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Does Kobe or LeBron Give You a Better Chance vs. Boston?

Posted by Neil Paine on June 21, 2010

For those who missed the epic Kobe-LeBron thread over the weekend, here's a recap of a good back-and-forth between myself and a commenter named "Anon" (a far different Anon from the user who usually posts under that moniker, apparently)...

First off, I stated that if LeBron's teammates played as well vs. Boston as Kobe's did against the Celts, Cleveland would have advanced. In retrospect, I should have said "Cleveland would probably have advanced," since obviously there are no certainties, in life and least of all in sports, but the general point stands -- Cleveland's probability of beating Boston would have been higher had James' teammates given him a performance like Kobe's did against the same opponent. The justification for that statement is this:

"LeBron's SPM in the Cleveland-Boston series was +7.47. His team's efficiency differential was -5.8.

Kobe's SPM in the L.A.-Boston series was +7.45. His team's efficiency differential was +4.0.

Remember, 5 * the minute-weighted average of the SPMs of the individuals on a team must equal the team's efficiency differential.

This is what I mean when I say, 'if LeBron had gotten a Gasol-like performance from one of his teammates, Cleveland would have won.' Kobe and LeBron played at identical levels in their respective series vs. Boston. The only possible reason for their teams' disparate efficiency differentials must be the performances of their teammates."

I went on to show the cumulative stats for both teams during their respective series vs. Boston:

Player Team Opp mp mpg pts40 tsa40 3pa40 fta40 ast40 orb40 drb40 tov40 stl40 blk40 SPM
James CLE BOS 255 42.5 25.3 22.7 4.1 11.0 6.8 1.4 7.4 4.2 2.0 1.3 7.47
Williams CLE BOS 225 37.4 14.2 13.8 3.4 4.6 5.9 0.4 3.4 2.1 0.7 0.0 -2.63
Jamison CLE BOS 200 33.2 14.2 14.7 3.2 4.2 1.2 1.8 7.0 1.8 0.8 1.0 -3.30
Parker CLE BOS 199 33.1 10.1 7.4 4.2 1.2 1.4 0.2 2.8 1.4 1.4 0.4 -1.01
O'Neal CLE BOS 140 23.4 23.1 20.4 0.0 10.0 1.7 3.4 5.1 2.9 0.3 1.7 -1.98
West CLE BOS 131 21.9 10.4 10.6 1.8 4.0 3.4 0.9 2.1 4.3 1.2 0.6 -8.23
Varejao CLE BOS 129 21.5 11.5 9.8 0.3 5.3 1.2 3.4 7.5 1.9 1.9 1.2 1.42
Hickson CLE BOS 57 9.5 20.4 15.7 0.0 8.5 0.7 0.0 4.9 3.5 0.0 0.0 -8.51
Moon CLE BOS 43 7.1 10.3 8.8 3.8 2.8 2.8 0.9 4.7 0.0 1.9 0.0 1.38
Ilgauskas CLE BOS 34 11.5 8.1 9.8 0.0 1.2 1.2 1.2 2.3 1.2 0.0 5.8 -6.56
Gibson CLE BOS 19 6.2 10.7 12.6 8.6 4.3 2.1 0.0 2.1 2.1 0.0 0.0 -9.95
Powe CLE BOS 9 2.9 23.0 26.5 0.0 18.4 0.0 4.6 4.6 4.6 0.0 0.0 -9.33
Williams CLE BOS 1 1.2 0.0 32.4 32.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 -20.67
Player Team Opp mp mpg pts40 tsa40 3pa40 fta40 ast40 orb40 drb40 tov40 stl40 blk40 SPM
Gasol LAL BOS 293 41.9 17.7 15.9 0.3 8.3 3.5 4.8 6.3 1.8 0.7 2.5 5.70
Bryant LAL BOS 288 41.2 27.7 26.3 6.5 8.3 3.7 1.7 6.1 3.7 2.1 0.7 7.45
Artest LAL BOS 251 35.9 11.8 12.9 5.1 3.2 1.4 1.9 3.2 1.8 1.6 0.6 -0.48
Fisher LAL BOS 214 30.6 11.2 10.7 1.9 3.2 2.6 0.6 3.4 1.7 1.1 0.0 -2.31
Odom LAL BOS 192 27.4 11.0 10.8 2.1 2.3 1.9 2.1 7.5 2.1 0.8 0.8 -1.73
Bynum LAL BOS 175 24.9 11.9 11.6 0.0 4.6 0.0 3.7 4.6 1.4 0.2 2.1 -2.89
Farmar LAL BOS 88 12.6 9.6 13.1 4.5 0.9 2.7 0.5 3.2 3.6 3.6 0.0 -3.42
Brown LAL BOS 85 12.1 9.9 10.1 1.4 1.4 1.4 0.0 2.8 0.0 0.0 0.5 -6.28
Vujacic LAL BOS 52 7.4 16.2 14.3 7.7 4.6 3.8 2.3 3.1 0.8 1.5 0.0 3.85
Walton LAL BOS 31 7.8 2.6 3.8 0.0 0.0 3.8 0.0 2.6 2.6 0.0 2.6 -7.10
Powell LAL BOS 8 4.1 0.0 9.7 4.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 4.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 -14.29
Mbenga LAL BOS 3 2.7 0.0 14.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 14.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 -17.31

However, as Anon pointed out, it's not necessarily quite that open-and-shut. On average, LeBron and Kobe did perform at essentially equal levels vs. the C's, but the game-by-game distributions of their performances were radically different. Here are Kobe's game-by-game SPM scores vs. Boston:

