The MVP on Each Team and a Comparison of Kobe and Flash

Posted on May 10, 2009 by


The sports media has declared LeBron James as the Most Valuable Player in the league.  If we define MVP as Most Productive (which seems reasonable), and we define Most Productive in terms of Wins Produced (which seems reasonable), then the sports media is correct.  That is, the media is correct if we are looking at just the Eastern Conference. If we expand our view to the entire league, though, then an argument can be made for Chris Paul.

The MVP of Each Team

At least, that was the subject of the last post.  For this post I want to look at the MVP of each team.  Again we are going to define MVP in terms of productivity.  And again productivity is defined in terms of Wins Produced.  The results of this analysis are reported in Table One.

Table One: The Most Productive Player on Each Team in 2008-09

There are a number of stories one can tell from Table One.  Here are a few (in no particular order).

  • The average top player on each team produced 14.3 wins, or 36% of each team’s total.
  • The one factor that dominates perceptions of performance is scoring.  Of the 30 top players listed in Table One, twelve were the leading scorer on their team.
  • Of the players who received some consideration for the MVP award, only Tim Duncan and Chauncey Billups was not the leading scorer on their respective teams.  Both Duncan and Billups were the second leading scorers on their teams.
  • There is a 0.60 correlation (the correlation coefficient is r) between a team’s Wins Produced and the Wins Produced of the team’s top players.  If we look at R2 we see that 36% of a team’s Wins Produced can be explained by the productivity of their top player. So the top player isn’t everything, but it’s something.  
  • Another way of looking at the same issue.  Of the fifteen below average teams, only three had a Wins Produced leader that produced more than 14.3 wins (Troy Murphy of the Pacers, Gerald Wallace of the Bobcats, and David Lee of the Knicks).  So if you don’t have an above average leader you are not likely to be an above average team.  This is an important lesson to learn about building a winner. It’s possible to build a dominant team without one dominant performer, but it’s not as easy.

Kobe and Flash

Kobe Bryant fans will note that Kobe is not the leader in Wins Produced on the Lakers.  Pau Gasol was actually a bit more productive.  Gasol had his best season of his career in 2008-09, although the actual difference between what Gasol did this past season and what he did in 2006-07 (his last full season in Memphis) is not very big.  Gasol posted a 0.240 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] two years ago. Had he maintained this production this year his Wins Produced would have been about 15.0 (a mark that’s still good enough to lead the Lakers in 2008-09).

Although Kobe was not the most productive on the Lakers, he was still quite good (he ranked 11th in the league).  Quite good, though, was not nearly good enough to match the production of LeBron.  In fact – as I noted in my last post – Kobe was not as productive as Dwyane Wade.

Actually, that doesn’t seem possible.  “Everyone” knows that rebounds are all that matters to Wins Produced.  And Kobe was a better rebounder in 2008-09 than Wade.  Therefore, Kobe must have been more productive.

At least, that’s the story I have heard.  But when we look at a comparison of all the box score numbers – as reported in Table One – we see that Wade comes out ahead.  It should be noted that in addition to an edge on the boards, Kobe is a better free throw shooter than Wade.  And Kobe is less likely to commit turnovers.  But Wade is a more efficient scorer from the field and does get more assists, blocked shots, and steals.  As a consequence, Wade is the more productive player. 

Table Two: Comparing Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade

One should note that this outcome is not confined to 2008-09.  Since Wade entered the league in 2003-04 he has posted a 0.241 WP48 while Kobe has posted a 0.223 mark.  And Wade’s career total was reduced by his rookie season [0.128 WP48] and his injury plagued 2007-08 campaign [0.146 WP48].  If we ignore these two seasons, Wade’s career mark is 0.280.  In Kobe’s entire career he has never posted a WP48 that reached the 0.280 mark.

In sum, Wade is more productive than Kobe.  This is true this season and it’s true if you look at Wade’s entire career.  And yet, to the best of my knowledge, Wade has never been named the “best player in the game”.  Of course, if we focus on productivity and we look at all players, Wade is not the “best” player in the game.  But he is more productive than Kobe (who is often called the “best” player in the game).

– 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.