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The James-Wade-Bosh Big Three, Part III: Expected W-L

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.

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35 Responses to “The James-Wade-Bosh Big Three, Part III: Expected W-L”

  1. David A. Arnott Says:

    Isn't the big elephant in the room diminishing returns, though? With LBJ and Wade, doesn't that make for fewer contributions available for Bosh to make? It would be one thing if Dwight Howard were joining LBJ and Wade, because Howard would still be a defensive monster without much of an offensive presence, but Bosh ain't exactly a defensive player; his value lies in his offense. Off the top of my head, without analyzing the historical examples, which I guess you guys are better able to do, I'd think Bosh is in for a Karl Malone Lakers-era dropoff in personal production.

  2. AYC Says:

    David, basically I agree; but I think Lebron and Wade will have the bigger adjustments to make, because they are both used to handling the ball. I'm not saying they can't coexist, but they won't put up the same stats they used to. The question is how much playing together takes away from their overall effectiveness.

    Considering how much scoring factors into PER, I doubt those 3 guys can put up the same PER together that they did separately. And with such a weak supporting cast, they will have to play big minutes, which won't help their PER either.

    Btw, during the Olympics, Bosh was the best defensive big-man on the team (yes, better than Howard). The problem for him is that he's always forced to cover centers, when his natural position is PF. If MIA doesn't get LBJ they should go after Brendan Haywood.

  3. Jason J Says:

    I'm not too concerned about Wade and Bron stepping on each other's toes. Actually I think a pick and roll between those two would be murder. I'm more interested in where they are going to find a decent defensive center (or platoon of putrid centers) and where they are going to find the floor spacer they need to keep teams from packing the paint and daring them to try to win from the outside. Can they afford anybody else?

  4. DSMok1 Says:

    Excellent post, Neil.

  5. DSMok1 Says:

    My new "Advanced Stat" SPM, which is about done, had Lebron as a +13.68, Wade as a +10.90, and Bosh as a +4.07. In 08-09, the numbers were Lebron +14.29, Wade +13.26, and Bosh +3.39. In 07-08, the numbers were Lebron 11.06, Wade (hurt) 5.1, and Bosh 5.2. With a 3-2-1 weighting, and ignoring aging, I'd project 13.45, 10.72, and 4.03. For minutes, I'll give Lebron 3000, Wade 2700, and Bosh 2600.

    That would give a team efficiency differential of (*gulp*) 11.59, worth 67 wins.

    However, there must be a diminishing return here, particularly since most of each player's value is on the offensive end. Lebron and Wade are in the +1.5 to +2.0 realm on defense, and Bosh is actually a -2 on defense. What that means is we are looking at a below average defense, but one of the best offenses in history. If it works. The best offenses in league history were about +8 or +9; if this rivals that but is below average on defense (we're looking at -2 or so), then the team's actual differential will be in the neighborhood of +7. That's relatively likely, I think.

  6. UB Says:

    I always wonder about these 'superteams,' though. Looking at the Boston Celtics of '08, it's true that they were a spectacular success. But NOT because of their offense - in fact, they were only the 10th best offense in the league that year. They were historically-great on defense - something significantly harder to measure via advanced metrics, as I understand it, so I don't think either Hollinger or Neil should be particularly chastened by their failures to predict greatness.

    I feel like one of the 3 is VERY likely to have a huge drop in production - see Ray Allen after joining the Celtics (admittedly, aging out of his prime could be a reason as well). Garnett and Pierce maintained more-or-less their success rates, but, to quote the above-linked APBR piece on APBR, "the diminution of Ray Allen" was significant.

    Also, the next post down in that APBR piece had the 2009 Clippers winning 50+ games, sooooo...

  7. UB Says:

    @6 - Regarding "historically-great on defense - something significantly harder to measure via advanced metrics, as I understand it, so I don't think either Hollinger or Neil should be particularly chastened by their failures to predict greatness": In fact, reading the next page on the APBR board, I find the following from some Neil Paine guy... "Well, speaking for myself, much of the error came on the defensive side of the ball... I eventually settled on a projection of 108.3 ORtg/104.9 DRtg; in reality, the numbers were 110.2/98.9."

