Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: No. 1 in the NBA RPI

by Berry Tramel Modified: December 17, 2013 at 10:30 am •  Published: December 17, 2013

The Thunder have the league's best RPI. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
The Thunder have the league's best RPI. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

We don’t look at rankings or ratings much in the NBA. In college basketball, such lists are a little more relevant because decisions are made — the basketball committee decides who’s in the NCAA Tournament and where teams are seeded.

No such subjectivity is needed in the NBA. It’s all based on record. Schedules are centralized — no one makes their own.

But ratings can be interesting to tell us where teams are during the course of the marathon NBA season. For instance, the Trail Blazers have a better record, 21-4, than does the Thunder, 19-4, in the Western Conference food chain. But Portland has played 10 games against the Eastern Conference; OKC has played six games against the East.

The East, as you might have detected, stinks this season. Only three teams in the East have a winning record, and one of those, Atlanta, is 13-12 and got above .500 Tuesday night.

More early-season scheduling discrepancies. The Warriors are off to a disappointing 13-12 start. But Golden State has played just 10 home games, tied for the fewest in the league. Same with the Clippers, who are off to a 17-9 start but have played just 11 home games. Expect the Clips and Warriors to uptick soon.

So there are a few ways to gauge the standings this early in the season:

HOME/ROAD BREAKDOWNS

How many victories does a team have in relation to its home games? Here’s how the Western Conference breaks down in home/road split:

1. Portland +9

2. San Antonio +8

3. Oklahoma City +7

4. LA Clippers +6

5. Denver +4

6. Houston +3

6. Golden State +3

6. Phoenix +3

9. Dallas +2

10. Minnesota +1

11. New Orleans -1

11. LA Lakers -1

13. Memphis -4

14. Utah -7

15. Sacramento -8

So that adds some clarity. Portland’s hot start is legit. The Thunder and Spurs are rock solid as always. The Nuggets are for real. Houston has a three-game edge on Golden State in the standings, but that seems to be a product of the schedule. Phoenix’s 14-9 start isn’t a fluke. Home/road breakdowns are very useful.

But home/road breakdowns are limited. Not all home games are created equal. Playing the Spurs at home and playing the Magic at home are not the same. Playing in Miami is not the same as playing in Sacramento.

RPI

And thus enters the RPI. Ratings percentage index. It’s a college tool that measures strength of schedule — part your record, part your opponent’s record and part your opponents’ opponents’ record. It’s used in college basketball, but it’s a more precise tool in the NBA, because you don’t have levels of programs. There are no mid-majors or low-majors in the NBA. There are good teams and bad teams.

Here is the latest NBA RPI:

1. Oklahoma City (19-4) .597

2. Portland (21-4) .589

3. San Antonio (19-5) .574

4. Indiana (20-4) .572

5. LA Clippers (17-9) .545

6. Houston (16-9) .539

6. Phoenix (14-9) .539

8. Miami (18-6) .535

9. Denver (14-9) .524

10. Golden State (13-12) .518

11. Dallas (14-10) .517

11. Minnesota (12-13) .517

13. Memphis (10-13) .510

14. LA Lakers (11-13) .507

15. Detroit (12-14) .493

16. Atlanta (13-12) .491

17. New Orleans (11-11) .489

18. Sacramento (7-15) .483

19. Toronto (9-13) .477

20. Utah (6-21) .472

21. Boston (12-14) .467

21. Washington (10-13) .467

23. Charlotte (10-14) .461

24. Brooklyn (9-15) .458

25. Orlando (8-17) .453

25. Cleveland (9-14) .453

27. Chicago (9-14) .451

28. New York (7-17) .439

29. Philadelphia (7-19) .435

30. Milwaukee (5-19) .415

Well, the RPI is interesting. Suddenly, strength of schedule matters. That’s how Sacramento finds itself 18th. That’s how the bottom 10 are ALL Eastern Conference teams. That’s how the woebegone Grizzlies are 13th.

Here are the top 10 strength of schedules in the NBA: 1. Utah; 2. Sacramento; 3. Memphis; 4. Minnesota; 5. LA Lakers; 6. Oklahoma City; 7. Golden State; 8. Phoenix; 9. LA Clippers; 10. Houston.

