What change can you believe in, and what change is just a mirage? Read on to find out what you can, and cannot take out of the NBA preseason.

As an avid Raptors Republican, I’m sure you’ve caught every single one of our preseason recaps (save for the latest Minnesota game that none of us saw because they played on Saturday night and we were too busy “champagening and campaigning”). If so, you’re probably tired of reading statements like the following:

“…but it is preseason so it gets a pass” – Zarar

“I should probably step back and acknowledge that it was still just a preseason game” – William

“…but with preseason games not holding a lot of value” – Blake

“However, it’s preseason, and 1,000 words is my minutes limit for a preseason game” – Blake

“Maybe I should preface this with the fact that it’s preseason…” – William

I mean, you’re all smart dudes, right? We don’t need to drill this point home in every other sentence we type, or at least you’d think we wouldn’t need to, but then something like this shows up, and we writers have to dig in our heels once again.

“… So I decided to take a look at 3 of our key players TS% during last years preseason, versus how they are doing 3 games into this current preseason.” – Primer (Raptors Republic Starter in the forums)

My goal here is not to chastise Primer (he himself said that “the preseason really doesn’t mean much”). My point is that we can’t read into the numbers of any three game samples, especially in the preseason. This idea isn’t new to most, and it isn’t likely to cause any paradigms to shift, but it cannot be understated.

But this entire ordeal does bring up an interesting question – what changes in the preseason can you, or can you not believe in from the preseason? What’s real, and what’s fake?

Definitely False: Coaching Schemes

Let me explain this one with the following fact; at one point during the game versus the Celtics, Dwane Casey put out a crunch time lineup of Buycks-Ross-Fields-Daye-Gray. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

Preseason is a time for coaches to try out new schemes. What you’re seeing, even with established lineups like the starting-five, is endless experimentation and tinkering. That’s why guys like Landry Fields are doing a lot of ball-handling. That’s why Austin Daye is out there to play the four against guys like Kevin Love. That’s why you’re seeing funky lineups like the one mentioned above. It’s all just experimentation; the coaching staff and Masai Ujiri wants to see what might work, and what definitely doesn’t (like say a lineup of Buycks-Ross-Fields-Daye-Gray).

So please don’t slag coach Dwane Casey, or any members of the coaching staff for their decisions during the preseason. There’s more than a couple of new faces on the team this season, and everyone is just getting to know each other, and what they like. Basically, the preseason is like the first date; unless it was absolutely horrible, you’re probably going to call them again.

That being said, Dwane Casey trots out some terrible lineups and his players so rarely execute after a time-out.

Maybe False: Preseason Records

I complied the Raptors’ preseason win percentages and plotted them alongside their corresponding regular season winning percentages over the last 9 seasons. They are presented below:

Preseason vs Regular Season

Can you really spot a trend from this? Well, the Raptors have finished under their preseason win percentage in 7 out of their last 9 seasons, does that mean that the Raptors will do so this year, and into the future?

Well, no. First, a sample size of nine is hardly enough to form any conclusions. Second, these Raptors teams have, for the most part, been wildly different. Third, these numbers are descriptive, meaning they describe what’s happened in the past, but they are not predictive, meaning they don’t tell us what to expect in the future.

But studies have been conducted on the predictive power of preseason win percentage on regular season win percentage. The author, Roland Beach (now with the Dallas Mavericks), found that the correlation between the two percentages was 0.40 which suggests that preseason win percentage does hold some predictive power.

However, it should also be noted that previous season win percentage is a much better indicator of regular season win percentage, clocking in at 0.57, which is what you’d expect. I mean, what’s more likely – that the Raptors will win 75% of games this season (they’re 3-1 in the preseason), or that they’ll win closer to 42% of their games this season (34-48 last season)?

But hey, it’s not entirely meaningless. We know that preseason win percentage has some meaning, but we don’t know where specifically, or what contextual factors have to be present for it to be meaningful. Tread lightly.

Maybe False: Player/Team statistics

Fun fact: 

The following Raptors players are currently shooting above 62% on field goals in the preseason thus far:

Tyler Hansbrough (62.5%)

Jonas Valanciunas (68.2%)

Quincy A-Three (83.3%).

