East meets West – We know which is best

ImageFor most teams, the NBA regular season is 3 games away from wrapping up, and if you read a lot about the game, you will spend a considerable amount of time over the next few weeks reading about MVP candidates, title contenders and all of the other award winners. Throughout the season much has been written about the abhorrent quality of the Eastern Conference, the powerhouse that is the Western Conference and the way the current system incentivises teams to bottom out and lose through the draft lottery and how it has been particularly exciting to have Adam Silver take over the front office of the league with some potential for exciting new ways to fix the problems that the league has. The few defenders of the current draft system point to the way it is designed to lift up teams from the bottom and over time, even out the league as a whole. But I am here to tell you that under the current system it cannot, has not and never will work.

For almost as long as I can remember the Western Conference has been significantly stronger than the East. But it has never been this bad. The three measurements I use for this are as follows –
Which Conference does the team with best record come from?
Which Conference does the team with worst record come from?
And by far the most important one,
Which Conference requires the higher record to make the playoffs?

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The reason that’s the most important one is because that’s what makes the West so much better is the teams in the middle. There might be a great side or two in the East and an abomination in the West, but the majority of both divisions sits in between these two and that is where the West dominates

The quantity of just how much better one conference is than the other is measured by where the 9th placed team in the good conference would finish if they were in the bad conference.

For example, if the season were to end right now, the best record belongs to the Spurs (West), the worst record belongs to the Bucks (East) and in the West a 59.5% winning record is currently missing the playoffs, while in the East a 45.6% winning record is making it to the post season. The West wins all three categories. And to quantify even further just how much better the West is, the 9th placed Phoenix Suns with their current record would not only make the playoffs in the East, they would be THIRD! Clearly a HUGE win for the West.

Last season, the best record was in the East, but so was the worst record, and the lower record to make the playoffs was also in the East. A 2-1 win to the West, and the 9th placed Jazz would have finished 7th in the East.

The season before had 2 wins for the West and a tie for the top record, with the 9th placed Rockets also 9th in the East

Going back through the years –
10/11 –9th placed Rockets would have finished 6th in the East
09/10 –Rockets to 8th in the East
08/09 – Suns to 5th in the East
07/08 – Warriors to 5th in the East
06/07 – Clippers to 8th in the East
05/06 – Jazz to 6th in the East
04/05 – Timberwolves to 6th in the East
03/04 – Jazz to 4th in the East
02/03 – Rockets to 7th in the East
01/02 – The 9th placed team in the East Finally had a better record than the 9th placed team in the West. That 9th placed team, the Bucks, still would have only finished 9th in the West.

We have to go back to the 01/02 season for a very minor East win.* Since then we have had 12 consecutive seasons of Western dominance coming to a head this year with over the top imbalance between the conferences.**

With the draft system supposedly giving a leg up to all of the terrible teams, you would think that something like this would be impossible, but it is clearly getting worse, not better. It is because the draft in its current form is actually contributing to keeping the West on top.

If we were to abolish conferences right now, the Suns would be in equal 11th in the league while the Atlanta Hawks would be in 18th. As it stands, the Suns are missing the playoffs, and will go into the lottery for the draft, while the Hawks will be cannon fodder in the East playoffs and regardless of how the lottery goes, would be picking after the Suns.***

So the clearly better team between the two gets the higher pick. How does that make sense if the point of the draft is an equalizer? A very good team in Phoenix gets the opportunity to improve before a very bad team in Atlanta does – and that is if we are just comparing their raw records and not taking other things into consideration.

Without trying to make things TOO much more complicated, even the teams in the East that have semi respectable records, only have those records because they play so many more games against other Eastern Conference teams.

At the time that I am writing this, almost all teams have played 49 games against teams from their own conference, and 30 games against teams from the other conference. So if it wasn’t already hard enough to make the playoffs in the West, it gets even harder having to play against great teams regularly. But it also means that teams that may seem better in terms of a raw win record probably aren’t.

Take the Charlotte Bobcats for example. They are currently in 7th spot in the East with a winning record of .506 – however this record is slightly boosted by their schedule. They have played 49 games against teams from the East winning 55% of them. They have only had to play 30 games against teams from the West winning just 43% of those games.

At the same time, the New Orleans Pelicans are currently all the way down in 12th over in the tougher conference with a record of .405. The Pellies don’t have the advantages of the Bobcats and have played 49 games against teams from the West winning just 27% of those games, but in their 30 games against teams from the East, they have done brilliantly and won 63%.

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So what if the Bobcats had to play 49 games against the West and the New Orleans got 49 against the East? I’m glad you asked. The Bobcats would have a winning percentage of .481 and the Pelicans would have .494 which certainly paints a different picture to their current positions in real life. At the least I would say that these two teams are fairly evenly matched. Under the current system, New Orleans would have a 98% chance of getting a top 10 pick and a 1.1% chance of getting a top 3 pick in the most loaded draft in a generation while Charlotte would have a 100% chance of getting about the 16th or 17th pick.^ Once again the West would get stronger while the East gets left behind.

