How many titles should the Phoenix Suns have won by now?
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.