DATA DEPENDENT: NBA and European football’s most improved teams.

With the NBA season and European football seasons drawing to a close, focus naturally falls on teams vying for titles or post-season berths. Fair enough. However, in this installment of Data Dependent, we’d like to show some love to the teams that have made the most drastic improvements compared with their previous season. While many teams improved compared to last year, three teams stood out: New York Knicks (NBA), Real Betis (La Liga), and West Ham United (EPL). Let’s have a look.

NEW YORK KNICKS

The Knickerbockers have been the butt of basketball fans jokes for too long. The culture surrounding the team has been miserable and the results on the court have been mediocre, at best. This includes the Carmelo Anthony years when the team’s owner, James “Blues Brother” Dolan, insisted on having confetti and streamers raining down from the rafters after the Knicks won their first playoff round in over a decade. Not a championship. Not make it to the championships. Just win a round. Yeah, it’s been miserable and the past four years have been particularly grim. 

Not this year. 

The combination of a new coach, Tom Thibodeau, a vastly improved scoring performance by Julius Randle, and young players growing into their roles. Add to that the strategic addition of former All-Star Derek Rose for some stability down the stretch of tight games  And I’ve got all the makings of a very solid Squad.

Last season the New York Knicks finished 12th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. The year before that, they finished 15th out of 15 in the Eastern Conference, aka dead last.  This season with a few games left to play, the Knicks can finish fourth in the Eastern Conference. That is one heck of an improvement.

WINSLOSSESWIN%
202037290.561
201921450.318
201817650.207
201729530.354
New York Knicks’ record.

Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have been the cogs in the New York Knicks versus success. Both have improved since last season with Barrett playing Robin to Randle’s Batman.

PPGASSISTSREBOUNDS
202024.25.910.3
201919.53.19.7
Julius Randle.
PPGASSISTSREBOUNDS3P2PFT%
202017.635.80.3930.470.741
201914.32.650.320.4320.614
RJ Barrett.

While there is a chance that they may drop a few slots in the seedings, they’ve at least clinched a post-season berth. They’re playing well but have a brutal final stretch that includes the Suns, Clippers, Lakers, and Spurs.


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REAL BETIS

Manuel Pellegrini is the latest man to take the helm at Betis. Since 2016, he is the team’s seventh manager, his predecessors being Juan Merino, Gus Poyet, Victor Sanchez, Alexis Trujillo, Quique Setien, and Rubi. If the results from this season are any indication, he may be the first manager to stay longer than two seasons. The season hasn’t even ended and they’ve garnered more points than all of last season.

WINSDRAWSLOSSESPOINTS
20201491151
201910111741
Real Betis record.

Sergio Canales (8) and Borja Iglesias (7) have led the way in scorering. More importantly, 15 players have scored at least 1 goal. Sergio Canales, Nabil Fekir, and Joaquin all have 6 assists to their name.

In 2019, opponents regularly outscored Betis (a sure-fire recipe for losing a match). Opponent expected goals (xG) were a full 2 goals more than Betis. This translated to a 1.26 G/90 vs. 1.55 G/90 difference in favor of anyone wearing the opponent’s kit. The closer npxG numbers for 2019 seems to indicate their defense were giving away too many penalties.

Under Pellegrini, Real Betis have improved significantly. A look at the same categories indicate that they’ve at least put themselves in a position to win matches now. For example, their xG and G/90 are almost exactly the same as their opponents.

2020
xGnpxGxAG/90A/90G+A-PK/90
Betis4134.2271.260.942.03
Opponent41.434.727.41.260.851.91
2019
xGnpxGxAG/90A/90G+A-PK/90
Betis47.341.432.31.260.922.03
Opponent49.541.231.81.551.052.32

WEST HAM UNITED

David Moyes has transformed West Ham from a feckless lower-mid-table side always in danger of relegation into a solid squad very likely to play in Europe, whether it be in the Champions League or Europa League. It’s hard to overstate how significant that is. He’s taken them from 16th place to 5th in the span of a single season.

WINSDRAWSLOSSESPOINTS
20201771058
20191091939

Goals have been spread pretty evenly between Tomas Soucek (9), Michail Antonio (9), Jesse Lingaard (9), Jarrod Bowen (8). Meanwhile, Aaron Cresswell (7) and Vladimir Coufal (6) have led the way in terms of distribution.

Last season, opponents thumped the Hammers on a regular basis. The opposing side’s xG was a whopping 61.1 compared with West Ham’s 46.2 xG. This translated to a G/90 imbalance of 1.29 for West Ham compared with 1.55 for opponents.

This season, it’s the complete opposite. The Hammers xG tops the opposing side 44.6 to 41.6. The difference is even clearer when we look at goals per 90 minutes. David Moyes’ men now average 1.55 G/90 compared with 1.18. It’s night and day. No wonder they’re sitting on the verge of a Champions League spot.

2020
xGnpxGxAG/90A/90G+A-PK/90
West Ham United44.642.230.11.551.182.67
Opponent41.638.330.71.180.972.09
2019
xGnpxGxAG/90A/90G+A-PK/90
West Ham United46.243.231.81.290.952.13
Opponent61.156.546.11.551.292.71

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