Date mp pts40 ts% 3pa40 fta40 ast40 orb40 drb40 tov40 stl40 blk40 SPM
6/3/2010 38.8 31.0 56.8 2.1 10.3 6.2 1.0 6.2 4.1 1.0 1.0 7.81
6/6/2010 34.3 24.5 49.2 8.2 3.5 7.0 0.0 5.8 5.8 4.7 0.0 2.40
6/8/2010 43.9 26.4 44.6 6.4 7.3 3.6 1.8 4.6 0.9 1.8 2.7 11.52
6/10/2010 43.1 30.7 64.7 10.2 7.4 1.9 0.0 5.6 6.5 1.9 0.0 3.49
6/13/2010 43.9 34.6 61.4 9.1 8.2 3.6 1.8 2.7 3.6 0.9 0.9 8.54
6/15/2010 39.6 26.3 58.9 4.0 7.1 3.0 3.0 8.1 2.0 4.0 0.0 16.49
6/17/2010 44.9 20.5 37.6 5.4 13.4 1.8 3.6 9.8 3.6 0.9 0.0 1.55

That's a standard deviation of 5.41... Meanwhile, here are LBJ's game-by-game SPMs vs. Boston:

Date mp pts40 ts% 3pa40 fta40 ast40 orb40 drb40 tov40 stl40 blk40 SPM
5/1/2010 43.2 32.4 60.7 5.6 10.2 6.5 1.9 4.6 1.9 2.8 1.9 17.41
5/3/2010 41.2 23.3 55.6 3.9 14.6 3.9 0.0 6.8 4.9 2.9 1.9 4.97
5/7/2010 39.3 38.7 73.2 3.1 9.2 7.1 2.0 6.1 1.0 1.0 2.0 22.20
5/9/2010 43.2 20.4 48.2 4.6 10.2 7.4 0.9 7.4 6.5 1.9 0.9 0.35
5/11/2010 41.7 14.4 38.9 3.8 11.5 6.7 1.0 4.8 2.9 1.0 0.0 -6.15
5/13/2010 46.2 23.4 51.4 3.5 10.4 8.7 2.6 13.9 7.8 2.6 0.9 6.49

That's a standard deviation of 10.58... This means that LeBron was more likely to have a monster game, but he was also more likely to have a poor game that damaged his team's chances. Linking this back to team performance, Dean Oliver found in Basketball on Paper that, among two teams with equally positive point differentials, the one that was more consistent was likely to win more ballgames. Now Kobe suddenly has a case for contributing more wins vs. Boston than LeBron, given equal teammates.

This is an interesting development. I'm not saying Kobe is always more consistent than LeBron, mind you, or that they're always equal performers. This is based on a very specific, very miniscule sample size, and we all know the dangers of drawing conclusions from this kind of short-term data. So please keep that in mind going forward.

Nonetheless, let's set up a simple Monte Carlo experiment to test this: say for a second that these numbers do represent the true ability levels of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and their teammates against the Boston Celtics in May and June of 2010. So Kobe and LeBron are two players with equal contributions to victory on average (+7.5), but Kobe's per-game distribution is much narrower -- let's give him a standard deviation of 5.5 SPM each game, and give LeBron a standard deviation of 10.5. And they both play 42 MPG.

Of course, we also need to establish the production of their teammates. Remember that the team's efficiency differential will always equal

(5 * (m1s1 + m2s2)) / (m1 + m2)

where m1 is the player's minutes, s1 is the player's SPM, m2 is his teammates' total minutes, and s2 is those teammates' minute-weighted SPM.

During their Boston series, Kobe's teammates averaged a -0.56 score with a per-game standard deviation of 2.6; LeBron's teammates averaged a -2.87 score with a standard deviation of 3.8. Combined, the two superstars' teammates averaged -1.63 with a 3.3 standard deviation.

So for the purposes of this simulation, let's say that the star can be on either Cleveland, where he'll get -3 support with a stdev of 4; L.A., where he'll get -0.5 support with a 2.5 stdev; or "Clevangeles", where he'll get -1.5 support with a 3.5 stdev. In each situation, which player contributes a higher cumulative winning percentage, the Kobe-esque one or the LeBron-esque one?

10,000 simulated games later, here's your answer:

Team Wins/10,000 G
Player Cleveland Los Angeles "Clevangeles"
Kobe Bryant 3698 6511 5085
LeBron James 3839 6259 5054

As you can see, the players were actually well-suited to their real-life situations -- a player with James' all-or-nothing variance would win more on a team like Cleveland than he would if he had Kobe's steadier approach. Likewise, Bryant's consistency would buy the Lakers more wins than LBJ's boom-and-bust tendencies. And on the bizarre amalgam of the Cavs and Lakers, Kobe has a very slim edge in total wins.

Another major thing we can derive from this sim? More often than not, neither Kobe nor LeBron would have been enough to put Cleveland over the top vs. Boston, given the way the rest of the team played. Also, the Lakers win the NBA championship more often than not no matter whether James or Bryant is leading the way. Proving again that, whoever you are, you always need help from your friends.

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56 Responses to “Does Kobe or LeBron Give You a Better Chance vs. Boston?”

  1. Spree Says:

    Even the math shows that basketball fundamentally comes down to team performance. Likely, one reason Kobe's consistency vis-a-vis Lebron here is the system and team as well.

    That is, his team talent and offensive system, could mask his bad games to a much better degree than Lebron's team could when he was having a bad game. The Cleveland offense ran totally through Lebron and relied on him such that he was either going to have great days or horrible ones whereas The Triangle offense and reliable post play from Gasol could make Kobe look better even on bad days.

  2. Anon Says:

    "For those who missed the epic Kobe-LeBron thread over the weekend, here's a recap of a good back-and-forth between myself and a commenter named "Anon" (a far different Anon from the user who usually posts under that moniker, apparently)..."

    Sure isn't, Neil. This is the real Anon...I'm staying away from these Kobe/LeBron threads, mainly because debating with Kobe fanatics is a waste of time. Especially when they still haven't yet grasped the fact that it is silly to directly compare individual players in a team sport.

    Just a few things however:

    1) Over on the APBRMetrics forum, DSMok had different SPM game scores from what you have for Kobe above: http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=2586 Is there any reason for this?

    2) Could you also put of LeBron's Basketball on Paper stats for the Celtics series? Thanks.