There have been multiple calls from respected writers this season to abolish the archaic divisions within each conference due to just how pointless they are, but I see no reason at all to stop there. The Conferences need to be abolished and a more even competition schedule put together. If it means losing a handful of games a season to allow for extra travel then so be it. I don’t think we find out anything extra about how good or bad a team is in 82 games that we couldn’t work out in 75 or 76. The owners are rolling in money with even the worst franchises valued over $500 million. I see no reason that this can’t happen.

Over to you Adam Silver. It’s time for change.

 

 

*And even then, the top placed East team that year (Nets) finished with a record that would have gotten them only 5th in the West, so really not much of a win – But I had to stop somewhere.

** In that 12 year stretch, 11 times at least one team from the West finished with a 50% winning record or better and still didn’t make the playoffs. In the East that happened once.

***Just to clarify, I’m not taking into account any trades that have been made, I’m speaking idealistically.

^I am aware that unless the pick goes in the top three, the Pellies won’t get the pick anyway through trades, but again that’s not the point, the system would have it the way I described were it not for the trades.

The Year That Was 2013

Leaving apart the fact that something could happen in the next couple of days (like the Darts World Title) that could have won one of these awards, I’m prepared to give out my first ever Annual Awards for my favourite things* of 2013.

Best Female Tennis Performance

While the Men’s Tennis scene has become more boring than watching tennis over the last few years, Women’s tennis has been a bit more of a mixed bag where rallies still take place and the winner of a major tournament isn’t decided prior to the tournament even beginning. In the last 8 years only 5 men have won the 32 Grand Slam tournaments played, while the women have had 8 different winners in just the last 3 years (12 tournaments). In January, Victoria Azarenka** became the first person not named Williams to defend the Australian Open crown since Jennifer Capriati early in the millennium. Overcame a toe injury and fought off the tag of being a One Slam Wonder, the world’s most famous Belarusian solidified herself as my favourite female Tennis player since Martina Hingis.

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Honourable Mention: Sam Stosur for not making it past the 3rd round in any major. Really sticking it to all those people who thought you were more than a one hit wonder…

Best Nickname – Team or Duo

The 2013 NBA Playoffs were expected to be a straightforward affair with the teams from the Western Conference making up the numbers til either the Spurs or Thunder played Miami for the title, and on the surface that is what happened. But when you get into the nitty gritty, a little team that weren’t expected to do much had a breakout star who lifted his team to a new level that has seen them touted as serious contenders for the 2014 title. The major reason for this is the emergence of possibly the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the gameThe Splash Brothers. Named after the infinitely better Bash Brothers – Portman and Reed of Team USA Hockey at the 1994 Junior Goodwill Games – Klay Thompson and Steph Curry set the NBA world alight with a universe of 3 pointers that destroyed the heavily favoured Nuggets and pushed the almost World Champion Spurs like no other team in the West could even come close to.

Honourable Mention: Zach Lowe’s admirable attempt to get people to call the New Orleans Pelican’s the Pellies. Stick with it Zach. The people will come around eventually.

Best New TV Show

This one isn’t even close. Orange Is The New Black is easily the best new show of this year for mine. One of the VERY few shows of the last 10 years to have three dimensional female characters that are actually interesting and don’t revolve their entire lives around what men think of them, what they can do to get a man, or what they should do with their lives now that their man has left them alone, and therefore an empty shell of a human. In short, it passes the Bechdel Test. Most shows don’t. Of course men are involved in their lives because they are humans after all, and this isn’t a feminist rant, but the show has developed female characters that aren’t simply there as window dressing, and they actually have something to say occasionally. It’s well made, well written, compelling television that doesn’t come along often enough in circumstances where men are the main protagonists and it’s refreshing to see women getting a go for a change.

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Honourable Mention: The Jeselnik Offensive. It’s Offensive, it’s Jeselnikian, and it is most definitely The.

Best Rivalry

The ongoing hatred between Sydney FC coach Frank Farina and the majority of Sydney’s fans has been a fascinating rivalry to watch. Portions of the fan base didn’t want him signed at all when he got the job in late 2012, but many could see the sense in a short term appointment. When his contract was extended in spite of Farina failing to meet the frankly low ‘minimum requirements’ of his stated job description (make the 2013 finals) many more fans were put further offside. After starting off with ‘results first’ football, Farina promised to bring style and goals to Allianz Stadium. After a full pre-season to get the improvements in place, Sydney lost 3 of their first 4 games scoring only 2 goals in the process and never looking in control of any games, as well as being comfortably taken care of in all pre-season fixtures against A-League opposition. This is where he seemed to lose most of the fans and the twitter hashtag #FarinaOut gained some momentum. Farina responded to this by lashing out at the fans and the relationship has been lost since then. Sydneys results have improved (a little) but the style of play promised*** has not eventuated and even the matches that Sydney have won have not been entirely convincing, against some of the worst teams in the league. After the battering the Sky Blues took on Boxing Day, at the hands of a team playing the style of football Farina promised, it appears that this rivalry may not last to the end of 2014 to defend its crown with Franks job looking less and less secure.

