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Title Time: Revealing Our Playoff Power Rankings and Who Our Model Projects Will Win it All

By: Stats Perform

The NBA playoffs are finally here.

The regular season extended into August with eight rounds of seeding games in the Orlando bubble and the Portland Trail Blazers won their play-in game over the Memphis Grizzlies. Now, we have our 16 teams for a long-awaited postseason that opened Monday with a four-game slate that did not disappoint.

The Milwaukee Bucks are the top seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Los Angeles Lakers lead the way in the West. But everything does not always go to script in the playoffs, with the Bucks on top last season, too, but losing out to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors – led by Kawhi Leonard, now of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Stats Perform is taking a shot at predicting what could be the most unpredictable playoffs we’ve ever seen. We’ve taken our offensive and defensive ratings for each team, factored in possession averages, opponent ratings and made adjustments for each team’s pace.

That data is used to simulate the playoff series, eventually leading to a projection on who might win the NBA Finals. For this postseason, we’ve removed any adjustment previously made to account for home-court advantage.

After running our model 10,000 times, here are our team power rankings heading into the postseason:

RankTeamPlayoff SeedBubble RecordTitle Chances (%)
1Bucks1 (East)3-529.6
2Clippers2 (West)5-318.0
3Raptors2 (East)7-113.6
4Celtics3 (East)5-313.4
5Lakers1 (West)3-58.5
6Rockets4 (West)4-44.2
7Mavericks7 (West)3-53.4
8Heat5 (East)3-52.7
9Thunder5 (West)4-41.9
10Nuggets3 (West)3-51.6
11Jazz6 (West)3-51.4
12Pacers4 (East)6-20.9
1376ers6 (East)4-40.6
14Blazers8 (West)7-20.3
15Nets7 (East)5-30.1
16Magic8 (East)3-50.1

After another outstanding regular season and with Giannis Antetokounmpo in their ranks, it may come as no surprise the Bucks are favorites to take the title. What might be slightly more unexpected is the distance by which Milwaukee is considered the frontrunners. Though the Bucks did not play well in the seeding games, they were already so far ahead of everyone else in the ratings that they managed to stay on top.

According to our model, the Bucks have a 29.6% chance of triumphing, winning 2,959 of the 10,000 simulations. The Clippers are next on the list and would win the championship in 18% of cases, while the Raptors’ title defense stands a 13.6% chance of being successful, just ahead of the Boston Celtics on 13.4%.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, George Hill and the Bucks top our playoff power rankings.

Partly because they’ve been playing well at the right time, the Blazers jumped the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic. Portland has won seven of nine in Orlando, all the while overcoming a 3.5-game deficit to grab the West’s eighth seed. Damian Lillard certainly enters the postseason on a roll, averaging a bubble-best 37.6 points to earn NBA Player of the Seeding Games.

On the flip side, the Lakers dropped to fifth in our power rankings following a poor showing in the seeding games. And Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, who survived a scare from the Utah Jazz in Game 1 on Monday, plummeted to 10th.

There are those in the media who believe LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers will simply rise to the occasion in the playoffs. But how a team is playing of late is something our model takes seriously. Regardless of their recent slump, the Lakers aren’t likely to get past the crosstown Clippers, according to the model.

Either way, that’s a Western Conference Finals we’d all love to see.


What if we ran the simulation just once instead of 10,000 times?

Well, in that scenario, the Bucks still came out on top, though it wasn’t easy. The Clippers jumped out to a seemingly commanding 3-1 advantage in the NBA Finals before Milwaukee rallied to win the last three games – including a 112-90 victory in Game 7.

Milwaukee brushed aside Joel Embiid and the surprising Philadelphia 76ers, who beat the odds to get past the Celtics and then stunned the Raptors in the East finals despite likely playing without Ben Simmons. The Clippers battered the rival Lakers 4-0 in the West finals, winning each game by more than 10 points.


Data modeling and analysis by Matt Scott; research support provided by Evan Boyd. 

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