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BBR Mailbag: Post-Finals Mega-Mailbag

Posted by Neil Paine on June 28, 2010

Lots of great questions coming in the wake of Game Seven... As always, keep hitting me with your suggestions, either in the comments of the blog or at np@sports-reference.com.

LakerTracker 2010: Final Kobe-vs-LeBron Numbers

This isn't technically a mailbag question, but it is the final piece in a series created by popular demand. In case you missed Part I & Part II, I've been tracking Kobe Bryant's performance in the Finals this year vs. LeBron James' performance against the same Celtics team in May, as well as Bryant's own performance against Boston in the 2008 Finals. Here are the final numbers:

Glossary

Player Year Tm Opp G Min ORtg %Pos DRtg Floor% Stop% SPM
Bryant 2010 LAL BOS 7 288.3 107.7 34.4 98.9 0.485 0.594 7.45
James 2010 CLE BOS 6 254.7 106.3 32.1 104.3 0.509 0.588 7.47
Bryant 2008 LAL BOS 6 258.0 98.7 32.1 111.6 0.459 0.519 2.20
Bryant* 2010 LAL BOS 6 243.5 111.0 34.7 99.8 0.491 0.590 8.51
Player Year Tm Opp MPG T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Bryant 2010 LAL BOS 41.2 1.39 40 41 13 7
James 2010 CLE BOS 42.5 1.76 56 25 12 6
Bryant 2008 LAL BOS 43.0 1.45 47 35 11 6
Bryant* 2010 LAL BOS 40.6 1.44 42 40 12 7
Player Year Tm Opp P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %FGA FTr 3Ptd
Bryant 2010 LAL BOS 25.0 44.0 31.9 88.3 52.8 35.6% 36.8 28.8
James 2010 CLE BOS 22.8 50.0 26.9 74.3 55.6 30.0% 61.4 22.8
Bryant 2008 LAL BOS 21.5 42.7 32.1 79.6 50.5 32.6% 37.4 21.4
Bryant* 2010 LAL BOS 26.2 45.9 36.6 93.3 55.7 36.5% 32.4 29.5
Player Year Tm Opp AsR ToR PPR OR% DR% Blk% Stl% DPA
Bryant 2010 LAL BOS 21.5 15.3 -3.12 4.9 18.6 1.4 2.9 0.15
James 2010 CLE BOS 35.9 17.1 0.65 4.4 22.5 2.4 2.7 0.78
Bryant 2008 LAL BOS 24.1 14.7 -1.16 3.8 9.3 0.3 3.3 -1.66
Bryant* 2010 LAL BOS 23.7 15.2 -2.60 4.1 16.4 1.6 3.2 -0.06

(* - Through 6 of the series' 7 games)

The final verdict? As I discussed at length here, Kobe finished his series vs. the Celtics with essentially the same production as James did a month earlier (at least according to SPM; the Dean Oliver stats give Kobe a slight edge on offense and a large edge on defense, which makes sense given the Lakers' 102.1 DRtg -- and Cleveland's 108.8 -- against Boston). Through six games, Kobe had a substantial edge over LeBron in all areas, but his Game 7 performance dragged down his overall series average to James' level -- though a lot of credit for that belongs to the Celtics for bottling up both stars and forcing their teammates to be deciding factors in the series' outcomes. In the end, give a slight edge to Bryant -- but again, the biggest takeaway should be that of respect for Boston's D, as both James and Bryant were held below their ordinary output. Which brings us to...

Boston's Place in History

Jayson wrote:

"Neil, can we have an indicator of just how good this Celtics defense was in the playoffs? Compared to like 2008 and then other elite defenses of recent memory? I don't think I've seen many better defenses than the Celtics in my lifetime."

Great question, so let's take a look using the methodology I created to estimate team defensive ratings going back to 1951. We'll rank each playoff defense since then by examining the difference between their postseason defensive rating and the regular-season offensive rating of their playoff opponent(s). The logic is that a league-average team would allow exactly the same ORtg in the playoffs that their opponents scored during the regular season, and any deviation from that baseline indicates an above- or below-average defensive performance.

Let's take an example: Using the established formula to estimate possessions from stats they kept in 1951, the 2010 Boston Celtics allowed 100.5 pts/100 possessions during the playoffs. Their playoff opponents had an average offensive rating of 109.7 during the regular season. Therefore, we can say that the Celtics defense performed at a +9.2 level during the playoffs -- they allowed 9.2 fewer pts/100 poss. than we would expect a league-average defense to when facing their offensive strength of schedule. How does this number stack up historically?