    :)

  8. DSMok1 Says:

    I just checked to see what the best trios of offensive SPM players together were. In OSPM, the trio of Malone, Stockton, and Hornacek lead the way, with a +9.53, +5.99, +3.81 in 96-97, followed by Jordan, Pippen, and Grant in 91-92 with +9.04, +4.07, and +3.55.

    Malone, Stockton, and Hornacek also hold spots 3 and 4, followed by Bird, McHale, and Ainge in 87-88.

  9. dquinn Says:

    "the most impressive collection of individual superstars ever assembled on a single team"

    Wilt West Baylor

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    Wilt, West, and Baylor were 32, 30, and 34 years old at the time (Bosh/Wade/James are all under 30); Wilt was no longer at a LeBron-like level at the time he joined L.A.; neither West nor Baylor was the 2nd-best player in the league like Wade is (Robertson was #2 at the time). I'm not saying West/Wilt/Baylor isn't still better, but I'm saying there are certainly reasons they may be inferior to James/Wade/Bosh.

  11. DSMok1 Says:

    Neil, Bosh is way overrated. This is more like an amazing pair with a solid sidekick.

  12. Neil Paine Says:

    Oh, for sure. But that pair is so unbelievably amazing that it could overcome a weakness by the 3rd wheel (a weakness relative to other Big 3s, that is).

  13. Spree Says:

    Is one problem that the current numbers you use for Wade and LeBron are the numbers they piled up playing as "the man" and the main engine for their teams?

    What happens when Wade and LeBron have to shift to different roles? Both can't be "the man" which means their impact on the game will lessen. With two wing guys gobbling up shots and possessions Bosh will most certainly see a decline in his prodcution as well.

    We have no idea how they manage this type of scenario. We really don't even know if Bosh can handle not being the man. We've never seen him play in high stakes situations.

  14. ScottR. Says:

    This trio will never live up to expectations and I doubt they will win a single title. You have to have role players to win in basketball not three guys who demand the ball. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

  15. huevonkiller Says:

    I'm just surprised this is even happening..

    I'll tune in for sure.

  16. OH NO Says:

    Let's see, the starting lineup will be:
    Dwayne Wade
    Queintin Richardson
    LeBron James
    Chris Bosh
    Jermaine O'neal
    I expect Bosh and O'neal to be much more productive, O'neal won't be relied on to score as much and Bosh won't be relied on for much of the defense
    LeBron and Wade will be playing like Jordan and Pippen
    Quientin Richardson will be open more often, they have a nice balanced inside outside attack, and with a couple of trades can be the best team ever in the NBA, imagine if they wind up getting a player like T-Mac off the bench

  17. Walter Says:

    Just as a comparison....

    Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh career's at age 25:

    Gasol: 21.3 PER, 56.2% TS%, 13.7 TRB%, 25.1% USG%, 109 ORtg, 103 DRtg, 15.5 WS/48

    Bosh: 21.3 PER, 57.1% TS%, 14.9 TRB%, 25.0% USG%, 113 ORtg, 107 DRtg, 15.8 WS/48

    So basically Lebron and Wade's "3rd wheel" is statistically equivalent to Pau Gasol. Same PER, slight advantage at shooting and rebounding, same usage, same spread between offensive and defensive ratings, and almost identical win shares per 48 minutes.

    If Kobe and Gasol could win two straight titles without a 3rd player even remotely close to Wade's caliber (assuming Kobe = Lebron and Gasol = Bosh) than anything less than a title for Miami would have to be one of the biggest choke jobs in history.

  18. dquinn Says:

    #10/ see
    http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=4272

    You have Wilt ranked #1 3 seasons prior to joining LA -
    West 5, and 7 2 seasons prior
    Baylor 6 and 3 2 seasons prior

    I think Kobe over Wade would put Wade #3.