The only player in the NBA to shoot better than 62% on field goals last year during the regular season (that qualified):

DeAndre Jordan (64.3%)

So yeah. Let’s not believe any of the numbers from preseason.

My point isn’t that the numbers are flawed – they simply are what they are. However, the numbers alone doesn’t tell the whole story, not by a long shot, and the matter of the small sample sizes introduces truckloads of randomness. It’s much better to look at the stats through the context of…

Maybe Real: Skill Changes/New Skills

The term “skill” is hopeless vague, but I could not find a better way to express the sentiment. If a player has shown something new, like say a post-game, then yeah, you can probably believe that these changes will carry over into the regular season. Consequently, if a player has a completely new form on his jumpshot, and he’s not making very many baskets, you probably have a licence to worry.

But again, we run into problems. The opposing team could be going small, thus making a certain someone’s post-game look more impressive than it actually is. Similarly, someone could be…nevermind, I give up. Fields’ jumpshot is what it is (read: broken, for the time being).

Whether these new developments carry into the regular season or not is interesting. We do know that the more a player flashes the new skills, the more likely they are to being true and believable, so keep on doing stuff like this, and this, DeRozan!

Definitely Real: Players Who Have A History of Not Been Very Good, and Are Still Not Very Good 

Notables include: Austin Daye, Aaron Gray, DJ Augustin (reasons below).

Luckily, Buycks has no history in the NBA just yet. Come on, Dwight! Please tell me you’re better than that dude above!

Is Daye as bad as he’s shown in the preseason? Yes he is. He’s been playing out of position as a stretch four, especially on defense, but he hasn’t exactly showcased a world of effectiveness on offense either. The same applies for Aaron Gray and Darryl Gerald Augustine. For the most part, veterans are who they are. They have a few established skills and they keep getting hired to do those very same things. Until they can’t, Daye will always be asked to shoot, Gray will always be asked to be a gigantic version of Taco from The League and Augustin will always be asked to do…whatever it is that he does (spot-up shooting?).

So there you have it. Believe in skill changes, be sceptical of the numbers (unless there’s a good reason for them), don’t worry too much about the preseason record and please don’t chastize the coach for his strategies and lineups.

Oh, and enjoy the games. It’s all we’ve got before they start playing actual basketball.

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64 Responses to “A Guide to the NBA Preseason”

  1. ppellico

    why do you bother to write?

    You make absolutely no sense and even conter your own positions.
    “So please don’t slag coach Dwane Casey, or any members of the coaching staff for their decisions during the preseason” well…can the same be asked for the players? You see…players ARE asked to do certain things…especially in preseason games…like play withing request of the staff. You hit on Gray once again just like it is in your nucklehead genes to do so. You see…Gray is NOT a scorer and has never been asked to be one. Yet you continually use offensive stats as your basleline in judgement.
    Gray got a total this preseason of what? 8 minutes? And you bust out about his not improveing. The kid had a solid year last year and did his job and played inside the lines his coaches demand of him…and you poke at him. He doesn’t try to be the go to guy. He takes his D as told and allows others to get their shots…
    Do you even understand the role of defense in basketball at all? You must love the allstar game.
    This nuthin but space filling nonesense.
    Do the kid a favor and trade him….and let your other bigs take over.

    • ppellico

      his last game…he got put in against their top players and starters and was partnered with tryouts and duds trying to make a name for themselves in a few minutes of preseason ball. These wanna be Casey players shot nothin but crap and turned the ball over.
      Gray’s fault!
      This is preseason, dude.
      Guide to preseason my ……

      • 2damkule

        holy shit, m’man. i mean, not for nothing, but simmer the fuck down. we get it that you are (for some reason unbeknownst to anyone with a working brain) aaron gray’s biggest fan. whatever. but you really need to develop a teeny, eensy wee bit of rationalization ability. aaron gray is treated EXACTLY as he should be on this site; that is, as the ultimately inconsequential bit player that he is, who’s in the NBA for one reason (i.e. he’s a winner in the gene pool lottery). he’s never going to be the reason they (the team) is good or bad, and while he’s sure to have surprisingly competent showings from time to time – as well as unmitigated disasters, natch – that’s all par for the course for someone of his ilk.

        but here’s the thing – you can’t have it both ways. you can’t pine for everyone to fall over themselves when he plays decently (by his standards), and then turn around & get pissed if he’s criticized for whatever reason by downplaying the value of what he ultimately contributes.