Year Team G Pts Allowed Poss eDRtg OppORtg DPAA
2000 San Antonio Spurs 4 332 363.3 91.4 106.5 15.1
1964 Boston Celtics 10 972 1185.5 82.0 95.7 13.8
2000 Miami Heat 10 807 885.8 91.1 103.5 12.4
1988 Detroit Pistons 23 2189 2212.9 98.9 111.2 12.3
2004 Detroit Pistons 23 1856 2016.3 92.1 104.1 12.1
1979 Portland Trail Blazers 3 300 306.1 98.0 109.8 11.8
1998 San Antonio Spurs 9 797 807.9 98.7 110.3 11.7
1993 Los Angeles Lakers 5 504 487.0 103.5 115.1 11.6
1989 Philadelphia 76ers 3 325 314.0 103.5 114.9 11.4
1998 Houston Rockets 5 457 455.6 100.3 111.7 11.3
1984 Seattle Supersonics 5 486 498.2 97.6 108.9 11.3
2008 Houston Rockets 6 543 532.4 102.0 113.2 11.2
2004 Dallas Mavericks 5 491 485.8 101.1 112.2 11.1
2003 Phoenix Suns 6 543 562.9 96.5 107.4 10.9
1989 Detroit Pistons 17 1579 1578.9 100.0 110.9 10.8
1985 Houston Rockets 5 521 553.1 94.2 105.0 10.8
1996 Utah Jazz 18 1576 1576.2 100.0 110.8 10.8
1973 Chicago Bulls 7 706 759.3 93.0 103.8 10.8
1997 Chicago Bulls 19 1653 1642.4 100.6 111.4 10.8
1998 Utah Jazz 20 1737 1781.0 97.5 108.3 10.8
1972 Milwaukee Bucks 11 1125 1219.3 92.3 103.0 10.7
1993 Los Angeles Clippers 5 485 484.1 100.2 110.7 10.5
2008 San Antonio Spurs 17 1614 1573.7 102.6 113.1 10.5
1996 Sacramento Kings 4 375 359.5 104.3 114.7 10.3
1999 New York Knickerbockers 20 1660 1747.1 95.0 105.3 10.3
1990 Detroit Pistons 20 1895 1876.8 101.0 111.2 10.2
1996 New York Knickerbockers 8 708 671.4 105.5 115.6 10.1
2004 Indiana Pacers 16 1297 1390.6 93.3 103.4 10.1
2001 Los Angeles Lakers 16 1450 1510.3 96.0 106.0 10.0
2000 Milwaukee Bucks 5 471 473.7 99.4 109.4 9.9
1996 Chicago Bulls 18 1563 1545.5 101.1 110.9 9.8
1995 San Antonio Spurs 15 1406 1388.5 101.3 111.1 9.8
1981 Los Angeles Lakers 3 306 312.8 97.8 107.6 9.8
1977 Cleveland Cavaliers 3 296 327.7 90.3 100.1 9.8
1993 San Antonio Spurs 10 1006 984.7 102.2 111.9 9.7
2001 Minnesota Timberwolves 4 354 365.2 96.9 106.6 9.7
2007 Cleveland Cavaliers 20 1733 1754.2 98.8 108.4 9.6
1983 Phoenix Suns 3 338 337.9 100.0 109.7 9.6
1969 San Francisco Warriors 6 634 706.1 89.8 99.4 9.6
1980 Boston Celtics 9 870 872.4 99.7 109.2 9.5
2002 Utah Jazz 4 356 358.2 99.4 108.8 9.4
2005 Detroit Pistons 25 2140 2190.3 97.7 106.9 9.2
2010 Boston Celtics 24 2187 2177.1 100.5 109.7 9.2
1965 Boston Celtics 12 1318 1527.8 86.3 95.5 9.2
2008 Cleveland Cavaliers 13 1141 1121.6 101.7 110.9 9.2
1974 Boston Celtics 18 1743 1885.3 92.5 101.6 9.1
1998 Chicago Bulls 21 1809 1799.8 100.5 109.6 9.1
1981 Boston Celtics 17 1654 1654.4 100.0 109.1 9.1
2004 Miami Heat 13 1091 1139.8 95.7 104.8 9.0
1981 Phoenix Suns 7 623 653.1 95.4 104.4 9.0

Surprisingly, the 2010 Celtics were not the best playoff defense of all time, relative to the opponents they faced. Topping the list if we don't put a games-played minimum in place are the 2000 Spurs, who held the Suns to absurdly low offensive ratings in 3 of their series' 4 games. But maybe we should only include teams that went deep into the playoffs -- here are the leaders in DPAA who at least made the conference/division finals:

Year Team G Pts Allowed Poss eDRtg OppORtg DPAA
1964 Boston Celtics 10 972 1185.5 82.0 95.7 13.8
1988 Detroit Pistons 23 2189 2212.9 98.9 111.2 12.3
2004 Detroit Pistons 23 1856 2016.3 92.1 104.1 12.1
1989 Detroit Pistons 17 1579 1578.9 100.0 110.9 10.8
1996 Utah Jazz 18 1576 1576.2 100.0 110.8 10.8
1997 Chicago Bulls 19 1653 1642.4 100.6 111.4 10.8
1998 Utah Jazz 20 1737 1781.0 97.5 108.3 10.8
1972 Milwaukee Bucks 11 1125 1219.3 92.3 103.0 10.7
2008 San Antonio Spurs 17 1614 1573.7 102.6 113.1 10.5
1999 New York Knickerbockers 20 1660 1747.1 95.0 105.3 10.3
1990 Detroit Pistons 20 1895 1876.8 101.0 111.2 10.2
2004 Indiana Pacers 16 1297 1390.6 93.3 103.4 10.1
2001 Los Angeles Lakers 16 1450 1510.3 96.0 106.0 10.0
1996 Chicago Bulls 18 1563 1545.5 101.1 110.9 9.8
1995 San Antonio Spurs 15 1406 1388.5 101.3 111.1 9.8
2007 Cleveland Cavaliers 20 1733 1754.2 98.8 108.4 9.6
1980 Boston Celtics 9 870 872.4 99.7 109.2 9.5
2005 Detroit Pistons 25 2140 2190.3 97.7 106.9 9.2
2010 Boston Celtics 24 2187 2177.1 100.5 109.7 9.2
1965 Boston Celtics 12 1318 1527.8 86.3 95.5 9.2

