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Posted at 2:54 PM ET, 02/ 2/2011

The rationale of fan irrationality

By Kevin Broom

Used to be, I wondered why fans reacted so powerfully to Wizards wins and losses. After a loss, fans kvetch and rage — demanding coaching and front office changes, player trades, and lineup and strategy adjustments. After a win, those same fans see the player development, the coach’s wisdom, the intelligence and thought that went into the game plan.

So, why the wild swing from gloom and doom to sunshine and hope? The explanation is remarkably simple and boils down to this — teams look good when they win and look bad when they lose.

The sad-sack Wizards this season, for example, statistically resemble a 64-win team when looking solely at their wins. In losses, they resemble a 13-win squad.

To put this in perspective, just three teams have won 64 games — the 95-96 Seattle Sonics (which lost in the NBA Finals to Michael Jordan’s Bulls), the 96-97 Utah Jazz (which lost in the NBA Finals to the Jordan’s Bulls), and the 05-06 Detroit Pistons (which lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat).

On the other hand, only two teams have won 13 games over an 82-game schedule — the 04-05 Atlanta Hawks and the 93-94 Dallas Mavericks. Just seven teams have managed 13 or fewer wins over an 82-game season.

So, in wins this year the Wizards look like one of the better teams in league history. In losses, they look like one of the worst.

While the Wizards’ differential between wins and losses may seem extreme, it’s not.  This season, on average NBA teams score 104.6 points and allow 94.5 in their wins. A team with this kind of scoring differential over the course of an 82-game season would be expected to win approximately 66 games. In losses, the average NBA team has the scoring differential of a 16-win team. Which means, NBA teams look like an all-time great unit when they win, and they look all-time bad when they lose.

This is the case even for the league’s best teams. San Antonio, for example, has a league-best 40-8 record. In wins, they look like a 67-win team; in losses: a 13-win squad.

Miami and Orlando tie for looking best in wins — both have the differential of a 72-win team when looking solely at their wins. The Heat resemble a 21-win team when they lose. The Magic, 18. Cleveland is the weakest looking team in their wins, statistically resembling a 57-win squad.

Five teams have the scoring differential of a 70+ win team when they win — Miami (72.4), Orlando (72.4), the Lakers (71.7), Indiana (71.2) and Chicago (70.0). Only two teams have a sub-60 win scoring differential in wins — Charlotte (59.5) and Cleveland (56.6).

While no one looks good when they’re losing, Houston (21.5), Boston (21.2), Miami (21.1) and Chicago (21.0) look least bad. The teams that look worst when losing are Cleveland (8.5), Utah (10.0), Atlanta (11.9) and San Antonio (12.6).

The Wizards rank 21st in looking good when they win and 24th in losses.

Before going too far with this analysis, it’s worth point out that neither looking good while winning nor looking least bad while losing appears to matter very much. While good teams are well-represented when it comes to looking good while winning, sub-.500 Indiana ranks fourth, the Sixers rank sixth and Minnesota is seventh. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City is in first place in its division, but ranks third-worst in “looking good while winning.”

The analysis doesn’t change much when looking at the loss column. Winning teams like Utah, Atlanta and San Antonio take three of the bottom four spots.

So don’t get too wrapped in a Wizards win or a Wizards loss. The truth about a team is found in the aggregate. And this season, the Wizards have the scoring differential of a 24-win team.

By Kevin Broom  | February 2, 2011; 2:54 PM ET
Categories:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  | Tags:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  
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My thing is, if you purchase a team - whether it's an NBA, NHL or MLB team, and you find that you can't afford it, you have almost a moral obligation to SELL IT TO SOMEONE WHO CAN AFFORD IT. Ted came in like a lion - with lots of promises and what not, but he's looking a lot like a lamb at this point. How the heck can Flip still have a job? How can Grunfeld still have a job, for that matter? You can't sit silently with fans defecting left and right. Ted need only look at Snyder to see how quickly an owner can go from having a good reputation (as an owner or business man) to having a really bad reputation. It's hard to shake a bad reputation. And no one can argue at this point, that firing Saunders would be a knee-jerk reaction; the man is clearly over-matched in every game. He has lost the team, and appears to have imbued the youngsters with a heavy dose of self-doubt that is crippling their ability to win on the road, and against top-tier teams. Leonsis cannot sit still why Flip's lack of skills drags this team into the record books of futility (for road losses). After 10 straight road losses it was time to make a change at head coach - period. It may be too late now, to win even one road game, but it isn't too late for Leonsis to save face with the fans, and show them he is really committed to winning. Counting on getting a high lottery pick is a lousy way to build a team, but continuing to disrespect the fan base, by basically saying 'Flip is the best we've got', is really wrong, and almost unforgivable. The Wizards are fast becoming irrelevant once again; and once indifference sets in with the newly won Wizards fans (you know, the ones Eddie Jordan helped bring in with 4 straight playoff teams, just before being dismissed for a 1 – 11 record with two of his All-stars working their way back from injury), Ted may never get them back.

Posted by: guisher | February 3, 2011 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Ted, don't listen to the poster above (guisher). Most fans are way more patient than this guy, and understand that it takes time -- years -- to turn around a franchise that has sucked for like 30 years.

Have a good plan and stay the course. I for one happen to think that Saunders is doing a fine job. Not convinced on Grunfeld, but anyway. Hang in there and keep working out. And like Hitchhiker's Guide says: Don't panic!

Posted by: spunkydawg1 | February 3, 2011 11:11 AM | Report abuse

keep working *on it*

Posted by: spunkydawg1 | February 3, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

SO WAIT....let me get this're saying in losses our scoring differential is WORSE than in wins?!?! And that when we lose a game our scoring differential resembles the average scoring differential of a BAD team?!?! TRACEE.... You have just blown my mind..... you have no idea.

Posted by: bbachrac | February 3, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

"After a win, those same fans see the player development.."


I actually think Wiz, or better yet Bullets fans, are some of the smartest fans around. WE understand that Mr.Polin was a nice man but trusted the wrong people to run his team.

Ted is literally starting from the ground up. He bought the franchise, but that's all he bought. Everything else Ted is going to have to literally start from scratch.

Again, we understand this.

Grunfeld and Saunders both need to go as well as half the roster. The best blog on the WP is the Wiz blog bar none. I really like chatting with those guys because while we seem to have differences in opinion, in the end we all want the same thing.

Can't say that for the Redskins blog at all, and I wonder about the Caps blog at times.

This isn't going to happen overnight and I think 99.9% of the Wiz fans understand that.

- Ray


Posted by: rmcazz | February 3, 2011 1:42 PM | Report abuse

rmcazz: I wish I ran in the same group of Wizards fans as you do. The Wiz fans I hear piss and moan about lineups and playing time and other stuff that has nothing to do with understanding the fundamental fact that the team needs a new roster. Especially after losses.

Seems like one of the biggest things I hear is how the team could win more games IF ONLY Flip would put in whatever favorite player the talker has.

I think Ted's plan is a good one -- a 2-3 year rebuild based on drafting well and making smart moves in free agency and trade. We'll see if Grunfeld is still around to execute the rebuild part -- I still think Ted could pull the trigger there. I don't think there's any point in firing Flip this season, or probably even this offseason. He's a good coach, a good teacher, who's doing as well as anyone could with this roster.

Posted by: KevinBroom | February 3, 2011 2:51 PM | Report abuse

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