Pointing Fingers at the Miami Heat

Posted on December 16, 2009 by


The Miami Heat began the season with a three game winning streak.  After losing a game, the Heat won another three in a row.  Since that 6-1 start, though, the team has only won six of seventeen games.  After one of their latest losses – a 28 point defeat at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies – the Heat began searching for answers. (HT True Hoop)

“I didn’t say a word. I let the guys talk. Sometimes, as a leader, you have to listen,” (Dwyane) Wade said of a postgame powwow led by veterans Jermaine O’Neal and Udonis Haslem. “I won’t say what any guy said. Just know that there was communication back and forth.”

Haslem insisted that there was no finger-pointing or animosity, although there was plenty of blame to share for the disappointing play at home. Instead, Haslem’s message was on all-inclusive accountability.

Sunday was for soul-searching.

“It’s not just about one person or two people,” Haslem said. “It’s on all of us. We definitely have to dig deep and find out what type of team we are.

“We need to get that chip back on our shoulder we had earlier.”

The words of Haslem suggest that if the Heat simply change their attitude, or try just a bit harder, the Heat will become a winning team.  Furthermore, this is a team issue.  Blame cannot be assigned to any one player or person. The numbers, though, seem to tell a different story. 

Pointing at the Supporting Cast

Last year Miami was led by Dwyane Wade.  Of the team’s 43 wins, about 22 were linked to the productivity of Wade.  This means that without Wade, the Heat were not a very good team.

This year – as Table One illustrates – the Heat are once again led by Wade.  And after Wade, Miami – once again — doesn’t have much.  The Heat are currently on pace to win about 40 games this year (the team’s efficiency differential is -0.7). 

Table One: The Miami Heat after 24 games in 2009-10

Of these 40 wins, about 26 of these projected wins can be linked to players not nicknamed Flash.  About four of these wins can be linked to the play of Dorell Wright.  Last year, Wright only played 73 minutes.  So his production (which is quite similar per 48 minutes to what he did in 2007-08) is somewhat surprising.  In fact, Wright and Wade are the only players to surpass the WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] mark of 0.200 (twice the average mark).  And only Udonis Haslem and Quentin Richardson (of those who have played 100 minutes) surpass the average mark.  Yes, much of this roster is below average.

One player who comes close to average – although still falls short – is Jermaine O’Neal.  And like the play of Wright, this is also somewhat surprising. Last year O’Neal posted a -0.037 WP48.  This year he’s still below average, but his ability to approach the average mark – something he hasn’t done since 2006-07 — is worth about four additional wins to the Heat across an entire season (or about six more wins than this team could have expected O’Neal to produce). 

Without the play of Wright and O’Neal the Heat would not be as close to the 0.500 mark. So clearly one can point a finger at whoever assembled Wade’s supporting cast.  But one can also point the finger of accusation at Wade. 

Pointing at Flash

In 2008-09, Wade posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] mark in excess of 0.300.  This season, Wade’s WP48 is 0.207.   In other words, last year Wade’s productivity went beyond what we see from Kobe Bryant [WP48 of 0.244 in 2008-09).  This season, Wade’s production lags behind Kobe.  And for the Heat to be a team that goes well beyond 41 wins (at least, more than one or two games beyond), Flash really has to do more than Kobe.

This year, though, that’s not happening.  And the big reason why Flash has dimmed is Wade’s shooting efficiency.  Last season Wade posted a 51.6% adjusted field goal percentage.  This season this mark has fallen to 44.8%.  If Wade could return to the level of efficiency seen last year – and the same happened with respect to assists (which are also a bit down) – the Heat would see the team’s projected wins rise by about nine.   

One should note, though, that even if Wade returned to form – and Wright and O’Neal kept doing what we have seen thus far –the Heat would probably fall short of 50 victories. And that mark is not quite what Miami envisioned when it started 6-1. 

The problem for Miami is that this start was a bit of an illusion.  As Dean Oliver noted in Basketball on Paper, there is a 90% chance that a team that ultimately wins 30% of its games – or about 25 games – will win three in a row at some point in an NBA season.  So when the Heat – a team that will probably win 50% of its games – started with a three game winning streak (and followed it with another three game winning streak after a loss); the expectations for the Heat shouldn’t have changed immediately.  At least, we shouldn’t be surprised that Miami has fallen short of the promise of these early streaks.

Pointing All the Fingers

At the end of the day, Miami doesn’t have much beyond Wade.  So a finger of blame needs to be pointed at the person (or persons) who assembled this roster.  And as noted, a second finger can be pointed at Wade himself. The Heat would not be one of the top teams in the league if Wade reverted to form.  But they could be a bigger threat to surpass the mark of an average team and perhaps come closer to 50 wins.

Unfortunately for Miami, “approaching 50 wins” is probably the ceiling for this team; and struggling to stay above .500 is closer to reality.  One suspects that this will not be enough for Miami to keep Wade when the season ends.  And if Wade does depart, we can expect the finger of blame to be frequently pointed next summer in Miami.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com 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.