The 2010 Celtics rank higher here, but they still don't hold a candle to another Boston Celtics team, the 1964 version that shut down the Royals (#1 in FG% during the regular season) and the Warriors (featuring Wilt Chamberlain in his 40-ppg prime) en route to a championship. Oddly enough, though, Boston's 2010 team does fare better than the 2008 version, which was "only" +6.5 in the playoffs after enjoying one of the best defensive performances ever during the regular season.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the 2-time defending champs as well here. The 2010 Lakers didn't have a hugely impressive postseason on D (ranking 98th out of 240 qualified teams with +4.9), but the 2009 version was the 33rd-best ever with +8.0, and even the much-maligned 2008 edition was +5.3, good for 81st. These Lakers and Celtics have combined for some of the best 3-year defensive playoff performances ever, which may help to explain...

The Worst Offensive Game 7 Ever?

Mike G asks:

"Neil, when's the last time a Game 7 had such poor shooting? Or the last time the winning team (G7 or any closeout win) shot as badly?"

Certainly, no one could accuse Game 7 of being an offensive masterpiece. The two teams combined to shoot just 36% from the floor, the worst in a Finals game since New Jersey and San Antonio combined to miss 68% of their collective shots on June 11, 2003 (a game so bad that I couldn't find a clip of it on YouTube). As far as Game Sevens go, I can't speak to results before 1991, but the deciding game of this year's Finals was the worst combined shooting performance in a Game 7 during the era for which we have box scores:

G# Date Team FG FGA FG% Pts Opp FG FGA FG% Pts Combined
7 6/17/2010 LAL 27 83 32.5% 83 BOS 29 71 40.8% 79 36.4%
7 5/21/2006 DET 29 68 42.6% 79 CLE 20 65 30.8% 61 36.8%
7 5/20/2004 DET 34 85 40.0% 90 NJN 24 67 35.8% 69 38.2%
7 5/4/2008 BOS 40 84 47.6% 99 ATL 24 82 29.3% 65 38.6%
7 5/21/2000 NYK 26 72 36.1% 83 MIA 33 80 41.3% 82 38.8%
7 5/2/2010 ATL 36 76 47.4% 95 MIL 28 86 32.6% 74 39.5%
7 5/19/2008 SAS 30 76 39.5% 91 NOH 33 82 40.2% 82 39.9%
7 5/4/2004 MIA 34 83 41.0% 85 NOH 29 72 40.3% 77 40.6%
7 5/19/2004 MIN 30 71 42.3% 83 SAC 32 81 39.5% 80 40.8%
7 5/3/2009 ATL 29 71 40.8% 91 MIA 26 63 41.3% 78 41.0%
7 5/22/1994 NYK 33 84 39.3% 87 CHI 32 74 43.2% 77 41.1%
7 5/7/2005 IND 32 69 46.4% 97 BOS 27 73 37.0% 70 41.5%
7 5/17/2009 LAL 35 75 46.7% 89 HOU 28 76 36.8% 70 41.7%
7 5/2/2009 BOS 35 78 44.9% 109 CHI 30 77 39.0% 99 41.9%
7 5/21/1994 UTA 36 79 45.6% 91 DEN 28 73 38.4% 81 42.1%
7 6/23/2005 SAS 29 68 42.6% 81 DET 31 74 41.9% 74 42.3%
7 5/31/1998 CHI 29 76 38.2% 88 IND 27 56 48.2% 83 42.4%
7 5/17/1997 HOU 37 79 46.8% 96 SEA 31 81 38.3% 91 42.5%
7 5/22/1993 SEA 40 97 41.2% 103 HOU 34 75 45.3% 100 43.0%
7 6/22/1994 HOU 34 73 46.6% 90 NYK 31 78 39.7% 84 43.0%
7 5/7/2005 DAL 41 80 51.3% 116 HOU 29 82 35.4% 76 43.2%
7 6/2/2002 LAL 39 94 41.5% 112 SAC 44 97 45.4% 106 43.5%
7 5/4/2003 DAL 38 83 45.8% 107 POR 35 82 42.7% 95 44.2%
7 5/18/1997 MIA 30 69 43.5% 101 NYK 37 80 46.3% 90 45.0%
7 6/4/2000 LAL 31 63 49.2% 89 POR 32 77 41.6% 84 45.0%

It was also the 2nd-worst shooting performance by the winner in any closeout game since 1991:

