Are the Wolves Doomed to Lose Close Games?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolves endured another close loss against the Thunder, putting them at 1 - 9 in close games for the season. At this point, it's hard not to wonder whether there's something about this team that makes them more likely to lose close games. Possible explanations include: bad luck, an absence of shot creators, a reliance on foul calls that aren't as likely to come late in the game, giving up too many easy baskets, or a dearth of banana sandwiches.

I did some digging through data from previous seasons to try to get a better sense of what's going on.

I looked at data from six seasons, spanning the 2007-08 through 2012-13 seasons. Figure 1 is a scatter plot showing each team's overall win percentage against its win percentage in close games (which I believe is defined as 5 or fewer points, or an overtime game). As you can see, there's a strong positive correlation between the two win% statistics (0.63). That is, teams that tend to win a lot of games overall also tend to win their close games. Notice that only one team (the 2009-10 Nets) has done worse in close games than the Wolves have done so far this year.

Figure 1: Overall Win Percentage versus Close Game Win Percentage



Figure 2 presents the same information in a different way, graphing overall win percentage against the difference between the team's win percentage in close games and their overall win percentage (so a positive result indicates that the team did better in close games than it did overall).

Figure 2: Overall Win Percentage versus (Close Win% - Overall Win%)



Figure 2 shows that teams with a large difference between their close game win% and their overall win% (the Wolves are at -38.5% right now) tend to be really good. This is probably because they didn't have many close games and they just happened to lose more than their share of the ones they did have. (I'm guessing at this, since the database I'm using doesn't indicate how many close games were played.)

I also ran some regressions of the win% difference and close game win% on the four factors data for each team. I won't go into detail on these, since they don't explain what's going on with the Wolves. When plugged into the estimated equations, the four factors stats that the Wolves are producing (and allowing) predict that we'd win a higher percentage of close games than all games and that we'd win 59.5% of our close games overall.

Some time ago, I discussed in comments how I searched for teams that had a similar four factors profile as the Wolves. That is, the Wolves are pretty unique in terms of doing poorly on own and opponent eFG% but having a good overall profile due to their good performance on the other factors. I couldn't find a great parallel for the Wolves, but the closest match was the 2010-11 Blazers. Did that team do poorly in close games? Nope. Their overall win% was 0.585 and their close game win% was 0.586.

I feel a bit better about the Wolves after having done this. It appears that bad luck is the biggest factor in their poor performance in close games. Given that only one team in the previous six seasons did worse than the Wolves in close games (and it was terrible overall), we can feel somewhat confident that a turnaround of some magnitude (even if it's modest) will occur before the season ends. I'm still pretty pissed about last night, though.

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