I made an offhand remark on the radio the other day that the Thunder this season wasn’t as good as the Thunder last season. At least going into the playoffs. I hadn’t really researched the numbers on that much, but if you remember, the Thunder was historically dominant last season. Before Russell Westbrook’s injury, it seemed clear that the Thunder was the NBA’s best team. No way can we say that this season.
Anyway, my friend Jon Hamm, whom you’ve gotten to know as our economics expert regarding the NBA collective bargaining agreement, heard what I said and ran some numbers. Here’s what he came up with on the quick:
“I thought you made an excellent point yesterday when you opined that last season’s Thunder team was better than this season’s. It’s easy to forget just how good the Thunder was in 2012-13, undoubtedly due in large part to how the season ended.
“If we take a moment and review the 2012-13 team, there’s one stat in particular that stands out: Margin of Victory. Simply, it is total points scored minus total points allowed, divided by games played. The 2012-13 team posted a MOV of 9.21. This was written about locally and nationally throughout the season due to its impressiveness. While no single stat can paint an accurate or complete picture, there is some historical significance with MOV’s in that territory.
“Six teams in NBA history posted MOV’s of 9.3 and above and have championship banners hung as evidence of their greatness. Think of the 86-87 Lakers or the 85-86 Celtics. That’s the kind of company that last season’s Thunder squad was keeping. It’s all the more reason why I’ll always wonder what could have been. And, in my humble opinion, the Thunder pulled off that feat last season with a bench that is not as deep as the 2013-14 version.
“Through 81 games this season, the Thunder have a MOV of 6.41. That number ranks behind the Spurs at 7.98 and the Clippers at 7.14. So Oklahoma City’s MOV is still very good for this season. But it’s a far cry from what last season’s team achieved. The obvious thing to note, of course, is injuries. The Thunder have had their normal starting five intact for only 30 games so far this season. If there’s any solace, in those 30 games the Thunder’s MOV is 7.90. That’s a bit more comforting. But it still pales in comparison to the squad of yesteryear.”
The margin of victory is a good stat, though it can have its pitfalls. A 41-point win over New Orleans and a one-point win over the Spurs is treated the same as two 21-point wins over the same two teams. And they’re not equal. But over the course of 82 games, margin of victory does become quite revealing. It does show dominance. And it even can discriminate against dominating teams, since it counts garbage-time points the same as first-quarter points, and often, at least in the Thunder’s case, its final six minutes of blowout victories are a total mess.
But this Thunder team is not as strong as the Thunder team of a year ago. Not in record. Not in scoring dominance. And those are the two most important statistical items. Yet this team has Russell Westbrook healthy. That’s an excellent place to start.