Date Winner FG FGA FG% Pts Loser Pts
5/18/2004 IND 22 68 32.4% 73 MIA 70
6/17/2010 LAL 27 83 32.5% 83 BOS 79
6/1/2004 DET 27 82 32.9% 69 IND 65
5/16/2003 DET 27 79 34.2% 93 PHI 89
5/2/2001 SAC 29 83 34.9% 89 PHO 82
5/21/2000 NYK 26 72 36.1% 83 MIA 82
5/13/2008 DET 30 83 36.1% 91 ORL 86
5/16/2000 LAL 29 80 36.3% 87 PHO 65
4/29/2007 CHI 32 84 38.1% 92 MIA 79
5/31/1998 CHI 29 76 38.2% 88 IND 83
5/1/2003 SAS 29 76 38.2% 87 PHO 85
6/13/1997 CHI 31 81 38.3% 90 UTA 86
5/8/1993 HOU 33 86 38.4% 84 LAC 80
5/2/2001 PHI 30 78 38.5% 88 IND 85
6/2/2007 CLE 28 72 38.9% 98 DET 82
6/2/2000 IND 29 74 39.2% 93 NYK 80
5/22/1994 NYK 33 84 39.3% 87 CHI 77
5/16/1999 UTA 33 84 39.3% 99 SAC 92
4/29/2008 SAS 33 84 39.3% 92 PHO 87
5/12/1998 UTA 28 71 39.4% 87 SAS 77
5/15/1999 SAS 28 71 39.4% 92 MIN 85
5/19/2008 SAS 30 76 39.5% 91 NOH 82
5/3/2001 DAL 27 68 39.7% 84 UTA 83
6/16/1996 CHI 31 78 39.7% 87 SEA 75
5/13/1999 IND 33 83 39.8% 99 MIL 91

It's tough to separate bad offense from good defense, so if you're a glass-half-full person, maybe these are just some of the best playoff defensive performances since 1991. In reality, it probably takes a little of both bad offense and good defense to make a list like that.

Ray Allen's Poor Shooting Series

While we're on the topic of bad shooting, Jason asks:

"Neil, I'd also like to see an examination of when the last time a shooter as good as Allen shot so poorly in a finals series."

In the 2010 Finals, Ray Allen shot just 29.3% from beyond the arc and 36.7% overall, good for an Effective Field Goal % of 43.3 (despite a ridiculous shooting performance during Game 2). During the regular season, Allen's eFG% was 55.1, so the Finals represented a drop of 11.8 points of eFG% for Jesus Shuttlesworth. Has anyone since 1991 had a bigger shooting drop-off in the Finals? (Minimum 200 regular-season FGA and 20 FGA during the Finals)

NBA Finals Reg. Season
Player Year Team Opp G GS MP FG FGA 3P 3PA eFG% FGA eFG% Diff
Bruce Bowen 2003 SAS NJN 6 6 171.0 7 30 4 14 30.0 479 57.1 -27.1
Steve Kerr 1996 CHI SEA 6 0 113.0 10 33 4 22 36.4 482 63.3 -26.9
Chris Childs 1999 NYK SAS 5 0 105.0 5 22 1 5 25.0 267 49.4 -24.4
Steve Kerr 1997 CHI UTA 6 0 117.0 9 25 4 16 44.0 467 65.1 -21.1
Jameer Nelson 2009 ORL LAL 5 0 89.8 8 23 1 6 37.0 531 58.0 -21.0
Michael Finley 2007 SAS CLE 4 4 74.2 6 23 1 12 28.3 663 49.0 -20.8
Mario Elie 1994 HOU NYK 7 0 79.0 5 20 2 5 30.0 466 50.6 -20.6
Andrew Bynum 2009 LAL ORL 5 5 94.7 12 33 0 0 36.4 502 56.0 -19.6
Brian Shaw 2000 LAL IND 6 1 113.0 8 37 0 12 21.6 322 41.0 -19.4
Larry Johnson 1999 NYK SAS 5 5 185.0 14 49 2 18 30.6 458 49.5 -18.8
Dennis Rodman 1997 CHI UTA 6 6 163.0 5 20 1 6 27.5 286 45.6 -18.1
Tony Allen 2010 BOS LAL 7 0 103.2 8 24 0 1 33.3 253 51.0 -17.7
Horace Grant 2001 LAL PHI 5 5 123.0 10 34 0 0 29.4 569 46.2 -16.8
Dennis Scott 1995 ORL HOU 4 4 150.0 13 42 7 29 39.3 645 55.5 -16.2
Jordan Farmar 2010 LAL BOS 7 0 88.0 9 28 2 10 35.7 515 51.8 -16.1
Aaron McKie 2001 PHI LAL 5 5 207.0 15 48 4 9 35.4 714 51.1 -15.6
Karl Malone 2004 LAL DET 4 4 122.0 8 24 0 1 33.3 400 48.3 -14.9
Lucious Harris 2002 NJN LAL 4 0 91.0 11 32 1 5 35.9 537 50.5 -14.5
A.C. Green 1991 LAL CHI 5 1 113.0 10 32 2 3 34.4 542 48.6 -14.2
Gary Payton 2004 LAL DET 5 5 168.0 9 28 2 10 35.7 1024 49.8 -14.0
Scottie Pippen 1996 CHI SEA 6 6 248.0 34 99 9 39 38.9 1216 52.5 -13.6
Zydrunas Ilgauskas 2007 CLE SAS 4 4 103.2 13 37 0 0 35.1 793 48.5 -13.4
Kenyon Martin 2003 NJN SAS 6 6 225.0 36 105 0 5 34.3 1082 47.5 -13.2
Patrick Ewing 1994 NYK HOU 7 7 308.0 58 160 1 5 36.6 1503 49.7 -13.1
Ron Harper 1997 CHI UTA 6 6 162.0 11 32 3 11 39.1 406 52.0 -12.9
LeBron James 2007 CLE SAS 4 4 170.5 32 90 4 20 37.8 1621 50.7 -12.9
Tayshaun Prince 2005 DET SAS 7 7 274.0 29 76 1 9 38.8 963 51.1 -12.3
Manu Ginobili 2003 SAS NJN 6 0 172.0 16 46 3 14 38.0 397 50.3 -12.2
Courtney Lee 2009 ORL LAL 5 5 87.9 12 32 2 11 40.6 540 52.6 -12.0
Rajon Rondo 2008 BOS LAL 6 6 162.2 20 53 0 3 37.7 713 49.6 -11.8
Kurt Thomas 1999 NYK SAS 5 0 105.0 11 32 0 0 34.4 368 46.2 -11.8
Ray Allen 2010 BOS LAL 7 7 275.9 33 90 12 41 43.3 973 55.1 -11.8
Andrew Bynum 2010 LAL BOS 7 7 174.6 19 42 0 0 45.2 688 57.0 -11.7
Greg Ostertag 1997 UTA CHI 6 6 131.0 10 25 0 0 40.0 408 51.5 -11.5
Nick Anderson 1995 ORL HOU 4 4 161.0 18 50 10 31 46.0 923 57.3 -11.3