Here are the bottom 10 strength of schedules in the NBA: 30. Miami; 29. Boston; 28. Chicago; 27. Cleveland; 26. Charlotte; 25. Washington; 24. Atlanta; 23. Milwaukee; 22. Indiana; 20. Brooklyn & New Orleans.

POINT DIFFERENTIAL

One other rating system I like to look at is team efficiency. How often does a team get stops on defense? How often does an offense score? Points per game is not a good gauge, because teams play at different paces. A team that plays fast, creating several more possessions per game, does not mean its offense is better than a team that takes fewer possessions per game.

Here are the NBA rankings in defensive efficiency, which measures points per 100 possessions — or if you want to move the decimal point two slots left, points per possession:

1. Indiana 93.6

2. San Antonio 95.9

3. Chicago 96.9

4. Oklahoma City 97.5

4. Charlotte 97.5

6. Miami 98.5

7. Golden State 99.9

8. LA Clippers 100.0

9. Boston 100.3

10. Houston 100.6

11. Toronto 100.9

12. Denver 101.0

13. Washington 101.4

14. Atlanta 101.5

15. Minnesota 101.6

16. Phoenix 101.9

16. Orlando 101.9

18. Cleveland 102.3

19. Portland 103.1

20. Dallas 103.2

21. Detroit 103.3

22. New Orleans 103.7

23. LA Lakers 103.9

23. Milwaukee 103.9

25. New York 104.3

26. Memphis 104.6

27. Sacramento 104.7

28. Brooklyn 105.0

29. Philadelphia 105.7

30. Utah 108.2

Man, that’s some bad defense they’re playing in Salt Lake City. But back on point, this is an excellent chart for the Thunder. OKC is back in the top four defensively in the NBA. Which is good news. Play great defense, and you’re a contender. And it’s already been established that the Thunder has played a good schedule (though admittedly, OKC has drawn some breaks on the injury front, missing some top-flight players).

All right, let’s go to offensive efficiency:

1. Portland 109.8

2. Miami 108.4

3. Houston 106.4

4. San Antonio 106.2

5. Oklahoma City 105.5

5. LA Clippers 105.5

7. New Orleans 105.4

8. Phoenix 105.1

9. Dallas 104.1

10. Denver 103.7

11. Golden State 103.6

12. Minnesota 102.8

13. Atlanta 102.3

14. Indiana 101.8

14. Detroit 101.8

16. Sacramento 101.6

17. Brooklyn 101.4

18. New York 101.3

19. LA Lakers 101.2

20. Toronto 101.1

21. Memphis 99.4

22. Washington 99.1

23. Boston 98.7

24. Orlando 98.2

25. Utah 97.3

26. Philadelphia 97.1

27. Cleveland 95.9

28. Chicago 95.0

29. Charlotte 94.5

30. Milwaukee 93.3

Put them together, and you’ve got point differential. Which is a handy tool, especially to identify dominance. That’s what made the Thunder so dangerous going into the 2013 playoffs. OKC’s point differential was historically high — the Thunder was clubbing teams on a consistent basis, and that’s a sign of greatness. And playoff success. Russell Westbrook’s injury derailed OKC, but the promise was there.

This season, the Thunder is winning more close games than blowouts. So the point differential isn’t going to be what it was. Here are the top 10 in point differential:

1. San Antonio +10.3

2. Miami +9.9

3. Indiana +8.2

4. Oklahoma City +8.0

5. Portland +6.7

6. Houston +5.8

7. LA Clippers +5.5

8. Golden State +3.7

9. Phoenix +3.2

10. Denver +2.7

11. New Orleans +1.7

12. Minnesota +1.2

13. Dallas +0.9

14. Atlanta +0.8

15. Toronto +0.2

16. Detroit -1.5

17. Boston -1.6

18. Chicago -1.9

19. Washington -2.3

20. Orlando -2.7

20. LA Lakers -2.7

22. New York -3.0

23. Sacramento -3.1

23. Charlotte -3.1

25. Brooklyn -3.6

26. Memphis -5.2

27. Cleveland -6.4

28. Philadelphia -8.6

29. Milwaukee -10.6

30. Utah -10.9

So there you have it. The Thunder is looking good. Third in the league in home/road breakdown. First in RPI. Sixth in strength of schedule. Fourth in defensive efficiency. Fifth in offensive efficiency. Fourth in point differential.

The Thunder is right there with the best teams in the league.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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