You Are Here > Basketball-Reference.com > BBR Blog > NBA and College Basketball Analysis

SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all Basketball-Reference content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing Basketball-Reference blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Basketball-Reference.com // Sports Reference

For more from Neil, check out his new work at BasketballProspectus.com.

Best Games Against a Team You Played For Last Season (1987-2010)

Posted by Neil Paine on December 3, 2010

Facing his former team in Cleveland last night, LeBron James played like his vintage Cavs-era self, pouring in 38 points on 15-25 shooting with 8 assists in 30 minutes. That had me wondering, where did James' performance rank among historical instances of a player facing his ex-'mates the season after he left town?

So I ran a database query on all games since 1987 where a player was facing a team he had played for the previous season. And for the performance metric of choice, I want to introduce an adjusted plus/minus-based game score-style metric called "APMVAL". I basically ran an intercept-free regression between APM value over replacement (minutes * (APM + 6)) and raw box score totals, coming up with this formula:

APMVAL = 45*pts - 35*tsa + 18*reb + 30*ast + 72*stl + 41*blk - 75*tov - 39*pf

The best APMVAL game of the overall 1987-2010 period was Michael Jordan's 69-point outburst vs. Cleveland in 1990 (Kobe's 81-point game was 2nd). Here were the best games against a player's former team in the first season after his departure:

Player Date Tm Opp MP FG FGA 3P 3A FT FTA RB AS ST BK TO PF PTS APMVAL
Willie Burton 12/13/1994 PHI MIA 43.0 12 19 5 8 24 28 8 3 1 2 1 2 53 1524
Terrell Brandon 3/19/2000 MIN MIL 36.0 11 13 2 2 4 4 3 13 4 0 1 2 28 1322
Tony Delk 1/2/2001 PHO SAC 50.0 20 27 0 1 13 15 6 0 1 0 2 1 53 1200
Tom Gugliotta 1/5/1996 MIN GSW 41.0 14 17 1 1 7 10 10 3 5 0 2 5 36 1156
Charles Barkley 3/3/1993 PHO PHI 44.0 14 19 2 2 6 6 17 9 2 0 4 4 36 1127
LeBron James 12/2/2010 MIA CLE 30.0 15 25 2 7 6 9 5 8 1 1 0 1 38 1100
Devin Harris 12/19/2008 NJN DAL 38.6 14 25 5 9 8 8 3 13 3 0 4 3 41 1090
Tom Chambers 2/15/1989 PHO SEA 38.0 12 16 2 2 9 10 8 4 2 2 2 3 35 1084
Shaquille O'Neal 12/6/1996 LAL ORL 41.0 9 18 0 0 7 10 18 2 5 7 2 4 25 1066
Vince Carter 4/15/2005 NJN TOR 43.0 15 26 3 8 6 7 9 4 3 0 1 3 39 1043
Reggie Williams 11/5/1991 DEN SAS 30.0 7 14 3 3 7 9 3 4 7 0 0 3 24 1012
Mario Elie 3/7/1993 POR GSW 31.0 7 8 0 0 3 3 5 4 5 1 0 1 17 1011
Moses Malone 1/29/1992 MIL ATL 30.0 10 18 0 0 8 9 13 3 2 1 0 0 28 1000
Rasheed Wallace 3/14/2005 DET ATL 43.0 10 18 4 6 4 4 12 3 3 3 2 2 28 985
Mookie Blaylock 12/10/1999 GSW ATL 41.0 4 12 1 3 0 0 4 19 7 0 1 2 9 978
Player Date Tm Opp MP FG FGA 3P 3A FT FTA RB AS ST BK TO PF PTS APMVAL
Nick Van Exel 2/1/2003 DAL DEN 26.0 11 13 7 9 1 1 2 7 0 0 2 0 30 976
Jason Kidd 3/15/1998 PHO DAL 44.0 9 16 1 4 1 2 13 12 5 2 4 2 20 967
Dikembe Mutombo 3/9/2002 PHI ATL 36.0 7 7 0 0 3 3 9 1 3 3 0 1 17 966
Micheal Williams 4/9/1991 IND CHH 32.0 6 12 0 0 9 9 7 7 7 0 2 3 21 959
Boris Diaw 2/24/2009 CHA PHO 41.4 10 12 1 1 6 8 10 6 1 2 2 2 27 958
Jim Jackson 1/28/2004 HOU SAC 37.0 11 12 5 5 1 1 9 0 1 0 0 3 28 942
Dudley Bradley 4/23/1988 NJN MIL 28.0 8 12 5 7 1 2 3 2 4 0 0 0 22 941
Sleepy Floyd 1/20/1989 HOU GSW 40.0 12 25 4 7 7 10 7 12 4 1 3 5 35 941
Sam Cassell 4/8/2000 MIL NJN 34.0 8 15 0 0 4 5 5 11 3 0 0 0 20 934
Danny Ainge 12/27/1989 SAC BOS 45.0 12 21 2 5 13 13 6 9 1 2 3 5 39 932
Micheal Williams 4/7/1993 MIN IND 43.0 6 13 2 4 16 16 3 9 1 0 0 3 30 928
Ruben Patterson 1/8/2007 MIL DEN 37.9 13 21 0 0 3 6 12 7 4 0 2 3 29 925
John Lucas 2/14/1987 MIL HOU 26.0 13 15 2 2 1 1 4 7 4 0 5 1 29 921
Rod Strickland 3/26/1991 SAS NYK 45.0 6 12 0 0 9 10 4 16 3 0 3 0 21 914
Armen Gilliam 4/17/1992 PHI CHH 41.0 10 17 0 0 10 11 10 1 2 2 1 1 30 908