The closest analogue to Allen in terms of pure shooting ability would be Steve Kerr in 1996, but Kerr only missed 18 3-pointers that series (Allen missed 29!). The player with the most similar usage level to Allen's would probably be Scottie Pippen in '96; while not regarded as the pure shooter Allen is, Pip actually had a better 3P% that regular-season than Allen did in 2010, and his shot similarly abandoned him in the Finals.

Finals Free Throw Disparity

Here's a controversial question from JP:

"Hi Neil, I was wondering if you could do a little analysis on the large free throw disparity as compared to shots attempts at the rim, or any other quantifiable measure of 'aggressive play'. It sure seemed like the Celtics were matching the aggression of the Lakers, but were playing from behind against small to heavy free throw disadvantages, particularly in the last three games of the NBA Finals."

Let's look at the data (thanks to ESPN.com) for each game of the Finals, specifically on how many free throw attempts each team received per field goal attempt in the "immediate basket area" (defined as a shot in the paint, below the dotted line):

Celtics Lakers
Date Gm# FTA Shots in IBA Ratio FTA Shots in IBA Ratio
6/3/2010 1 36 14 2.571 31 18 1.722
6/6/2010 2 26 11 2.364 41 15 2.733
6/8/2010 3 24 32 0.750 24 26 0.923
6/10/2010 4 23 40 0.575 22 24 0.917
6/13/2010 5 13 27 0.481 26 32 0.813
6/15/2010 6 10 17 0.588 19 16 1.188
6/17/2010 7 17 19 0.895 37 23 1.609
Total 149 160 0.931 200 154 1.299

Ladies and gentlemen, start your conspiracy theories! Seriously, though, all I can say here is that this measure of "aggression" -- shots taken in the immediate basket area -- does not explain the disparity in free throw attempts between L.A. and Boston. Read into that what you will (and I'm sure you will, no matter which side of the fence you sit on).

Finally, Robert writes:

"To add to the mailbag; any chance Neil can analyse the rate that sports analysts are right or wrong in predicting outcomes?"

I can only analyze the rate that I'm right in predicting outcomes. And the answer? Not as often as I'd like.

Anyway, thanks for the questions, everybody! Hopefully we'll be able to do this again soon.

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29 Responses to “BBR Mailbag: Post-Finals Mega-Mailbag”

  1. Mike G Says:

    Neil, your list of the worst FG% by winning teams in series closeout games is topped by:

    Win -- Opp - yr --- FG% - - eFG% - - TS%
    Ind vs Mia 2004 -- .324 -- .346 -- .442
    LAL vs Bos 2010 -- .325 -- .349 -- .418
    Det vs Ind 2004 -- .329 -- .354 -- .389

    A clear winner!

    What do all these series have in common? -- Ron Artest!

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    Fittingly, I guess that means Ron-Ron is the king of the ugly win. (Not that Ron himself is ugly, but his game isn't the prettiest in the world.)

  3. JP Says:

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for the analysis. Your numbers kind of matched what my eyes were seeing, but I'd be interested to know what your interpretation of the disparity in free throws is. I'd also be curious in knowing your opinions on how much free throw attempts impact an NBA player/teams effectiveness. For instance, if you stripped out free throw attempt advantages, would the margin between an "average" NBA player/team and a "great" NBA player/team be smaller, or remain the same. Would that disparity (if there is any) be enough to swing any of the historical teams from winner to loser? I'm not sure if I'm getting my point across, but I guess what I'm asking is what equity percentage do free throws play in an average player or team as compared to a "great" player or team. I'm not sure if you could even answer this, but I'd love to see your take on it if you have the time or inclination of course.

