14210.40040%37%1.2217.020.48639.87



Warriors
17190.47258%25%1.1319.170.53343.67



Grizzlies
13230.36144%36%1.1615.020.41734.22



Celtics
2880.77847%42%1.0529.450.81867.07



Hornets
8260.23547%38%1.108.810.25921.25



Spurs
5300.14349%34%1.135.640.16113.21



Wizards
6300.16744%42%1.096.530.18114.87



Bulls
17210.44755%37%1.0217.300.45537.32



Nets
16210.43251%41%1.0216.280.44036.08



Pistons
3330.08344%47%1.023.050.0856.95


Blazers
10250.28646%49%1.009.960.28423.33



Raptors
15210.41750%44%1.0014.940.41534.02



Magic
21150.58347%47%1.0020.910.58147.63



Pacers
21150.58356%42%0.9620.260.56346.16



Clippers
23130.63953%44%0.9622.190.61650.55



Nuggets
26120.68450%47%0.9625.090.66054.14



Rockets
18170.51460%40%0.9416.850.48139.47



Pelicans
22150.59554%46%0.9420.590.55745.64



Mavericks
22150.59549%51%0.9420.590.55745.64



Kings
21140.60057%46%0.9119.080.54544.71



Cavaliers
21150.58356%47%0.9119.080.53043.47


Heat
21150.58344%58%0.9119.080.53043.47



Bucks
25120.67654%51%0.8922.290.60249.39



Thunder
24110.68654%51%0.8821.190.60549.65



76ers
23120.65754%54%0.8619.750.56446.27



Suns
19180.51459%62%0.7714.580.39432.31
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