  3. Gil Meriken Says:

    Neil, thanks for the work.

    Although I think you must know this will not solve anything or quell any disputes, I still really enjoy reading this type of thing.

    First, anyone who believes that Lebron is superior will not agree that "... Kobe and LeBron are two players with equal contributions to victory on average". That is a leap I think few Lebron fans will be willing to take.

    Second, I have no second. Very entertaining concept and again, thanks.

  4. David Fauber Says:

    "It looks I was wrong on the "Cleveland probably would have advanced" claim"

    I don't see how you were wrong here. You said Cleveland probably would have advanced if LeBron's teammates had produced at the same level as Kobe's did. Conceptually, this would seem to correspond to the "LA/Lebron" column, not the "Cle/Lebron" column, which does indeed show them having a > .500 chance of winning.

  5. AYC Says:

    Funny that LBJ haters make such a big deal about him "quitting" in game 5, when that wasn't the series clinching game. Let's compare apples to apples; his game 6 to Kobe's game 7:

    Bron had 27/19/10 on 8-21 shooting (2-4 from 3), and 9-12 FT's with 9 TO's
    Kobe had 23/15/02 on 6-24 shooting (0-6 from 3), and 11-15 FT's with 4 TO's

    Why were Lebron's 19 boards against a healthy BOS frontline less impressive than Kobe's 15 against a Celts team with Perk sitting and Sheed at center? Were LBJ's 9 TO's worse than Kobe's 6-24, 0-6 from 3 shooting line and 1:2 assist-to-TO ratio? While Kobe was stinking up the staples center, Artest, Gasol and the rest stepped up. Who stepped up besides LBJ (10 pts in the 4th) for the Cavs? Mo Williams? He was 1-7 in the second half. Antwan Jamison? He had 5 pts for the entire game on 2-10 shooting (0-3 from 3). So which star underperformed in their final game?

    Which one "choked"?

  6. AYC Says:

    PS Lebron had 3 steals and 1 block, Kobe had 1 steal and 0 blks

  7. Charrua Says:

    Hey, if Kobe and Lebron performed at essentially similar levels versus the Celtics, it suggests that Kobe "lost" less productivity than Lebron against them, since Lebron had a higher productivity to start with. It's not exactly surprising, since Kobe's game (lots of midrange jumpers) is less efficient but harder to attack, defensively.

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    Good point David, I changed that part.

  9. DSMok1 Says:

    @2 Anon:

    I'm working on a Beta SPM that's different than Neil's latest. Actually, I've got 2 in the works.

    The Beta SPM I posted is based purely on "Advanced" stats: ORB%, DRB%, AST%, STL%, BLK%, TORate, TS%, and MPG. It is not linear, because the scoring part of the regression is posed in the form: ((TS%*2*(1-a*TORate))-PPPThreshold)*b, where a, PPPThresh, and b are all coefficients generated by the regression. Using a term like this allows turnovers to be compensated for directly, and using the PPP threshold allows us to get away from a nonlinear FGA^2 term, which can have issues. The source data for that SPM was the 6 year average APM's Ilardi posted on APBR. I think it's a very solid SPM, and one Neil may want to look into using. There is enough data for it going back many years. When the "team adjustment" is added (summing team to efficiency margin), the regression has a very high R^2.

    The other SPM is more "experimental". I'm using Hoopdata's advanced stats, and attempting to include assists (and subtract out "assisted") within the scoring term, and to include charges taken (basically, so far charges taken=steals in the regressions). Obviously, data for that experimental SPM is limited. I'm using assist location data as well...

  10. Julian Says:

    "Now Kobe suddenly has a case for contributing more wins vs. Boston than LeBron, given equal teammates."

    These spm figures are independent of team quality? What if having weaker complementary support increases volatility of performances? I'd wager that it does.

  11. huevonkiller Says:

    Kobe fanatics are worthless because they bet their lives on this one series. And as you can see the performances are quite comparable.

    SPM underrates Tim Duncan a little bit, iirc. I would add that LeBron's individual D was superior which equalizes things further.

  12. Bill Reynolds Says:

    Neil -- Where are these SPM stats you keep referring to? Why are they not available on this site anywhere? Are they coming anytime soon?

  13. huevonkiller Says:

    Neil I would also like to see an advanced comparison against Boston in 2008.

  14. AYC Says:

    This is off topic, but I don't know where else to ask; how is it that a player like Shaq can have a TS% higher than both his FG% and his FT%? It's not 3pt shooting obviously, so what am I missing here...?

  15. AYC Says:

    Wait, I guess it is 3 pt shooting...

  16. AYC Says:

    But he never attempted a 3 pt shot in postseason play, and his TS% is still higher than either...

  17. Brittney M Says:

    As a Laker fan and Kobe defender on topics like this one, I just stopped by to offer a comment on Lebron needing more time to gel with his teammates. It happened to Kobe as Lakers just picked up Gasol, went through the west but wasn't quite ready to get over the hump vs. Boston 08 and once they got a full year together what happens? Rings started coming, it's just a process of knowing your teammates, knowing their spots and having a winning system which I saw in these playoffs Lebron's team hasn't had yet(that gel was missing) with the new addition of Jamision. I say give it a year if Lebron stays because nothing is wrong with his teammates, he has a great team, they just need better coaching, better leading and each player having an unstanding of how they need to play within the system to win, I've seen games where Cavs were just confused in the playoffs, maybe it was the other teams defense or whatever but they need another year together before winning it all.

  18. Neil Paine Says:

    12. That's up to Justin. I think we're going to look at the best options to make the most accurate SPM possible at some point. I should note, though, that a poor man's version of this SPM (no team adjustment) was a better predictor than NBA efficiency, poor man's PER, or poor man's Wins Produced:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=6491#comment-18616

    14. That's because Shaq draws so many fouls relative to his FGA. FTAs yield a ton of points per possession -- even making just half of your FT is equivalent to a 56.8 TS%.

