There are a lot of different predictive modeling formulas out there, but my go-to for more than a decade has always been basketball-reference.com. That site right now has the Suns winning 50 games and making the playoffs most likely as the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
What world are we living in, again? Have we been flipped into the upside down? Or, more likely, have we been there in that ugly, scary upside down the last nine years and Elle finally worked her magic to bring us back to the real world?
No matter. I’m happy, the Suns are happy and I am going to enjoy the effing eff out of these good times.
Here’s the probability report.
As you can see, the site has the Suns with the 4th seed, going 50-32. They also say there’s a 17% chance this team makes the Finals, based on a simulation of 10,000 seasons given the inputs.
They give a brief explainer how they get to these results here, but they don’t show the formula itself. This formula did win something called the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown two years in a row (2007 and 2008) back when TrueHoop was a thing and these modeling techniques were new and exciting.
Basketball-Reference.com does not give their magic formula, but it seems clear to me their simulation is based on current season results rather than folding in prior season, which is good for the Suns since their entire rotation (except for Devin Booker) and coaching staff and schemes are new.
They have the Suns with the third best ‘Simple Rating System’ value in the West, which takes into account average margin of victories and strength of schedule. The Suns have played, according to them, the West’s 7th most difficult schedule to date and the 2nd best net rating (points per 100 possessions) among all Western Conference teams.
Another popular modeling site has the Suns with a 70% chance to make the playoffs at this point. FiveThirtyEight.com gives us their work here.
FiveThiryEight.com uses something new called a RAPTOR rating.
RAPTOR, which stands for Robust Algorithm (using) Player Tracking (and) On/Off Ratings, is FiveThirtyEight’s new NBA statistic. We’re pretty excited about it. In addition to being a statistic that we bake in house, RAPTOR fulfills two long-standing goals of ours:
First, we wanted to create a publicly available statistic that takes advantage of modern NBA data, specifically player tracking and play-by-play data that isn’t available in traditional box scores.
Second, and relatedly, we wanted a statistic that better reflects how modern NBA teams actually evaluate players.
Feel free to dig in deeper here.
So basically, the RAPTOR system just looks at player data, adds them together to make up a team, and then uses that to project games won. They openly admit that their system assumes linear progression — that the past will repeat itself in the future along the same trend lines currently shown — and does not account for coaching, systems or synergies between teammates.
On the other hand, basketball-reference.com uses team performance, strength of schedule and their ‘simple rating system’, applies that to all the upcoming games, does it 10,000 times, and gives us the results.
Two very different systems.
Still awake? Okay good. Let’s move on.
The Suns are 7-4 after a tough opening schedule, though in retrospect the schedule was not as tough as we originally thought it would be. Before the season, most sites thought the Suns had a grueling schedule based on last year’s records.
Strength of Schedule for all 30 teams based on Vegas O/U lines, broken down by month and pre/post-ASG.— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) August 12, 2019
Pistons have the league's easiest pre-ASG schedule and hardest post-ASG schedule. Pelicans hardest pre-ASG, Heat easiest post-ASG. pic.twitter.com/UPKjuGPjAI
The monthly breakdown here is easier to read. This was put together in August, just after the 2019-20 schedule was released. And all predictions are based on last year’s records.
Using last year’s team records, the Suns projected to have the 5th most difficult schedule through October/November. That’s using the Suns 19-63 record against each of their opponents’ 2018-19 record, so it always skews toward the team in question. Milwaukee, who had last year’s best record, projected to have the easiest strength of schedule this year out of 30 teams.
As the 2019-20 season has truly played out, the Suns schedule has become the 11th most difficult strength of schedule. Some of the reason it’s gone down is because the Suns now have a better record (7-4 so far) to factor into the formula. And some of that is because some of the opponents have not been as good as they were last year (Sacramento, Golden State and Brooklyn), while some have been better (Lakers, Clippers, Utah, Miami, Memphis) in terms of winning percentage.
What does all this mean?
This means the Suns are good. And unless the wheels completely fall off, the Suns will be a playoff team in the West.
John Schumann wrote before the season that a team’s first 20 games is a historically good indicator of their playoff chances. He looked at past seasons and determined that teams that win 12 or more of their first 20 games have a 92% chance of making the playoffs.
Welp. Knock on some wood. Throw some salt over your shoulder. Balance the karma by giving a random person a sincere hug.
The Suns right now are 7-4, so they need to go 5-4 to reach that threshold of comfort on making the playoffs this season.
Let’s break down how the season has unfolded, and what’s to come in these next 9 games.
On average, the Suns have played teams just below average on offense and just a little above average on defense over their first 11 games.
They have played 4 of the 6 toughest defenses in the league so far and lost to all of them, though those opponents average a 9-3 record between them and 3 of those 4 losses were very close.
Defensively, they have played some pedestrian offenses. Only one of their opponents has what currently ranks as a Top-10 offense, though another 5 opponents have had offenses in the teens.
Coming up, the Suns will play some teams with better offenses, including 3 of the top 4 in the league, though many of their opponents have quite poor defense.
This is actually shaping up to be a tougher stretch of games than the opening 11 were, though 7 of the 9 opponents have had as easier schedule than the Suns have had so far so they might look a little better than they really are.
What do you think, Suns fans? Can the Suns win 5 of their next 9 games?
How many wins can the Suns get in their next 9 games?
This poll is closed
5 or more (resulting in 13-6 or better)
2 or fewer...the wheels are coming off