The Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors tip-off this evening in the 2019 NBA Finals. What do our “championship factors” have to say about the Finals?
Several years ago, we performed research on decades’ worth of championship results across the major sports, including the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. Our goal is to quantify the impact of factors related to sports psychology. Early results are mentioned in our book, “Who Will Win the Big Game: A Psychological and Mathematical Method.”
Since that time, our published “quant fact predictions” have been correct about 65% of the time — sometimes picking underdogs to win championships. What do the numbers say about the 2019 NBA Finals?
Big Game Experience
Big game experience is generally associated with winning the big game. Teams and players who have “been there before” are more comfortable with the spotlight — translating to more titles. Golden State has created a bit of a dynasty, winning three of the past NBA championships. Toronto has been a contender but has not advanced to the NBA Finals over the past several years. Edge: Golden State.
Leadership is a common success factor in everything we study. This is particularly true — and can be quantified — when predicting sports championships. Although we measure leadership differently in every sport, the themes are very common. For instance, in football, the quarterback is a key position; the NHL, we look at top-scoring players.
In the NBA, we use the top-scoring player on each team. This “quant fact” favors the Warriors, with Steph Curry’s 27.3 ppg over the Raptor’s and Kawhi Leonard’s 26.6 ppg. Edge: Golden State.
To win championships, athletes need to perform at a high level — while minimizing mistakes. Although teams are sometimes relatively close in terms of turnovers, this “quant fact” has been correct about two-thirds of the time for the NBA. This factor goes to the Raptors who edged Golden State in this category for fewer turnovers. Edge: Toronto.
Our readers know that we harp on defense. Once we get to the highest level of competition — like championships — this is especially true. Toronto takes this championship factor — both on a simple opponent-points yielded and an advanced analytics metric. It is interesting that defense often sets the story line for championships. This series looks like Steph Curry’s (and Kevin Durant’s!) scoring dynasty against Toronto’s defense (and fewer turnovers). Edge: Toronto.
Consistency helps athletes and teams get into a rhythm, especially during pressure-packed championships. Our articles often focus on sports psychology and factors that can help athletes win. We particularly like talking about hard work and consistency factors. Research shows that batting average is more associated with World Series titles than home run power.
Similarly, even with the three-point play gaining in importance, FG% is an indication of consistency and control of the game. This championship factor goes to Golden State because they led the league in this category. Edge: Golden State.
Golden State takes our championship factors 3-2 and are our official quant fact prediction for the 2019 NBA Finals. Note however, that the Warriors are an overwhelming favorite, so that with the factors at just 3-2, there could be value on the Toronto Raptors. Enjoy the games!
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Carlton Chin, a graduate of MIT, is an investment manager and portfolio strategist. When not studying downside risk and portfolio construction, he enjoys applying numbers and probability to sports analytics. He worked with various sports organizations, including the Sacramento Kings — and has been quoted by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and ESPN.
Dr. Jay Granat is a psychotherapist and founder of StayInTheZone.com. He has worked with athletes of all levels, including high school athletes and Olympians. He was named one of Golf Digest’s Top Ten Mental Gurus and has been on Good Morning America, the New York Times, and ESPN.