  19. P Middy Says:

    It's a tough question all right. Do you go with LeBron's ability to attack the rim and draw fouls against Boston's (overly) hard-nosed, no-buckets defense, or do you go with Kobe's ability to avoid it with his mid-range shooting?

    And don't forget, Kobe played Boston with a broken finger, and LeBron played with a "bad" elbow (still don't know what the diagnosis is). They both could've potentially put up better SPM than they did.

  20. AYC Says:

    Thanks, Neil. I was assuming it just combined FG and FT%. Shaq is the rare player who is better from the field than from the line, so I expected his TS% to go down, not up.

    Just to clarify, you're saying TS% relates to points per possession, and presumably FT attempts don't count as possessions. If that's the case, every made FT counts as "gravy" helping your TS%, no matter how bad your FT% is. Is that correct?

  21. Jason J Says:

    18. Neil - Why exactly do FTAs in and of themselves have such a positive impact? Is there an off-the-cuff rationale for that, or is it just a correlation that the numbers show that hasn't been fully explained? Also, if that's the case, are modern statisticians tracking passes that lead to drawn fouls? Also, shouldn't fouls committed be considered a highly negative contribution (in line with turnovers)?

    Aregato, Paine-sensei.

  22. huevonkiller Says:

    Kobe's offensive/defensive ratings against Boston were terrible in 2008. LeBron won more clearly that season, so for me it isn't really tough at all.

  23. Anon x 2 Says:

    Sorry by jacking someone's name, earlier. I wasn't aware. I'll change it to something else, perhaps at the suggestion of Neil (nothing mean!)

    Good blog post. It seems to confirm what I said in the other thread..that the crappier the players become, the more likely Lebron's play would net the team wins while the better they get, Kobe prevails.

    I still have qualms about the comparison of swapping players because I think Lebron's teammates played poorly a large part as a function of how Lebron played because the offensive system is so stupidly set up to depend on him far too much) and while we all like to imagine Lebron wins with the Lakers (and I believe it as well), it is impossible to know how the team would play.

  24. Neil Paine Says:

    No, I just mean that each FTA counts as .44 of a possession. So if you make some terrible % like, say, 60% from the line, your TS% on those attempts is 68.2. For a 60% foul shooter! That's why players who draw a lot of fouls have huge TS%'s, even if they don't make that many of their FTs. The higher proportion of your true shooting attempts (FGA + .44FTA) that's devoted to free throw attempts, the more benefit your TS% sees. Because what's easier, shooting 68.2% from the floor, or 60% from the line?

  25. Jason J Says:

    .44possessions per FTA comes from fouls on three point attempts, And1s, techs, flagrants, and clearpaths (because on a "normal" two shot foul it would a .50possession)?

  26. Neil Paine Says:

    21. I think FTA have a positive correlation with +/- whether you make them or not because players who tend to draw fouls are also players who are aggressive -- they're active, physical, they make things happen. And the correlation between FTA and adj +/- is actually stronger on defense than offense! (http://sonicscentral.com/apbrmetrics/viewtopic.php?t=327)

    PFs having a positive coefficient is an interesting phenomenon (every SPM regression I've ever run finds a positive relationship between fouls, a seemingly negative action, and adj +/-), and I used to explain it by saying players who foul a lot are really active on defense, they're always in the middle of the action (for better or for worse), etc. But the last time I ran the regression, I decided to buck Prof. Rosenbaum's trend of leaving in variables whether they were significant or not, so I dropped the insignificant variables and re-ran the regression until everything was significant (that's what you see here: http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?page_id=4122). And it turned out that PF were not significant when predicting APM from box score stats. So maybe the surprise isn't that they were positive (which could have been just random noise in the regression), but that they really don't matter at all, positively or negatively.

  27. Mike Says:

    SPA where LeBron had three days of rest:

    17.41
    22.20

    SPA where LeBron had one day of rest:

    4.97
    0.35
    -6.15
    6.49

    Tell me that injured elbow wasn't the biggest factor in these Playoffs.

  28. Neil Paine Says:

    25. Right, exactly. If every trip to the FT line gave you 2 shots and then the other team got possession, the formula would be TS% = 50*(Pts / (FGA + .5FTA)). And that's actually what Rick Barry used to call "True Shooting %" when he made those annuals in the 80s and 90s (which rocked, btw).

    When Dean Oliver or whoever sat down and charted games to see how often a FTA resulted in a change of possession, he found that, for the reasons you mentioned, the average FTA actually uses only .44 of a possession, not the .5 Barry expected. And that's why we have the TS% = 50*(Pts / (FGA + .44FTA)) formula today.

  29. Gil Meriken Says:

    11. "Kobe fanatics are worthless because they bet their lives on this one series."

    Wonderful. And what are Lebron fanatics worth?

  30. themojojedi Says:

    A few technical points:

    Why arbitrarily round the SPM numbers to the nearest 0.5?

    This method is simulating games not series right?, so it doesn't actually answer the question that is being posed about LeBron winning the series. Why not simulate games until you get a series result and then log that as your output. Some series will run 4 games, some will run 7. May not change results at all, may benefit the low variance guy or may benefit the high variance guy, still worth trying to answer the correct question.

    This method doesn't seem to take into account series format, which was different between the LA(2-3-2) and Cleveland (2-2-1-1-1) series, nor any home/road disparity in performance for either the 'stars' or the 'teammates'. I realise that if you are trying to keep the inputs as originating solely from the 2010 BOS-LA and 2010 BOS-CLE series that this would require be splitting down to even smaller samples. Isn't there enough historical evidence though to suggest that home and road performance for supporting casts is not equal and that the series format change might have an impact on the results.

