Which Team Has the Right Stuff to Win the Title?
By CARLTON J. CHIN AND JAY P. GRANAT
Carlton J. Chin, a fund manager, and Jay Granat, psychotherapist, are authors of “Who Will Win the Big Game? A Psychological & Mathematical Method.”
After analyzing the championship games or series of the N.F.L., N.B.A., Major League Baseball and N.H.L., and the major finals in golf and tennis, we identified 50 championships characteristics in our book, “Who Will Win the Big Game? A Psychological and Mathematical Method.” With the N.B.A. finals starting tonight, we focused on several championship characteristics across all sports that might help predict this year’s winner.
Leadership, both behind the bench and on the playing field, has proven to be statistically significant in their relationship to winning the big game. Our research has shown that there are more coaches with superior records in finals appearance than a random mathematical model would predict. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, with his 10-2 record in N.B.A. final series, is one of the greatest coaches in history. Other examples of coaches who have records well above .500 in finals appearances include Red Auerbach, John Wooden, Chuck Noll, Bobby Bowden, Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour.Leadership on the court is also key. Over the past 20 years, the team with the better offensive star, measured by points per game, has gone 14-6 (70 percent) in N.B.A. championship series. This factor favors the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, with his 27.0 points per game average during the season.
Defense. In just about every sport we have studied, defense does win championships and it holds up in the N.B.A. as well. Over the past 20 years, the team with the better defense, as measured by points against per game, has gone 13-7 (65 percent) in N.B.A. championship series. This factor favors the Celtics, whose 95.6 points against per game during the regular season was better than the Lakers’ 97.0 points against per game.
Consistency. In baseball, our research shows that batting average is more important to winning World Series than home runs. Similarly, in N.B.A. finals, field-goal percentage is more important than 3-point shooting percentage. Over the past 20 years, the team with the better field-goal percentage has gone 12-7 (63.2 percent) in finals. This factor favors the Celtics this year, as they shot 48.3 percent from the field compared to the Lakers’ 45.7 percent.
Team experience, measured by finals appearances in the previous three years, is one of the strongest correlations to winning. The team with more experience won 9 of 12 applicable series, winning 75 percent of the series. But that factor is less significant this year because both teams have appeared in the finals in the past three years, the Lakers twice and the Celtics once.
This year’s N.B.A. finals present an interesting case. The two leadership factors point to the Lakers (coaching and star leadership), but the statistical factors (defense and consistency) favor the Celtics. Note, however, that the leadership factors have been the stronger factors over the years.