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Nylon Calculus: Age-related comparisons for every NBA playoff team

Last year in this space, we introduced a metric called Wins Above Age-Derived Expectation, or WAADE. It measures exactly what it sounds like: how many more wins an NBA team actually gets than you would have expected them to based on their minutes-weighted age.

In introducing the metric, we highlighted several teams that stood out for one reason or another, such as the 76ers and Celtics being wildly ahead of schedule, the Cavaliers being on their last legs, and more.

This year, we’re going to do the same thing, but instead of just finding interesting teams, we’re trying to find historical analogues for all 16 of this year’s playoff teams. Without further ado …

Wins Above Age-Derived Expectation

Milwaukee Bucks

Age: 26.9 | Wins: 60 | WAADE: 18.83

Analogue: 1991 Bulls (19.83 WAADE), 2002 Kings (19.45)

Well, this should make Bucks fans pretty happy. The team’s closest comp is the 1991 Bulls, otherwise known as the first championship team of the Michael Jordan era. Those Bulls won 61 games in what was Phil Jackson’s second season as the coach, and Jordan had the best shooting season of his career, led the league in scoring, and won MVP. It was a couple of years post-breakout for Scottie Pippen, but he raised his scoring, rebounding, and assist averages that season despite playing fewer minutes. The Bulls had the best offense and seventh-best defense in the league in 1991, and ranked first in SRS, just like these Bucks. They romped through the playoffs and lost only two games on their way to their first title. The 2002 Kings also won 61 games, ranking third in offense, sixth in defense, and first in SRS. They got jobbed in the Western Conference Finals.

Toronto Raptors

Age: 27.3 | Wins: 58 | WAADE: 15.33

Analogue: 2004 Spurs (14.33), 2009 Magic (16.33)

2004 was just before Tony Parker became a full-fledged All-Star, when he was right on the brink of putting it all together and becoming truly scary. The Spurs still had Tim Duncan at the peak of his powers, Manu Ginobili was already a force, and vets like Bruce Bowen, Rasho Nesterovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Malik Rose, and Robert Horry rounded out the crew. Kawhi Leonard is the Duncan figure here, while Pascal Siakam is Parker, Kyle Lowry is Manu, and everybody else is everybody else. That Spurs team got upset in the second round, though, so perhaps Raptors fans would prefer being comped to the 2009 Magic, who at least went to the Finals behind Dwight Howard and a Stan Van Gundy offense that essentially foreshadowed everything we see in the league today.

Philadelphia 76ers

Age: 26.4 | Wins: 51 | WAADE: 11.70

Analogue: 2014 Raptors (11.70)

I love this comparison because the 2014 version of the Raptors was the one that traded Rudy Gay with the intention of tanking but accidentally became really, really good, while the Sixers tanked four years and made a bunch of trades in order to get much better … and those two teams wound up looking very similar in their statistical profiles. Those Raptors ranked 10th on both offense and defense and 12th in SRS, while the Sixers checked in at 11th in scoring, 8th in point prevention, and 11th in SRS. Like the first-run Raptors, they did not have much time to really jell before this playoff run, and they play the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the postseason. Those Raps lost to the old-ass Nets with Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, but that was the beginning of that Brooklyn team’s downfall. and the start of Toronto’s relative upswing.

Boston Celtics

Age: 25.7 | Wins: 49 | WAADE: 12.32

Analogue: 2013 Pacers (12.32)

Indiana ended up going to the conference finals in 2013 behind the peak version of Roy Hibbert, with Paul George, George Hill, David West, and Lance Stephenson rounding out the rotation. They ultimately fell to the Heat before reaching the Finals, because Hibbert just couldn’t deal with being stretched out to the perimeter by Chris Bosh. Al Horford brings the best of both players, while the Celtics bring a lot of the same defensive attributes those great Pacer teams had, with the added plus that, ya know, they have Kyrie Irving. I do feel like it’s worth noting that after this season, the Pacers took that infamous photoshoot the next year, and promptly fell apart. Just saying.

