Like many high level Reports at Quest for the Ring (QFTR), playoff previews are a formatted type of Report. Formatted reports have a pre-set format and there is little or no custom commentary included. The whole idea of formatted reports is to provide a very large amount of important information very efficiently. The carefully planned and long evolved and perfected formatting eliminates the need for time-consuming custom text reporting in contexts where there is really no need for it. But to fully understand a formatted Report you need to be familiar with the User Guide for it.
In contrast to formatted reports, QFTR breaks new ground in general and reveals its latest discoveries about basketball in particular in free form (non-formatted) text reports. While formatted posts are "on the reservation", non-formatted text reports are where QFTR "goes off the reservation". Both types of reports are essential; having just one type without the other type would reduce the value of QFTR by MORE than half.
In Playoff Preview Reports (PPRs) Excel Team Grids are used for quick and easy comparisons between teams. Since Excel is ultimately a sophisticated way to format information, PPRs are technically one of the very most intensely formatted Reports in the entire QFTR arsenal of formatted Reports.
Team Grids on Excel are also actually the best foundational tool for managing a basketball team. For example, team grids allow managers, coaches, or anyone else to consider changes in players and/or in playing times that would improve the chances of winning playoff series and regular season games.
Partly because no one is perfect, partly because relatively incompetent coaches are all too common, and partly because basketball (like many things) is more complicated than most people think it is, coaching errors are commonplace. Team Grids on Excel allow for quick flagging of coaching errors, some of which can be big enough to cost a team a playoff series or as many as a dozen regular season wins.
We now proceed to detailed information about the content appearing in Team Playoff Previews in the Excel format.
============ SECTION ONE (AT THE TOP) OF PLAYOFF PREVIEW REPORTS USING EXCEL: HEAD TO HEAD COMPARISONS ============
Using Real Player Ratings (RPRs) Section One allows for quick and easy comparison of players by position. You can compare specific players for any position. For example, you can see which team has the better starting point guard. You can very easily and quickly see which team has the better second squad small forward. And so on and so forth for each of the five positions and each of the two squads.
Many young and some not so young basketball fans spend time arguing about who is the better player between two playoff starters at the same position. At QFTR we scientifically and accurately inform you of who was actually better in the current year.
SQUAD AVERAGES AND OVERALL TEAM AVERAGES
One of the most important things to observe in the Head to Head Comparison area (Section One) are the squad Real Player Rating (RPR) averages. Carefully comparing the squad averages is very important and if you skip this you really will not be able to properly preview a playoff series.
When you compare squad averages, you are essentially comparing the starters as a whole and the non-starters as a whole of the two teams. Since as everyone knows basketball is partly a team game and has stronger team dynamics at work than in many other sports, when the starters of one team are substantially better than the starters of the other team, this will often mean the advantaged team will likely win the series by virtue of that fact alone.
But keep in mind a smart coach may possibly have graduated one or two second squad players to starter for the playoffs. This will not show up on the team grids in the Report. Also, keep in mind that in the Report, players are placed into squads according to minutes played. So when a team intentionally has the best player at a position come in late in the first quarter "from off the bench" that player may be more of a second squad player out on the court even though he is shown as a first squad player in the Playoff Preview.
By looking at the squad averages you can see what the average rating of the players in that squad is for each team. By comparing the first squad with the second squad, you can see how much of a drop off there is between them. Since most of the players in the first squad are starters, this is approximately equivalent to comparing the starters and the bench. The bigger the drop off, the more minutes the starters should be playing.
TEAM REAL PLAYER RATING AVERAGES
At the very bottom of Section One you will see a row for “Team Average” and on that row you will find the Team Real Player Rating Average (TRPRA) for each of the two teams.
TRPPA is two times the first squad average plus the second squad average divided by three. In other words, it is a weighted average of the top two squads with the first squad counted twice and the second squad counted once, which roughly corresponds to typical playing time patterns. Players in the third squad (also known as "the reserves") the injured players, and the benched players are not counted in the team average.
You can put substantial stock but not an unlimited amount of stock in the team average number.
One weakness of TRPPA is that even among later round playoff teams there are still often going to be in the second squad a player with a very low rating from time to time. How much such players play in the playoffs is dependent on how strapped the team is at the position and on how dumb the coaching is.
Another weakness in the team real player rating average concept that sometimes can be significant is that as already indicated third squad ratings are completely ignored for the Team Real Player Rating Averages. But third squad players sometimes get fairly substantial playing time because sometimes they are fairly good players.
Despite the shortcomings, TRPRA very often correctly signals which team is going to win the series. TRPRA is likely to predict the winner when the difference between the two teams is .050 or more and it is especially likely to correctly predict the winner when the difference is .100 or more. QFTR uses TRPPA (along with other information of course) to help project which team will win playoff series.