    I assume that you are generating the star and supporting cast performance independently of one another. I haven't run any data to support this but my hypothesis is that LeBron's performance might have a higher positive correlation with that of his teammates than Kobe's performance does with his teammates. Without making any assumptions about causality, if this relationship does exist then the Cavs are more likely to catch fire together as a unit and tank together as a unit than the Lakers. I don't know if there is evidence to suggest that this relationship exists, and even if it does you can't be sure that it would transfer over in a teammate switch. Spree mentioned something similar above, in that the volatility in LeBron's performance might be linked to both the quality and volatility of his teammates.

    I think this is all very interesting but in the end these types of questions are really fanciful hypotheticals that can't be modeled in a way that comes close to capturing the essence of complex interactions, dependencies and human randomness that makes basketball so fun to watch, study and discuss.

  31. Ryan Says:

    I'm not going to chime in on the dead-horse this time around, I just thought I'd drop by to say I've only just noticed how underrated Dana Barros' '94 campaign was.

  32. Jason J Says:

    Thanks, Neil.

  33. Neil Paine Says:

    30. Good grief, exactly how much time did you want me to spend programming this thing? :)

    This post basically wanted to answer only two questions: which type of superstar wins more games with a weak, inconsistent supporting cast -- the consistent one or the inconsistent one? Which type of superstar wins more games with a better, more consistent supporting cast?

    Obviously the level of detail could be taken much further, to all kinds of extremes, but I think I pretty much answered those questions satisfactorily. With the weak, inconsistent supporting cast, you're better off with the inconsistent star because there will be more nights where his brilliance overrides the mediocrity of his teammates, and those are the nights where you win. With a better, more consistent supporting cast, the consistent star is better because you don't need those brilliant outings as much as you need him to limit the bad nights where he hurts the team.

    In the end, it's vaguely similar to what was found here: http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=4388 ... When the odds of winning are low on any given night -- or even in any given season -- due to bad teammates or structural reasons, the more inconsistent you are, the better. Consistency is great when you're a good team, because it means you stay good more often, but to paraphrase Emerson, it's the hobgoblin of crappy teams. If you suck but you're consistent, all it means is that you consistently suck.

    And this study basically re-proved that. Could it have been more complex, taken into account more naunces and details? Sure. But I don't think that would change the conclusion that the bad teammates win more with the inconsistent star and good teammates win more with the consistent one.

  34. themojojedi Says:

    "This post basically wanted to answer only two questions: which type of superstar wins more games with a weak, inconsistent supporting cast -- the consistent one or the inconsistent one? Which type of superstar wins more games with a better, more consistent supporting cast?"

    I agree that you answered those general questions fairly satisfactorily for this scenario, but with all the 'LeBron would have advanced' talk and the focus on only performances in the 2010 BOS-LA and BOS-CLE playoff series it seemed that you constructed this post with a goal to answer much more specific questions than those two. If you didn't, fair enough.

    "Good grief, exactly how much time did you want me to spend programming this thing? :)"

    Point taken. If the main interest was in the playoff series outcomes rather than individual game outcomes there would have to be an additional layer of detail involved though.

    Still not sure I'd want to voluntarily lose precision in the SPM mean and standard deviation numbers by rounding, but since you were taking a more general approach to the winning with inconsistent/consistent star/team question I can see how it doesn't greatly affect the results and conclusions.

  35. potted-plant Says:

    Can you also calculate the chances of the Lakers getting out of the first round this year despite Kobes 24-4-4 40% chokage if you replace Gasol with the second best player from the Cleveland team?

    And while we have another 100 posts discussing if Kobe or Lebron was better against Boston this year: let's not forget that Lebron's series against Boston this year was the worst he played in a long time and characterized by the media as quitting, embarassing, choke-artistry, ruining his legacy, proving he is not a winner, proof that he is nowhere near as good as Kobe ....
    Now that Kobe played no better than Lebron (while having the benefit of not being the sole focus of the Boston defense) the media are mostly discussing how close he is to Jordan.

  36. Neil Paine Says:

    34. Right, I rounded to the nearest 0.5 to establish sort of generic versions of each player and team. Based on a 13-game sample, I don't truly believe this represents the actual ability levels of any of the parties involved, but the original question Anon #2 asked was, if we accepted Kobe/LeBron having equal ability levels, and if we accepted Kobe as being more consistent than LeBron, which player would contribute more wins in each situation? I obviously don't feel that Bryant's true ability level is equal to James', and I haven't investigated their game-to-game consistency, but as long as we're making those assumptions I figured I'd just use generic versions of the numbers.

  37. robinred Says:

    Great piece. Thanks.

  38. huevonkiller Says:

    Great point #35.

  39. Anon x 2 Says:

    "Can you also calculate the chances of the Lakers getting out of the first round this year despite Kobes 24-4-4 40% chokage if you replace Gasol with the second best player from the Cleveland team?"

    Pau's game 6 line: 9 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks, 3 assists, 2 TOs on 38% efg shooting.

    Kobe's game 6 line: 32 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 TOs on 54% efg shooting. His D on Westbrook was key, too.

    yeah, run this on game 6!

    What about Ron's defense on Durant? I think that was hugely important.

    I wish people would stop treating all this as if it happens in a vacuum. If you change any player on any team (that plays), things will be changed.

    Kobe and Pau are two of the best players in the league (and Ron still one of the better defenders). The Lakers rode them with contributions from other players to their 2nd title in 2 years. These are things that happened. Accept it.

    Of course, the major key in that series was Artest's D on Durant. Take Artest off and the Lakers probably don't escape that series

  40. jonathan Says:

    Why are you assuming that the contributions of the "other" players are independent of the numbers put up by the "stars." If Lebron plays in a offensive system that inflates his numbers at the expense of his teammates efficiency against a top tier defense, and Kobe's individual numbers are negatively effected by playing in a offense more conducive to wining, then why are we assuming that the Lakers' supporting cast playing with Lebron would put up the same numbers they did playing in an offensive with Kobe?

