The Playoffs so far:

In case you [somehow] didn’t notice I changed up the Top 8 images for each game. It probably seems obvious in hindsight but it makes sense to differentiate which team each performing player dribbles and shoots for.

You’re welcome.


Pacers 87 Raptors 98

ESPN Headline: Jonas Valanciunas has 23 points, 15 boards as Raptors tie series 1-1

It’s pretty hard to argue with that ESPN Headline… Valanciunas did in fact tally 23 points and 15 rebounds.

He was also the best player of the game in Game Two of the Pacers v. Raptors series (not to mention the best player of the night):


Lowry bounced back from an atrocious first game to finishing well in the second, though DeRozan was nearly as ineffective (only 10 points on 18 attempts). DeRozan was by far the worst player in the game, producing -5.5 (well into the negative range)… But he did not come close to the performance of a fellow All-Star in the next game…

Mavericks 85 Thunder 84

ESPN Headline: Mavericks rebound, hold off Thunder to even up series at 1-1

You’d think they could have come up with a more creative or descriptive headline than this. Here are eight (because, you know, Top 8):

  1. Dallas Point Guards (including Raymond Felton!) somehow outperform Westbrook
  2. Ibaka shines in wasted effort
  3. Westbrook takes more shots than scores points, still scores 19
  4. Durant and Westbrook both break personal records; Dallas breaks serve
  5. Dirk puts up 17, produces in the negative range
  6. Servant whiffs 26 times
  7. Durant’s off shooting night opens door for opportunistic Mavs team
  8. Dammit Durantula!

The thing that I in particular dislike about this headline, though, is the use of the word “rebound” when Dallas was in fact out-rebounded 45-54.


How about that?

The best player of the game was Serge Ibaka, following up his best player of Saturday overall, with a very solid line (12 points, 8 boards, 0 TOs). However the next two best players were PGs Raymond Felton and Devin Harris, remarkable for a number of reasons. If any PG were to be a top performer in a game you’d have to pick Russ, right? Not this time. Not even the coach killer (who started alongside Felton in the back court).

For his part Westbrook had a reasonable game, with 14 big rebounds (his personal best in a playoff game). Westbrook’s 19 points might be notable in another context, alongside the Servant’s 21… Except both of the OKC superstars had awful shooting nights. On the subject of personal highs, Durant had never missed twenty-six shots in a game before. As I quite like Durant I hope he doesn’t again (unless OKC meets the Cavs in the Finals).

This was a truly off night for a team with an actual shot at winning the title. I would love it if Ibaka proved to be OKC’s best player in the playoffs (as he has been the first couple of games). This game — and the Dallas / OKC series so far — really illustrate the validity of an “advanced stats” look at basketball. OKC did what you are supposed to do; by out-rebounding Dallas they got more possessions. However the cosmetically solid scoring totals (19 for Russ, 21 for Durant) really tell a tale of wasted possessions and opportunity. Westbrook was still a top performer on the strength of his career-best boards, but inefficient shooting and four TOs really hurt his line; on that note, Durant had seven turnovers.

Inefficient scoring + tons of leaked possessions out of your superstars and the underdog sub-50-win team can get one, by one.

Rockets 106 Warriors 115

ESPN Headline: Warriors win Game 2 vs. Rockets with Stephen Curry (ankle) on bench


Maybe the Warriors should look to rest Steph the rest of the first round? Houston seems completely over-matched, and the remaining GSW stars all seem like they can have their way with the Rockets. The push to 73 wins combined with Curry’s famously cotton candy lower body might be the opening [any other team] needs to win the title this year. There is no way GSW can win either of the next two series with Curry on the bench, but this might be a great opportunity to preserve his life total for the march to a back-to-back.

And by that, I mean let the man play! #AllIn #CavsCavsCavs

Monday’s Best: Jonas Valanciunas of the Raptors… Nice double-double in the bounce back win (hat tip to Ibaka of OKC in a losing effort)
Monday’s Worst: Kevin Durant of OKC, by a lot at -12

Back tomorrow.


The Top 8 is produced via Simple Models of Player Performance + Box Score data from

The Top 8 – 4/16/2016

Posted by Michael Flores | Sports

So the playoffs started yesterday…

And things are going to start to get interesting!

