Thoughts on the 2008 Finals

Posted on June 19, 2008 by


Before I get to my thoughts on the 2008 Finals, let’s talk predictions for a moment.

In 2006 I failed to predict the NBA champion before the playoffs started. Actually I am not sure I offered a prediction. Nevertheless, the Miami Heat did not lead the league in efficiency differential that season so if I had made a pick, it would not have been Miami. 

In 2007, I predicted the Bulls and Suns would face off for the title before the season started (obviously wrong).  But before the playoffs started I said that since the Spurs led the NBA in efficiency differential that they should be the favorite to win the title.   

Before the 2007-08 season – based on the past performances of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, James Posey, Rajon Rondo, etc… — I predicted the Celtics would win the title. 

And now for the 2008-2009 season, I am going to predict the Lakers will win the title.  Just for the record, I made the prediction before the 2008 Finals had concluded.

What do all these predictions mean? One could argue that I am getting better at predicting.  But that’s not what’s going on.

As I noted a few days ago, a team’s efficiency differential is an excellent way to evaluate the quality of a team.  If two teams meet in the playoffs, the team with the better efficiency differential tends to win.  This doesn’t always happen (see 2006), but it often does.  In sum, making predictions in the NBA – relative to baseball, football, and hockey – is relatively easy.

The predictability of the NBA is something I want to talk about in more detail.  For today, though, I want to offer my thoughts on the 2008 NBA Finals.

Pierce for MVP?

We know Paul Pierce was named MVP of the Finals.  But was he the M2P (Most Productive Player)?

In Games One and Two, Paul Pierce was the top Celtic in terms of PAWS (Position Adjusted Win Score).  In Games Three and Four, Ray Allen was the top Boston player.  And then in Game Five, Pierce took top honors again.

On Tuesday the Celtics closed out the series.  As Table One indicates, Ray Allen – just as he did in Games Three and Four – led the Celtics in PAWS.  So in the contest between Pierce and Allen, the final score was 3-3.

Table One: Analyzing Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals

What if we looked at the performance by each player across all six games? 

Table Two: Analyzing the NBA Finals

As Table Two indicates, the M2P — when we look at the entire NBA Finals — is Ray Allen.   And the contest isn’t really that close.  This is because when Allen was good, he was really, really good.  And when Pierce was bad, he was really, really bad.  Consequently, if PAWS was our metric of choice (and of course here it is), Ray Allen would have been named MVP of the Finals.

The Greatness of KG

And second to Allen would have been Kevin Garnett.  

We already know (at least we should know) that KG was clearly the M2P (Most Productive Player) of the Celtics in the regular season.  What about the entire post-season (not just the Finals)?

Table Three: Analyzing the 2008 Post-Season for the Celtics and Lakers

As Table Three indicates – and this should not surprise – Garnett was the M2P of the Celtics in the 2008 post-season.  In other words, if we consider the fact you have to win the first three rounds before you even get a chance to play for a championship, then KG should be considered the biggest reason why the Celtics won their 17th title.

My sense – having listened to the announcers call Game Six – is that the Celtics taking this title changes people’s evaluation of Garnett.  In reality, though, Garnett in Boston was very much the same player he was in Minnesota. In Boston, though, he got to play with better teammates.  Unfortunately TV analysts – unlike player statistics – have trouble separating the player from his teammates. Consequently, analysts now think KG has gotten better. 

What about Kobe? 

And I think, some analysts might think just the opposite of Kobe.

The media declared Kobe was the league’s MVP and throughout the playoffs we kept hearing that Kobe was the best player in the game.  And since we know the team with the best player must win the title (do we know this?), the Lakers were declared the favorites in the NBA Finals.

In the Finals – as Tables One and Two indicate – Kobe was not quite “like Mike.”  Nor was he “like Mike” in the regular season or the 2008 playoffs.  But Kobe was certainly the M2P of the Lakers in the regular season. And he also was the M2P of the Lakers in the entire 2008 post-season.

What if we compare KG and Kobe?  Although Kobe was very good in the regular season, Garnett was even better.  And although Kobe played well in the post-season, again, KG was better.  And obviously in the Finals, Garnett was better.  In sum, the team with the best player did indeed win the NBA Championship (not that this has to happen).

My sense is that many people, having seen the Lakers get blown out in Game Six, can buy into this storyline.  But I think these very same people will tell a very different story in 12 months. 

Andrew Bynum is supposed to come back. As I have said before, if Bynum can produce as he did earlier in the year, the Lakers are the favorites to win the title next year (and the year after that as well).  When that happens, we will most certainly hear the following stories (from the very same people criticizing Kobe today).

1. Kobe is the greatest player in the game.  We heard that this year without the Lakers winning a title. 

2. Kobe is as good as Michael Jordan.  Again, we started to hear that in the playoffs this year.

3. Kobe has willed his team to another championship.

Although I fully expect to hear these three statements (assuming the Lakers win in 2009), I also think that Kobe – who is a very good shooting guard – will still be the same Kobe.  In other words, I suspect that the very same writers that are a bit down on Kobe today; will be just as high on the same Kobe in 12 months.  Remember, many of the same analysts who were down on KG 12 months ago have apparently changed their perspective on Garnett.   

Again, we should expect basketball analysts to separate players from teammates. But again and again, we see that this doesn’t happen.  With that in mind, keep track of the people writing negative stories about Kobe and the Lakers right now.  If Bynum comes back as we expect, those same people will write a different story – about Kobe — in just a few short months.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.