  41. potted-plant Says:

    "Kobe's individual numbers are negatively effected by playing in a offense more conducive to wining"

    well, conveniently Kobe did play in an offense less conductive to winning while Phil was gone in 2005. He was in his prime at age 26 and his best teammates back then were Odom and Butler - about the quality Lebron had all his career.
    So what are Kobe's superhuman stats in this most fortunate of situations compared to Lebrons stats at the most similar age (25):
    PER 23.3 (Lebron 31.1)
    WS/48 0.145 (0.299)
    Offensive rating 111 (121)
    defensive rating 111 (102)
    = way, way worse than Lebron in any except his rookie season (and even then Lebrons defense was not nearly as shitty)
    sadly there are no playoff stats for Kobe that year

  42. Anon x 2 Says:

    Kobe and Lamar missed a lot of games that season and their coach quit halfway through.

    Lebron on the current teams (past 2 seasons) never played with such glaring holes as Kobe did in that season, either.

    Tierre Brown, brian Cook, Chutky Atkins, Jumaine Jones.

    Caron Butler wasn't close to the player he became, either, as he was still just a young pup.

    Half a season with hurt and garbage players is hardly indicative of anything at all. To draw any conclusion from it is short-sighted.

  43. Anon Says:

    "If Lebron plays in a offensive system that inflates his numbers at the expense of his teammates efficiency against a top tier defense, and Kobe's individual numbers are negatively effected by playing in a offense more conducive to wining, then why are we assuming that the Lakers' supporting cast playing with Lebron would put up the same numbers they did playing in an offensive with Kobe?"

    I got a better question. Why is it when LeBron has to carry his team's offense because others can't put the ball into the basket he's "ballhogging", but when Kobe does the SAME thing he's "leading his team"? And when Kobe wasn't winning jack (beyond the 1st round of the playoffs at least) from 05-07, Kobe fans flip the script and play the SAME "his teammates didn't step up" card that everyone else is saying about LeBron right now?

    You see, you can't have it both ways. You can pillage on LeBron all you want for not winning a championship while conveniently looking past the sewage-gross performances of his supporting cast in the playoffs, but you had better not be defending Kobe's lack of winning rings on the grounds that "his team sucked from 05-07" either.

    Or...you can be like the rest of the rational basketball world, and simply say that these players weren't winning then (Kobe) and now (LeBron) because it takes teams that can perform in the regular season and playoffs to win titles. Your call, Kobe fans.

    Also, thanks to DsMok1 for the SPM clarification.

  44. Anon x 2 Says:

    I think the difference is that Kobe played within an offensive system that tried to distribute the ball..

    Even when Kwame was on the team, the ball ended up in his hands a lot. Well, let me restate that. The ball bounced off his fingers a lot. Phil still had the team using movement of players and the ball to create shots. When this didn't work, the ball would go into Kobe's hands where he'd do something to bail the team out. And at other times he'd simply dominate the ball for periods of time since no on was really reliable.

    Cleveland's system, especially whenever Shaq was not on the floor, was dominated by everything Lebron does. He is the offensive system. Now, whether that's because Lebron is selfish and wants it that way or Mike Brown is a complete offensive moron is up for debate (i think it's the latter). But that's the system.

    Even when Kobe was on those crappy teams (and again, please don't compare Cook, Kwame, Smush to Cleveland now) and when he ball-hogged (which he did) it wasn't nearly to the same degree.

    I actually think Kobe ball-hogging is worse for the team than Lebron because Cleveland's system is meant for Lebron to ball-hog. Kobe doing it is either bad or necessary based on team play. Game 7 was a demonstration of bad while game 5 was demonstration of necessary.

    That being said, I have never heard the argument that Kobe doesn't ball-hog, he "leads the team." To the contrary, Laker fans complain about when he ball-hogs unless it's out of necessity. And I don't really ever see people claim Lebron is a ball-hog. I think you're mistaken if that's how you understood that user's post. I think what he's saying is that the system that requires Lebron to ball-hog improves his stats at the expense of his teammates, especially against good teammates. Kobe's offensive system, the triangle and at times a high-low pick n roll game, is more conducive to winning for the team but will bring down a star players numbers.

    This isn't a criticism of Lebron but a criticism of the system he plays in. It's flat out dumb. No player should ever have to work that hard on offense. Kobe with lesser talent in 2006 didn't even work that hard to carry the Lakers and Lebron does with Cleveland because he is the offensive system and when he takes a back seat, the team falls apart.

    That's why the Lakers can win when Kobe plays poorly (or Pau or ron) and the Cavs almost never win when Lebron stinks. If he stinks, so will everyone else.

  45. Jason J Says:

    That's all very well-said Anon X 2.

    I think Michael Jordan's career backs up what you're saying. His most productive season, 1989, was played basically in the style that LeBron plays for Cleveland - point scoring dominant rebounding defensive specialist guard forward. He shot his best TS% ever, had his highest averages in rebounds and assists, and won just 47 games after winning 50 the year before as a scoring specialist.

    The next year Phil instituted the triangle, MJ gave up point guard / forward duties to Pippen, and the team won 55 games and was 1 Pippen migraine away from upsetting the Pistons and then beating an injured LA squad for a title (let me dream!). Then 6 titles.

  46. potted-plant Says:

    1989 was not even a top 3 season for Jordan in PER, win shares or WS/48.
    He had better stats the next 2 seasons. Those stats were about as good as Lebrons stats the last 2 years so obviously Phil Jackson's system is no excuse for Kobe's mediocre stats.

    number of times top 2 in the NBA in PER / win shares:

    Michael Jordan
    10 / 11 (in 15 seasons)

    Lebron James
    4 / 5 (in 7 seasons)

    Kobe Bryant
    0 / 0 (in 14 seasons)

  47. potted-plant Says:

    Just to sum that up again:
    Kobe plays under the same coach in exactly the same system as Jordan and is constantly trying to imitate him down to his facial expressions and hand gestures.
    Where his imitation falls short is that Jordan had 4 of the top 8 most efficient seasons in NBA history and Kobe has 1 in the top 100.
    (Lebron has 2 in the top 10 while not in his prime yet)

    --> it's not the system that makes Kobe's stats look unspectacular, it's the player
    Kobe is great but not all-time great
    He got lucky by playing for a top franchise that wins about every 3rd NBA title, by playing for one of the best coaches ever, by playing with 2 of the best centers in their primes and by being a good-looking, articulate fellow sponsors and the media love to hype.
    On a personal note I also appreciate Lebron for where he came from compared to Kobe's cushy middle-to-upper-class upbringing.

