Three Chartable Takeaways On Next Season's Schedule

What I learned from spending too much time looking at the schedule for next season

Last week, the NBA released the schedule of games for next season. There are some interesting things we can learn solely based on which teams are slated to play each other and when. For example, Positive Residual on Twitter has a great app that lets you explore each team’s schedule based on factors like how many games they’ll play with a rest advantage over their opponents or how many miles each team will travel over the course of the season.

I also spent time looking through the schedule and here’s what stood out to me:

National TV Appearances and Expectations

In general, better teams tend to be featured more often on national TV. But it’s not always the case. In the chart below we can see that there are some exceptions to the overall positive relationship between a team’s Vegas win total (via Caesars Sportsbook) and the number of games they’re scheduled to play on ABC, ESPN, TNT, and NBATV.

There are two noticeable exceptions to the overall trend. First, there’s the Indiana Pacers. Clearly, the league has no idea how to market this team. The Pacers are scheduled to appear on national TV just five times this season, tied for second fewest among all teams. That’s despite the fact that the Pacers are expected to win around half their games. Unlike the Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, and New Orleans Pelicans, each of whom are expected to win a similar number of games, the Pacers are without a signature star or a compelling offseason narrative. I’m mentally preparing myself for another year of Pacers fans begging for someone in the national media to acknowledge just how much better-than-average they actually are.

The other outlier here is the Knicks. Although they profile as a middle-of-the-road Eastern Conference team, the Knicks are scheduled to be on national TV as often as some of the league’s top contenders. That’s not too surprising given that they outperformed expectations last season and have one of the league’s largest and most supportive fan bases. They also got meaningfully better over the offseason with the additions of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. Still, this chart will only serve as additional evidence for those that are convinced that ESPN, CAA, and the Knicks are in cahoots.

Expected Fast And Slow Starts

So much of the way the teams are covered is influenced by how well a team performed over their last handful of games, which in turn is influenced by who they played during that stretch. By looking at the schedule ahead of time we can get a feel for which teams are likely to get off to a good or bad start.

The chart below shows the ten game rolling average of each team’s opponent Vegas win total. Higher values on the chart indicate that a team’s opponents are expected to win more games over the course of the season and thus should be a tougher stretch of matchups for the corresponding team.

(Note: I’ve smoothed the lines in this chart to help with the overall readability. For an unsmoothed version, check the footnotes1.)

Don’t be surprised if a team like the Chicago Bulls comes stumbling out of the gate to start the season. Over their first ten games, their opponents’ average win total is 43. That stretch includes games against the Brooklyn Nets (54.5 O/U), Utah Jazz (51.5), Boston Celtics (46.5) and the Philadelphia 76ers (51.5) twice.

Conversely, you should steel yourself for the inevitable “Russell Westbrook Has Made The Los Angeles Lakers Title Favorites” headlines after they slice through their cupcake of a schedule to start the year. In their first ten games, the Lakers play the Oklahoma City Thunder (22.5 O/U) and the Houston Rockets (24.5) twice.

If you’re interested in sorting each team’s expected strength of schedule over the course of a full season, I recommend looking at Kostya Medvedovsky’s DARKO projections.

Early And Often

There are 1,230 games in an NBA season. Of those, 30 tip off before 2:00 PM local time. The rare early afternoon game, usually on a Sunday, is an unwelcome respite for NBA players who are accustomed to routine and set schedules. Let’s take a look at the teams that are set to play the most games at unconventional hours — anything that tips off between 12:00 PM and 1:30 PM local time.

The Los Angeles Clippers are scheduled to play nine games between 12:00PM and 1:30PM local time next season. That’s more than any other team in the league and three times as many as any other Western Conference team. Seems a bit harsh for a team that will be without it’s best player all year, but I guess this is the price you pay for flouting the league’s load management rules and not having your own stadium.

Links I Liked

Programming note

Now that we’re in the dog days of the offseason I’m probably going to shift The F5 toward a every-other-week publishing schedule for at least the next month or so. If there’s something interesting that develops and is worth posting about, I’ll renege on that arrangement. But for now let’s assume you won’t hear from me again until September 15. Tootles!