        • ppellico

          you are nuts…but always have been.
          look…just trade him and we are all happy.
          then just hope you get the same quality for the money he gets.

            • One relaxed fella

              Yeah, but it made me laugh like hell. Actually, it’s pretty cool that a guy like Gray has one true die hard fan, who not only has his own particular way of seeing things but also is prepared to defend Gray’s honor any time. I can say a lot of negative things about Gray as a basketball player, but I just don’t wanna mess with ppellico.

              And btw, I liked the article, nice read.

      • ppellico

        you didn’t offend him…you again, like so many fans talk a good defense and then only rap on about offensive stats.
        this is not reasonable. Defense is what some players do. they do what is expected of them. you do talk about gray just being a poor player and never improving, totally ignoring the reason he exist and does well at what he does.
        And my point in fact was the very last game he played. he was put in with guys trying to shoot their way onto the team and they missed and trurned the ball over.
        The result, Gray had a -5 performance. But this site praised Acy performance when in fact it was in garbage time against sub players.
        this whole thing is silly.

        • DDayLewis

          I was going to lay into you for this whole thread, but I really only have one question for you:

          Do you have issues with reading comprehension?

        • mike, prague

          Nobody is hating on The White Panther … he is really a liked guy in these parts. We love him for what he does, that is sticking to what he is okay at. D.

    • Guest

      “Why do you bother to write?’

      Holy crap, talk about being way too emotionally invested in a throw-away line from an article–an article that makes many good points which you choose to ignore.

      Are you, by any chance, Aaron Gray, or a relative of his?

  2. dc

    “the Raptors have bested their preseason win percentage in 7 out of their last 9 seasons”
    The chart shows they have lagged their preseason win percentage in 7 of the last 9 regular seasons.

  3. golden

    “Can you really spot a trend from this? Well, the Raptors have finished under their preseason win percentage in 7 out of their last 9 seasons, does that mean that the Raptors will do so this year, and into the future?”


    I’m not sure if my eyes are playing tricks, but there does actually seem to be a mild correlation between preseason win% and regular season win%, over the years.

      • golden

        Both can be correct. (1) Raps usually finish under preseason win% & (2) greater preseason win% usually has higher regular season win%.

      • golden

        Nice – thx. Seems to suggest that a strong preseason record for a previously really crappy team actually matters.

        • Tim W.

          I don’t think you can surmise anything from simply looking at preseason results. I think you have to look at the games themselves. No one on the Raptors is averaging more than 23.9 mpg during the preseason and the bench has finished the game (against the opposing bench) over the last couple of games, both wins. Trying to predict how a team is going to do during the regular season based on a few games with experimental lineups, bench players playing a much larger role than normal, and finishing games, against teams where players are being rested for simple bumps and bruises, I don’t think makes much sense.

          Dwight Buycks is averaging just 1.5 mpg less than Kyle Lowry. Tyler Hansbrough is averaging one minute per game less than Rudy Gay.

          Any correlation between preseason and regular season records I think is completely coincidental.

          • Casey Sherman

            Coincidental? What? .40 with a large sample is coincidental? I agree that you should look at the specific games when assessing the team’s chances, but coincidental seems very much the wrong word to use here.

            • Tim W.

              See my comment above. Any correlations are strictly coincidental. It’s not the sample size that’s the problem. It’s what is being sampled. It’s like these diners that have these election gimmicks, where buying one type of ice cream supports this candidate and buying another ice cream supports the other. It’s not predictive of anything other than what ice cream most people like more.