Indiana Pacers

Age: 27.0 | Wins: 48 | WAADE: 6.45

Analogue: 2003 Nets (6.33), 2006 Clippers (6.20)

The 2006 Clippers comparison works better for this team because I like to imagine Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis as a bizarro version of Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, with Bojan Bogdanovic as a combination of Cuttino Mobley and Corey Maggette, and Darren Collison as Sam Cassell. I think that works really well. It’s tough to come up with a team that fits the Pacers’ profile of having lost their best player mid-season and then kept on trucking anyway, but these two squads were both pretty good, and the Nets even went to the Finals in what was then a decrepit Eastern Conference.

Brooklyn Nets

Age: 25.4 | Wins: 42 | WAADE: 6.45

Analogue: 2004 Nuggets (6.70), 2009 Heat (6.70)

Nobody really expected the Nuggets to go to the playoffs in 2004. They’d finished 17-65 the season before, after all. They added Carmelo Anthony in the draft, though, and Melo plus competent veterans up and down the roster was enough to break into the postseason bracket. The Nets didn’t draft anyone as good as young Melo this past year, but D’Angelo Russell’s breakout served a similar function for this team, and guys like Joe Harris, DeMarre Carroll, Rodions Kurucs, Jarrett Allen, Jared Dudley, Spencer Dinwiddie, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Caris LeVert all fit the mold of the kind of guys Denver had around Melo: Andre Miller, Nene, Voshon Leonard, Marcus Camby, Earl Boykins, Jon Barry, Birdman, etc. That Denver team would go on to make the playoffs every season until 2013, and the Nets feel like they could be set up for a similarly long run of sustained success.

Orlando Magic

Age: 25.7 | Wins: 42 | WAADE: 5.32

Analogue: 2017 Bucks (5.70)

It is absolutely hilarious that John Hammond built both of these teams, two years apart.

Detroit Pistons

Age: 26.9 | Wins: 41 | WAADE: -0.17

Analogue: 2017 Bulls (-0.17)

One of two teams in the playoffs with a negative WAADE, the Pistons make for a fun comp with the 2017 Bulls because, like that team, this one makes no damn sense. I went deep on Blake Griffin’s terrific season earlier this week and he has carried the Pistons to this point, just as Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls a couple of years back. The Bulls nearly upset the Celtics in the first round that season before Rajon Rondo got injured. Something tells me we will not be seeing a repeat against the Bucks.

Golden State Warriors

Age: 28.4 | Wins: 57 | WAADE: 10.21

Analogue: 2010 Lakers (10.21)

So, this is my favorite comparison in the whole set. The 2010 Lakers won the title after cruising their way to 57 regular season wins. They’d lost the Finals two years prior (to Boston) and then beat the Magic the following year, and it looked all season like they were in for the rematch with the Celtics that everybody had missed out on the year before. We got the rematch, the Lakers won, and then the second mini-dynasty slowly started to disintegrate. These Warriors are, uh, a lot better than those Lakers and basically loafed their way to the No. 1 seed after winning back-to-back Finals, but this could be a similar last ride type of season for them with the widespread expectation that Kevin Durant will be playing elsewhere next season.

Denver Nuggets

Age: 24.9 | Wins: 54 | WAADE: 20.32

Analogue: 2018 Celtics  (22.07)

Go take a look at that chart again and you’ll see only one team anyone close to where the Nuggets fall. Their 20.32 WAADE led the NBA this season and ranks 28th out of 1,170 teams since 1977. Teams this young are almost never this good. Like these Nuggets, not many expected last year’s Celtics to go to the conference finals, though that was largely because they were missing two of what were supposed to be their three best players. With the Nuggets, it’s largely because they’re unproven; but then so were what remained of the Celtics last season. Nikola Jokic is better than anyone that team had but the supporting cast of young guys plus Paul Millsap is reminiscent of what Boston had last year.

