Pareto Prediction and the Top Trios in 2007-08

Posted on August 5, 2008 by


Every player in the NBA is not an equal producer of wins.  Last summer I noted – consistent with the work of 19th century economist Vilfredo Pareto (which did not mention basketball) – that about 80% of wins in the NBA are produced by 20% of the players.  This means that the top three players on a 15 man roster tend to be the driving force behind a team’s success. 

Last summer I posted a list of the top trios – defined as the three leaders on each team in Wins Produced – for each team in 2006-07. The list – re-posted below – revealed that the top trios were in Phoenix, San Antonio, Chicago, Dallas, and New Jersey.

Table One-A: The Top Trios in 2006-07

Table One-B: The Top Trios in 2006-07 (in alphabetical order)

The Top Trios in 2007-08: Wins Produced Edition

For 2007-08, Phoenix still finished in the top five.  But the top spot was held by the New Orleans Hornets.  Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler, and David West (mostly Paul and Chandler) produced 48 wins for the Hornets last year.  Unfortunately the rest of the roster only produced seven victories.

Table Two: The Top Trios in 2007-08

Joining New Orleans and Phoenix in the top five were Orlando, Boston, and San Antonio.  Back in November I argued that the Boston trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen would lead the league.  Not only did this not happen, but Ray Allen lost his spot in Boston’s Top Trio to Rajon Rondo.  So that’s one prediction that didn’t quite work out (of course I was still closer to the mark on the Celtics than Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe).

 The Top Trios in 2007-08: WP48 Edition

As noted, Top Trios has been defined in terms of Wins Produced.  What if we focused instead on WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of the top trio [calculated by adding the Wins Produced of the top three together, dividing by minutes played, and multiplying by 48]?

Focusing on WP48 reveals that Phoenix – with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion – led the way last season (as it did in 2006-07).  Unfortunately the trade for Shaq, who posted a 0.227 WP48 with the Suns last year (Marion’s mark was 0.306), probably means Phoenix will not top the trio rankings next season (the new Suns trio, though, might still rank in the top five).

If Phoenix fades from the top spot, though, who is likely to take their place?  To find candidates to lead the WP48 Trio Rankings for 2008-09 we first should look at the other top five threesomes this past season. And that list includes the trios in San Antonio, the LA Lakers, Boston, and New Orleans.  If I had to guess, I would suspect the Lakers Trio of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol (or Lamar Odom), and Andrew Bynum will lead the way in 2008-09.  Of course we should remember that my last attempt to predict this contest failed.

Three More Top Trios?

It was argued by Chris Broussard at ESPN that the addition of Ron Artest gives the Rockets a top trio.  The data, though, suggests otherwise.  In 2006-07 Ron Artest, Tracy McGrady, and Yao Ming posted WP48 marks of 0.114, 0.168, and 0.225 respectively.  This works out to an average of 0.169, or a mark that would rank 19th in the NBA this past season.  If we look at the 2007-08 WP48 marks (0.081, 0.107, and 0.232), we see an average of 0.140. This would rank 29th this past season.  In sum, the acquisition of Artest does not give the Rockets a top trio. 

Fortunately for Houston (and the team’s fans), the Rockets had the best supporting cast last season.  So even though this team didn’t have a top trio last year – and probably won’t have one this next year – the Rockets will still be a “good” team.  Probably not “Laker or Celtic good”.  But Houston should win more than 50 games in 2008-09.

If we are looking for a new top trio, we need to get our minds off of Houston and start thinking about Miami.  If the Heat keep Shawn Marion, Miami will have a trio consisting of a healthy Dwyane Wade, Marion, and rookie Michael Beasley.  If Wade returns to what we saw in 2006-07 (and Beasley delivers on the promise of his college numbers) Miami’s new trio could be a top ten combo.  And this should transform the Heat – who were led by Wade, Jason Williams, and Chris Quinn this past season — into an Eastern Conference playoff team.

After the Heat, another top threesome has also been assembled by the Clippers.  As I noted a few weeks ago, the combo of Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, and Baron Davis does put another top trio in LA.  Unfortunately, the supporting cast in Clipperland is going to make it difficult for the Clips to join the Heat in the playoffs.

A Pareto Prediction

Let me close by looking at the link between the productivity of a team’s top trio and a team’s final record.  To address this issue, I regressed a team’s actual wins last season on the Win Produced of each team’s Top Trio.  The results indicated that the Wins Produced of the top three players explains 66% of a team’s actual wins.  In other words, as the Pareto Principle suggests, the top players on each team tell us quite a bit about a team’s ultimate success.

Of course, if all you know is the performance of the top three on a team, you don’t know everything about that team’s ultimate level of success. In other words, 66% is something, but not everything.  A strong supporting cast – like we see in Houston, Boston, and Detroit – can overcome a relatively weak Top Three (or in Boston’s case, give the Celtics the top team in the league).  That being said, the Heat – if The Matrix stays in Miami – might be back in the playoffs in 2009.  And that return is primarily due to the strength of this team’s Top Trio.

– 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.