    So, #1, say 4 and say #5 players in the league for Lakers (call it Wilt,Oscar,Russell,Baylor,West)

    versus #1,#3 and #15 players in the league for Heat

    Bosh is so far behind the other 5 in this group it isn't funny. He hasn't been named 3rd team all-pro the last 3 years

  19. dickey simpkins Says:

    I'm actually excited as hell to see how this unfolds. Honestly, this kind of pairing has never happened in NBA history. Like pairing Magic and Michael, and throwing in Shawn Kemp just for fun. Anything less than 60+ wins and a title is an epic disappointment.

  20. Liev Says:

    The Celtics finished 10th on offense in 2008 due to turnovers. They were one of the best shooting teams in all categories in the league. But those pesky turnovers, coughed up for the fourth highest total in the league despite a below average pace, hammered their rating. They didn't lack the ability to score though per completed possession.

    I think Miami will amass a ton of turnovers too. I loved Pat Riley's saying about turnovers in a team context. You can tolerate them from the stars but once the role players start contributing to it, it becomes a big problem. The more stars you have, the more turnovers you get even before the role players are added up. Even if the individual stars weren't turnover prone like Wade and Lebron are, I think the increased interplay and unselfishness will cause more turnovers because there are more opportunities for things to mess up with more exchanges.

    I really hope against it but Miami stands a good chance of wining a championship next season. The seasons after that, with additions through the draft and the MLE (unless they are eliminated in the next CBA), and experience playing with each other, forget about it.

    People are calling Lebron the Pippen to Wade's already established franchise foothold Jordan. It's ridiculous since as good as Wade is and he's outstanding, Lebron's not going to be considered a Pippen to anyone. Not that that's an insult or shouldn't be because Pippen was incredible. On that note, I was watching a Bulls versus Spurs game from the 1997-1998 season when Pippen was out hurt and it was remarkable how less intimidating the Bulls were without his length, speed, energy and playmaking abilities. Jordan and Pippen were the perfect pairing. But returning to Lebron being Pippen, there stands a greater chance that because of the age difference and the contract lengths, that Lebron becomes the definitive lead man by the third season, planting Wade squarely as the Pippen.

  21. huevonkiller Says:

    Liev you bring up a great point.

    Age will be a huge factor deeper into their contracts, the load they carry will indeed change.

  22. MC Says:

    how about Olajuwon, Barkley, Drexler, or Olajuwon, Barkley, Pippen. I guess they were all too old at the time.

  23. themojojedi Says:

    Well hopefully the Wade-James pairing can at least bust this notion that seems to have been adopted about the difference between a "Number 1" and a "Number 2" player on a championship team. Since 1998 this idea of "Player X is Pippen to Player Y's Jordan" keeps popping up as if the Number 1 guy is as exactly as good as Jordan, the Number 2 guy is as precisely as good as Pippen and the disparity between the Number 1 and Number 2 is immutably fixed as the difference between Jordan and Pippen. This wasn't true before the Bulls championships, wasn't true after the Bulls championships and certainly won't be the case if the Wade-James combo win a title.

  24. Romain Says:

    In the 1st 2 or 3 years, I can definitely see Wade being the leading scorer on this team and Lebron more of the playmaker. I guess both could average around 25 ppg at the same time, like Shaq & Kobe did during the 3-peat era. I hope that Bosh realizes that he will have far less shots to take than the other two and than what he was used to in Toronto.

    I've just read that the Heat has used its MLE to sign Mike Miller. If this is confirmed I think it's a great addition because they're gonna need a 3-point shooter to space the floor. But they also lack some size down low which will give them trouble when matching with the Magic and the Lakers in the playoffs.

    In case of a Lakers-Heat, the match-ups would be awesome:
    - Bryant vs Wade
    - Artest vs James
    - Gasol vs Bosh.
    However as of today the Heat has nobody to match up against Bynum and that would be a problem (assuming Bynum can be healthy in the spring which has yet to happen).

    Still I can't believe that James chose Miami over Chicago. He could have had almost as good a team in Chicago, and it would have been his team, whereas by joining Wade in Miami he will always be seen as the one who quit on his home team to take the easy way to a championship.
    I'm also very disappointed at the way he announced it on ESPN which was ridiculous and completely disrespectful of the Cavs.

    I've always been a huge fan of Lebron, but I think that these last two months, starting with the series against Boston, will always tarnish his resume no matter how many championships he ends up winning in Miami.