Pacers 100 Raptors 90

ESPN Headline: George, Pacers nab Game 1 road win vs. Raptors


Before the playoffs started I would have picked Charlotte-Miami as the most likely upset… But after the very first elimination game I remembered that the Raptors are playing.

A few weeks ago the Cavs were stumbling a bit and the Raptors were within spitting range of #1 in the East… But… The Raptors. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Cavs fell to second because if past performance is any indicator Toronto would have managed to drop the one-eight. The Raptors have had home court advantage each of the last two years and failed to clear the quarterfinals in either.

ESPN had it right this time; Paul George was the best player in the game.

The Raptors guards were absolutely atrocious. Lowry was eleven-on-thirteen with six (6!!!) turnovers. DeRozan had fourteen-on-nineteen; they combined for one trey in ten tries.

Rockets 78 Warriors 104

ESPN Headline: Curry shines in 1st half as Warriors rout Rockets


So this guy Steph Curry…

The league’s best player scored “only” 24 points but went five-for-seven from three and had the second-best game of the playoffs so far in only twenty minutes.

No surprise that Draymond Green had the second-best game [of the game], a solid double-double.

The 2016 Warriors might be the best team of all time, but I still think the Rockets have the power to make a game or three interesting. Dwight Howard and James Harden have both been the best at their relative positions… And Shooting Guard and Center are two positions where Golden State doesn’t have a stranglehold on matchup advantage.

But… blowout in Game One.

Celtics 101 Hawks 102

ESPN Headline: Hawks hold off Celtics’ rally to take Game 1


This was a weird game. The Celtics were sooooo bad in the first half… Then the Hawks were so bad in the second half?

All of one Hawk bench player put the ball into the hoop, which might help explain how close the game went.

The superior team is really not entirely clear here. The Celtics probably have the best coach in the East, and were the second-best team in the conference for most of the regular season. However the Hawks have the best three players in the head-to-head.

Same record and (basically) the same point differential, though. Smells like seven.

Mavericks 70 Thunder 108

ESPN Headline: OKC routs cold-shooting Mavs by 38 in Game 1


Wow what a roflstomp!

The major media chatter has been all about the Warriors and to a lesser degree the Spurs this year, but there are actually four teams in the West who have a legitimate shot at winning the title. All of the Clippers, Spurs, Warriors, and of course the Thunder have won over fifty games and own an elite big.

Serge Ibaka played the best game in eight teams on 4/16, going seven-for-eight with nine rebounds and no turnovers in only twenty-eight minutes. Also three blocks; because, you know, I-block-a.

On balance, Deron Williams managed to out-underperform both of Toronto’s starting guards. Minus-thirty-two in only twenty-two minutes? One-for-nine? Twice as many PFs as points? Not the coach killer’s best game.

Saturday’s Best: Steph Curry was great, Serge Ibaka better
Saturday’s Worst: Deron Williams ignominiously saves the Toronto backcourt

Back tomorrow.


The Top 8 is produced via Simple Models of Player Performance + Box Score data from

Jazz 114, Cavs 118

The Top 8 – Week Three

Posted by Michael Flores | Sports

“The Top 8” is an ongoing weekly column focused on the NBA… And more importantly my favorite NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers! For any and all installments, click here.

When we left the Cavs last week they were 5-1 and the best team in the East.

Week Three featured four games, and an ultimately imperfect record… But they’re still the best team in the East both by record (8-2) and differential (+7.2). At the time of this writing there are two teams with better differentials in the game, the still-unbeaten 11-0 Golden State Warriors and their monstrous +16.3 and the seemingly ageless San Antonio Spurs at +10.6; the Spurs, though, hold a slightly inferior 7-2 record.

Spoilers! The Cavs went 3-1 during Week Three, which isn’t too shabby… But I’m again a little concerned about the quality of competition. They faced the Pacers (6-4), Jazz (5-5), Knicks (5-6), and Bucks (5-5)… So no really distinguished teams yet.

