Four Thoughts on Game Five

Posted on June 19, 2006 by

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1.            Half a Hero is better than None

At the end of Game Five Dwyane Wade was a hero.  If all you saw was the first half, though, that is not the story you’d tell.  At the half the Mavericks led 51-43.  Miami was definitely in trouble, since a loss would have forced the Heat to win two games in Dallas to take the series.  As the Pistons discovered last year, winning two games on the road to close a series is difficult.  In fact, since going to a 2-3-2 format, no team has ever accomplished this feat.

Why was the Heat down by eight at the half?  If we look at Wade, we see part of the answer.  In the first half Wade took thirteen shots and only made three.  While the average NBA players scores 0.98 points per field goal attempt, at the half Wade only had scored 0.46 per shot from the field.  Obviously when your shooting efficiency is less than half the league average, there’s a problem.  Certainly his free throw shooting and three steals helped, but with a Win Score in the negative range, it is clear that Wade’s problems hitting field goals was a key to the Heat’s deficit on the scoreboard at halftime.

A Brief Interruption: For those who do not know what Win Score is, please go here.  And please remember, this is just a simple model we created to look at performance in a game quickly. Win Score is not the same as Wins Produced, the more complex algorithm we explain in the book.  Now back to our story.

In the second half Wade – as he did in Games Three and Four – once again became “Like Mike.”  Wade scored 30 points in the second half, hitting on eight of his fifteen field goal attempts and additionally, making fourteen of seventeen free throw attempts. Beyond scoring he added four rebounds, three assists, and only one turnover.  His per-minute Win Score for the second half was 0.379, well above the average for his position.

For the game, Wade was an above average performer, but not quite as productive as he was in Games Three and Four.  Now some will say that he was great when it mattered most.  As we note in the book, such thinking is flawed.  Had Wade performed better in the first half it is likely the Heat would have won easily and the late game and overtime heroics wouldn’t have been necessary.  As coaches teach, the game is 48 minutes long.  You can’t just play part of the game.  The whole game counts in the final score and that is why for Game Five, Wade was only half a hero.

2.            Shaq at the Charity Stripe

Shaquille O’Neal entered the league with the Orlando Magic in 1992-93.  Over the next fourteen seasons Shaq produced 244.7 wins, for an average of 17.5 wins per season.  So he has been one of the most productive players since the early 1990s.  Still, there is one deficiency in his game, and in Game Five it was once again displayed. From the free throw line he has problems.  Last night he took twelve free throws and made only two.  Obviously this was bad, even by Shaq standards.

For Shaq’s career he has taken 9,744 free throws in the regular season and only made 5,147, for a conversion rate of 53%.  Clearly this is below the league average if 75%. 

What if Shaq was average from the charity stripe? At the average rate Shaq would have made 2,160 additional free throws across his career.  What would 2,160 points scored with no additional expenditure in shot attempts have meant to Shaq’s career production of wins?  Each point creates 0.0328 wins.  So 2,160 additional points – again, with no change in free throw or field goal attempts – would create 70.9 additional wins.  Or per season, Shaq as an average free throw shooter would produce five more wins.  Again, that assumes nothing else changes about Shaq’s performance. 

Producing 17.5 wins per season is excellent.  But if Shaq could hit his free throws at an average rate, he would have been worth 22.5 wins per season across his career.  To put that in perspective, in Michael Jordan’s 11 full seasons with the Bulls he produced 26.6 wins per campaign.  So Shaq would not quite be MJ if he hit his free throws, but he sure would be closer.   

3.            Did it Matter that Stack was not in the House?

Ric Bucher of ESPN.com began a column on June 14 with the following statement: “NBA commandant Stu Jackson could have very well done the Dallas Mavericks favor by suspending Jerry Stackhouse for Sunday's Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals.”  

In reading this sentence I thought Bucher was going to explain that the Mavericks would be better off without a player whose lack of productivity I detailed just a few days earlier.  Bucher, though, was arguing that the loss of Stackhouse could serve as motivation for the Mavericks.  Given that the Mavericks are in the NBA Finals, it is not clear why Dallas needs additional motivation.  Still, such was the argument Bucher made.

To Bucher’s credit, he did note that Stackhouse’s game has limitations. “(Stackhouse) doesn't provide anything they can't get elsewhere. Keith Van Horn is a considerably better 3-point shooter. Adrian Griffin is a better defender. Marquis Daniels is, at times, an equal slasher.”  Bucher went on to add, “Stackhouse's shot has been short and his drives a tick off.” 

Of course, Stackhouse’s shot has been off since he first entered the NBA in 1995-96.  He has never had a season where he was even close to the average NBA player in shooting efficiency. 

Did the Mavericks miss Stackhouse?  In Game Four Dallas attempted 79 field goals and from these scored 53 points.  Stackhouse contributed to this dismal efficiency by taking eighteen field goals and only making six.  In Game Five Dallas took 81 field goal attempts and from these scored 79 points.  So the Mavericks were more efficient scorers in Game Five.  Unfortunately, Stackhouse will be back in Game Six, a development that will not help this team even the series.

4.            MIA in Miami

Before Dallas fans despair the return of Stackhouse we have to remember that his deficiencies did not prevent the Mavericks from winning 60 games in the regular season.  When a team has Dirk Nowitzki – who produced about 30% of the team’s wins in the regular season — it can overcome a lack of productivity from a bench player.

Unfortunately, in Miami Dirk was MIA.  In Games One and Two Nowitski lived up to his star billing.  In Dallas Nowitzki was a more efficient scorer, turned the ball over less often, and generated more steals.  Most importantly in Dallas he averaged one rebound every three minutes, while in Miami it took Nowitzki more than five minutes to capture a missed shot.  Had Nowitzki captured one rebound every three minutes in Miami he would have grabbed nearly twenty more boards in the past three games. And Dallas would be in a much better position to win its first championship.

A few days ago Bill Simmons of ESPN.com was singing the praises of Nowitzki.  We were told that Nowitzki was the next Larry Bird.  Of course this was the same Simmons that only a few weeks ago was telling us that Kobe Bryant was the league MVP.  So the love Simmons feels for a player doesn't seem everlasting.

Although there is no more hope for Kobe this year, Nowitzki still has a chance to show us that the love Simmons has for him is not without merit.  Perhaps a return to Dallas is all Nowitzki needs.  When we look at the numbers one thing becomes certain.  The Nowitski that played in Miami is not going to bring a championship parade to Dallas in 2006.

— DJ