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Visualizing Success - Fun With Diagrams

The Daily Thunder's numbers guy has put together a remarkable piece of datapoints today that is worth taking a look:

ThunderNumbers: Visualizing Success - Team Similarity Diagrams


You can see the entire image by following this link.

At first glance, you might think that you're looking at a picture of a massive disease outbreak. On closer inspection though, you can see that what the author has done is to take:

"The closest three comparisons for each team from 1981-present were made into "connections", and an algorithm was used to arrange the connected teams as close together as possible. You will see that, in general, good teams cluster with other good teams and bad teams group together."

What you have then is a visual image of history's teams that are statistically similar to each other.

A few thoughts:

  • If you look for statistical outliers, which would be teams that are least similar to anybody else, a few of the champs that stick out are the 1989 Pistons, the 2006 Heat, and the 2000 Lakers.
  • When it comes to dominance, few sports can rival the NBA in terms of creating long-standing franchises. The most dominant teams of the past 25 years (Celtics, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs) have all won multiple championships with multiple personnel.
  • Through January 28th, the Thunder don't compare favorably to any of the championship teams. However, they do show up in the same picture as some of the past few division champs.
  • Intuitively, if I had to pick a team that I'd compare the Thunder to, it would probably be the Denver Nuggets of the past few years. Kevin Durant compares favorably to Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook would line up against Chauncy Billups, and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison would battle down low against Nene and Kenyon Martin. For better or worse, the comparison shows how slim the margin is between the ultimate champ and runners up, and also how quickly the window can close. The Nuggets had been on the verge of toppling the Lakers for years and could not do it; now their championship prospects are all but done.