The Biggest Flaw in John Hollinger’s ESPN NBA Power Rankings

If you’re an average NBA fan you probably don’t have a clue who John Hollinger is. You probably haven’t ever seen his Power Rankings on either. Rest assured, you’re not missing much. It’s flawed at its core for one reason: it’s completely objective.

In everyday  conversations, most people would probably say that being completely objective is a good thing. But the reality is that a little bit of subjectivity is actually essential. In sports this is especially true.

There’s only one stat in sports where being completely objective works: wins (unless you’re talking about NCAA Division I Football, in which wins become subjective). The beauty of sports championships is that you can’t argue who the best team is once the season is over. Whoever won the title is best. Period. Even if that championship team hit a late hot streak and someone tries to say that “the best team didn’t win,” it doesn’t matter. A win is a win and a championship is a championship. There is no award for a team who was actually better than the team that won.

What Hollinger has done is created a ranking system in which the rank of a team isn’t affected at all by its wins. It’s not even factored into the equation. The only stat that he cares about is scoring margin. Whichever team outscores its opponents the most moves up the rankings. If a team only squeaks by in its wins they move down.

This is how he puts it. “One of my goals was to create a system that told us more about a team’s quality than the standings do. So instead of winning percentage, these rankings use points scored and points allowed, which are better indicators of a team’s quality than wins and losses.”

As I’ve blogged before, there is a problem with this system. It tricks up wins. The BCS has even dropped this stat from their ranking system, but Hollinger and ESPN are sticking with it. The reason there’s a big problem with using just this stat to determine the rank of a team, especially the way he has it set up, is that a team could go undefeated throughout the season and still be ranked last. Here’s why.

Hollinger’s formula is posted on ESPN’s site as this:

RATING = (((SOS-0.5)/0.037)*0.67) + (((SOSL10-0.5)/0.037)*0.33) + 100 + (0.67*(MARG+(((ROAD-HOME)*3.5)/(GAMES))) + (0.33*(MARGL10+(((ROAD10-HOME10)*3.5)/(10)))))

This probably makes no sense, so let me explain. There are two things he has done. First, he’s weighted home wins as meaning less than road wins. How he was done this is by setting it up to where if the home team wins by three points or less that win actually would negatively impact their rank. Second, he’s weighted the most recent 25% of the season’s games at 1/3 of the total value. This second part makes sense, but the home performance factor is still there, so in a sense the least valuable thing a team can do to move up in the Power Rankings is win at home.

The reason I’m pointing this out now is that the Mavericks are the best example of why this system is broken. As of this writing, the Dallas Mavericks are ranked 13th in his Power Rankings. That’s right, 12 other teams are considered to be better than the Mavs, who have rattled off ten consecutive wins (the tenth win hasn’t been factored in yet, though, since the rankings are updated each morning).

Here are the teams currently ranked above Dallas. 1) Cavs; 2) Magic; 3) Lakers; 4) Jazz; 5) Suns; 6) Nuggets; 7) Hawks; 8) Spurs; 9) Thunder; 10) Celtics; 11) Trail Blazers; and 12) Bucks. I don’t really have an issue with the top 4 being ahead of the Mavs, but the Bucks…really? Also, didn’t the Mavs just beat a lot of these teams in the past month? (They did).

I’m not going to make a case yet that the Mavs are true title contenders this year, but I do know that they’re not near the bottom half of the league in regards to how good they are. After all, they do have the fourth best record in the league.

But with Hollinger, wins don’t really matter that much.

What do you think about his rankings?

Basketball goal image by flickr user Baffle.

Curling is My Secret Winter Olympics Obsession

It really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why, but I really love watching curling during the Winter Olympics. So much so that I like to set the TiVo to record it so I can watch whenever I want to.

You wouldn’t think that a guy who has spent almost all of his life living in the heat of Texas would have any interest in the sport, but I do. I can’t really explain it. Maybe it’s the allure of the bizarre nature of the sport, but I just get drawn into the sweeping, throwing, and all that comes with the event.

Which events do you like best about the Winter Olympics?