TYPICAL POSITION, SQUAD AND TEAM REAL PLAYER RATING AVERAGES FOR THE VERY BEST TEAMS
The following discussion is limited to the very best teams, specifically the four final teams only (the teams in the Conference finals). Position, Squad and Team averages for non-playoff teams and for teams eliminated in the first and second rounds are beyond the scope of this User Guide.
POSITION AVERAGES FOR 4 CONFERENCE FINAL TEAMS
Point Guard .914
Shooting Guard .774
Small Forward .786
Power Forward .872
SQUAD AVERAGES FOR 4 CONFERENCE FINAL TEAMS
1st Squad .853
2nd Squad .708
TEAM REAL PLAYER RATING AVERAGES FOR 4 CONFERENCE FINAL TEAMS
Final Four Teams .805
Teams in the NBA Championship .868
TEAMS IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Many Championship teams will have at least one position where the average RPR of the two players who play it the most is greater than .950. Championship teams will sometimes feature two positions where the average of the top two players is greater than .900 with the most common combos being point guard and either center or power forward. At the low end, Championship teams will very seldom have any position where the best two players average below .700.
But some mere playoff teams will have at least one position where the average of the top two players at the position is a little less than .700. The most common positions for this situation would be small forward and shooting guard. As you might expect, playoff teams that have even one position where the top two players who play it average less than .700 are generally the ones eliminated in the early rounds.
NBA OVERALL (ALL TEAMS) REAL PLAYER RATING EVALUATION SCALE
For comparison purposes this Guide now shows the overall Real Player Rating evaluation scale for ALL NBA players and ALL teams. This reminds you that many of the players on the four conference final teams are way above average players:
SCALE FOR REGULAR SEASON REAL PLAYER RATINGS
Perfect Player for all Practical Purposes / Major Historic Super Star 1.100 and more
Historic Super Star 1.000 1.099
Super Star 0.900 0.999
A Star Player / A well above normal starter 0.820 0.899
Very Good Player / A solid starter 0.760 0.819
Major Role Player / Good enough to start 0.700 0.759
Good Role Player / Often a good 6th man, can possibly start 0.640 0.699
Satisfactory Role Player / Generally should not start 0.580 0.639
Marginal Role Player / Should not start except in an emergency 0.520 0.579
Poor Player / Should never start 0.460 0.519
Very Poor Player 0.400 0.459
Extremely Poor Player 0.399 and less
AVERAGE RATINGS BY POSITION
Not all positions are created equal. In pro basketball, point guard and center are the most important positions, power forward is in the middle, and small forward and shooting guard are the least important. (Some teams will have a different pattern.) The following are good estimates for average ratings by position among all NBA players who play 300 minutes or more. There are very few small forwards and shooting guards who don't fit at other positions who are superstars. Most superstars are players who can play point guard, power forward, or center.
Point Guard .750
Shooting Guard .635
Small Forward .645
Power Forward .715
All Positions / All Players (NBA Overall Average) .700
To quickly and fairly compare two players who play different positions, convert their Ratings as follows:
Point Guards: Subtract .050; for example, .700 becomes .650
Shooting Guards: Add .065; for example, .700 becomes .765
Small Forwards: Add .055; for example, .700 becomes .755
Power Forwards: Subtract .015; for example, .700 becomes .685
Centers: Subtract .055; for example, .700 becomes .645
TEAMS SHOULD AVOID PLAYING LOW RATING PLAYERS IN THE PLAYOFFS
Often, especially on the best coached teams and on the primary contenders, a second squad player with a relatively low rating will be strategically benched during the playoffs. Players at the nearest position can fill in at the position.
In general, centers and point guards with ratings below .650 should play sparingly in the playoffs or not at all. Power forwards with ratings below .615 should play sparingly or not at all in the playoffs. Small forwards and shooting guards with ratings below .545 and .535 respectively should play sparingly or not at all in the playoffs.
============ SECTION TWO (LOWER SECTION) OF PLAYOFF PREVIEWS USING EXCEL: TEAM GRIDS ============
FIRST SQUAD, SECOND SQUAD, AND RESERVES
A depth chart shows you team policy regarding who starts and who are the backups and in what order for the five positions. The team grid is based on the depth chart style. However, players (other than players acquired during the season from trades; see below regarding them) are placed into first squad, second squad, and third squad according to minutes played, not according to the latest ESPN or any other depth chart, or in other words not according to anyone's estimation of what the team policy is.
