NBA Playoff Rankings: Fans think this is a two horse race, unless they are Cavs fans

NBA Tiers

As the NBA Playoffs kick off today, April 14, 2018, we thought this would be the ideal time to get a read on the teams NBA fans across the world feel are most likely to win the NBA Championship. Yesterday, we put out a MaxDiff Poll in which fans viewed 12 sets of four NBA Playoff teams. In each set they indicated the team they felt was most and least likely to win the NBA Championship. We then applied a Hierarchical Bayes mathematical procedure to estimate respondents’ team rankings. If you would like a more detailed explanation of how the MaxDiff market research technique works, please see our explanation.

We were fortunate enough to receive participation from over 5,000 NBA fans across the world. Let’s get to some of the more interesting results.

The vast majority of fans feel this is a two horse race between the Rockets and Warriors
At the top of the ladder in Tier 1A, the Rockets and Warriors rise above the pack, suggesting most fans across the world feel that whomever wins the impending  Western Conference showdown between the two teams (if it happens of course) will ultimately win the NBA Championship. It is interesting to note that this trend holds up among fans of both Western and Eastern Division teams, reflecting a broad consensus. This trend also holds up among the fanbases of almost every individual team with one major exception. . .

Cavaliers fans deviate from the rest of NBA fans
Cavs fans’ opinions of their team deviated from those of the total respondent opinions more so than any other fanbase. Cavs fans were the only fanbase to not rank either the Rockets or Warriors in the number 1 spot. Who do you think they ranked #1 instead? If you guessed The Cavs, you’d be correct. In defense of Cavs fans, they also gave very similar MaxDiff scores to the Rockets and Warriors, which suggests they are only cautiously optimistic of winning it all.

Among non Cavs fans, Lebron and company are a clear number three – ranked discretely below the Rockets/Warriors, but also a tier above the next set of teams.

The Raptors and 76ers comprise the next tier
Fans feel the Raptors and 76ers are the Eastern Conference’s next best shot. Raptors fans are more optimistic about their teams’ chances compared to their counterparts in Philadelphia. In fact, Raptors fans even ranked themselves ahead of the Cavaliers – one of the few fanbases to do so.


International fans are knowledgeable about the NBA and their opinions match up with Americans for the most part
One of the benefits of MaxDiff is that you can identify participants who are not knowledgeable enough about the topic to give logically consistent answers. For instance, if your answers indicate that A > B > C > A, it could suggest a lack of familiarity with the teams. MaxDiff produces an objective statistic for each respondent called RLH that reflects each respondent’s degree of logical consistency. Respondents with very low RLH values can be identified and thrown out of the analysis if necessary.

Luckily, the overwhelming majority of participants in this research gave thoughtful, logically consistent answers that reflect knowledgeable opinions, so very few respondents were thrown out.

Interestingly, international fans’ (defined here, as non Americans) RLH values were on par with those of American fans, which suggests they are as knowledgeable as Americans about an American sports league. Furthermore, international respondents’ rankings tended to match up similarly to Americans. This trend holds up even when looking at non Canadian international respondents. Ultimately, we think this is strong evidence of the NBA’s growth as an international sport, with engaged fans across the world.


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