Posted by Neil Paine on July 8, 2010
"Miami Thrice," they're calling it, and it would be perhaps the most impressive collection of individual superstars ever assembled on a single team. What seemed incredibly unlikely at the start of the free agent period is actually looking more than possible now, as reports claim LeBron James is "leaning towards" joining Dwyane Wade and the newly-signed Chris Bosh in South Beach to create a megateam of historic proportions.
But here's the question: if this trio gets together, what kind of damage can we expect this wrecking crew to inflict on the rest of the NBA? ESPN's John Hollinger weighed in with a PER-based analysis a week ago (he said Wade + Bosh + James + 10 replacement level ballers = 61 wins), but his system also dramatically underrated what the 2008 Celtics would do (he said 51 wins -- and I said 48, btw, so he didn't have a monopoly on being wrong), and that's the most recent example of a similar 3-star amalgamation.
In fact, the only method that correctly ballparked the C's greatness? Adjusted and/or Statistical Plus-Minus. So let's see what those systems see in the cards for a team with James, Wade, Bosh, and a bunch of nobodies.
Here was Hollinger's setup:
"How good could such a team be? Believe it or not, it still could be quite good -- even if the three never got a decent teammate. Using my preseason prediction model, I plugged in a team with those three players and used fairly conservative estimates for what they might produce in the coming season -- a player efficiency rating of 29 for James, 26 for Wade and 23 for Bosh. I gave James 3,100 minutes, Wade 2,850 and Bosh 2,600.
For every other minute played by Team Trinity, I inserted my replacement-level figure of a 10 PER -- this is what I input when a team has an empty rotation spot or has it filled by a player projected to produce less than 10. I never go any lower than this and have never felt a need to, as virtually anyone who produces at a lesser rate (once we include defensive value) is quickly replaced."
Statistical +/- Says...
Let's start with SPM. Last year, James had a +12.80 rating, the league's best mark by a wide margin; Wade was +9.89, which was second-best in the NBA; and Bosh was +4.08, 20th best in the league. In essence, if James sides with them tonight, the Heat would possess the two best players in the league on the same team, plus one of the NBA's best 5 big men. I'm pretty sure a situation like that has never happened before -- the league's two best players, in their prime, joining the same team.
Like Hollinger, we'll be conservative with the expected values next season... Let's give LeBron a +11 (which would be his lowest since 2006-07), Wade a +8 (basically what he did in 2006), and Bosh +3 (a little less than his mark from 2009). Also, we'll use -3 as our replacement-player value, so we've got 3,100 minutes of James at +11, 2,850 minutes of Wade at +8, 2,600 minutes of Bosh at +3, and 11,130 minutes of -3 replacement-level ballers. How many games would that team win?
Doing the math, that allocation of minutes works out to a projected +7.95 efficiency differential. Wanna know which team had at least a +7.95 differential last season? Only one: the Orlando Magic, who were +8.12. Traditionally, a +7.95 differential buys you 61 wins, which is actually exactly what Hollinger came up with. So in the absolute worst case, the Heat win 61 games next season with their Big Three, and are the best team in the East, if not the league.
And what if they merely play at last year's levels? Expect a +10.6 differential, which equals 68 wins.
Adjusted +/- Says...
APM paints an even rosier picture for the "Holy Trinity" (or whatever we're going to call them)... Last year, James had a +18.52 rating, 2nd only to Dwight Howard, and Wade was 4th with +16.09, while Bosh had "only" a +6.97 rating. Mark them down for even +10, +6, and +5, respectively (their 5-year low-water marks when healthy), and with Hollinger's expected minutes this team would have a +7.0 differential, good for 59 wins. And remember, that's if they are as bad as they've been in 5 years, surrounded by nothing by the cream of the NBDL's crop.
If they play like they did last year, the Heat's differential would be a monstrous, Redeem Team-esque +21.2, which I can't even give a wins estimate for because it breaks the linear equation that relates efficiency differential to winning % (it would have them winning more than 100% of their games). No team has ever had that kind of performance in the history if the NBA, meaning there is a pretty decent chance they'd obliterate the '96 Bulls' record for most wins in a season.
So, suffice to say that if the Heat manage to snag James in addition to Wade and Bosh, they're going to be a legitimately great team -- the best in the East, in fact, provided everyone stays healthy. And that's the worst-case scenario... If they play at the level they did last season, we could have a chance to witness something very special in Miami next season, a team performance unlike any in the NBA's history.