A recent report by the Washington Post based on a method formulated by baseball analytics expert Bill James has named the Houston Rockets the NBA franchise “most deserving” of an NBA title.
But what does that even mean? How did they come to that conclusion?
Well, the short answer is: you deserve to win if you consistently put together a team that is always good and is always competing for a title, but hasn’t won one recently.
The long answer is slightly more complicated.
James developed a point rating system for MLB, and the Post simply applied the same rules to the NBA to come up with a list of the “most deserving”.
The point system is as follows:
All teams get zero points at the start of the 2004-05 season, the first year the league expanded to 30 teams with new divisional alignments separating the league into six divisions of five teams each.
A team gets one point if it fails to win the NBA title in that year, another point if it made the playoffs, two more points if it finishes with 50 or more wins, and three more points if it wins 60 or more. The points accrue each year the team fails to win a championship.
If a team wins the title, its point total resets to zero. Win two titles in any five-year span, and the point total is reduced to minus-10.
As you would expect, this system will send the Golden State Warriors to the bottom of the list. Their run of three titles in five years is not what we are looking for. We are looking for teams that field a competitive, playoff-bound club every year but fall short.
The Rockets had one losing season in this time frame (in 2006, they finished 34-48), and have been one of the best teams in the league since James Harden came aboard in 2012 offseason, so it would make sense they’re at the top of this list. Here’s the Washington Post write up on Houston:
1. Houston Rockets
71 points; last won NBA title in 1995
Odds to win 2020 championship: 20-1 (as of March 9 per the Westgate SuperBook)
Houston has averaged 48 wins over the past 16 seasons, topping the 50-win mark nine times, and posted a 65-win campaign in 2017-18. The Rockets have made the playoffs 11 times in that span. However, they have not advanced past the conference finals since 2012, despite having James Harden, a perennial MVP candidate and winner of the award in 2017-18, on the roster.
Harden has led the league in scoring three straight seasons and is often among the NBA’s most efficient scorers, using his bulk to muscle his way to the rim or create space behind the three-point line. His cumulative game score, an all-in-one metric designed to give a sense of how good a player is in all facets of the game, while with the Rockets (22.9) is the highest in that time period. Three of the players in the top five (LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) have eight championship rings among them. Harden’s playoff game score (20.3) is the seventh best since 2013 and slightly higher than Curry’s, illustrating he doesn’t take his foot off the gas during the postseason.
After the Rockets, there’s a tie for second place between the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder, both with 55 points. Fourth place goes to the Portland Trailblazers with 51 points. And the top five rounds out with another tie, this time between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers with 49 points.
The thing that stands out to me is the gap between the Rockets and the rest of the league. They have a 16-point lead on the next closest team, while the five teams after them are separated by just six total points.
In addition, the snippet about Harden’s regular season and playoff game scores helps illustrate just how much the “good in the regular season, bad in the playoffs” label is mostly just after-the-fact bias, a self-justifying rationalization to reaffirm one’s already inherent Harden hate.
Anyway, by this measure, the Rockets are by far the most deserving of an NBA title. I’m sure we all agree here at TDS.