Monday, October 12, 2015

21st Century NBA Basketball Prediction Program - Trouble in Paradise (and random coaching thoughts)

  Now that I’ve gotten my two big chess tournaments and my 55th birthday out of the way I have turned my attention back to my NBA prediction program which has lain dormant since August. When I last left my program I found two formulas that gave a 63% result rate on the 2014 season which would not only be the stuff of legends but easily monetizable. I was distrustful of the abnormally high success rate so I loaded the 2013-2014 schedule, results, and lines in my database and ran my formulas against the new data.

  My formulas that were so successful for the 2014 season were worse than awful for the 2013 season and scored 40% for both seasons. This unwelcome turn of events leaves me searching for a formula that will work for both seasons. If I can’t find one I’ll have to research what made the two seasons different and as the 2015 season takes shape decide on a formula to use. I could add more seasons of scores and betting lines to my database to determine if the 2013 season is an outlier but that wouldn’t protect me from the possibility of this upcoming season being an outlier also.

  As I test various formulas the NBA season is less than three weeks away. I’ve loaded the 2015-2016 schedule into my database and will have to update the point spreads daily as the season goes along. I thought I might have been busy this week watching the Yankees in the baseball playoffs but there was only one game to watch since the Houston Astros of all teams came into Yankee Stadium without a playoff win in a decade and came out with a 3-0 win and moved on to play the Kansas City Royals in the divisional series. It was another lost season for the Yankees. I had some high hopes in late July when the Yankees had a seven game lead in their division with a 57-42 record. My concerns about the age of the starting lineup proved justified as the team went into a collective hitting slump in September. On September 7th the Yankees were 18 games over .500 at 77-59 an only a half game behind the resurgent Blue Jays and their trading deadline acquisitions Troy Tutowitzki and David Price only to collapse with a 10-16 record down the stretch and limp into the playoffs with a mediocre 87-75 record.

  This is the third year in a row the Yankees have failed to win their division which is the longest streak in 20 years and this is the 6th year in a row without a World Series appearance which is the third longest streak since 1923. Despite this record of mediocrity manager Joe Girardi’s job is safe. General Manager Brian Cashman said last week about Girardi (here is the story) "He is signed for two more years and managed the team to the playoffs. It’s not his fault we didn’t hit. He managed a perfect playoff game."

  I suppose Cashman is right. After all the Yankees were shut out by 20 game winner Dallas Keuchel and when you go up against 20 game winners these things can happen. My question is if Girardi managed a ‘perfect playoff game’ and is such a great manager doesn’t that mean there is something wrong with the talent on the Yankees? Where are the Yankees' 20 game winners? They haven’t had one since C.C. Sabathia (who got so drunk two weekends ago that he had to remove himself from the Yankees’ postseason roster in order to check into rehab) in 2010. Keuchel is 27 years old and was drafted by the Astros in the 7th round of the 2009 draft. It is not like he was a top draft pick yet the Astros were able to develop him into a 20 game winner. I don’t see the Yankees farm system developing 20 game winners and there doesn’t seem to be any superstar every day players either. Under Cashman the Yankees occasionally have developed a relief pitcher but except for Robinson Cano there haven’t been any perennial all-star starting pitchers or everyday players coming from the farm system which leaves the team overspending on mediocre veterans that wear out at the end of the season. I cannot understand how the Yankee ownership can tolerate the poor return on the investment of a huge payroll when low-budget teams like the Royals, Rangers, and crosstown Mets are winning their divisions and still in the playoffs.

  One NBA team that is refusing to settle for mediocrity is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Under the leadership of coach Scott Brooks and superstar players Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden the Thunder went to the NBA Finals in 2012 which they lost to the Miami Heat in five games. The team decided they would not go over the salary cap to keep James Harden and traded him to the Houston Rockets for some role players that never made an impact on the team. In the 2012-13 season, Westbrook was hurt in the playoffs the Thunder fell to the Grizzlies in the second round. In 2013-2014 the team fell to the eventual champion Spurs in the Western Conference finals. Last season saw Durant miss most of the season with a foot injury and the team missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons despite a 45-37 record.

  While the Yankees can make the playoffs for one game in three seasons and management gets contract extensions the Thunder decided to make a coaching change and Brooks found himself out of a job. A large part of the reason for the coaching change was the Thunder are in a ‘win now’ mode that is bordering on desperation. Durant is a free agent after this season with Westbrook following next year and there is no guarantee that these two superstars won’t leave the Thunder to play in larger markets to boost their profile and chase the championship they haven’t been able to obtain in Oklahoma City.

  I would have expected the Thunder to get a coach with a proven professional track record or a hot assistant coach but they instead lured longtime Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan from the college ranks to take his first professional coaching position. Donovan won two national championships with the Gators but very few college coaches find success in the professional ranks. Former Butler coach Brad Stevens has gotten favorable reviews for leading the moribund Boston Celtics to the playoffs in his second season but top college coaches Rick Pitino and John Calipari were busts that left the Celtics and Nets (respectively) in shambles after taking over their operations.

  I think Donovan will not follow his mentor Pitino and fellow Pitino disciple Calipari into bust status and expect him to be highly successful as a pro coach. While Pitino and Calipari leveraged their college success into complete control of their teams, Donovan is the coach and only the coach so he can concentrate on coaching. When college coaches transition to the pros they tend to have trouble with the lack absolute authority they had over their college players. Donovan may have this problem but since he did have some pro experience in the 1980s as a very marginal player he should know that he can't treat pro athletes the same as his college players.

  Donovan is thought of as an offensive genius and the early quotes from Durant and Westbrook seem to be enthusiastic concerning the new offensive system. As much as I think Donovan will be successful if Durant and Westbrook are injured as much as they have been the past few years, the Thunder could miss the playoffs yet again and have a worse record than last year. But until then I’ll be keeping a special eye out for the Thunder this season.