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Archive for the 'History' Category

Mailbag: NBA MVPs and Their Rings

2nd June 2011

BBR reader Jamey wrote in with this question:

"I'm watching the NBA Finals, and one of the hosts of the pre-game show said that there are 7 players who have won the MVP award that have not won an NBA championship ring. Can you tell me who they are?"

Sure can. In fact, in order to answer this question, I had to create a query that counted rings for all MVPs. Here is that list (I only counted a player as having won a ring if he played in the postseason with an NBA or BAA championship team):

Player Rings MVPs
Bill Russell 11 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965
Bob Cousy 6 1957
Michael Jordan 6 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 6 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980
Kobe Bryant 5 2008
Magic Johnson 5 1987, 1989, 1990
Shaquille O'Neal 4 2000
Tim Duncan 4 2002, 2003
Larry Bird 3 1984, 1985, 1986
Willis Reed 2 1970
Dave Cowens 2 1973
Bob McAdoo 2 1975
Bill Walton 2 1978
Hakeem Olajuwon 2 1994
David Robinson 2 1995
Wilt Chamberlain 2 1960, 1966, 1967, 1968
Oscar Robertson 1 1964
Wes Unseld 1 1969
Julius Erving 1 1981
Kevin Garnett 1 2004
Bob Pettit 1 1956, 1959
Moses Malone 1 1979, 1982, 1983
Charles Barkley 0 1993
Allen Iverson 0 2001
Dirk Nowitzki 0 2007
Derrick Rose 0 2011
Karl Malone 0 1997, 1999
Steve Nash 0 2005, 2006
LeBron James 0 2010, 2009

The 7 MVPs who never won a ring are, of course, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, & Derrick Rose. And no matter what happens in the 2011 Finals, either Dirk or LeBron will be able to remove himself from that list.

Posted in Awards, BBR Mailbag, History, Trivia | 9 Comments »

Biggest NBA Finals Collapses, 1992-2010

31st May 2011

With Dallas-Miami Part II tipping off tonight (not that it's really a rematch), I wanted to see whether the Mavs' loss in 2006 was the worst Finals collapse of the BBR era. We have linescores for every playoff game since 1992, which means I can calculate the home team's probability of winning at various checkpoints within a game:

Stage p(Home W)
Pregame 60.4%
After 1st Qtr =1/(1+EXP(-0.3599755-0.1122741*Home Margin))
After 2nd Qtr =1/(1+EXP(-0.2895922-0.1429087*Home Margin))
After 3rd Qtr =1/(1+EXP(-0.2041572-0.2117494*Home Margin))
Before any OT 52.4%

Combining those probabilities with the series win probabilities I found here, one can determine each team's probability of winning the series at a given checkpoint. This allows us to rank Finals collapses, pinpointing the moments within games where the eventual loser's series win probability was the highest:

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Posted in Analysis, History, Playoffs, Statgeekery | 13 Comments »

Do the Finals Contain the Best Teams in Each Conference?

30th May 2011

Although we like to think "the best team always wins a best-of-7 series", variance plays a much bigger role than we'd care to admit. I found here that the best team in a given season usually wins the NBA title about 48% of the time -- and that's actually an incredibly high rate compared to other sports like baseball (29%), pro football (24%), and college basketball (34%).

Truth be told, playoffs are mainly designed as entertainment, with "finding the best team" as a secondary goal. And there's nothing wrong with that. If we forced teams to play enough to have statistical certainty, it would require a completely impractical number of games. For the fan's sake, it is necessary to achieve a balance between watchability and the feeling that what we watched wasn't a total fluke. And really, the NBA probably does this better than any other sport.

But we still have to acknowledge that the best team does not always win, nor do the NBA Finals necessarily contain the best teams in each conference. Can we put a number on how probable it is that a given Finals matchup did in fact contain the best from each conference? Using a very simplified version of Prof. Jesse Frey's Method for determining the probability that a given team was the true best team in some particular year (with assists from these posts), I calculated that probability for every Finals matchup since 1984, when the playoffs expanded to 16 teams.

Here are those Finals, ranked from the greatest certainty that the two teams were their respective conferences' best to the least certainty:

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Posted in Analysis, History, Playoffs, Statgeekery | 10 Comments »

Miami-Dallas: The Strangest Finals Rematch Ever

28th May 2011

Finals rematches usually involve a familiar cast of characters with a great deal of bad blood built up over past battles, right? Repeat clashes where any roster change is minimal, and the two teams can draw on that shared experience to develop strategies going forward... Like the 1985 Finals, where the two teams' playoff rosters had 21 common players from the year before.