Instead of using depth charts, whoever has played the most minutes at a position is shown in the “1st Squad” whether or not that player starts at the position. Whoever has played the second most minutes at a position is shown in the "2nd Squad" regardless of that player's position on any depth chart. Whoever has played the third most minutes at a position is shown in the "Reserves" (which could have been labelled "3rd Squad" instead).
There is a notable exception to the rule for who goes in which squad. If a player has been acquired during the season and he is listed as the starter on the ESPN depth chart, he will be shown as first squad. Similarly, if a player acquired during the season is shown as the first backup to the starter in the depth chart he will be shown as second squad regardless of minutes. In other words, the depth chart prevails over minutes in the case of players acquired by trade during the season. This makes sense because minutes played for the prior team could not reasonably be counted for the current team.
PLAYERS WHO MOST LIKELY WILL NOT BE PLAYING
On a Team Grid, just to the right of the “3rd Squad" column you see two grey areas. From left to right the first one is for players who are most likely or definitely out for much or for all of the series for some reason, usually due to injury.
The rating for players who will not be played is shown as long as the player has played at least 300 minutes in either the current year or in the previous year. If the injured player didn't play at least 300 minutes in either of those years, then "none" will be shown for the rating for both years. Such players most likely would not play even if they were available to play.
The second grey shaded area to the right is for players who could play but almost certainly will not play because they played fewer than 300 minutes during the regular season. The 300 minutes threshold is the minimum needed for a hidden defending adjustment and therefore is the minimum needed for a player to get a Real Player Rating. It also is being used here as the threshold for determining whether a player was essentially benched for the season. 300 minutes is less than four minutes a game, which is a very good dividing line for saying whether a player was benched for the season or not. You can get close to 300 minutes with just garbage time, so if you don't play at least 300 minutes, you are basically benched.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED BY TRADE
We have already described how players acquired by trade are placed with respect to what squad they are in. Here we discuss how we determine what rating to show for them.
Players acquired by trade during the season who have played at least 300 minutes for their new team (during the regular season) are treated on the grid as if they were on the team the entire season. The rating you see for them is for their new, current team minutes. The previous team rating is considered to be irrelevant for the grid.
Players acquired by trade during the season who have NOT played at least 300 minutes for their new team are shown as "more or less benched" if they did play at least 300 minutes for the previous team this season but not at least 300 minutes for the new, current team. The rating you see for them in the "more or less benched" column would have to be and is their rating on their previous team this season.
If the player acquired by trade has never played at least 300 minutes for any team, he is treated like any other player who has never played 300 minutes or more. How those players are shown on the Team Grids immediately follows.
PLAYERS WHO HAVE NEVER PLAYED AT LEAST 300 MINUTES IN ANY SEASON
These players will be listed in the "More or Less Benched for the Season" column. No rating can be computed for them for any year so "none" is shown for prior year rating. Rookies who didn't get to play much in their first years are commonly shown this way. Other than garbage time, it is extraordinarily unlikely that any such players will play in any playoff game in the current year.
In the "More or less Benched" area, the Real Player Rating that is shown is the one from the most recent year the player played at least 300 minutes. What year that was is shown right next to their rating. Sometimes you can spot a player who should have played more than 300 minutes in this area. Generally, players in the More or Less Benched area of the Team Grid will not be playing in any playoff game except perhaps in garbage time.
COMPARING TEAMS BY POSITION
The position averages are shown ONLY on the Team Grids (in Section Two) of the Playoff Preview Report. They are not really relevant for the head to head comparison area (Section One). The header abbreviation used on the grids for the position average column is "POS AVGS".
By looking at position averages in Section Two you can compare the two teams position by position. For each position, only the ratings of the first squad and of the second squad player are considered for the position average. And the rating of the first squad player at each position counts twice as much as the rating of the second squad player at each position. In other words, for each position the position average is two times the rating of the first squad player plus the rating of the second squad player divided by three.
Reserves (third squad) players generally do not play and so their ratings are ignored for the position calculations.
WHAT IF THERE WAS ONLY ONE PLAYER WHO PLAYED AT LEAST 300 MINUTES AT A POSITION?
The position average calculation assumes that there were at least two players who played at least 300 minutes at each position, one in the first squad and one in the second squad. If there is only one player who played 300 minutes or more at a position (who is in the first squad) there is a special rule. For the second player at the position, 75% of that single player's rating is considered to be the rating for the player at that position in the second squad. The 25% reduction is justified because of the fact that one or more players at other positions will have to fill out the position that has only one player. Those other position players will obviously generally not be as valuable at the position as players dedicated to that position are.
What if there isn't much fill-in? If the single player consumes most of the playing time because he is a superstar, the 25% reduction is still justified because when any player plays most of a game, he is often not as good late in the game due to not being rested enough.