  4. Jason J Says:

    Interesting stuff re: Pippen and Kerr dropping off dramatically against Seattle in 1996. As I recall Chicago jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then couldn't get anything going from anywhere on the court. Seattle fans pointed to the job Payton did on Jordan when Coach Karl made the switch, but Chicago fans point out how many open shots (similar to Allen) all the Bulls missed and blame it on lack of focus with the 3-0 lead after the 72 win season and near perfect playoffs. Either way it is reminiscent of what went on with Rayray.

    I'm not surprised by the free throw disparity findings. My co-blogger pointed out in a podcast that he thought the reason for the difference in offensive rebounds, paint scoring, and free throws all stemmed from a simple difference in defensive style. His theory is that Boston contested everything in the paint, causing them to give up rebounding position and fouls in order to hinder LA's FG%. At the other end he believed LA allowed penetrators and post-up scorers to shoot over outstretched hands and lived with the consequences, hence giving up more points in the paint but allowing themselves to control their defensive backboards and stay out of foul trouble. I'm not sure I buy it because I think you'd see very few blocks for LA if that was the case, but it is an interesting argument, and it may be right.

  5. Neil Paine Says:

    Re #3: There's actually a pretty simple answer to that, thanks to the Four Factors of basketball:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/factors.html

    A team's ability to get to the line and make their free throws accounts for 15% of their overall efficiency differential. What does that mean? Well, let's look at an example from 2010...

    The Hornets and Mavericks had an identical eFG% (.506), and while New Orleans had a slightly higher turnover % (12.7% vs. 12.3%), they offset that by grabbing a slightly higher % of available offensive rebounds (24.8% vs. 24.3%). By all rights, they should have had the same offensive efficiency.

    Except for the fact that Dallas made .226 free throws for every FG attempted, and New Orleans only made .189. That disparity, the difference between being 15th in the league (basically average) and 29th in the league (better than only Milwaukee) was enough to give Dallas an ORtg almost 2 points higher than New Orleans (109.2 vs. 107.4). If we assign both teams a league-average defense, we can plug those numbers into the pythagorean formula and conclude that Dallas' free throw ability added 4.8 wins over New Orleans! Remember, the only thing different between the two teams is that Dallas' free throw rate was average and New Orleans' was almost the NBA's worst, yet that difference was enough to add 5 wins!

    So, yeah, free throws matter. If the Lakers and Celtics had both had the same ratio of FTA to FGA in the immediate basket area, Boston would have shot 50 more free throws. At 77% conversion, that's 38-39 more points, and they were only outscored by 24 in the entire series. I'm not saying there was any underhanded activity causing that disparity, but Boston's inability to draw the same # of free throws per interior FGA as L.A. probably cost them the championship.

  6. Neil Paine Says:

    That's a great point, Jason. Simply taking shots inside isn't enough to guarantee fouls -- the other team obviously has to hack you as well. L.A. clearly made contesting & blocking shots less of a priority than Boston: they blocked only 7.3% of the Celts' 2-point attempts, while Boston blocked 10.1% of L.A.'s 2-point shots. IDK if that completely explains the free throw disparity, but it certainly seems to be a big factor.

  7. JP Says:

    Thank you for the response. I'm looking forward to reading Dean Oliver's book. It seems to me that the one stat out of all of those equity percentages that Oliver uses that is almost completely out of the hands of the player is free throw attempts. If this really is anywhere close to 15% of the success "pie", that seems to be a rather large portion of winning that is entirely subjective based on the interpretation of the rules by NBA officials.

    In my opinion, the NBA should try and make this number smaller, which would ameliorate the NBA officiating problems that they have been dealing with, really for a while now, but even more so in recent years considering the whole Donaghy thing...how they would do that besides decreasing the amount of free throws in general is another question.

    Also, I noticed that you had indicated that you have different weightings than Dean Oliver in those four factors, care to share?

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    Actually, that was Justin who mentioned different weightings; I really have no idea what his preferred percentages are.

    As far as reducing reliance on officiating, I've talked to front office people who have said the same thing -- while getting to the line is nice and indicates a player's agression, all else being equal they would prefer a player who got more of his points from the field because you can't always count on a whistle.

    Either way, I think what all coaches and players really want is just for the officials to be consistent. I, for one, would like to see a foul in summer league be a foul in December be a foul in Game 7 of the Finals. Officiating is very difficult and inherently subjective, but the sport would be much fairer if the game was always called the same way instead of realizing halfway through the Finals that they were "calling too many fouls", and clearly changing the interpretation of the rules mid-stream.

  9. JP Says:

    It's like you read my mind with that last post.

  10. huevonkiller Says:

    LeBron had the higher SPM, Stop percentage, Game Score, PER, and played more minutes per game. Why should Kobe get an edge even in 2010? The only reason the Cavs had a 108 defensive rating was because of Jamison, Parker/Mo.

