It’s not fun to think about, but the Phoenix Suns might just be the biggest underachievers in the NBA.
That’s according to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, anyway, who created an algorithm-esque method of figuring out how many titles each NBA should have won by now.
And the Suns, a title-less team, are first on his “underachievers” list.
Here’s his math:
It’s not a perfect measure, but it cuts to the heart of it: Really good teams in the regular season have a really good shot at winning the title. And we can learn a lot from it. What we’ve found is that a team that boasts exactly 60 wins has a 16 percent chance — or about one-in-six odds — of winning the title. Those chances are cut in half if you win just 55 games in the regular season (7.7 percent odds), underlining the importance of getting to that 60-win plateau. If you win 50 games, the odds are just 3.6 percent. (Note: shortened-season records are translated to 82-game equivalents.)
This is the key: The relationship between regular-season wins and championships is not linear; it’s curved. In other words, yes, the more you win, the better chance you have to grab a title, but it’s exponentially so. Consider that since the merger, 10 of the 12 teams that have won 65-plus games in the regular season have all won the title (sorry 2006-07 Mavs and 2008-09 Cavs). Get in that territory and your odds skyrocket (hello, Golden State Warriors).
If you’re a visual learner, you can see the curve below. See how it starts to sharply bend upward at around 60 wins? That’s what we mean by non-linear expectations. It’s not a straight line. For championship odds, each win isn’t created equal.
The Suns are, by Haberstroh’s calculations, 1.9 titles below expected.
Phoenix has 27 playoff appearances, three 60-win seasons and 11 55-win seasons along with 19 50-win teams. With or without his math, that reasoning is understandable.