Honourable Mentions: First, Wanderers really want Sydney to have the biggest rivalry with them, but they’ve no chance with the way Sydney can turn on itself. Second, Ronda Rousey v Miesha Tate. These two hate each other and are going to try to beat the shit out of each other on 29/12 (Sydney time anyway). I can’t wait.

Best Album That I Bought

I don’t listen to A LOT of new music. I purchase even less of it. Most of the music I listen to is a long way from popular, I probably buy as many albums at gigs off local bands as I do on iTunes and I often find a band a get into their back catalogue, and may discover my favourite album from 2013 when I hear it in 2017. So this is most definitely not a definitive selection by any means as there are only so many albums that I bought that actually came out this year. Having said all of that, at the moment my favourite album of 2013 is The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer. It continues on the bands slow trajectory of mixing their tech-math-core-whatever-you -want-to-call-it with pop rock sensibilities that accentuate the insanity of their heavy side. A well rounded album that I could listen to for days. Watch this video.

Honourable Mentions: First is …Like Clockwork by Queens Of The Stone Age. I didn’t like it at first, but it has grown on me and My God Is The Sun is great track. Second is the debut full length album by Iron Reagan called Worse Than Dead. Not a song over 2 minutes and all 19 tracks beat the shit out of you.

Dishonourable Mentions: Jay Z’s album as a whole wasn’t bad, but it needs to mentioned that F*ckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt is literally^ the worst song I’ve ever heard in my life.

Best Feel-Good Story

Surprisingly, given the horror year (or decade really) that Rugby League has had off the field, my favourite story of the year was seeing the USA Tomahawks defy all odds by getting out of their group at the Rugby League World Cup and take on the heavyweights of Rugby League in the Quarter Finals. The inevitable mauling that the Kangaroos gave them notwithstanding, the Tomahawks had a great tournament beating both The Cook Islands, as well as the traditionally strong Wales. Making the achievements even more spectacular is the fact that coach Terry Matterson only took over the team a month prior to the World Cup after Brian Smith quit as coach amid controversy over his methods and selections. Smith himself had only taken over from Matthew Elliott at the start of the year once Elliott stepped down after guiding the team through qualifications. Such a lack of continuity would derail a fully professional teams campaign let alone a squad made up at least partially of amateurs^^ and their achievement was the only interesting part of a mostly redundant World Cup. The tournament result, coupled with the pre-tournament win against number 4 ranked France has seen the USA move into the top 10 rankings ahead of the likes of Scotland, Italy and Tonga.

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Honourable Mention: The budding bromance between Ricky Stuart and Josh Papalii. After Papalii changed his mind on signing with Parramatta and stayed in the nations capital, Stuart was so desperate to coach him that he left the Eels behind to take the job at the Raiders.

WORST THING OF THE YEAR

The NRL continued their tradition of having hateable teams in the Grand Final. The leagues most hated teams in some order are Manly, Roosters, Bulldogs, Melbourne, and Brisbane. 11 of the last 12 Grand Finals have been contested between one or in some cases 2 of these teams, and they’ve won 8 of the last 10 competitions. 2005 was the last time there were two likeable teams in the Grand Final and as a Rugby League fan, I’m kind of getting sick of it. Not really anyone’s fault in particular, but it needs to stop soon or Grand Final Day will lose ALL of its fun. It’s already lost most of it.

BEST THING OF THE YEAR

The ending of what will surely go down as one of history’s greatest television programs^^^ has already been given plenty of accolades and is sure to get plenty more, but in my humble little opinion, while the final season had its flaws, the sum of the work this show put into making greatness culminated in as satisfying a way as any show has ever done. That’s right Dexter has always nailed the monster of the week and the season long arc in perfect balance and trololololol, lolol lolol. Of course I’m actually talking about Breaking Bad and the wonderful performance of Bryan Cranston in his career defining role as Walter White. We’ve been blessed in the last decade or so with the TV revolution and it may be a while until we see a show of this consistent quality hit our screens again. Soak it up while you can people.

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And that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog this year and that you will continue to do so into the future.

Please come back for more at regular intervals, and let me know your thoughts below!

 

 

 

*That is deliberately broad because I’m going to try and cover as much as possible here.

**I have no idea what it is about her, but she has something that I like.

***To be fair, every manager in the world says that they are going to make the team play an attractive brand of football.

^Yes, I do mean literally. Not the way that people over use that word these days.

^^They had 5 players from their domestic league in the squad, which considering the quality is actually quite good if you ask me.

^^^I have it third all time.