    Also you need to include the 2008 figures for James, just for fun. Your argument that he wasn't the unanimous best player in 2008 is puzzling because neither was Kobe. The voters gave him a make up MVP and some kind of career achievement.

  11. Neil Paine Says:

    Dude, stop being biased. Kobe had a higher ORtg on a greater % of possessions. His defense may be overstated by DRtg, but even if we consider them even on defense, Bryant's offensive numbers were better. He gets the edge here.

  12. huevonkiller Says:

    Uh excuse me, you're the one in love with SPM correct? How do you know they were "even" on defense?

    This eyeballing method you're doing isn't exactly comforting. If Kobe was clearly superior then LeBron wouldn't be winning all these other metrics. I'm sorry you don't remember how much Pierce was erased in that series, but I'll continue to bring it up until you're more specific.

    How do you know they were even defensively? Clearly they weren't or SPM would be totally in favor of Kobe. It actually supports my hypothesis.

    And your 2008 comparison is for what exactly? Kobe wasn't the best player that year. Again a confusing position you're using.

  13. Neil Paine Says:

    I'm not "in love" with SPM. It is merely one of several metrics that I employ to evaluate players. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. In a sample like this, their SPMs were equal (a difference of a few decimal points is not significant at all), and their Basketball on Paper stats favored Kobe, therefore I gave the edge to Kobe. DRtg favors Kobe by a great deal; DPA (the other defensive metric I use) favors LeBron, albeit not as strongly as DRtg favors Kobe. Combining those metrics, I think it's generous to grant LeBron "even" status on defense, and again, I reiterate that Kobe had the higher ORtg and higher %Poss, the two offensive metrics I rely on the most.

  14. Neil Paine Says:

    The 2008 comparison is because the media framed this series as a rematch of those Finals. It has nothing to do with the LeBron James debate; it was included to gauge Kobe's play this year vs. his play 2 years ago.

  15. huevonkiller Says:

    Defensive rating is a team stat, how can you just "combine" both metrics when LeBron's teammates were atrocious on Defense? How does me saying, his teammates were terrible defensively, support you using a team defensive stat?

    What positions did LeBron defend, and have an impact on mostly? Pierce. Maybe Ray a little on some rotations.

    LeBron on Pierce.

    Parker/Mo on Rondo.

    Jamison on KG.

    Mo/Parker on Ray.

    (Game score per game)

    Paul Pierce:

    vs Cle- 7.33 GSPG

    vs Others: 14.822 GSPG

    Rondo (Kobe's dude)

    vs Cle- 20.366 GSPG

    vs LA- 12.057 GSPG

    Others- 13.07778 GSPG

    Kg

    vs Cle- 13.83 GSPG

    vs Otrhers- 11.24 GSPG

    Ray Allen:

    vs Cle- 10.2 GSPG

    vs Others- 10.6 GSPG

    In fact, what was Pierce's career worst series? This would certainly rank up there.

  16. Neil Paine Says:

    You can move back and forth between DPA and DRtg rather easily by multiplying DPA by 5 and subtracting it from the series' average DRtg. In the cases of Kobe & LeBron vs. Boston in 2010, Kobe's 0.15 DPA is equivalent to a 103.3 DRtg; LBJ's 0.78 is equivalent to 102.0. So according to DPA, LeBron's defense was 1.3 pts/100 poss better than Kobe's, and according to DRtg, Kobe's was 5.4 pts/100 better than LeBron's. This is why it's very generous to say they were "even" defensively... For that to be true, you'd have to weigh DRtg about a quarter as much as you'd weigh DPA.

  17. huevonkiller Says:

    14. The media frames it in various ways (what if player X was on that team). Neither was in their prime in 2008 and they faced the same historic defense. There's an assumption I sense, that one did better than the other. It would be helpful to compare both.

  18. huevonkiller Says:

    16.

    Pau Gasol also had more Win Shares in that series, care to address the lack of pressure on Bryant's part? There are some things you're just skimming over.

    Are you being vague on purpose? I just laid it out rather clearly I thought on defense. D-rating is a team stats that means what exactly?

    And yet SPM doesn't seem to care about your generous defensive edge. It seems to be a push at worst, except LeBron is winning various metrics and individual matchups.

    I don't see the contradictions.

  19. huevonkiller Says:

    I forgot to add, of course D-rating can be helpful but I prefer it in larger sample sizes.

  20. Neil Paine Says:

    DRtg is an individual stat just like DPA. They both scale so that the weighted average of individuals on a team is related to the team's defensive rating. It's just that DRtg is scaled so that the minute-weighted average = team DRtg, and DPA is scaled so that 5 * the minute-weighted average = team DRtg.

  21. huevonkiller Says:

    Likewise, I used various metrics to support my position. Not subjective nonsense.In such a comparable series, I question how you can object like you originally did.

    I saw the entire series and remember how Andy got benched for the Jamison/Shaq duo. Shaq can't rotate, and KG had his way with Antawn.If you play on some stud defensive team you have an advantage in DRtg. That is its flaws, and I merely pointed that only over a large enough span would I definitively use it with confidence (say half a season or so). You know it is not easy to analyze defense.

