What Should NBA Teams Not Do? We have the answers for you

We know what NBA teams should do. We don’t know the answer to everything, but we do know that shooting 3-pointers is good and fouling is bad.

But what should they not do? That’s much harder to figure out. It’s more complicated than just “don’t do the opposite of what you should do.” Bad shots aren’t as bad as free throws for the other team. Defending poorly isn’t as bad as fouling. The margins are less clear-cut on the things teams should not do.

But we figured it out. Using data from Basketball-Reference.com, I looked at which stats correlated most strongly with a decrease in winning percentage over the past three seasons for teams that made the playoffs each season, and which stats did not correlate at all with winning percentage. In other words: these are directions for what teams to avoid — plus one indicator of a team doing things right (although it is inextricably linked with doing another thing badly).

The last few weeks, we’ve talked about what teams should do this summer to improve their chances of winning a title in 2014-15. Today, let’s talk about the opposite: what teams should not do.

Some teams are in such a strong position, with so much momentum and cap room and/or continuity, that focusing on what they shouldn’t do is a waste of time. The Spurs are one such team. Others have unique challenges that require unique solutions. We won’t spend much time on them either.

But there are a lot of teams in between — middling playoff teams that might need to blow things up and start over, or at least consider blowing things up and starting over. Those are the teams we’ll focus on here. Let’s begin with our 2013-14 playoff field:

For the 2014-15 NBA season, I was hired by the Houston Rockets to do some analytics consulting on a part-time basis. Since then, I have consulted for a couple of other NBA teams. The experience has been great, but I still find myself wondering what advice to give.

The obvious answer is to use all the new and better stats that are available now to help teams identify good players who can help them win games, and avoid bad players who won’t. But this is easier said than done. Teams have scouts, they have coaches and managers with decades of experience evaluating players, they have their own statistics, and they have their own opinions. You can’t just walk in the door and say “no one’s ever measured defense before, but if you do it this way you’ll see Joe Schmoe is actually pretty good.”

The hard truth is that most of what we know about basketball isn’t very specific. There are general truths, like “you’re better off shooting threes than mid-range jumpers,” but no one has any illusions about how much impact these insights will make for any particular team. As far as practical takeaways go, most of what we can say amounts to: maybe don’t do this thing everyone else does?

The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and we are seeing what many expected. The Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for the third straight season, with each team taking a title. But not all teams have been so successful.

For the second straight season, the Brooklyn Nets will have the worst record in the NBA. That’s right: the Nets managed to get worse than their 10-72 record of last season when they finished dead last in our team power rankings. This is an impressive feat.

What went wrong? Well, one of the reasons they were able to finish with such a bad record is that they had two draft picks from other teams (the Heat and Trail Blazers) that did quite well this year, finishing No. 27 and No. 28 in our team rankings, respectively. This made them a very attractive trade partner for teams looking to make a quick deal for a top-five pick or even to take over as their head coach after the firing of Lionel Hollins midway through last season.

Other teams haven’t fared much better this season, though some have come out of it unscathed. The Pistons, who finished just ahead of the Nets at No. 29 in our rankings, actually traded away their first-round pick before it became apparent they would

The NBA offseason is in full swing, with free agency beginning on July 6. We’ve already seen some big moves in the past few weeks, including Kawhi Leonard being traded to the Toronto Raptors, DeMarcus Cousins signing with the Golden State Warriors and Paul George being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’s also a time for teams to improve their rosters through the draft. We used our CARMELO player projections to look at this year’s rookie class and see what kind of impact they might have if they get significant playing time as rookies.

And we took it one step further: We plugged in each of this year’s rookies into every team’s rotation and projected how they would fare in 2018-19 based on their expected minutes. You can see our rookie projections here.

But not every rookie will be able to have an impact right away, and some teams may not get much out of their rookies at all (or maybe any). Based on our projections, these are the teams that should expect the least from their rookies next season:

The most common mistake teams make is overvaluing the draft by trying to lose games to improve their draft position. The 2015 NBA Draft was the most hyped draft in history, and this summer, we were told that it would be one of the best drafts ever. That’s why many speculated that teams were tanking to get a top-five pick.

However, we have seen many years when the draft was supposedly strong, and it didn’t pan out that way. There are also a lot of people who say the 2017 NBA Draft will be better than 2016 (we’re not buying it), so some teams may think they are making a good decision if they wait another year or two before drafting top players.

The problem with losing games on purpose is that you never know how your team will look two seasons from now — or even one season from now. You can sign free agents; you can make trades; you can get lucky in the lottery. There’s no guarantee you’ll still be as bad as you are now in a year or two.

Luck plays a huge role in any competitive endeavor, and there is no reason to believe that luck isn’t part of sports at all levels. The idea that you can predict even five years into the future seems foolish

As the NBA enters the offseason, this is a good time to look at the league’s past. What has worked and what hasn’t?

We can learn a lot by looking at answers to these questions. By examining history, we can gain insight into what approaches have been successful and which ones have failed. Of course, it’s important to remember that past performance is no guarantee of future results. That said, there are still some things we’ve learned from history that may be useful for teams going forward.

The first thing we can look at is how teams have fared historically in the NBA draft. The most successful teams in the draft were those that selected players who were ready to contribute immediately. These players were either great prospects or had already proven themselves as professionals elsewhere (e.g., college).

For example, the Boston Celtics are one of the greatest teams in NBA history because they drafted Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in 1979 and 1980. Both players were ready to contribute immediately, and both helped lead Boston to its first three championships since Bill Russell’s retirement in 1969. This strategy worked so well that other teams copied it (e.g., Philadelphia 76ers selecting Charles Barkley after their 1984 title win).

As another example, consider the Los Angeles Lakers’ decision

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