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The James-Wade-Bosh Big Three, Part I

Posted by Neil Paine on June 30, 2010

It probably won't happen for salary-cap reasons (somebody who's considered a "max player" will have to take less than max money), but rumors swirled this week that prized free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh would join Dwyane Wade in Miami after an alleged weekend "summit" in which the 3 stars met to discuss their (collective?) futures.

Whether it happens or not, I was wondering how unprecedented this would be in NBA history. We would see a guy who used 35.1% of team possessions when on the court last year (Wade) combine with a guy who used 34.0% (James) and a guy who used 28.1% (Bosh). Has anything like this ever happened outside of an Olympic setting? How would the chemistry work -- who would take the big shot? Would they trade it around? Who would be the Alpha Dog? Can you succeed with three Alpha Dogs?

Let's look to history, starting today with "Big Twos" that were formed (I'll look at "Big Threes" tomorrow). If Wade and James join forces, it would represent 2 teammates who had combined to use 69.2% of possessions the previous year... Has this ever happened before?

In a word, no. Here are the most combined possession %'s by a newly-formed "Big Two":

1. Michael Jordan & Jerry Stackhouse, 2003 Wizards
Previous Combined %Poss: 66.8% (Jordan - 34.6%; Stackhouse - 32.1%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 104.8
New Team Offensive Rating: 103.0
New Split of Possessions: 27% (Jordan) - 27% (Stackhouse)

Comparability to James-Wade: Low. Jordan was the GOAT, but was an aging shadow of his former self by 2003. Also, Stackhouse was never the player Wade/James are, and nobody would be coming off the bench in Miami's proposed situation.

2. Carmelo Anthony & Allen Iverson, 2007 Nuggets
Previous Combined %Poss: 65.3% (Iverson - 35.1%; Anthony - 30.2%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 105.5
New Team Offensive Rating: 107.6
New Split of Possessions: 32% (Anthony) - 27% (Iverson)

Comparability to James-Wade: Medium. Unlike the '03 Wizards, Carmelo and A.I. were actually both very good players at the time of the trade -- granted, Iverson was at the tail end of his prime, but still. However, Wade and James have both proven themselves more willing to share the rock than either Iverson or Anthony (Iverson's unwillingness to play more like a traditional PG was actually one of the biggest reasons Denver parted ways with him).

3. Tracy McGrady & Juwan Howard, 2004 Magic
Previous Combined %Poss: 59.5% (McGrady - 34.1%; Howard - 25.4%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 105.2
New Team Offensive Rating: 102.7
New Split of Possessions: 32% (McGrady) - 24% (Howard)

Comparability to James-Wade: Low. T-Mac was coming off a magnificent individual campaign, just like LeBron, but that's where the comparisons end. Howard is only on this list because the previous season, he was the leading scorer on a dreadful Nuggets team that went 17-65. Btw, if you're letting Juwan Howard take 25% of your possessions when on the floor, that's a pretty good sign that you won less than 20 games and/or took Nikoloz Tskitishvili 5th in the draft the summer before.

4. Allen Iverson & Keith Van Horn, 2003 76ers
Previous Combined %Poss: 58.7% (Iverson - 35.8%; Van Horn - 22.9%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 102.1
New Team Offensive Rating: 105.0
New Split of Possessions: 32% (Iverson) - 22% (Van Horn)

Comparability to James-Wade: Low. Like Wade, Iverson needed more help after a disappointing 1st-round exit vs. Boston. But there's a difference between Iverson and Wade's performance levels (Wade can actually maintain a high efficiency when he takes 35+% of possessions), and any comparison between LBJ and KVH isn't even worth breaking down.

5. Dominique Wilkins & Reggie Theus, 1989 Hawks
Previous Combined %Poss: 58.6% (Wilkins - 32.8%; Theus - 25.9%)
Previous Team Offensive Rating: 111.3
New Team Offensive Rating: 112.2
New Split of Possessions: 28% (Wilkins) - 23% (Theus)

Comparability to James-Wade: Medium-to-Low. Here's a legit case of two All-Stars being paired together in their primes: Wilkins was 29 in 1989 and had finished 6th in MVP voting the year before, while Theus was 31 but still an effective ballplayer. However, the similarities don't really go past that -- despite playing well in '89, the Hawks clearly didn't value Theus very much, because they left him unprotected in the expansion draft and Orlando scooped him up. Needless to say, that would not happen to James or Wade in this or any other universe.