              • Casey Sherman

                My mind is struggling today: can you explain what is problematic about using correlations to predict things? Like, if there’s a historical correlation of .99 between preseason and regular season record, wouldn’t you be pretty darn confident in projecting the regular season based on preseason? I understand that correlation does not equal causation, but is that really relevant?

                • DDayLewis

                  Correlation doesn’t equal causation.

                  Two things could be correlated. For example, I’m sure 99% of NBA players own cars, but that doesn’t mean we can use someone’s ownership of a car to predict if he is an NBA player or not.

                  The data is open to interpretation.

                • Casey Sherman

                  Ok, but is that example analogous? The population of people who own cars includes nba players and non-nba players. But the population of teams that play nba preseason is only nba teams, and every team that plays in preseason plays in the regular season too

                • DDayLewis

                  You’re right. This pre/regular season thing is much more analogous, but we should still be cautious.

                • Casey Sherman

                  Of course, always be cautious. But to say the correlation is completely coincidental and of zero predictive power, as Tim W said, seems to be taking it too far.

                  Anyway, we’re not even done preseason.

                • Tim W.

                  I’m not saying that the preseason CAN’T be predictive, but I’m saying we don’t know what records can be predictive and what records can’t. With Miami, Chicago and Oklahoma, it’s probably safe to say they can be predictive, knowing what we now about those teams. On the other hand, I don’t think the records of Phoenix, New Orleans and Indiana can be predictive of those teams knowing what we know about them.

                  There are just so many factors, including strength of schedule, rotations, number of new players, minutes played by the normal starters, etc, that have a major effect on preseason results.

                  In isolation, I am saying you can’t look at one particular team and predict how they will do from their preseason results. But overall, there does seem to a pattern.

          • golden

            Roland Beech is a very credible NBA stat guy. His article is clear and supported by multiple years data, with all the proper qualifiers. Not sure why you dismiss his so easily. In fact, his article is pretty much Nostradamus-like in predicting the Raps turnaround season in 2006-7, armed only with the “crappy team having a stellar pre-season” theory.

            Even your ‘experimental lineups’ rationalization is flawed, i.e., the Raptors aren’t the only team experimenting in the preseason, are they? It should average out for all teams, n’est pas?

            • Tim W.

              My problem with trying to find a correlation is that teams have different goals in preseason and in the regular season. In the regular season, teams are trying to win as many games as possible. The best players tend to play the most minutes and are on the floor at the end of most games.

              In the preseason, coaches want to take a look at new players, try out different lineups, experiment with plays, etc. Winning is not very important.

              I mean if Austin Daye, Quincy Acy, Terrence Ross, Landry Fields and Dwight Buycks are on the floor in crunch time for the Raptors, I’m not sure how the outcome of that game is indicative of anything that will happen in the regular season.

              Take a look at the preseason standings:

              While Miami, Chicago and Oklahoma are undefeated, so are Phoenix and New Orleans. On the other hand, Indiana hasn’t won a game and San Antonio has only won one.

              As for the 2007 season being predicted by the preseason, what about last year? They had the same winning percentage during the preseason as that year, but they only won 34 games. And look at the first two preseasons on the chart as compared to the regular season. They won almost the same amount during the regular season, but the preseason results were wildly different.

              That’s why no one should ever try and look at preseason results to predict regular season success.

              • golden

                Beech’s data shows 69% prediction correlation for teams under 30 wins prior – the facts are the facts. I’ll take Roland Beech’s analysis and 69-31 odds any day. Better than anything in Vegas.

                More on Beech – who was a stats consultant to the Mavs during their championship season.

                “Roland was a key part to all this,” Cuban told ESPN.com. “I give a lot of credit to Coach Carlisle for putting Roland on the bench and interfacing with him, and making sure we understood exactly what was going on—knowing what lineups work, what the issues were in terms of play calls and training.


                His article does exactly what you say nobody should ever try to do and he backs it up with data. Good thing he doesn’t listen.

                • Tim W.

                  I’m not dismissing Beech as a statistical analyst. I’m a big believer in analytics, but I also believe there are stats that matter and stats that don’t. The fact of the matter is that preseason win/loss results don’t necessarily matter. That’s not to say they never do, but unless you actually watch every single one, know what the strategy of the coaches and players were, then it’s impossible to know what is real and what is not.