  48. Wally Sparks Says:

    Comment 47 is from an obvious Kobe hater. Let's say Kobe is never traded to the Lakers from Charlotte. His career would have only improved from a statistical standpoint. He was easily NBA ready by year two playing behind an all-star shooting guard in Eddie Jones. Had to defer to Shaq for half his career. Had to defer even more when they brought in Malone and Payton. Make him the number one option from day one and he would have hit 30,000 points by now. Jordan played in a league with unathletic shooting guards. Much like the undersized centers and power forwards in the era of Wilt and Russell. He had a physical advantage over pretty much everyone he faced. Kobe doesn't have that advantage on a nightly basis. That's why Kobe is and will always be superior skill wise. That's why he has more range than Jordan ever dreamed of. Put them in comparable leagues and it's a push. As for LeBron... throw out all his numbers, but it's about winning. Something you stat geeks can't seem to grasp!

  49. huevonkiller Says:

    #48, your senseless rant was already addressed various times.

    "Kobe plays under the same coach in exactly the same system as Jordan and is constantly trying to imitate him down to his facial expressions and hand gestures.
    Where his imitation falls short is that Jordan had 4 of the top 8 most efficient seasons in NBA history and Kobe has 1 in the top 100.
    (Lebron has 2 in the top 10 while not in his prime yet)"

    "I got a better question. Why is it when LeBron has to carry his team's offense because others can't put the ball into the basket he's "ballhogging", but when Kobe does the SAME thing he's "leading his team"? And when Kobe wasn't winning jack (beyond the 1st round of the playoffs at least) from 05-07, Kobe fans flip the script and play the SAME "his teammates didn't step up" card that everyone else is saying about LeBron right now?

    You see, you can't have it both ways. You can pillage on LeBron all you want for not winning a championship while conveniently looking past the sewage-gross performances of his supporting cast in the playoffs, but you had better not be defending Kobe's lack of winning rings on the grounds that "his team sucked from 05-07" either.

    Or...you can be like the rest of the rational basketball world, and simply say that these players weren't winning then (Kobe) and now (LeBron) because it takes teams that can perform in the regular season and playoffs to win titles. Your call, Kobe fans."

    "well, conveniently Kobe did play in an offense less conductive to winning while Phil was gone in 2005. He was in his prime at age 26 and his best teammates back then were Odom and Butler - about the quality Lebron had all his career.
    So what are Kobe's superhuman stats in this most fortunate of situations compared to Lebrons stats at the most similar age (25):
    PER 23.3 (Lebron 31.1)
    WS/48 0.145 (0.299)
    Offensive rating 111 (121)
    defensive rating 111 (102)
    = way, way worse than Lebron in any except his rookie season (and even then Lebrons defense was not nearly as shitty)
    sadly there are no playoff stats for Kobe that year"

    "1989 was not even a top 3 season for Jordan in PER, win shares or WS/48.
    He had better stats the next 2 seasons. Those stats were about as good as Lebrons stats the last 2 years so obviously Phil Jackson's system is no excuse for Kobe's mediocre stats.

    number of times top 2 in the NBA in PER / win shares:

    Michael Jordan
    10 / 11 (in 15 seasons)

    Lebron James
    4 / 5 (in 7 seasons)

    Kobe Bryant
    0 / 0 (in 14 seasons)"

  50. MadmanJr Says:

    Politics, religion, and sports. Argue all you want guys, but who's got the rings? Who's a winner? Who can close? Who is the leader on the court? Jordan, Kobe. Not LBJ. He can score, rebound, defend during most of the game, but watch him in the last few minutes of a close game. Can't make the tough shot, usually won't take it. Can't close. More often than not. Check it out. Check out All Star Games, the Olympics. Who closed? Not LBJ. Choke? Scared? What? I'd want a leader on my team, someone who knows how to win when the going gets tough. Is that LBJ? Check out playoff games last year and this. Compare and add up all the stats you want, but when it comes down to it give me a leader at clutch time: Bird, Magic, Kobe, Jordan, Fisher, West, Russell... many more who don't have the greatest stats, but they know how to win. And isn't that what it's about? Lebron hasn't shown me that as of yet. Don't get me wrong. He's good, but let's stop with "The King" stuff already.

  51. potted-plant Says:

    MOST CLUTCH FIELD GOALS MADE
    Final 24 seconds, one-possesion game,
    2002-03 to end 2009 (early years for Lebron, peak years for Kobe)

    Lebron James
    23 of 47
    48.9%

    Kobe Bryant
    21 of 69
    30.4%

    oops
    nice rant though

  52. cook Says:

    51. So what? So what? Who choked when the most crucial moment came to him? 'The King' choked twice, once against the Magic, the other against celtics.

    You guys complained that Lebron's teammates was the root cause of Cav's downfall. But who comes to Kobe's defense when his team was flooded with a bunch of D-league standard first-team players like Kwame Brown and Smush Parker? God knows who and where they are playing for now. And you have Cavs, the team that holds the best record in the regular season, and you still complaint of Bron not having a good enough cast?

