FanPost

Which Conference is Better? Let's look...

 

The debate between the Eastern and Western Conferences and their dominance couldn't really even be called a debate over the past few seasons.  Dating back to the fateful WCF between the Blazers and L*kers, everyone was saying that this matchup was the real Finals.  The winner just had to go through the formality of playing Indiana or whatever team had won the East that year.  Despite blips on the radar, such as trophies in Detroit and Boston, the Western Conference as a whole seemed to be much more difficult of a conference to play in, even if the end result didn't necessarily mean it would produce the best team in the NBA.

This all seems to have changed this year.  Not only are Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando beating teams across the continent, but the NBA's worst teams tend to be from the Western Conference (LA Clippers, Memphis, Sacramento).  But even with those solid facts, the Western Conference playoff race is in full swing, and from the 2-9 seeds, there is a marginal difference.  Phoenix, the 9th team based on winning percentage, would be 6th seed in the East.

Does the strength of the Western Conference's teams that are in, say, the top 1/3rd outweigh the fact that of the bottom eight teams in the league, six of them are from the Western Conference?  Does that fact that the 5th - 11th best teams in the league are from the Western Conference outweigh the fact that three of the top four teams in the league are from the East?

Using numbers from ESPN's website on the morning of March 14th, I listed each team and ranked them by winning percentage.  Each position was weighted, so that the first place team would get 30 'ranking points' (RP) and the 30th place team would get 1 'ranking point.'  Here's how it broke down (sorry for the format, could someone please let me know how to put spreadsheets in a fanpost in the comments, thanks):

By League:

Rank    Team    WIN %         Ranking Points
1    Cleveland     0.800               30
1    LA L*kers     0.800                30
3    Boston     0.758                     28
4    Orlando     0.738                    27
5    San Antonio     0.677            26
6    Houston     0.632                   25
7    Portland     0.631                   24
7    New Orleans     0.631          24
9    Denver     0.627                    22
10    Utah     0.621                       21
11    Dallas     0.606                    20
12    Atlanta     0.576                   19
13    Miami     0.554                     18
14    Phoenix     0.530                 17
15    Detroit     0.516                    16
16    Philadelphia     0.508         15
17    Chicago     0.448                 14
18    Milwaukee     0.441             13
19    New Jersey     0.431           12
19    New York     0.431               12
21    Charlotte     0.424                10
22    Indiana     0.418                     9
23    Golden State     0.354           8
24    Toronto     0.348                     7
25    Minnesota     0.303                6
26    Oklahoma City     0.273        5
27    Memphis     0.250                  4
28    LA Clippers     0.231             3
29    Washington     0.227             2
30    Sacramento     0.215            1

Total Ranking Points                 468

Eastern Conference:

Rank     Team        Ranking Points
1      Cleveland             30
3      Boston                   28
4      Orlando                27
12    Atlanta                   19
13    Miami                    18
15    Detroit                   16
16    Philadelphia         15
17    Chicago                14
18    Milwaukee            13
19    New Jersey           12
19    New York              12
21    Charlotte               10
22    Indiana                    9
24    Toronto                    7
29    Washington            2

Total Ranking Points:   232

Western Conference:

Rank    Team             Ranking Points
1      LA L*kers              30
5      San Antonio          26
6      Houston                 25
7      Portland                  24
7      New Orleans          24
9      Denver                    22
10    Utah                        21
11    Dallas                     20
14    Phoenix                  17
23    Golden State           8
25    Minnesota                6
26    Oklahoma City         5
27    Memphis                   4
28    LA Clippers              3
30    Sacramento              1

Total Ranking Points:    236

I look at the total Ranking Points (RP) of each conference in a couple of ways. 

First, the average RP of the East is 15.47.  The West's RP average out to be 15.73.  Not much a difference at all.  The West is only slightly above the league average, and the East is only slightly below.

Second, and more importantly, the difference between the East and West TRP is only about one percent (0.008).

               RP            %            AVG
EAST     232    49.57%    15.47
WEST    236    50.43%    15.73
NBA      468    100%         15.6

 

The East and West seem to be in a dead heat this year.  The fact that of the bottom six teams, five are in the West seems to cancel out any advantage that the West as 7 teams with RP in the 20s, compared to just 2 for the East.

But I wasn't sure how typical this was, so I checked out that fateful year that the L*kers stole my dignity and squeaked their way into the NBA Finals like stinky little rats.  From the 1999-2000 Season:

NBA     

  
Rank    Team               Ranking Points
1      LA L*kers (0)             29
2      Portland (0)                28
3      Indiana (0)                  27
4      Utah (0)                       26
5      Phoenix (0)                 25
6      San Antonio (0)          24
7      Miami (0)                     23
8      Minnesota (0)             22
9       New York (0)              21
10    Philadelphia (0)         20
11    Charlotte (0)               19
12    Toronto (0)                  18
13    Sacramento (0)          17
14    Seattle (0)                   16
15    Detroit (0)                    15
16    Milwaukee (0)            14
17    Orlando (0)                  13
18    Dallas (0)                     12
19    Houston (0)                 11
19    Denver (0)                   11
19    Boston (0)                    11
22    New Jersey (0)            8
22    Cleveland (0)               8
24    Washington (0)            6
25    Atlanta (0)                      5
26    Vancouver (0)              4
27    Golden State (0)           3
28    Chicago (0)                   2
29    LA Clippers (0)            1
    Total                                 439

EAST

Rank    Team            RP
3       Indiana             27
7       Miami                23
9       New York          21
10    Philadelphia     20
11    Charlotte            19
12    Toronto               18
15    Detroit                15
16    Milwaukee         14
17    Orlando              13
19    Boston                11
22    New Jersey         8
22    Cleveland            8
24    Washington         6
25    Atlanta                  5
28    Chicago               2
    Total                        210

WEST

Rank     Team            RP
1       LA L*kers          29
2       Portland             28
4       Utah                    26
5       Phoenix              25
6       San Antonio       24
8       Minnesota          22
13    Sacramento       17
14    Seattle                16
18    Dallas                 12
19    Houston              11
19    Denver               11
26    Vancouver           4
27    Golden State       3
29    LA Clippers          1
    Total                        229

             RP       %             AVG
East    210    48%    14.00
West    229    52%    16.36
NBA    439    100%    15.14

These numbers show that the West was much better than the East compared to this season.  4% isn't that much, but compared to the 1% difference this year, it seems significant.

And, for those of you paying extra-special attention, you've noticed that the aforementioned team from Charlotte were still known as the Hornets, rather than the Bobcats, leaving the Western Conference without a team from the Big Easy.  This means that the West was better with fewer teams.  The only way I could think of to make up for this would be to add an additional team to the Western Conference and give it the average RP.  The new numbers would be:

             RP      %           AVG
East    210    46%          14
West    245    54%       16
NBA    455    100%       15

For good measure, let's put this year's number back up.

               RP            %            AVG
EAST     232    49.57%    15.47
WEST    236    50.43%    15.73
NBA      468    100%         15.6

Just like I thought.

Subjectively, the West used to be THE dominant Conference, and there were few who would dispute this notion.  This year the rise of quality teams in the East, combined with the amount of cellar-dwellers in the West (how miserable are the Clippers.  poor fans) has evened out the rivalry quite a bit.  Statistically, this seems to be backed up, too, when comparing a year that the West was crushin' it, to now, when the better conference doesn't seem to be so apparent.

Note:  This is my first go at any stat analysis.  I'm not sure if my methods are faulty or not.  Statisticians, holler at your boy.

 

 

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