Best of the Rest:
6. Dwyane Wade & Antoine Walker, 2006 Heat
7. Vince Carter & Jason Kidd, 2005 Nets
8. Hakeem Olajuwon & Charles Barkley, 1997 Rockets
9. Jerry Stackhouse & Clifford Robinson, 2002 Pistons
10. World B. Free & Purvis Short, 1981 Warriors
11. Paul Pierce & Ray Allen, 2008 Celtics
12. Karl Malone & Jeff Malone, 1991 Jazz
13. Moses Malone & Andrew Toney, 1983 76ers
14. Tracy McGrady & Yao Ming, 2005 Rockets
15. Dwyane Wade & Ricky Davis, 2008 Heat
16. Ray Williams & Bernard King, 1984 Knicks
17. LeBron James & Mo Williams, 2009 Cavs
18. Zach Randolph & Jamal Crawford, 2008 Knicks
19. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Gail Goodrich, 1976 Lakers
20. Allen Iverson & Derrick Coleman, 2002 76ers

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20 Responses to “The James-Wade-Bosh Big Three, Part I”

  1. Gil Meriken Says:

    I want to see the Wade-Bosh-James usage rate carry over to one team and remain the same, so that the rest of the players have a combined 3% usage rate.

  2. Harry Says:

    What about Shaq and Wade in Miami?

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    #1. Now that would be unprecedented. Currently, no player playing >1000 MP in a season has ever used fewer than 5% of possessions when on the floor (Charles "Gadget" Jones of the 1993 Bullets set the standard, playing 1,206 minutes and using just 5.4% of possessions). They should call up Jones, Michael Cage, T.R. Dunn, & Bruce Bowen, and hold a tryout to see who can use the fewest possessions, with the winner getting a spot on the 2011 Heat.

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    #2. Shaq and Wade had used 51.9% of possessions the year before they joined up in Miami (Shaq - 26.3%; Wade - 25.6%), which ranks them 55th all-time. Other pairs in that neighborhood include: D-Rob & Chuck Person (95 Spurs); Yao and Artest (09 Rockets); Isiah Thomas & Orlando Woolridge (92 Pistons); KG & Troy Hudson (03 T-Wolves); Rick Barry & Calvin Murphy (79 Rockets).

  5. Spree Says:

    I've heard apologists for the possible deal mention Boston's 08 deals to bring KG, and Ray Allen in with Paul Pierce. I think that situation's success had more to do with the age of the guys involved than anything. They were ready to sacrifice and proved it further this year in giving more control to Rondo.

    What about those Portland teams in the the late 90's and early 00's? That was such a disaster at times especially in the playoffs when one person was needed to step up and everyone tried to do it.

  6. huevonkiller Says:

    in Miami after a weekend "summit" in which the 3 stars met to discuss their (collective?) futures.

    I appreciate the discussion on %Poss, but the Miami Herald reported this summit didn't occur. Additionally Ira Winderman found out that they were supposed to meet at some charity Golf game but LeBron and Wade couldn't make it. Heard that last bit on NBAtv.

  7. Neil Paine Says:

    Thanks, I threw an "alleged" in there to be safe.

  8. Anon x 2 Says:

    Derrick Rose's usage was 27.1% this season (i assume higher after New Year's because of his ankle injury) and 31% during the playoffs.

    Rose-Lebron-Bosh would also give us an interesting dynamic and this combo seems more plausible salary cap wise (though still not there).

    One other notable combination was the 2003-04 Lakers. Their usage rates the year prior

    Shaq: 30.2
    Kobe: 32.9
    Malone: 27.8
    Payton: 26.4

    Total: 117.3 Interesting, heh.

  9. Jason J Says:

    What makes that trio even more wild is the Assist% that Wade and Bron have.

    Wade used 35% of his team's possessions and assisted on 36% of the team's other baskets while he was on the floor.

    LeBron used 34% of his team's possessions and assisted on 42% of the team's other baskets while he was on the floor.

