Friday, March 11, 2011

Carmelo, D-Will, and the NBA Balance of Power

Even the most casual NBA fan knows that the Western Conference has been utterly dominant over the Eastern Conference for the last decade or so – this trend is obvious when looking at  nearly any comparative statistic. The Western Conference has won 9 of 12 NBA Finals since Michael Jordan retired, as well as 7 of the 12 All-Star Games in that same span. In a more telling sign of conference-wide dominance, qualifying for the playoffs in the West has been almost 15% more difficult than in the East. During the last ten postseasons, the average 8th seed in the Western Conference has won 45.7 regular season games, while the average 8th seed in the East has won only 39.8. In fact, over this time span, the West’s 8th seed has always had a better record than its counterpart in the East. This means that top to bottom (or at least within the top half), the Western Conference has been far superior to the Eastern Conference for roughly a decade. Since “The Decision,” though, NBA players and experts alike have sensed the balance of power shifting evermore eastward. Dwight Howard recently struck back at those calling the East the lesser conference of the NBA, declaring “I think we’re the varsity now.” Though the Heat’s “Big 3” did factor into Howard’s display of confidence, he made it clear that what prompted his statement was the Knicks’ addition of Carmelo Anthony and the Nets’ acquisition of Deron Williams.
Hit the jump for more...

Both trades have had their doubters – the Knicks gave up too much for Carmelo, the Nets might not hold onto D-Will – but they appear to have paid dividends for both squads in the early returns. The Knicks are 6-4 since the trade, including a 5-2 record against winning teams. For a team who has just returned to relevance after a decade in the doldrums, that 5-2 figure is the one that really matters. The Nets are 3-3 since they acquired Williams, which is a heckuva lot better than their 17-40 (.298) record before the trade. They have also gone 3-1 against teams with a losing record, showing that they may be finally moving from putrid to at least mediocre. Also, looking at the players included in the two trades, the advantage seems to be clearly in the East. According to John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ratings (PER) of all NBA players, Williams is the 20th most productive player in the league. Not too far behind, Carmelo slots in at #21 and new Knick Chauncey Billups is #36. In comparison, the Knicks traded away #76, #95, #106 and #260 (Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov, see left, getting dunked on by Blake Griffin), while the Nets cut loose #56 and #178. Clearly, the individual talent each team brought in far outstripped what they sent out. In addition, because each team improved in both the short- and long-term, the draft picks sent out West might not even be lottery picks (with the exception of this years’ Nets selection). The sample size is obviously small, but combine these two stark improvements in the East with the dearth of talent on the two Western stalwarts – the Nuggets and the Jazz – and the picture becomes clear: the balance of power is starting to shift, even if ever so slightly.

No comments:

Post a Comment