That's the mental picture we get when we think of a championship rematch, at least. But not this year. There are only four common players between the 2006 and 2011 Finalists' playoff rosters:

Udonis Haslem
Dirk Nowitzki
Jason Terry
Dwyane Wade

Among Finals rematches that took place within 6 seasons of the initial matchup, that's the fewest common players in league history:

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Posted in History, Playoffs, Trivia | 16 Comments »

Mailbag: The 8 Teams That Came Back From a 3-1 Deficit

25th May 2011

Yesterday, Kenneth wrote:

"I am seeking more information on NBA playoff series where one team fell into a 1-3 hole, but was able to win the next 3 games and the series.  As per the TV NBA analysts, in past NBA playoff series, 200 of them  reached the point where one team was up 3-1; only 8 of those series concluded with the down team ultimately winning the remaining 3 games and the series.

[Who were] the teams in those 8 series?  I know the 1995 Houston Rockets were one of those teams (their 1-3 down situation occurred against the Phoenix Suns) and ended up winning the title.  I'm also curious how many of the 8 teams who managed to claw their way back from a 1-3 hole ultimately played in the Finals that year and how many won the title."

This became even more pertinent last night when the Bulls fell behind the Heat 3-1, giving us two teams currently facing 3-1 deficits. Here were the 8 series where teams dug their way out of a 3-1 hole:

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Posted in BBR Mailbag, History, Playoffs | 13 Comments »

Losing Your (Inefficient) Leading Scorer Hurts Your Team

23rd May 2011

Last week, I ran a post (prompted by this post at the Wages of Wins) wherein I tried to determine the offensive impact when a team loses its leading scorer. I found that, since 1986 at least, a team loses about 2 points of offensive rating relative to the league average when its top scorer by PPG doesn't play.

I got a lot of great feedback from that initial post, so I decided to try my hand at a sequel after making a number of improvements to the study:

  • One complaint was that I was lumping efficient scorers in with inefficient ones in the original study. No one is really debating whether losing LeBron James will hurt an offense, but one of the core questions is whether losing Carmelo Anthony or Rudy Gay has a negative impact as well. To that end, I'm now isolating only teams with inefficient leading scorers. This means a team's PPG leader, minimum 1/2 of team games played, with either a Dean Oliver Offensive Rating or True Shooting % that was equal to or below the league's average that season.
  • Another complaint was that I looked at offense alone, rather than the total impact of the player's loss. So now I'm looking at the change in team efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) when a player is in and out of the lineup.
  • While I accounted for strength of opponent in the last study, I didn't account for home-court advantage. Now I have added an HCA term to what we would predict an average team to put up vs. a given opponent (+4 pts/100 of efficiency differential to the home team), in addition to an SOS term (the opponent's efficiency differential in all of its other games).

What follows is a massive table that shows the results of this new study. The outcome (the bottom-right cell) is the average change in efficiency differential when an inefficient leading scorer plays vs. when he does not play, weighted by possessions without the leading scorer. If it is positive, it is evidence that even inefficient scoring is an attribute that teams find difficult to replace in a salary-capped economic system; if it is negative, it is evidence that scoring is overrated if it's not done efficiently, and that inefficient #1 options can be replaced with relative ease.

To the data dump (mouse over column headers for descriptions):

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Posted in Analysis, BBR Mailbag, History, Statgeekery | 33 Comments »

The Bird-Dirk Advanced Stat-off

19th May 2011

Bill Simmons and BS Report HoF guest Chuck Klosterman are discussing Larry Bird vs. Dirk Nowitzki in a podcast. Simmons says that the advanced stats place Dirk in the same category as Bird, perhaps even giving Dirk the edge, and he's not sure how he feels about this.

I wasn't sure how I felt, either, so I looked up the numbers. Here is a monster table with their advanced stats -- each has played exactly 13 years:

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Posted in Analysis, History, Statgeekery, Statistical +/-, Totally Useless, Win Shares | 224 Comments »

Shocker of the Day: Losing Your Leading Scorer Hurts Your Offense

18th May 2011

In gathering links for StatHead yesterday, I came across this post at the Wages of Wins, wherein Prof. Berri mentions that the losses of Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, & Rudy Gay did not hurt their respective teams. He then writes:

"In each of these examples, the loss of a scorer led people to forecast doom.  In each case, the team losing the scorer managed to survive and even improve.