    So essentially they would take a combined 70% of the shots and assist on a combined 80% of the points they didn't score. Not exactly the theoretical 20-20-20-20-20 we're supposed to be looking for, huh?

  10. taheati Says:

    Another factor is pace. Spoelstra's Heat play at a tempo more like Riley's Heat. Whereas Stan Van Gundy instituted a comparatively "uptempo" pace during his 3 seasons as Miami's coach.

    So, not only would the Three Amigos need to find a workable, successful formula to distribute the rock, barring an overhaul to Miami's offense -- they'd also have to play at optimum efficiency given fewer possessions by doing more with less (touches, FGAs) than they ever have as individual franchise players.

    Which also illustrates another Dream Team myth: the media/player supposition that Olympic success = NBA success.

    Not so distant dream team failures at the Olympics aptly demonstrated how FIBA ball was not NBA ball; how FIBA i.e., Olympic ball evolved to become -- tactially & strategically -- almost a different game (from the NBA) altogether; how superior length or superior individual talent was no longer a guarantee of gold medals or international dominance.

    FIBA rules appear deliberately contrived to "flatten" the size/athletic advantage of NBA pros over their smaller less-athletic international (Brazil excepted) countrparts by favoring faster pace (even with a longer shot clock), perimeter skills, even less "camping" in the paint (larger key).

    Relevance?

    To date, Bosh's only notable success as a "big" in big-to-big matchups was his Olympic stint as a "FIBA", i.e. soft big against other soft bigs (cf. Bosh's marginal edge over Rashard Lewis; inadequacy v. KG). LeBron and Wade converted Olympic 3s that were 3ft shorter than the NBA. The college-level pace of FIBA ball (2 x 20m halves) also encouraged faster pace, more uptempo play.

    Shorter: FIBA ball is a different game from the NBA and particularly plus practically, I think, antithetical to Riley/Spoelstra ball.

    Ergo, Three Amigo Olympic success is hardly a harbinger of NBA success or championships in South Beach or anywhere else.

  11. themojojedi Says:

    Jason J, that combination of USG% and AST% is something I was looking at the other day in trying to quantify a player's style of play in terms of ball domination/decision centralization/level of reliance on one player within an offensive structure.

    As a quick-hitter for a crude one-number metric I had a look at USG% + (100-USG%)*(AST%/100). The first term obviously representing the percentage of plays used directly by the player while on the floor and the second term being the remaining percentage of plays used by teammates scaled by the proportion of those teammates baskets the player assisted (Being a rough measure, other key items like teammate turnovers and free-throws haven't been worked into the mix).

    Since the Magic/Bird era started the highest measure has been 67.0, Chris Paul in 08-09. 21 player seasons have been higher than 60 and the cut-off for the Top 50 is around 57.5. Chris Paul features again at number 4 with a measure of 64.5 while John Stockton's late 80s to mid 1990s take up 6 of the other spots in the Top 10. The other two players in the Top 10 are Mark Price from 94-95 and Steve Nash's 09-10. That these point guards rank so high is no surprise given the decision making responsibilities and number of opportunities created for their teammates. Here is the breakdown of players with multiple entries in the Top 50:

    Stockton - 13
    Magic - 5
    Nash - 4
    Wade - 4
    LeBron - 3
    Iverson - 3
    Chris Paul- 2
    Deron Williams - 2
    Rod Strickland - 2
    Stephon Marbury - 2

    Back to the topic at hand, Wade's first entry comes in right at number 11 (61.9 in 08-09) while LeBron's 09-10 season is number 14 at 61.3. Wade's 06-07 (61.1) follows at 15. These guys are both accustomed to dominating the ball and making a huge amount of the decisions that end in a recorded statistic. The reasons for this range from personal style of play and ability to create their own unassisted opportunities, quality and skillset of teammates, status, competitiveness,coaching and offensive systems.