                  Is Phoenix really a contender? Same with New Orleans? Should Indiana blow up the team based on their winless preseason record?

                  Are there other factors that matter more? Like the number of new players on a team, how new the coach is, how many veterans, etc, etc?

                  As for the Raptors, how does the fact that they won the last two of their three games with some bench players who will end up playing less than 10 mpg relate to how the team will do in the preseason?

                  As Williams mentions in his article, the win/loss record from the previous season is more indicative of how well a team is going to do the next season. Does that mean the Raptors are likely to win the same amount next season? Or do we need to look more at circumstances?

                  What was the likelihood of the Chicago Bulls winning the same amount of games the year after Jordan, Pippen and Jackson left?

                • golden

                  That’s not to say they never do, but unless you actually watch every single one, know what the strategy of the coaches and players were, then it’s impossible to know what is real and what is not.


                  Well, you can’t have it both ways, because the value of modern sports analytics IS that you can gather useful information without having to watch every single possession (let alone try to surmise the coaching strategies & tactics).

                  Beech did a nice piece of investigative statistical work that holds up to scrutiny. He asked a simple question: can preseason games be used for anything? He analyzed the data and the answer was: in limited situations with a certain probability, yes, preseason games can be a predictor. So, unfortunately, Beech’s data goes against your opinion that preseason games are are worthless unless you watch every possession. But hey, why obscure a solid opinion with facts?

                • Tim W.

                  So you’re suggesting that Phoenix and New Orleans are going to be contenders?
                  Because if preseason stats really are good predictor, then that should be the case.

                • ItsAboutFun

                  Unbelievable. So according to Tim, stats that don’t fit the narrative are nothing to count on, but stats of different players, on different teams, with different teammates, playing different roles (even lumping bench guys with starters), playing within different systems, with entirely different schedules, are an accurate way to rate players. See, there’s a ton of variables affecting your bible stats too.

                • Tim W.

                  Okay. I’ve changed my mind just to make everyone happy.

                  That’s why Philadelphia and Toronto finished with a better record last year than Brooklyn and New York, Sacramento and Minnesota were top seeds in the West, Utah was a playoff team and Miami only managed a .500 record, last season.

                  If the Raptors didn’t have a winning record in preseason, would people really be arguing that the preseason record is predictive?

                  On a side note, wasn’t it great the season after LeBron left Cleveland when the Cavs were still one of the best teams in the league, and finished with a better record than the Heat?

                • golden

                  2011-12 was a strike shortened season – so all bets are off. Nets and Knicks didn’t have winning preseason records, so not sure why they are included. Even so, including your very own “watch the games rationale”, Philly (Bynum) and Minny (Love) had their best players injured for all or most of last season. Both teams, without a doubt, would have had much better records with those guys.

                  Surely you understand that when you speak in absolutes on the internet, you’re gonna get crushed. Unless you’re Bill Simmons, who has the art of ‘trolling, without looking like a troll’ down to a science – at some point, it just looks like trolling.

                • Tim W.

                  The second link was for the 2010-2011 season. Not the lockout season. So all bets are on.

                  The Nets and Knicks had losing records in preseason, but winning records in the regular season, which was my point. If it was really that predictive, both teams would have had winning preseasons, too.

                  Philly didn’t have Bynum in either the preseason or regular season. They went 6-1 in preseason with the exact same roster they did so poorly with in the regular season.

                  I’m not trolling. I’m attempting to make a point. Go back and look at other preseasons. While there are certainly correlations between the preseason and regular season records for a a lot of the teams, probably even over half, there are just too many outliers to depend on preseason records as predictive with any accuracy.

                  I’d actually say the preseason predictions of , say, ESPN are far more accurate.

                • Tim W.

                  Again, how does a game where the final result was decided by Daye, Byucks, Fields, Ross and Acy really give a good prediction on how the team as a whole, where none of those guys will decide games, over the regular season. It’s just common sense, to me.

      • DanH

        I love that he pretty much predicted the Raps’ 47 win season at the end of that article (a 19 win gain that he describes would put them at 46 wins).