Readers of The Wages of Wins and Stumbling on Wins understand this basic story. Scoring is overvalued by many NBA observers.   Top scorers do not always have the impact on wins that people imagine.  But no matter how often this story repeats, each time a scorer is lost we still see the same arguments offered by adherents to the conventional wisdom (for example, this week the Grizzlies insisted they would never dream of letting Gay depart)."

That's anecdotal evidence, though. What if we looked at every instance of a team losing its leading scorer? Would the typical team in that situation be impervious, or are those just a few cherry-picked exceptions to a larger rule?

Well, luckily, at BBR we have boxscores for every regular-season game since 1985-86. So I gathered our data, considering a team's "leading scorer" to be the player who led the team in PPG among players who played more than half of the team's games. I then looked at each team's offensive rating in every game, noting whether the designated "leading scorer" played in that game or not.

I also accounted for the strength of the opposing defense in each game by measuring how many pts/possession the opponent allowed in every game of the season except the one at hand. The end result will measure how well each offense performed relative to what we would expect from a league-average team facing the same opponent -- split by whether the team's "leading scorer" played or not.

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Posted in Analysis, History, Statgeekery | 51 Comments »

For James, East Final Is an Ex-MVP’s Shot At Redemption

15th May 2011

For the first time in three years, LeBron James did not give an acceptance speech at the Most Valuable Player's press conference. Now, as he faces his successor at the podium, Derrick Rose, in the Eastern Conference Finals, James is hoping his Heat can do exactly what the Magic and Celtics did to him -- prevent the reigning MVP from advancing to the NBA Finals.

In the NBA, the Most Valuable Player carrying his team to the brink of a title is the rule, not the exception. Since the league began handing out the hardware in 1956, the MVP's team has appeared in the championship round 28 times, good for a 51 percent rate. And during the NBA's halcyon era of Magic, Larry, and Michael, the clip was even higher: from 1983-2003, the MVP made a Finals appearance in 16 of 21 seasons, more than 75% of the time. In a world where current players are largely measured against those three names alone, it makes headlines when a reigning MVP fails to reach the league's grandest stage.

Perhaps this is why the drought of recent winners has been met with so much scorn. Since 2004, only one MVP (Kobe Bryant in 2008) has led his club to the Finals. The others -- Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and James -- flamed out in the Conference Finals (or in the cases of the latter two, earlier), provoking backlash from the Skip Bayless set and anyone else preoccupied with legacies or comparisons to long-retired legends. That it has been viewed as a blemish on James' otherwise staggering resume is undeniable.

Yet now he has a chance to inflict the same criticism on Rose, the youngest MVP in league history. It's strangely fitting, because their paths have run parallel ever since the Rose-for-MVP talk rose from a whisper at the lunatic fringe of Bulls fandom to a din heard across the entire country. In the wake of 'The Decision', the media tried to talk itself into casting Kevin Durant as James' foil, but Rose out-Duranted everyone, ranging from his own sharp improvement to the Bulls' unexpected #1 seed and the endearingly humble manner in which he carried himself (culminating in a truly beautiful moment at his MVP presser). In the minds of many, he embodied the yin to James' preening yang.

For these reasons, the media will doubtless go easier on Rose than they did James, should the Bulls' season end early. And by the same token, the fact that James felt he needed two other big names, one of whom is nearly his equal in the universe of NBA megastars, to reach the Finals again will continue to dog him if the Heat prevail. But even if his legacy cannot be fully repaired through victory, it's clear that in a twist of fate, the only way James can gain some measure of redemption for his "incomplete" MVPs of 2009 and 2010 is to stamp Rose's 2011 award with the same stigma.

Posted in Analysis, Awards, History, No Math Required, Playoffs, Rants & Ramblings | 123 Comments »

Layups: Playoff Matchups by City in Professional Sports

13th May 2011

Awesome post here from

Playoff Matchups by City in Professional Sports <<

Andrew researched how many times pro sports teams from various cities faced each other in the playoffs (with multi-game series counting as 1 matchup). Los Angeles and Dallas just finished their 15th battle (with L.A. leading 9-6), while relative newcomer Miami spoiled what would have been the 16th Boston-vs-Chicago matchup of all-time (Boston currently leads that series 10-5).

Posted in History, Just For Fun, Layups | 2 Comments »