ShareThis

15 Responses to “Best Games Against a Team You Played For Last Season (1987-2010)”

  1. Gabe Says:

    MJ's game went to OT, so he played 50 minutes. Is that accounted for? I didn't think so, but wasn't sure.

    Also, what about cases where a player took a year or 2 off? I seem to remember MJ as a Wizard having a big game against the Bulls.

  2. Luke Says:

    Well, sure, LeBron had a pretty good game last night, but I don't think Miami will ever get over the beatdown Willie Burton laid on them on that historic night from December 13, 1994. Not a lot of people know this, but that's actually where the saying "Feel the Wrath of Willie Burton!" originated.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Minutes weren't accounted for, so per-minute, Kobe's 81 is #1. Also, this is only picking up games the season immediately after a player leaves, so it wouldn't capture MJ against Chicago 4 years after he left, etc. Although another follow-up post on the best games against a former team, period, would get that type of game.

    As for Burton's revenge explosion... Has to be one of the most inexplicable 50-point games ever.

  4. AHL Says:

    "Has to be one of the most inexplicable 50-point games ever."

    Well don't keep us waiting now, you've got career numbers and game logs, show us!

  5. Ben Says:

    Your replacement level seems pretty low. How did you arrive at that?

  6. Neil Paine Says:

    Re: #5 - I was flipping through Wayne Winston's Mathletics (highly recommended, btw) the other day, and in chapter 33 he tries to develop a fair salary system using APM value over replacement... The replacement value he settles on is -6 APM. He doesn't really give any justification for that, and I've seen it be anywhere between -3 and -7 depending on who you ask (SPM values are going to be more compressed, so its replacement value is probably closer to -3 to -4), but for a quick "game score" knockoff that actually correlates to APM, -6 is as good a choice as any.

    Re: #4 - Haha, I guess I walked right into that one. I'll have to take a look at that at some point.

  7. Ben Says:

    Thanks. Perhaps it's unfair, but the whole Durant thing dissuaded me from getting the Winston book. I'll check it out.

  8. huevonkiller Says:

    Terrell Brandon and LeBron James were at the top in APMVAL per minute.

    Pretty sweet. :]

  9. Ray Says:

    Can you do the same for midseason team changes?

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    Re: #8 - Terrell Brandon is a longtime favorite of mine:

    http://www.yaysports.com/nba/2006/01/the_timberwolves_inspire_poetr.html

    (Yes, I was the reader who sent Brian the terrible, terrible rhymes.)

  11. DSMok1 Says:

    ASPM has -3.5 for replacement level. APM, without ridge regression, has an inaccurately large spread.

  12. MCT Says:

    Willie Burton's best competition for most unlikely 50-point scorer is probably Walt Wesley, who went for 50 for the Cavaliers in their first season as an expansion team (1970-71), although this obviously predates the era of box score coverage on this site. Another unlikely name that pops up on the 50-point scorers' list is Tony Delk.

  13. MKT Says:

    The list would include some memorable games if it was possible to extend it further into the past. One classic was after Lenny Wilkens was traded from the Sonics to the Cavaliers in 1972. The Sonics, who had almost made the playoffs in 1972, promptly sank into a disastrous season while Wilkens continued his usual all-star play in Cleveland. The game when the Cavs came to visit the Sonics was an example of reverse LeBronomania: the Seattle Coliseum was sold out with fans booing the Sonics (for their terrible season, caused by a series of terrible roster moves, of which Wilkens' was the most prominent), and a huge standing ovation and continual cheering for the opposing team's point guard: Lenny Wilkens.

    I don't recall Wilkens' stat line but needless to say the Cavs won easily.

  14. huevonkiller Says:

    #10

    lol that's awesome you would admit that.

  15. Mike G Says:

    Willie Burton and Tony Delk had the 2 most unlikely 50-point outbursts that come to mind.
    And both of them were vs their previous seasons' teams. Wow.