    True enough, you may say that his teammates failed to step up when the moment came. But i consider that the Cav's have a more shallow bond to begin with. Kobe and most of his teammates went through the effort of going so far into the finals in 2008, yet having to undergo a humiliation defeat by the Celtics. It was one to never forget. With that determination to overcome the celtics in mind, fuelled by the soft image that was created by the media for the Lakers, who were vehemently criticised for their lack of toughness in the face of this great adversity, in particular Pau Gasol, how would the Lakers give up on the game when the moment mattered the most? Lakers would definitely want to prove themselves and everybody wrong. I don't expect the Cavs to make such an all out push base on what they have gone through in comparison to the Lakers. during crucial moments, it is not the skills nor the ability that differentiates the two teams, but the courage to surmount a final push for victory, the fearlessness, the bravery, thats the reason Lakers won against the Celtics in Game 7. And whats the reason for Cavs to lose out for 2 seasons in the playoffs? Leadership, to motivate everybody, to ensure everyone stays on the same page, to ensure nobody bleeps it up, to ensure everyone stays focused, to ensure everybody knew how much it matters. Leadership is the hallmark of a great player, something in which I saw in Kobe, but not Bron.

    Neil. You seemed to be dealing with the team's production and player's production as separate entities when they seem to suggest causality over here. Assuming a team is under the lead of the superstar, we should also consider the superstar's ability to influence his teammates to play better. Instead, you are saying that should bron be surrounded by Kobe's teammates, he would stand a chance against the Celtics, based on the evidence from the "LeBron's team's efficiency differential was -5.8.
    Kobe's team's efficiency differential was +4.0." stats. thus I would like to offer another perspective. That the reason Kobe's teammates are playing better is due to the influence of Kobe's game, be it things that are on the stats sheet or the things that cannot be measured by the stat-sheet alone. Your calculation of the efficiencies is a hasty generalisation becus you failed to consider the respective superstars' impact on the productive efficiencies of their counterparts'. According to Celtics' coach, Rivers, he mentioned that most people fail to realise how much Kobe has impact the game by setting up plays for his teammates especially when he's double/triple-teamed. Some people say base on the stat sheet, the number of assists, steals, blocks, rebounds, Bron impacts the game more. True, but only an individual basis. But if we were to consider game decisions, the setting up of plays, i believe Kobe would be a more complete player than Bron. Becos Kobe knows what to do to win, Bron doesn't.

  53. Neil Paine Says:

    The problem with the theory of Kobe doing so much more to help his teammates when he's on the court (things that supposedly could never be captured in the box score) than James is that it's demonstrably not true.

    If that were the case, it would be reflected in his adjusted plus-minus rating, which isolates his impact on the team's point margin when he's on the floor, controlling for his teammates and the level of competition. Kobe's +/- in the 2010 playoffs was +6.12, which is impressive until you consider that LeBron James' was +17.61. The problem for LeBron is that only one of his teammates had a positive +/- in the playoffs -- Anderson Varejao. And this isn't just in the Celtics series, this includes the Chicago series as well. Also, let me restate that this metric uses no boxscore stats, it simply records the player's impact on team performance when he's on the floor, indirectly capturing all of those "little things" that Kobe supposedly does to make his teammates better.

    Unfortunately, this means the idea that Bryant does so much beyond the boxscore to make up for James' enormous stat-sheet advantage is simply false. There's really no way to provide evidence that Bryant is better than James without either resorting to subjective nonsense or assigning his teammates' accomplishments to him (i.e., the championship argument).

  54. potted-plant Says:

    52. "so what?"
    I was just responding to the asinine post above that went on and on about how clutch Kobe is compared to Lebron even though statistically Kobe is one of the worst clutch players (maybe THE worst) in the NBA between 2003 and 2009 (25% shooting, 5/1 TO/assists in game deciding situations).
    He was very good in the clutch this season but even his great 2010 clutch season does not bring him up to a mediocre level over the last 7 seasons.
    The "Kobe is clutch" argument is like saying "Yes, Clinton was a better president than Bush in every observable statistic, but Bush is just so much more articulate". Or "yes, Ferrari makes nice cars overall, but my lawnmower is just so much faster and that's what it's all about". Is there an expression for the opposite of "making sense"?

    And if you call Lebron's 38-8-8 49% average over six games against Orlando "choking" then I would like to know how many single games Kobe had in his entire career when he did not choke according to that standard.

    As for Kobe being better at making his teammates better:

    LeBron James
    548 Games Played
    339 Games Won
    LeBron James' Win Percentage = .618
    Cavs win percentage without LeBron James = .384 (26 Games)
    Difference = .234
    --> huge difference

    Kobe Bryant
    1021 Games Played
    676 Games Won
    Kobe Bryant's Regular Season Win Percentage = .662
    Lakers Win Percentage Without Kobe Bryant = .604 (95 games)
    Difference = .058
    --> barely a difference when Shannon Brown or whoever plays instead of Kobe

  55. Loe Says:

    Man all these complex stats! Any way, Kobe played no better than LeBron did against Boston and his team Won. I'm convinced Stern got on the Bat phone and gave some specific instructions to the refs at the begginning of the 4th quarter so they can keep the Kobe might be better than Jordan angle going. It's real simple folks, kobe in 2 of his victories played some horrible basketball and they still won! Also we need to take into account the defensive strategy versus both players and the fact that there was obviously something wrong with LeBron. (don't think it was the elbow, the delonte thing makes the most sense) Kobe was largely single covered by Ray allen the whole series, While LeBron was guarded by Paul pierce the far superior defender. Even with all this in Kobe's favor LeBron had the same output if not a little better. How bout we look at the Orlando series they both played against the Magic. Kobe won, but LeBron played one of the all time great playoff series ever. If he choked you got to say Jerry west choked the year he won the finals MVP with close to the same numbers(prob better) but still lost. LeBron's the better player, Kobe has the better team. Plus what gets me is how simplistic people are. Playoff basketball is all about matchups. Boston could hold down cleveland and throw double teams at LeBron at the same time while having 2 matchup problems on the other end of the court at all times. The same couldn't be said with LA. Kobe didn't prove anything in these finals, Gasol proved he wasn't soft(dumbest thing i've heard in years) and Artest proved he could be counted on. Actually artest was the key to the series because he was able to practically shut down a guy that LA didn't have an answer for in 2008.

  56. nimble Says:

    Let hate rage on!Let haters fuel the fire!