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I like the idea of an underdog team beating all odds, standing in the face of the giant and winning an unprecedented victory. I like teams that share the ball, make the extra pass, aren’t concerned with stats — or anything — but the win. I also love the idea of a team with a few guys you haven’t heard of making a run in the playoffs. It’s why most of us, whether college basketball fans or not, will always watch March Madness. It’s sort of a place where anything could happen.
Now, as an NBA guy, part of me wants to carry over that “anything could happen” mentality to the next level. Part of me wants to know if Philadelphia is possibly for real.
But then reality sets in, and I’m wondering why it hasn’t set in for more people. Folks are going crazy for the Sixers right now, but what is the end game? Will they realistically go further than the second round of the playoffs? Are there those out there who think they will go to the Finals? Maybe I have no earnestness left in my bones, but when it comes down to it, I only care about who can win a championship. It’s why I have such a hard time even watching Magic games this year. It’s not because I hate them, it’s because I have to have the glimmer of hope that a team could make a serious run at a ring. Without that glimmer, it’s pretty hard to enjoy myself.
So when I hear the rabble-rousers stirring things up about how good Philly is, how deep their bench is, how they have the best 6-7-8 guys in the league, and how amazing that is, I tend to think, “Cool. They still probably can’t win a championship.”
Now, for those of you who might still be in “anything could happen” mode. It’s possible but unlikely. I defer to Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim, authors of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won, to show you what I mean.
A team with no starting all-star on the roster has virtually no chance — precisely, it’s 0.9 percent — of winning the NBA championship. More than 85 percent of NBA finals involve a superstar player and more than 90 percent of NBA titles belong to a team with a superstar. [...]
One first-team all-star on the roster yields a 7.1 percent chance of winning a championship and a 16 percent chance of making it to the finals. A team fortunate to have two first-team all-star players stands a 25 percent chance of winning a championship and a 37 percent chance of making the finals. On the rare occasion when a team was somehow able to attract three first-team all-stars, it won a championship 39 percent of the time and made the finals 77 percent of the time.
The authors aren’t talking about “general” All-Star considerations either. They are talking about first team All-Stars (the book interprets this as a starter), top five MVP picks, or top five salaries. Put differently, the authors aren’t allowing for just any of our favorite players to be labeled All-Stars. This is so you can’t sit back and say, “wait, Iguodola is an All-Star! He’s so good!” He wouldn’t make the cut according to this rubric since he can only be selected as a reserve and wouldn’t be considered a first team All-Star.
So what does all of this mean? Not a whole lot, to be honest. It’s interesting, though, to consider why we get so excited when a team starts playing really well. I for one always look at the end game. When a team starts to heat up, I wonder if they are really championship contenders. For that, we use stats and look to history. In the case of Chicago — they indeed have a first-team All-Star in Derrick Rose. Miami? They have two first-team All-Stars in LeBron and Wade (likely should have been three with Bosh). Hell, even Orlando would have a better chance of winning the championship if they could get into the playoffs.
So forgive me if I don’t jump up and down with you in praise of the Sixers. They are fun to watch, they are young, they are exciting, but their odds of winning a championship are extremely low. You might disagree, but I go by the numbers when I say that, especially when I’m dealing with a team that does not have a first-team All-Star.
Nate Drexler is a contributing writer for Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.