How to calculate NBA Power Ratings during playoffs

May 6, 2019 11:10 PM

While it’s easy to use point spreads to determine the perceived superior team in each ongoing NBA Playoff series, building a Power Ratings scale that accurately reflects the current market is tricky because of varying home court values. 

It’s been awhile since VSiN has had a chance to update this theme amidst the NBA and NHL playoff frenzy. Jonathan Von Tobel (co-host of “The Edge” weekdays from 3-6 p.m. ET) and I put our heads together to build a scale. 

We started with the following facts…

  • Toronto was priced around -6.5 to -7 at home vs. Philadelphia, and -1 to -1.5 on the road until it was thought Pascal Siakam would miss Sunday’s fourth game. That would suggest Toronto is about -3.5 on a neutral court with both teams at full strength. Our scale should have the Raptors about 3-4 points higher on the ladder. We’ll stay conservative and make it three points. 
  • Denver was around -4 at home vs. Portland, while the Blazers were shaded just below that at the Moda Center. We’re going to call these teams even on a neutral court because Denver usually gets extra respect at altitude. 
  • Milwaukee was around -7.5 to -8 at home vs. Boston, while the Celtics closed at -1.5 in both of its first two home games. That’s a wider adjustment than you’d expect for a series not involving altitude…about nine to 9.5 points. Easy enough to bisect, though. A neutral court line off those numbers would be Milwaukee -3.5. The Bucks will sit three rungs higher than the Celtics. 
  • Golden State was -6 and -5.5 at home vs. Houston, while the Rockets were -3.5 and -1.5 in the Lone Star state. Because the Rockets could only manage a regulation tie when laying -3.5, that was probably too high. Let’s call it Golden State by 2.5 on a neutral court.  

The futures board has been showing Golden State and Milwaukee as the class of their respective conferences for weeks. With that in mind, Jonathan and I will go with estimated “market” Power Ratings of Golden State 90, Milwaukee 87, Houston 87, Toronto 86, Boston 84, Philadelphia 83, Denver 83, Portland 83.  

As we’ve discussed in the past, this type of exercise helps you “get inside the head” of the market. It’s impossible to know for sure what’s going to happen in any given game. But you can evaluate whether or not the market is properly pricing the possibilities. Sharps beat the market because they look for value. 

You can also use estimated “market” Power Ratings to project likely point spreads for future rounds. That could lead to opportunities on series prices or the futures board. 

Jonathan and I will continue to update our estimated “market” Power Ratings periodically through the rest of the NBA postseason. Do you see any examples where the market may be over-rating or under-rating a contender in a way you can exploit? 

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