I'm a big believer in scoring differential. Over time there is no better predictor of future wins (or losses) than scoring differential. The problem with using it to understand a team in real time is that its predictive effectiveness is hugely dependent on sample size, so a 50 game sample is far more revealing than a five game sample.
So with the small sample size caveat out there, I thought I'd look at the Wolves' scoring differential in 15 game chunks over the past 2.2 seasons (this year, last year, and Witt's final year) and see what I find. I settled on the 15 game chunk for very selfish and manipulative reasons - it coincides this season with our game against LA in LA, a game which I believe represents a turning point for our team. Our first, what, seven games we were absolutely atrocious: 97.29 points for and 114.43 points against, for an astounding -17.14 scoring differential. Since then we are averaging 104.67 points for and 107.07 against, for a significantly improved -2.4 scoring differential. Amazing, right? So I got to wondering - how does this compare to previous seasons? Just how good (compared to ourselves) have the last 15 games been?
I decided to use a 15 game sample size for this because it represents nearly a fifth of the season (18.3% to be exact), and could be used as a good enough (meaning large enough) representative sample size of how the team is playing at any given point. The methodology is simple - I put all the scores for the last three seasons into Excel, and beginning with the 15th game of the season calculated the average scoring differential for the previous 15 games. Plot on a graph and you're done!
[Quick note - I mislabeled 'Game 16' and am too lazy to redo it now. It should be 'Game 15'.]
Anyways, kinda interesting, isn't it? The quick takeaway is that at no point last year did we perform as well as are right now. The horizontal yellow line represents where we are right now (incidentally the high point of the year), and as you can see the blue line (representing last year) doesn't even get close. And for as bad as we started this year, look at how bad we were for most of last year! We have really been treated to some brutal basketball over the past 2.2 seasons.
I also think it's fun to see the big positive spike of that December/January run from Wittman/McHale's last team in 2008-09. Unlike Rambis' teams (which appear to start slow and pick up steam, last year's implosion with a quarter of the season left notwithstanding), that 2008-09 team started really strong, got worse, achieved some magic against bad teams, and then imploded and stumbled to the finish (perhaps because of Al getting injured).
And speaking of finishes, I just want to bring up last year's finish. Using this metric, and yes I am an optimist so perhaps I am reading too much into, but it really did seem like Rambis had last year's team trending more competitively until they reached what would turn out to be their highpoint and began to plummet off a cliff. Maybe he lost the team, or maybe that was the point at which guys checked out having read the writing on the wall (or maybe that was when he started using Hollins more than Love for, ahem, draft purposes, ahem), whatever it was they were playing some decent basketball by this metric. The good news is that we're already playing better this year than we did at any point last year.