The New Orleans Pelicans’ standings based on point differential
As we discussed with our luck-adjusted standings post, basic win/loss standings are important because, well, that is what the NBA uses to determine playoff seeding. So obviously, making one’s self intimately familiar with those standings is of great importance.
However, despite their importance to the league’s second season, wins and losses don’t tell the entire tale. In fact, there are more nuanced team ranking measures that do a better job of conveying where a team sits within the league hierarchy.
One such metric is Cleaning the Glass’s Point Differential (Point Diff) statistic – a pace-adjusted measure that calculates the number of points a team scores per 100 possession and subtracts that by the average number of points they concede per 100 possessions.
Point Diff is great for identifying the league’s head honchos as the metric weeds out the teams that have a sexy win/loss record because they win a bunch of close games. Generally speaking, great teams don’t play in too many close games because they are usually blowing teams out.
Close games are exhilarating and can be huge moral boosters for the teams that come out on top, but from an analysis perspective, they are oozing with variance. And because of this, sometimes average/below-average teams get “lucky” and win a bunch of close games, thereby accumulating a record that paints them as a more formidable foe than they actually are.
Now that we’ve established the importance of using Point Diff let’s see how the league standings look based solely on that measure.
Here are the standings for the Western Conference (the conference our New Orleans Pelicans are part of):
And here are the standings for the Eastern Conference (watch out for those Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason):
As to be expected based on the standings, the margins between four and 13 in the West are razor thin, with the Phoenix Suns at fourth with a Point Diff of +1.3 and the Los Angeles Clippers at 13th with a score of -1.4.
As for our Pelicans, Point Diff is a smidge higher on the team than their current standing in the West (they are gridlocked in a three-way tie for tenth), projecting them as being tied for the eighth seed with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This suggests that the team is slightly underperforming their projected win pace based on their Point Diff (with their current Point Diff, they should theoretically be 33-32 instead of 31-34). While this may feel frustrating given how close the playoff race is in the West, but in the grand scheme of things, it is good to know that the Pelicans’ current record is fairly legitimate and that they aren’t just some paper tiger.
One positive note New Orleans can and should hang their hat on is that up until January 2nd (the day Zion Williamson went down with a hamstring injury), the team was 2nd in the conference in Point Diff and fourth overall in the entire league (+4.7). So by that measure, this team looked like a true title contender when they had their best player healthy and in uniform.