Why Do We Love the Teams We Love?

I got in a discussion the other night with a friend while we were watching the Super Bowl. She was curious about how I became a Chicago Bears fan while living in Dallas. I had mentioned the cities I had lived in a previous conversation but forget to say that I spent part of my childhood living an hour west of Chicago.

My family lived there until the fall of 1986, which just happened to be a few months after the 1985 Chicago Bears destroyed the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. That Bears team had big personalities like Jim McMahon, memorable nicknames like Refrigerator Perry, a larger than life coach in Mike Ditka, and a dominant running back in Walter Payton. How could you not be a Bears fan living so close to the action of that team?

That conversation also made me think that our allegiances to our sports teams have very little to do with who we choose to root for. We mostly end up being fans of the teams we’re close to or our families follow. It’s rare that we actually just choose a team to root for, but I do know at least one person who did that very thing.

I’ll stay true to my Bears, though. The team was greatness and they’re still living large. Did you see the Boost Mobile commercial they were in during the Super Bowl on Sunday? If not, here it is below:


I’d like to hear from you. What team(s) are you a fan of and why?

My Top 5 Super Bowl Commercials

Let’s face it. Even though the actual football being played last night was really compelling, the real reason to watch the Super Bowl is for the commercials. The early to mid 2000s saw a slump in the quality of the commercials (mostly website, beer, and movie commercials), but the last few years have seen a jump in really good commercials.

Here are my Top 5 from last night:

#5 – Snickers Game


Anytime you see Betty White and Abe Vigoda getting tackled in the same commercial is comedy genius!

#4 – Vizio Forge

This commercial made me immediately regret buying a tv less than six months ago. Lots of really cool ideas/features packed into a sleek looking TV.

# 3 – E*Trade Baby Girlfriend


#2 – Doritios Gym

I laughed so hard when the dude used the Dorito as a ninja star. Funny, funny stuff! Doritos made a big splash with their commercials.

#1 – Google Parisian Love

Google did an outstanding job with this spot. It was simple, yet told a story that drew you in. It showcased their products. It was true to who they are as a company. Oh, and this was their VERY FIRST TV AD EVER!!! Great job Google!

Did I leave out your favorite?

Dallas fans need to show Dirk more love

Dirk Nowitzki is the best player the Mavericks have had since the 1980s, if not the best player they’ve ever had. But whenever his team struggles, which seems to happen far too often, Mavs fans seem to quickly turn on him and criticize every tiny flaw in his game.

This happened on Saturday, when he missed two jump shots and a free throw in the fourth quarter in a one-point loss to the Nuggets. I heard people complain on the radio about his shot selection. However, if you take a look at his career you’ll see that he makes those shots just as often, if not more often. His jump shot is one the key tools of his game.

In case you doubt it, take a look at what he did on Monday night. The same shots the he missed on Saturday he made on Monday. He only missed one free throw in the game (16-17), and that was in the first quarter. He made two clutch free throws with eight seconds left in the game, which turned out to be two crucial points because five seconds later Carmelo Anthony hit an eerily familiar three-point shot.

The bottom line is this. Dirk is a superstar. Anyone who doubts that just needs to watch the highlights below (or click here) from Monday’s game. The team had their backs against the wall and Dirk rose to the occasion. That’s what MVPs do.

UPDATE: I just noticed that after Monday’s 40+ point performance he’s tied for fourth among active players in most career 40-point playoff games.

NBA Western Conference Playoff Predictions

I’ve been quiet about the NBA this year, but I went through the remaining schedule of the top 9 west teams (minus Lakers) and here’s what I came up with as what I see the final standings being:

1. LA Lakers (WAY AHEAD)
2. San Antonio 55-37
3. Portland 53-29
4. New Orleans 52-30
5. Dallas 52-30
6. Utah 51-31
7. Denver 50-32
8. Houston 49-33

Phoenix 45-37

If this happens it would give Dallas a chance to redeem themselves against the Hornets, but I really wouldn’t want to face Chris Paul in the first round again.

What are your projections?