    All this being said, I think next season will be fun! The pressure will be on Lebron to win it all. Should he fail I think the backlash will be terrible.

  25. Pageup Says:

    Should he fail I think the backlash will be terrible.

    Right, Romaine, and Lebron better hope Wade stays healthy because if he goes down and logs another of those 51 game seasons that he had back to back a few years ago it could get even uglier than that for him...

  26. Jason J Says:

    Liev,

    I think the Jordan / Pippen premise in as regards Wade / LeBron is less about who's seen as the leader and more about who's going to be the primary scorer and who's going to be the primary distributor. That's how I've been reading the comparison anyway. Obviously Wade is not as good a scorer as Jordan, and LeBron is much more explosive than Pippen. It's just an issue of what role will each player fill.

  27. Samson151 Says:

    Well, you could certainly argue the prediction of 61+ wins is unreliable because it's based on the individual impact of three stars who played on teams that were notable for their lack of other stars. Now the three will have to share the ball and play together with a collection of spear-carriers who will probably turn out to be far inferior to what the '04 Lakers.

    Still, these guys will win a lot of games and give NBA fans the basketball equivalent of the old Yankees to hate. That might be the most valuable contribution of all to a league with declining ratings.

  28. downpuppy Says:

    Remember a couple months back when you were looking at team improvement during the playoffs? The second Shaq/Kobe team had a fairly ordinary regular season then DESTROYED everyone.

    So sure, the Heat will run amok in 2010-2011. Not really in question.

    I'm going to predict that the 2011-2012 Heat will have some troubles in the regular season.

    And then I'm gonna bet huge on them in the playoffs.

  29. Theo Says:

    I would like to know why lebron would give up all his amazing stats and ppg?
    Now he's only going to average max 20 ppg, which will put him around 20th in the league.
    Why would he make such a big sacrifice at age 25.
    I can see why the guys in boston did it, they were towards the end of their careers.
    Also if D Wade wins finals mvp (if and when they win) won't that anger lebron.
    How many points do you think all 3 of them will average?

  30. Elias Says:

    I don't think this team will win next year. The stats tell that they are gonna be amazing, which they will, but I don't trust in stats, by stats OKC had 0% chance of making the playoffs, by stats Cavs should've been the champs and by stats Lebron is better than Kobe. But stats are so often wrong, cause there's no stats for leadership, will to win, chemistry etc. And I have doubts about everybody being happy with their touches and I have doubts about Lebron's and Boshes leadership, I got a feeling they will quit and play passively. But this team can make the finals with talent only, cause their big three is that good, i don't see them beating the Lakers yet, maybe a year later.

  31. Brian Says:

    As for West, Wilt and Baylor

    They weren't equally deteriorating. West was as good as ever, he may have actually improved after 1968. Wilt was just a little past his prime; in his case the Lakers just had difficulties making him fit in with West and Baylor. On the other hand, Baylor was way past his prime. His legendary scoring years were in the early 60's. He also didn't play a lick of defense. For instance, he probably cost the Lakers the championisp in '69 with his total lack of hustle on Don Nelson's game winning shot, as this video clip will show. Watch as Baylor does absolutely nothing to pressure Don Nelson

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xHsi6V7mqI

    But what a trio they were on paper. By the end of the season, the Lakers had the first, second and fifth leading scorers in NBA history on one team, not to mention the leading rebounder as well. And if there had been stats for steals Jerry West might have been the all time leader in that as well

  32. Joel Says:

    Q: How much do you guys believe your win shares formula?

    Can the James-less Cavaliers actually win 42-43 games?

  33. tom w Says:

    Maximizing the performance of these players will take great coaching. Handling egos, installing the proper offensive and defensive strategies to maximize performance, and having the correct substitution pattern.

    Keeping 2 of the big 3 on the floor throughout the game would put tremendous pressure on the other team to match up for 48 minutes. To do this efficiently would require one of the big 3 to go to the bench early in each half.

  34. Daniel Song Says:

    Classic example of how misused advanced statistics can result in completely absurd predictions.

    I think I'll take the UNDER 68 wins on this team.

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