The N.B.A. 2009-2010 Finals and N.H.L. The Stanley Cup Finals are underway. What factors ultimately determine the championships? What characteristics might help decide which team will win the ultimate prize? Sports fans might be interested in the sports analysis in this article. Sports organizations and executives might be interested in learning more about our research projects and how we can help teams maximize their chances of winning.
After analyzing NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NHL championship games or series, as well as major golf and tennis finals, we identified 50 characteristics of championships in our book, ” Who Will Win the Big Game? A Psychological and Mathematical Method. ”Based on similar research, we focused on several characteristics of the championship that could help predict the NHL winner and N.B.A. Finals.
In this article, we focus on dynamics such as leadership, defense, and consistency. These factors are especially great for this year’s finals – and apply to all of the major sports we’ve studied.
Leadership, both behind the bench and on the playing field, has been found to be statistically significant in its relationship to winning the championships. Our research has shown that some coaches have the ability to motivate their teams to greatness. There are more coaches like Phil Jackson of the Lakers, and seemingly superior records in the final, than a random mathematical model would predict. Phil Jackson is 10-2 in N.B.A. Finals as a coach. Other examples include Red Auerbach, John Wooden, Chuck Knoll, Bobby Bowden, Scotty Bowman and Al Arbor – all are coaches with well over 500 finals records.
Leadership on the ground is also essential. Over the past 20 years, the team with the best offensive star, measured in points per game, has gone from 14-6 (70.0%) to N.B.A. Championships. This factor favors the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, averaging 27.0 points per game over the season.
Likewise, hockey teams with better offensive leadership have gone 19-11 (63.3%) in the Stanley Cup Finals over the past 30 years, as measured by points scored. This factor favors the Black Hawks and Patrick Kane (88 points) over the Flyers and Mike Richards (62 points).
In almost all of the sports we looked at, defense really wins championships. Our research has shown this to be true in the Super Bowl as well as the World Series. This maxim holds true in the Stanley Cup and N.B.A. Championships too. Over the past 30 years, the hockey team with the best goalie save percentage has dropped from 18 to 11 (62.2%). In recent years, from the high scoring period of the mid-80s to the mid-90s, hockey defense has been an even stronger dynamic. The teams with the best save percentage have left:
• 3-0 in the last 4 years (teams have had the same percentage of stoppages one year),
• 6-1 over the last 8 years,
• and 13-4 over the past 18 years.
This factor favors the Philadelphia Flyers with their 907 save percentage over the Chicago Black Hawks and their 903 save percentage.
Defense also helps basketball teams win championships. We note that on average, defensive factors are more strongly correlated with winning championships than offensive factors. Over the past 20 years, the team with the best defense, measured in points against per game, has been 13-7 (65.0%) at N.B.A. Championships. This factor favors the Celtics (up from 95.6 points per game) this season. The Lakers gave up 97.0 points per game during the regular season.
Another key to winning is consistency. Interestingly, this type of “consistency factor” is usually tied to “less exciting heroes” than most sports fans might expect. For example, in baseball, our research shows that batting average is more correlated with World Series victory than home runs.
Likewise, in N.B.A. Finals, the percentage of field goals is more important than the three-point shooting percentage. Over the past 20 years, the team with the best field goal percentage has achieved a 12-7 record (63.2%) in the professional basketball championship series. This factor favors the Celtics this year, with their 48.3% FG% against 45.7% of the Lakers.
Championship factors and finals 2010
So who will win the Stanley Cup final? The No.2 seed Black Hawks are big favorites over the No.7 seeded Flyers (around 2.5-1 favorites), but the Flyers certainly have the leadership on the bench and between the posts for make it a series.
The N.B.A. The finals present an interesting dilemma. Leadership factors point to the Lakers (coaching and star leadership), but other factors (defense and consistency) favor the Celtics.