Game Seven: Pacers at Cavs 11/08/15

ESPN Headline: James scores 29 despite bruised quad as Cavs beat Pacers

I guess James did in fact score 29 points… But it was on 23 shots; he was not even the leading scorer of the game. That honor went to Paul George with 32 (here’s to hoping George ends up awesome once again). Kevin Love was actually the monster of this game, scoring 21 points while pulling down 19 rebounds. Jeez! Besides those boards, KLove also had a game-high three blocks.

Outcome: Cavs by 4

The Top 8

Pacers 97, Cavs 101

Game Eight: Jazz at Cavs 11/10/15

ESPN Headline: James scores 31, sparks comeback as Cavaliers beat Jazz

LBJ did in fact score a game-high 31 points.


My God Mo Williams had an offensive game. 8-9 from the field and 9-10 from the charity stripe? That is some peak Dwayne Wade performance right there. The scary thing is that when Kyrie comes back he will — as would be logical for a max contract number one draft pick — re-ascend to his position in the starting lineup… Mo will probably be able to absolutely feast on opposing second teams!

I’m a little overall wary of the Cavs lineup though. Right now two of the five best Cavs are point guards (Mo and Delly). You have to figure one or both are going to sacrifice minutes to Kyrie (which is fine if Kyrie can return at All-Star level)… But! It’s not like minutes and positions are fungible. The best players on the team are (unsurprisingly) Tristan at PF and LBJ at SF… Rounded out by the resplendent KLove also at PF.

My all-time favorite Cav Anderson Varejao is not playing like anything to write home about this season, and Mozgov has been slightly below replacement level so far. If you want to play Best Six basketball (you know, like in the playoffs [unless you are GSW or SAS]) I don’t know if you want three of those six to be your three shortest players.

It’s possible this is one of those situations where my good friend Patrick Chapin says people grouse about the $100 bill you hand them because they don’t like how it’s folded.

Outcome: Cavs by 4

The Top 8

Jazz 114, Cavs 118

Jeez Mo Williams. All-Star Game #2?

Game Nine: Cavs at Knicks 11/13/15

ESPN Headline: Cavaliers limit Knicks in fourth quarter to pull out 8th straight win

An utterly accurate headline; the Knickerbockers thumped the Cavs 30-17 in the second frame, and were consequently up by six going into the fourth. The Cavs held New York’s Finest to twelve — 12 — points in the fourth quarter; and that was all she wrote.

Outcome: Cavs by 6

The Top 8

Cavs at Knicks

Ew. What a gross game.

Timofey — the best player in Cavs-at-Knicks — would not have been the fifth best player in the preceding Jazz game. Everyone played awful. Love scored seven points on ten shot attempts; not even his eleven rebounds could salvage such poor shooting. LeBron only needed 21 shots to produce 31 points, but he was uncharacteristically low on rebounds (while heavy on fouls). Tristan only made four points on — again ew — four shot attempts.

If there is a shining light — for Knickerbockers fans at least — it’s that Zinger looks like he is going to be a real NBA player.

Game Ten: Cavs at Bucks 11/14/15

ESPN Headline: Bucks outlast Cavs in 2OT as LeBron James held in check late

This is the kind of game that makes you hate sports narratives. Hate HATE HATE. The Cavs got the rebound with about eight seconds left and the game tied at the end of the first of two overtimes. The ref called an inadvertent whistle from the Cavaliers bench. David Blatt did not call timeout!

LeBron had the ball with almost eight seconds on the clock. Is there anyone in all these planes of Dominia who thinks he wouldn’t have at least picked up a foul with Hero Ball on the stack? Yeah, me neither. Bucks get a stop on the not-fast-breaking Cavs, win by three in the second OT 🙁

Outcome: Bucks by 3

The Top 8

Cavs 105, Bucks 108

Like I said… I can’t stand sports narrative sometimes. Love and James played great (along with Greg Monroe of the Bucks). What the “Top 8” doesn’t tell you is that those PGs I was bragging about earlier? Mo put up all of four points on eight shots; Delly zero on three; they did have three and four turnovers, respectively. So basically most of the boys had relatively weak games. Even Mr. Consistent Tristan Thompson only had four rebounds (but three personal fouls). To look at the box score you could reasonably stomach a loss here… But knowing about the bad whistle kind of ruins it all.


The Top 8 is produced via Simple Models of Player Performance + Box Score data from