Hollinger Explaining his Raptor Predictions
Old 02-29-2008, 01:58 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Hollinger Explaining his Raptor Predictions

This is an interesting read from a recent interview with Hollinger. Explains why he's so high on the Raps.

Question: In your latest article, you have the Raptors pegged as one of the top "under-the-radar" storylines to watch down the stretch in the NBA, why is that? Is it because they've deviated so much from your pre-season prediction that had Toronto pegged at 40-42 (8th in the East)? Who or what has exceeded your expectations of this team?

Hollinger: The reason I brought up the Raptors is because nobody else is. A lot of what to do is looking a the numbers and then frantically waving my hands to get people's attention when it appears there's something folks are missing.

This is certainly one of those cases – absolutely nobody thinks of them as a serious contender, but the numbers say they absolutely are.

In terms of their exceeding my preseason pick for them, the biggest thing is the point guards. I thought both Jose and T.J. would regress this year and revert closer to their 2005-06 numbers; instead each took another huge step forward, especially Jose.

There are other smaller effects -- Bosh has been even better than expected, and they've defended better than I had pegged -- but by far the biggest variance is the point guards.

Question: So before the season, they're fighting for the playoffs, now you have them pegged as the 4th best team in the league (based on your power rankings). You talk about margin of victory, but how much does strength of schedule play a part (the Raps have played a lot of awful teams lately)?

Also, the schedule has been very kind lately (i.e. a well-rested Raptors team facing a team that had just played the night before)... are these things taken into account, or is there just an assumption that those types of anomalies even out?

Hollinger: The strength of schedule does come into play, as does home vs. road. Toronto's gets dinged for a weak recent schedule, but they've won by such overwhelming amounts that it more than offsets the penalty.

And for the season as a whole, Toronto's schedule strength is better than that of Detroit or Boston. As for the back-to-backs and injuries and what not – the assumption is that comes out in the wash, yes.

Question: Can you give a brief explanation on the methodology of your playoff odds? 19% chance of Raptors making the Finals is getting a lot of people (ed. note: "a lot of people" = me) excited.

Hollinger: The computer starts with each team's Hollinger Power Ranking and creates a random variance from it for all 30 teams. Then it plays out the rest of the schedule and the playoffs based on those ratings (using randomly generated numbers) and records how far everyone got.

The computer repeats this simulation 5,000 times every night, so last night when it ran it the Raptors made the Finals in about 950 of the cases. That probably seems high, but the team is playing extremely well right now ... if they maintain it their win-loss record will catch up a bit with the lofty odds they're being given. And if they don't, the odds will head back south.

Question: I looked back at the past 20 Eastern Conference champions a while back at came up with the following two trends:

Only 7 champions (35%) were either the best, or second-best offensive team in the conference, while 15 of the teams (75%) were either the best, or second-best defensive team in the conference.

Looking at your offensive and defensive rankings, Toronto is the best offensive team in the East at the moment, and fourth best defensively. However, I think all of us would agree the Raptors have significant defensive shortcomings.

My question is this, in your opinion, how big of a hurdle is mediocre defence when it comes to advancing in the playoffs?

Hollinger: No more a hurdle than mediocre offense. If you look at a sufficient large sample of seasons, being in the top in Offensive Efficiency is no greater an advantage in the postseason than being in the top in Defensive Efficiency.

So the Raps shouldn't be overly worried that their style will cause problems any worse than the ones they've had in the regular season.

Question: Based on your PER, the Raptors are one of only 2 teams (Lakers) with 3 of the top 25 players in the league (I assume that was one of your surprises). But is this negated by the fact that 2 of them play the same position? In other words, that you rarely see all 3 of these players on the floor together?

Hollinger: Yes, it's negated by the position thing -- T.J. and Jose rarely play together, and if they did they might both be less effective. So it's not quite like L.A.'s situation with Kobe, Gasol and Bynum, where they could potentially combine to play 120 minutes in a playoff game. The most you can get from T.J., Jose and Bosh is about 90.

Question: Ford vs. Calderon is one of the biggest debates in Raptorland right now... How would you split up the minutes?

Hollinger: Calderon's numbers are slightly better this year, but I think health is a bigger reason to keep him as the starter. With T.J. being kind of perennially day-to-day, I'd think there's a continuity advantage to using Calderon as the starter and playing T.J. 20 minutes off the pine. That also probably helps reduce the pounding on T.J. and keep him in the lineup.

Question: Finally, is there any way the Raptors keep Calderon past this season?

Hollinger: Oh, absolutely. He's a restricted free agent and Toronto can match any deal, plus very few teams have the cap space to match an offer. The worst thing that could happen is if somebody gave Calderon an insane offer sheet and the Raptors decided they couldn't afford to commit so much money to their point guards -- but even in that case they can do a sign-and-trade instead of losing him for nothing.
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