        • DDayLewis

          Well, that team had that superstar named Andrea Bargnani, so it’s not surprise that the team won so many games


        • golden

          More than Tim W thinks, anyway. Between Beech and this article, the case is pretty much closed.

  4. laughing at all of you

    These comments are more exciting than pre season basketball and the single most important reason to keep Gray on the team… long live Aaron!!!

  5. GoingBig

    According to the statistics class I took, n=30 for any stat is the minimum for any causation/correlation. Anything below that is an “indication” that needs more data

    In the regular season, at 30 games we will have a good idea of the blow-up or playoff-possible options for the Raptors

    So, I can’t take anything large from the pre-season record – just small things

    The small things I have taken so far
    – DD has worked on his skills, he knows what is required, and has succeeded in showing those skills are possible for him
    – The starting 5 have not been put to the test yet at game end – duh – But they have been steady and OK
    – The major plan of Novak being fed (in order to stretch the floor) – I have not seen any effort yet with the RS starters – this needs to be worked on in the pre-season.
    – None of the three non-contract amigos have shown game-time extra-sparkliness; I think it’ll be decided on the practice floor
    – TRoss – no consistency; still developing; unlike DD I don’t think he knows, in his bones, the things he has to improve
    – Fields has not shown a healed throwing motion yet – respecting more the other stuff he does
    – Quincy Acy – he’s got the ups – looking forward to seeing him come in in the regular season. Have a feeling like he’s Amir – improving at this and that in fits and starts

    • DanH

      Yeah, but you can define “n” however you like. Statistically, I could claim that after 30 possessions, we’ve met that criterion. Then you extrapolate net points over those 30 possessions to form a pythagorean prediction for the team’s record. It would be ridiculous to do so, but you see the point.

      So I disagree that 30 games are needed. 20 is plenty. But the reality is that the sooner you can make a decision, the better, no matter the path you choose, because your choice can then impact a greater number of games.

      • GoingBig

        With respect to n=30, I think it is good enough to say what “has” happened. Extrapolation is riskier. But n=30 is not the point at which you have full confidence, it just that anything much lower is very suspect. More of a rule of thumb that to use rather than a law

        For the 30 games, I kinda threw that out there knowing I’d get smacked for it 🙂 So, you are correct.
        But those 20 games are not individual unconnected pieces of data. You can see patterns within those 20 games that are more than enough to make decisions. Not perfect decisions on complete data but enough information to make decisions.

    • DDayLewis

      The minimum sample size needed is a function of what significance level you want to accept/reject the null hypothesis at. It is NOT always 30.

    • ppellico

      “The major plan of Novak being fed (in order to stretch the floor) – I have not seen any effort yet with the RS starters – this needs to be worked on in the pre-season.”
      exactly. I sort of remember it happening in the first game…but never again.
      And I have always insisted this is our biggest need…that of getting some kind of threat outside.
      None of our players from last year come close to putting a fright into the opposition. They have shitty percentages and make dumb decisions all around.
      If Jonas…or anybody…wants to see some inside success…Novak will be the help this year.
      I hope we get t see this a little bit more this preseason.

      • 2damkule

        true enough, but is there something about novak’s game that you – or anyone else – don’t already know? he’s a dead-eye 3-pt shooter, and will create space (in theory) simply by being in the game; i’m not sure how any of that changes based on what happens in the pre-season.

  6. youngjames

    Don’t really understand the point of the article – if its that “numbers in pre-season don’t matter”, no guff!!!….Who said they do? Do we really need an in-depth graph filled, extended verbiage article on this irrelevant topic!?!! It MUST be pre-season man.

  7. Statement

    I like Aaron Gray. I was at the Raps intra-squad game last year at RAMA. Had really great seats (floorside), so the players could hear my yelling. One possession I yelled “Aaron, you’re the man” and he turned and gave me this dopey “huh?” look. It gave me the impression that he wasn’t used to having his name yelled out. I had a chuckle to myself.
    Then Gray went off for 40 points (the last part I made up, but the other stuff is true).


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