    Moreso than just the usage rates, it would (will?) be fascinating to see in real life how a coach could mesh these styles of play and how the decision making and ball control would be distributed. Would both guys see a moderate reduction in this type of index or would one guy take the brunt? There are a few less-extreme examples to draw on in the pairs Neil listed. For example when Kidd and Vince joined forces in 2005 Vince took a slight dip from 51.4 in 03-04 to 49.2 in 04-05. Kidd took a bigger drop from 58.4 to 53.3. When Mo Williams joined Lebron his measure went from 45.5 to 38.8 while LeBron stayed around the same (58.3 up slightly to 59). Also, when Payton moved from his fairly decision dominant style of play in the early 2000s (between 53.8-57.2 from 98-99 to 02-03) to the triangle offense in 03-04 his measure dropped heavily to 41.8. This is an indicator of decentralization of decision making which is key to the triangle offense, with none of Jordan/Pippen/Kobe/Shaq having a rating higher than 53.5 while playing in the triangle. Kobe often falls in the 46-49 range, Jordan in the 47-50 range, Pippen in the 42-45 and Shaq in the 41-44 range.

  12. themojojedi Says:

    Also, here's some notable coaches that had multiple players finish in the Top 100 seasons of the decision centralisation metric while they were coaching (some partial coaching and playing seasons included):

    18 - Jerry Sloan (Stockton x 15, Deron x 3)
    11 - Pat Riley (Magic x 5, Tim Hardaway x 3, Wade x 3)
    9 - Byron Scott (Baron Davis x 1, Kidd x 3, Marbury x 1, CP3 x 4)
    5 - Mike D'Antoni (Marbury x 1, Nash x 4)

    Interesting that Riley, Scott and D'Antoni could soon be in position to potentially coach LeBron (and/or Wade) next season.

  13. DSMok1 Says:

    themojojedi:

    Nice work on realizing the term should be (100-USG%)*(AST%/100). I used that term in one of my latest SPM regressions.

    Research indicates that assisted shots go in at an 8% higher clip than unassisted. ( http://www.82games.com/assisted.htm ). If we consider that, on an assist, half of the usage is to the player that received the assist, and half is to the player that gave out the assist, we can estimate total usage:

    Old Usage: = 100 * ((FGA + 0.44 * FTA + TOV) * (Tm MP / 5)) / (MP * (Tm FGA + 0.44 * Tm FTA + Tm TOV))

    New Usage: = 100 * ((FGA + 0.44 * FTA + TOV + 0.5*(AST)/(50%) - 0.5*(AST'D)/(FG%+.04) ) * (Tm MP / 5)) / (MP * (Tm FGA + 0.44 * Tm FTA + Tm TOV))

    The concept is that the player's assists are 1/2 of his "potential assists" (League average assisted FG% is ~50%) and his "assisted" FG% is his normal FG% + .04.

    This isn't entirely the case, but a good rough estimate.

    An interesting thing: I have found that the value "Assisted Close Shots should be credited almost entirely to the one giving out the assists, while the value of "Midrange Assisted Shots" have almost nothing to do with the one giving out the assist.

  14. DSMok1 Says:

    Here's a list of the top 40 players in the league and their usage% and adjusted usage%:

    Player USAGE Adjusted Usage
    LeBron James 33.5% 39.6%
    Kevin Durant 32.0% 29.6%
    Dwyane Wade 34.9% 40.1%
    Dirk Nowitzki 28.8% 25.6%
    Dwight Howard 23.9% 23.1%
    Steve Nash 22.9% 36.9%
    Kobe Bryant 32.3% 33.4%
    Chris Bosh 28.7% 26.8%
    Amare Stoudemire 27.4% 23.0%
    David Lee 23.8% 22.6%
    Zach Randolph 24.6% 22.5%
    Carmelo Anthony 33.3% 32.2%
    Deron Williams 23.8% 33.0%
    Rajon Rondo 20.2% 30.7%
    Brook Lopez 23.6% 21.9%
    Tim Duncan 26.1% 25.5%
    Josh Smith 22.2% 23.0%
    Gerald Wallace 20.3% 18.7%
    Joe Johnson 26.4% 28.3%
    Andre Iguodala 21.8% 25.0%
    Derrick Rose 27.2% 31.4%
    Russell Westbrook 25.7% 34.4%
    Brandon Roy 26.8% 29.5%
    David West 24.0% 22.7%
    Carlos Boozer 24.8% 22.6%
    Pau Gasol 21.4% 21.3%
    Tyreke Evans 26.2% 31.1%
    Chauncey Billups 24.3% 28.7%
    Al Horford 17.6% 16.5%
    LaMarcus Aldridge 22.9% 20.4%
    Manu Ginobili 25.8% 29.6%
    Rudy Gay 22.5% 21.2%
    Andre Miller 23.8% 29.9%
    Nene Hilario 16.4% 15.6%
    Baron Davis 24.3% 33.1%
    Aaron Brooks 25.7% 28.6%
    Stephen Curry 21.8% 25.3%
    Jason Kidd 14.5% 22.7%
    Monta Ellis 29.4% 31.2%

