An Inside Look at How We Calculate Our Adjusted Team Ratings

An Inside Look at How We Calculate Our Adjusted Team Ratings

A year after they were considered to be one of the favorites to win it all and a sure bet to face the crosstown rival Los Angeles Lakers in a highly anticipated Western Conference finals, the Clippers have flown somewhat under the radar this season.

While the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets and even the mediocre play of the Lakers have attracted much of the attention, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clips finished with the league’s fifth-best record. And in the final regular-season edition of the adjusted team ratings, they’re fourth overall with a 5.32 overall rating – just marginally behind the Suns (5.68) and Philadelphia 76ers (5.43) and ahead of teams like the Milwaukee Bucks (4.95).

So is it possible the Clippers could be considered a sleeper of sorts this time around? The No. 4 seed opens the playoffs against the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who sit 12th overall in the adjusted team ratings.

Why are these ratings important? Because they normalize a team’s performance from league environmental factors that can either inflate or deflate its numbers.

That’s done with a model that uses advanced metrics and other factors on both sides of the ball to calculate how many points per 100 possessions better or worse teams are compared to the league-average club during that season, including the playoffs.

From this model, we’re able to create an adjusted offensive rating (AOR), adjusted defensive rating (ADR) and an overall adjusted team rating (ATR). Here’s a look at those in the chart below. Note that lower is better for defensive ratings.

Adjusted Team Ratings, 2020-21 Regular Season

TeamAOROff. RankADRDef. RankATROverall Rank
Utah Jazz5.664-3.2748.921
Phoenix Suns6.5230.84135.682
Philadelphia 76ers2.0110-3.4235.433
Los Angeles Clippers5.097-0.2285.324
Milwaukee Bucks5.4250.47104.955
Denver Nuggets5.3360.47114.856
Brooklyn Nets6.5722.31234.267
Portland Trail Blazers6.9213.36273.568
Los Angeles Lakers-2.2925-5.0612.779
New York Knicks-0.9121-3.5322.6210
Atlanta Hawks4.1191.76212.3511
Dallas Mavericks4.3482.03222.3012
Golden State Warriors0.3117-1.8052.1113
Memphis Grizzlies0.1118-1.1261.2314
Miami Heat1.18140.0191.1815
Boston Celtics1.83111.38170.4516
Indiana Pacers1.00150.81120.1917
New Orleans Pelicans1.36121.5218-0.1718
Chicago Bulls-0.9822-0.797-0.1919
Washington Wizards0.33161.2416-0.9120
San Antonio Spurs-0.60200.9414-1.5421
Toronto Raptors-0.25191.5619-1.8122
Charlotte Hornets-1.01231.7320-2.7523
Sacramento Kings1.25134.8130-3.5624
Minnesota Timberwolves-1.48242.4324-3.9125
Detroit Pistons-4.55270.9615-5.5126
Houston Rockets-4.12263.3928-7.5027
Cleveland Cavaliers-6.23283.9329-10.1628
Orlando Magic-7.30293.0326-10.3329
Oklahoma City Thunder-8.76302.5425-11.3030

The Jazz (52-20) reeled off 20 victories in 21 games during a red-hot stretch earlier in 2021 before managing to hold off the Suns (51-21) for the league’s top overall record, but no one was really close to the Jazz in terms of overall adjusted team rating.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean the Larry O’Brien Trophy is headed to Salt Lake City. In fact, past three teams that finished with the league’s best ATR did not win the championship. Those were last year’s Bucks (8.53), the 2018-19 Bucks (9.06) and the 2017-18 Houston Rockets (8.56).

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who went a then-NBA record 72-10 before winning it all behind Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, have the top ATR we’ve recorded since the 1986-87 season at 14.14.

Now, we know what you’re saying: The defending champion Lakers and star-studded Brooklyn Nets are the favorites on paper if everyone is healthy and playing. Keep in mind that the model is backward-facing, so it’s based on how well a team has played and not necessarily how well a team will play.

The Lakers limped into the playoffs last season before winning 16 of 20 to capture the franchise’s 17th title and finish fourth in the ratings. There are those who believe LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers will rise to the occasion once again, but how a team is playing of late is something the model takes seriously.

Similarly, the Nets finished with a franchise-record winning percentage of .667 (48-24), but James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were only on the court together for eight games (6-2). Could they make a Lakers-style push with their “Big Three” fully engaged?

Only time will tell.

Data modeling by Matt Scott.

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