Mapping Why The Heat, Celtics, Spurs And Lakers Are NBA's Best Teams

CHARLOTTE NC - DECEMBER 11: Teammates Paul Pierce #34 Rajon Rondo #9 and Glen Davis #11 of the Boston Celtics celebrate after a basket against the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on December 11 2010 in Charlotte North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A visual presentation of which NBA teams play the best/worst offense and defense reveals that the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and L.A. Lakers are in a class of their own.

For me, visualizing data spatially is much more helpful than looking at a list of numbers. Certain data interpretation works just fine in list or chart form -- you don't need a fancy graph to understand a player's points, rebounds and assists per game -- but in many cases, organizing the data graphically opens up new understanding.

There is nothing more core to the NBA than team performance, and there are two very obvious aspects of team performance: offense and defense. So, below, I dig into the teams' offensive and defensive performance through Friday's games.

This bit in particular is cribbed from Kyle Whelliston of The Mid-Majority, who along with being a champion of writers, first struck up the idea of scatterplotting offensive and defensive efficiency ... at least to my knowledge. My work isn't as pretty, but it follows the same ethos.

Here's the map.


To bullets!

  • Brief explainer: team offense, measured by offensive efficiency (or points per possession), is oriented on the x axis, with better offensive teams toward the right and worse offensive teams toward the left. Team defense is oriented on the y axis, with better defensive teams toward the top and worse defensive teams toward the bottom. As such, good offense-good defense teams can be found in the top right quadrant. Bad offense-bad defense teams are in the bottom left. The graph includes stats up through Friday's action.
  • If you look at the graph structurally, and create tiers, you'll notice that four teams -- the Heat, Celtics, Spurs and Lakers -- stand out. Just behind them are the Mavericks, Magic and Jazz. The Hawks, who happen to be really balanced but not spectacular on either end, are begging for admission, but sadly do not belong in the club. The Bulls, Hornets and Pacers aren't far away from the second tier.
  • Mirror, mirror: the Bucks are among the elite on defense and the absolute worst in the league in offense. The Suns are among the elite on offense and the absolute worst on defense. Is it better to excel at one sector of the game and stink out loud in the other? Or is it better to by good in one and passable in the other. In the end, it doesn't likely matter much. But it's interesting to see.
  • Your bottom tier: the Cavaliers and Wizards, followed by a depressing cluster containing the Nets, Clippers, Pistons, Kings and Warriors. You may also know these teams as the teams that picked 1-8 (minus Philadelphia at No. 2) in last June's draft, plus the team that lost the two-time reigning MVP in free agency.
  • Speaking of the 8-15 76ers, where are they? Hanging out with the Blazers (12-12). Despite that awful record, Philadelphia actually has a positive point differential (+0.3 per game), with a slightly above average defense and a slightly below average offense. This team is a lot better than its record indicates, and don't be surprised if (barring an Andre Iguodala trade) it makes a playoff run.
  • The middle of the pack is cluttered, and it will take some clarity only time can bring to sort it out. Can the Knicks improve their defense to make a leap, or bolster the scorching offense enough to make up the difference? Can New Orleans leech enough offense out of Chris Paul to make up three other starting positions? How long will it take for Oklahoma City to rediscover its defensive aptitude? Is Houston going to continue to climb out of the basement?

Have a request for a future map? Drop a comment here or tweet to @teamziller.

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