Portland Trail Blazers

Age: 26.2 | Wins: 53 | WAADE: 14.45

Analogue: 2002 Nets (13.82), 2007 Jazz (13.57)

The 2002 Nets actually went to the Finals on the strength of a surprisingly excellent defense and the star performance of Jason Kidd. The 2007 Jazz went to the West finals on the backs of a Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer-led offense. In other words, the Blazers profile as a team that might be more dangerous than we think … but we can’t account in this analysis for their having lost Jusuf Nurkic, which is likely to kill their defense in later rounds when smarter opponents take advantage of Enes Kanter. If Dame and C.J. stay hot and Zach Collins solidifies that defense, though, the Blazers actually have a pretty nice bracket to advance through the West. (Until they play the Warriors, of course.)

Houston Rockets

Age: 29.2 | Wins: 53 | WAADE: 3.21

Analogue: 2011 Lakers (3.46), 2015 Spurs (2.96)

I didn’t do this on purpose, but the closest analogues for this Rockets team turn out to be a pair of one-year-past-their-best teams. The 2011 Lakers were coming off the aforementioned title and looked like one of the favorites once again, but they got bounced in the second round. The 2015 Spurs had just won their revenge title against the Heat, and they ended up losing to the Clippers in the first round. These Rockets barged their way back into contention through the sheer force of James Harden’s will but you still can’t help but feel that last year might have been their shot, and the WAADE comps reinforce that. (Even more so because their comp last year was the 2013 title-winning Heat team.)

Utah Jazz

Age: 27.3 | Wins: 50 | WAADE: 7.33

Analogue: 2000 76ers (7.08), 2011 Nuggets (7.33), 2012 Clippers (7.02)

The 2000 version of the Sixers was the year-before-the-Finals-trip team that had *almost* perfected the “Allen Iverson does everything on offense and the rest of us just play defense” style. These Jazz could not play offense more differently than those Sixers, but they damn sure stop teams like Philly did back in the day, with Rudy Gobert as a much better version of Theo Ratliff and Dikembe Mutombo. They also have Donovan Mitchell to fill the Iverson role on offense, though they obviously move the ball around significantly more than AI’s teams ever did. The 2011 Nuggets squad that traded Carmelo mid-season is a bit of an add fit for the Jazz, as are the lockout-season Clippers, but the overall numbers are strikingly similar.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Age: 25.7 | Wins: 49 | WAADE: 12.32 

Analogue: 2013 Pacers (12.32)

You might have noticed above that the Celtics and Thunder have the exact same comp. They both had a minutes-weighted age of 25.7 years old and they both won 49 games so they both wound up with a 12.32 WAADE. So did the 2013 Pacers. The exact same figures. This OKC team clearly has conference finals talent in its top trio, but they struggle to put things together on a consistent basis and don’t have the same quality depth. They’re also working from the bottom of the bracket here, which works against them.

San Antonio Spurs

Age: 28.8 | Wins: 48 | WAADE: -0.29

Analogue: 1995 Rockets (-0.17), 2002 Blazers (-0.04)

The Spurs are our other team with a negative WAADE. The 1995 Rockets actually won the Finals after finishing only 47-35 and third in their own division. They Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the mid-to-late stages of their respective careers, though, and they got contributions from a bunch of very Pop-esque veterans and young guys up and down the roster. The fact that the Jail Blazers come up as one of the top statistical comps for this Spurs team, though, is just *chef’s kiss.* It’s truly wonderful.

LA Clippers

Age: 27.2 | Wins: 48 | WAADE: 5.70

Analogue: 2005 Kings (5.83), 2018 Thunder (5.33)

The 2005 Kings did not trade arguably their best player midseason like these Clippers did, but they did have a whole bunch of guys miss time due to injury, which forced them to depend on a ridiculously long list of guys throughout the year. The Clippers had to do that, too, but that was because of the trades they made. Still, they made the playoffs, and like the 2005 Kings they will presumably exit in the first round. (That happened with the 2018 Thunder, too, but they were a much more disappointing squad than this one.)

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