  15. DSMok1 Says:

    Sorry--messed up the formatting on that last one:

    Player           USAGE   Adjusted Usage
    LeBron James     33.5%     39.6%
    Dwyane Wade      34.9%     40.1%
    Kevin Durant     32.0%     29.6%
    Chris Paul       22.2%     34.0%
    Chris Bosh       28.7%     26.8%
    Carmelo Anthony  33.3%     32.2%
    Kobe Bryant      32.3%     33.4%
    Dirk Nowitzki    28.8%     25.6%
    Brandon Roy      26.8%     29.5%
    Dwight Howard    23.9%     23.1%
    Pau Gasol        21.4%     21.3%
    Steve Nash       22.9%     36.9%
    Deron Williams   23.8%     33.0%
    David Lee        23.8%     22.6%
    Zach Randolph    24.6%     22.5%
    Amare Stoudemire 27.4%     23.0%
    Gerald Wallace   20.3%     18.7%
    Joe Johnson      26.4%     28.3%
    Tim Duncan       26.1%     25.5%
    Tyreke Evans     26.2%     31.1%
    Rajon Rondo      20.2%     30.7%
    Gilbert Arenas   32.0%     38.2%
    Monta Ellis      29.4%     31.2%
    Derrick Rose     27.2%     31.4%
    Danny Granger    28.7%     26.5%
    Josh Smith       22.2%     23.0%
    Brook Lopez      23.6%     21.9%
    Chauncey Billups 24.3%     28.7%
    Andre Iguodala   21.8%     25.0%
    Carlos Boozer    24.8%     22.6%
    Andrew Bogut     23.2%     21.3%
    Manu Ginobili    25.8%     29.6%
    John Salmons     22.7%     22.9%
    Marc Gasol       16.9%     16.4%
    Russell Westbrook25.7%     34.4%
    David West       24.0%     22.7%
    LaMarcus Aldridge22.9%     20.4%
    Baron Davis      24.3%     33.1%
    Paul Pierce      23.8%     23.8%
  16. themojojedi Says:

    DSMok1, I'm really looking forward to reading about your new SPM model. From what you've previewed here and on the SPM thread last week it seems that you have some really creative regressors as well as some new takes on incorporating non-linearity.

    Out of interest did the (100-USG%)*(AST%/100) term have a positive coefficient (or if modelled in a non-linear way did it kick upward for high values)? I imagine that the term holds at least some information content on "importance" and how much a team might suffer when the type of player with a high rating is off the floor.

  17. DSMok1 Says:

    "Out of interest did the (100-USG%)*(AST%/100) term have a positive coefficient (or if modelled in a non-linear way did it kick upward for high values)? I imagine that the term holds at least some information content on "importance" and how much a team might suffer when the type of player with a high rating is off the floor."

    Oddly enough (or maybe not oddly) the term actually behaved backwards. What I found was that a term of AST%*USG% works far better in an SPM regression! What does this mean? Apparently, the player's offensive impact is related to his versatility in BOTH using possessions and dishing assists. The best term for assists is actually of the form AST%*USG%*PPP, where PPP is points per possession for the player (accounting for turnovers)--otherwise, inefficient players are benefited at Steve Nash's expense.

  18. John Verdonk Says:

    What about Jerry West and Wilt CHAMBERLAIN? David Thompson and George Mcginnis? Wilt Chamberlain and Hal GREER? Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson?

    Thanks
    John

  19. Mattsam Says:

    Two words Jordan Pippen.

  20. kidk Says:

    So what about their combined stats while with the US Olympic team - what was their usage and productivity while on the court together? Wouldn't that be a decent indicator of how it will be on Miami?

    Is it posted somewhere?