This NBA season has revealed contenders, just like any other. But the field might be more open than any year in recent memory.
Since the beginning of December, we’ve already seen four different teams hold the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for at least six days — the Suns, Pelicans, Grizzlies and now the Denver Nuggets since Dec. 20. Just two teams, the Bucks and Celtics, have held the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference over the same span, but they’ve been trailed by the Nets who were one of the hottest teams in the NBA before Kevin Durant went down with an injury.
The contenders are separating themselves from the pack but, to this point, they haven’t done much to separate themselves from each other.
One of the more useful measures of team strength and predictors of future performance is SRS, strength-of-schedule adjusted point differential. If the season ended today, it would be the first time since 1978-79 that we didn’t have a single team finish with an SRS of plus-6.0 or higher. This may change between now and the end of the season but right now we’re looking at a field of contenders that seems unusually weak (in a historic context) and unusually tightly bunched.
Why haven’t we seen a single elite team emerge this NBA season?
It’s by no means unprecedented for a team with a regular-season SRS under 6 to win the title — the Warriors last year, the Bucks in 2021, the Raptors in 2019 and the 2016 Cavaliers all had an SRS between 5 and 6. But those teams were all at least somewhat unexpected champions when the playoffs began, and the fact that the favorites this season may be at that level perhaps opens the door for an even more unexpected champion.
The Boston Celtics are the only team with an SRS above 5 this season (they’re currently at 5.55). Three more teams — Cavaliers (4.89), Grizzlies (4.85) and Pelicans (4.25) are above 4.00. The last teams to win a title with a regular-season SRS of less than 5.00 were the 2010-11 Mavs and the 2009-10 Lakers and only eight teams in the 3-point era have accomplished it. Just three — the 2005-06 Heat, 2000-01 Lakers, and the 1994-95 Rockets have done it with a regular-season under 4.00 SRS.
You can read all of that information one of three ways. The first is that we’re just too far from the end of the season to really measure how team strength metrics will finish. The second is that the Boston Celtics might have a much bigger edge over the rest of the field than we’re giving them credit for. The third, and my choice, is that we could be in store for a historically chaotic and exciting finish to the regular season and playoffs.
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Anthony Davis and Steph Curry could be back soon
The absences of Steph Curry and Anthony Davis spelled trouble for the Lakers and Warriors but both could be back on the court soon. Here’s what you need to know:
- When will Anthony Davis be back? Davis is reportedly”ramp up” for his return, which includes aquatic workouts and treadmill work. This is a positive sign after it was reported he was out indefinitely and he know he could be back on the court in a few weeks.
- When will Steph Curry be back? Curry is expected to be back in the lineup tonight against the Phoenix Suns.
- How have the Lakers survived without Davis? The Lakers have gone 7-6 without Davis and benefited from strong performances from Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schroder, among others.
- How have the Warriors survived without Curry? The Warriors have gone 6-5 without Curry. They struggled initially but ripped off a five-game winning streak at one point during his absence.