The Eastern and Western Conferences have not necessarily been on even playing fields so far this season. And besides making one of the largest understatements of all time, I decided to look a little deeper into just how dominant the West has been from a statistical point of view. There were quite a few general observations to take in but there were also some specific things regarding certain teams that surfaced during my exploration. Let’s take a look at today’s Stat Central:
General Rankings Splits
Of the top fifteen offenses in basketball heading into Thursday’s doubleheader, 12 teams were from the Western conference (via NBA.com’s offensive rating statistic). Only Miami (third), Indiana (13th), and Detroit (15th) cracked the top fifteen for the East and even Detroit split that last top half spot with the Sacramento Kings. Think about that in context. The Indiana Pacers — a team whose offense has barely been average and whose offense will most likely be their demise if they do fall short of a championship — are the second best offensive team in the entire Eastern Conference. The Detroit Pistons — who literally space the floor as well as a mid-level JV basketball team — have the East’s third best offense.
As a result of the putrid offense in the East, though, the Eastern Conference has at least appeared level with the West defensively though. Of the top 15 defenses in the NBA (via the defensive rating statistic) eight came from the East while seven came from the West. Now obviously the fact that the East has been so bad offensively and the fact that Eastern Conference teams play more of their games against fellow East opponents is probably swinging things into the East’s favor just a little bit. We will touch more on this in the moment, but there are enough top defenses out East to lead us to believe that the conferences are even on the defensive front.
Playing Against The East
That is about as far as you can take it though. Any argument that the East is better than West defensively gets thrown out the window when you take a look at the top 15 offenses against the East this season. First, only three Eastern Conference teams rank in the top 15 in offense in games against the East – Miami (sixth), Boston (14th), and Atlanta (15th). Furthermore, at least six teams are markably better offensively against the East than they are against the West. Specifically Oklahoma City, Denver, and the Lakers all make smaller but significant jumps in offensive efficiency against the East while the Spurs, Warriors and Pelicans make huge leaps against the East. The Spurs jump from a very good 106.3 offensive rating to a mind boggling 114.3 offensive rating versus the East; while the surprisingly top notch Pelicans offense becomes even better by jumping from 105.6 to 111.2 in offensive rating against the East; and the Warriors – who have been good but not great offensively this season – move from a 103.8 offensive rating to an outstanding 111 offensive rating versus the East. There were a solid number of teams whose offenses dipped against the East, but only the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers have been significantly worse. So while you can definitely argue the East is still better defensively, it is only by the slightest of margins.
But as you would expect, defenses have been significantly better against the East than they are normally this season. Heading into Thursday’s games only seven teams were holding opponents under one point per possession defensively. Against the East, there are 16 teams that are accomplishing that same feat. And as a result teams have been having more general success against the Eastern Conference (duh!). The Spurs are the only team with a point differential over ten per 100 possession in the NBA, but against the East there are five teams who are doing so and they are all beating their East opponents by at least 12 points per 100 possessions. Also of those five teams that are dominating the Eastern Conference that violently, only the Indiana Pacers are a team actually from the Eastern Conference. A similar phenomenom exists if set the bar at five points per 100 possessions as well. Only six teams are winning at that rate in general, but eleven are doing so in games against the Heat. Also similarly, only Indiana and Miami represent the East in that statistical category and filter.
Playing Against The West
Looking at those same type of defensive and net scoring numbers against the West just continues to reveal the West’s dominance. Only three teams are holding the West under one point per possession — the Spurs, Thunder, and Heat — and the Miami Heat are only team that can clearly say they are having huge success against the west. Miami is beating the West by 13 points per 100 possessions, making them the only team to that can boast a net rating over ten. The next closest teams are only posting a 5.6 and 5.5 advantage — the Thunder and Spurs respectively — and this points to the fact that the West has simply been tougher to play against for any opponent not named Miami (we’ll get to their dominance later). So in general, the West has clearly been the better conference and is actually providing the more entertaining games as well. There are still a few more, team specific trends I felt were worth touching on, though.
Concern For Golden State and Dallas
Both the Mavericks and the Warriors have achieved their success by way of dominating the weaker Eastern Conference. The disparity between their success against each Conference may even be enough to suggest that neither team can hack it against the big boys up top in the West. The Warriors have earned a 12.9 net rating against the East (4th highest) but are only beating the West 2.1 points per 100 possessions (9th). Their defense has been good on both sides — 100.2 against the West and 98.1 against the East — but their offense has been significantly worse against the Western Conference (102.3 from 111 against the East). Now, as it was mentioned earlier, the East has not been worse than the West defensively this year, so this may just be a product of schedule and the timing of injuries — though their Eastern Conference opponents have been a good defense (Charlotte), a bad defense (Philadelphia), and two average ones (Toronto, Detroit). But there still should be at least a little worry that the Warriors do not match up with the West’s top teams.
That little worry should be a fully blown panic for the Dallas Mavericks. They have simply been unable to defend the Western Conference so far this season. They are holding Eastern Conference opponents to 97.9 points per 100 possessions but are allowing the West to put up 107.2 points per 100 possessions. As a result Dallas is plus 5.4 per 100 possessions against the East but have a -1.4 net rating against the West. If they cannot find a way to step up the defense – specifically by adding an interior defensive presence – it is hard seeing them become a real threat to any top notch West offense.
Running up on (and past) my deadline. I will potentially add some extra thoughts in an extra Stat Central article this weekend. If not, see ya next week.