    So tell me how does 82games (basketball-reference is amazing as well, don't worry) analyze players? Net PER (Game score difference is related to that for example), and some kind of +/- ? That's pretty much my comparison isn't it? SPM and game score difference at key positions.

  22. Neil Paine Says:

    Yes, the Roland Rating is a combination of net PER and raw on/off court +/-. I'm not the biggest fan of PER there ever was (I have tremendous respect for John Hollinger, and we do list PER here on the site, but I feel that it suffers from the same philosophical issues as TENDEX, which the industry moved away from 10 years ago), but I like on/off when used appropriately and in the right context....

    Anyway, that's not really at issue here. All I'm saying is that when you look at SPM/DPA and the ORtg/%Poss/DRtg framework, LeBron's performance vs. Boston was at best equal to Kobe's, and at worst somewhat inferior. Does this mean Kobe is a better player than LeBron? No. There's mounds of evidence beyond these small samples to suggest that James' contribution to winning is, on average, fairly significantly better than Bryant's. But in May/June 2010, against a common opponent in the Boston Celtics, Kobe's contribution was at least equal to LeBron's, if not slightly better.

  23. Gil Meriken Says:

    Neil, instead of trying to gauge "Boston's inability to draw the same # of free throws per interior FGA as L.A.", what about the fact that the Lakers simply foul less, and also that the Celtics foul more relative to them (in general, not just this series)?

    I'm currently trying to whip up a "Fouls per possession" stat over all 82 regular season game, and if I'm doing it right (this is where I'm asking for your help), it seems that adjusted for pace, my impressions match reality, as Boston and Utah are consistently at the top of the most fouling-est teams in the league.

    Instead of blaming the refs for calling the fouls (I know, you aren't doing this, but a LOT of Celtics fans are) shouldn't the Celtics take some responsibility for actually fouling at a higher rate, regardless of who they play?

    If I've done my "fouls per possession" calculation correctly, the real anomaly would be that the Celtics weren't called for more fouls in 2008, relative to the Lakers less fouling ways.

  24. Neil Paine Says:

    That's a great point, Gil. Here are the 2010 "leaders" in fouls committed per possession:

    Year Team PF Poss PF/Poss
    2010 DET 1822 7297.9 0.250
    2010 UTA 1859 7722.1 0.241
    2010 BOS 1816 7552.2 0.240
    2010 MIL 1823 7633.1 0.239
    2010 TOR 1819 7669.5 0.237
    2010 POR 1715 7257.9 0.236
    2010 DEN 1844 7810.5 0.236
    2010 SAC 1827 7785.3 0.235
    2010 IND 1848 7968.6 0.232
    2010 WAS 1752 7571.9 0.231
    2010 MIA 1710 7423.3 0.230
    2010 GSW 1886 8250.2 0.229
    2010 OKC 1743 7681.1 0.227
    2010 PHI 1677 7556.2 0.222
    2010 SAS 1669 7554.8 0.221
    2010 HOU 1712 7799.7 0.219
    2010 ATL 1632 7454.3 0.219
    2010 PHO 1713 7836.7 0.219
    2010 NJN 1643 7529.0 0.218
    2010 ORL 1629 7565.9 0.215
    2010 MIN 1699 7919.9 0.215
    2010 CHI 1648 7720.8 0.213
    2010 CHA 1597 7484.1 0.213
    2010 MEM 1655 7759.7 0.213
    2010 CLE 1591 7528.8 0.211
    2010 NYK 1638 7783.9 0.210
    2010 NOH 1606 7652.7 0.210
    2010 LAC 1581 7601.0 0.208
    2010 LAL 1592 7667.0 0.208
    2010 DAL 1563 7661.9 0.204

    Your impressions were right -- Boston had the 3rd-most fouls committed per possession, while the Lakers had the 2nd-fewest.

  25. Jason J Says:

    Neil - Is it as open and shut a case as "one team tends to foul more often than the other?" In the regular season Boston's FT/FGA was 6th best in the NBA; LA was 18th best - below average. That is to say that while Boston did foul a lot, they also got fouled a lot, and while LA did not foul often, they also did not get fouled often. So while that may favor the Lakers over a seven game series to some extent, I wonder if they would be expected to enjoy such a large advantage in fouls called, as a matter of degrees.

  26. Gil Meriken Says:

    Jason - that is a very interesting question, as you get into the strange situations of "what happens when a team that gets fouled a lot meets a team that doesn't foul a lot?", and "what happens when a team that doesn't get fouled a lot meets a team that fouls a lot?"

  27. Gil Meriken Says:

    Jason - It's also not true in the Celtics-Lakers case that the Celtics got fouled more than the Lakers. Taking the Opponent PFs on a raw basis, Celtics opponents were whistled for 1777 fouls, and Lakers opponents were called for 1737 fouls. Adjust for pace, it not much of a difference, maybe 3 or 4%.

    PFs is a better gauge, as FT amounts would be impacted by being in the penalty.

  28. Jason J Says:

    Good point, Gil. I just didn't want to try to adjust for pace on my own so I took the only advanced stat I saw that had it built in.

  29. Neil Paine Says:

    Following up on the fouls debate:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=6761