LeBron & Cavs in Pomp and Circumstance

Posted on May 16, 2010 by


The Wins Produced numbers from Andres Alvarez were posted on Saturday night.  And we already have our first post using these numbers.  Arturo Galletti is an electrical engineer and statistician by education (masters in electrical and computer engineering), by vocation (he was worked across the past ten years  for the US government — as well as Baxter and Johnson & Johnson — to convert data into information and improvement actions),  and by passion (Minitab is great for stress relief and winning fantasy leagues). He was born and lives in Puerto Rico.  But his undergrad years were spent in Boston and he bleeds Celtic green.  His first post reflects that passion.  Arturo will argue – via Wins Produced – that the Cavaliers’ loss in the second round was not that surprising. 

Much will be made over the following days and weeks by the talking heads on the blogs, radio, and TV about the “historic” collapse of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the supposed no-show by LeBron and his teammates. Given that this version of the Cavaliers was finally supposed to have all the pieces around LeBron necessary for a championship run, it’s natural to assume that the Cavaliers losing to the Celtics is an historic collapse on the order of the great playoff collapses (Mavs-Warriors or Sonics-Nuggets) of recent memory.  Certainly if we look only won-loss record for the season (61-21 for the Cavs and 50- 32 for the Celts) the pundits would seem to be right. But using Wins Produced we can show that the vilification of the King and his court may be without merit. The Cavs didn’t make history, they were victimized by it. 

First off a bit of historical perspective. The Cavaliers are only the second team to win sixty games two years straight and fail to make the NBA finals. The other team was Lew Alcindor’s 1972 & 73 Bucks (63 wins and 60 wins) a team which had the misfortune of running into the 1972 & 73 Lakers (69 wins and 60 wins). In Kareem’s defense that team won the 1971 title and lost in seven in the finals in 1974. The King cannot point to a banner in his kingdom but his current subjects will argue that his knights were weak and his general might have played the wrong guys

Table 1- Cavaliers win projection based on the Minutes allocation in Celts-Cavs series and WP48 after 82 Games

Table 1 clearly shows there is some merit to this theory. If we look at the Cavs as they are currently composed, use the team’s WP48 for the regular season, and the minute allocation during the series with the Celts; we see a team that projects out to 70.7 wins. While this is by all accounts an exceptional number for any team (and it’s indicative of a team that should make the finals at the very least), it is also extremely worrying in that LeBron accounts for 29 of the 70.7 wins or 41% of the total. Based on this allotment of minutes, if you replaced LeBron with a replacement level player this team would only be good for 48.9 wins.  And that one injury – in this case LeBron’s elbow — might have been enough to sink the King’s ship.

To put this in perspective, let’s consider the percentage of wins produced by the most productive player on each second round team (this is based on the Andres Alvarez numbers). 

  • LeBron James: 42.8%
  • Dwight Howard: 37.0%
  • Rajon Rondo: 35.4%
  • Josh Smith: 33.5%
  • Steve Nash: 30.1%
  • Carlos Boozer: 29.7%
  • Pau Gasol: 29.2%
  • Tim Duncan: 28.9%

As one can see, LeBron had to do more for his team than any other leading star on the second round playoff teams.  So Cleveland is somewhat a one man band.

LeBron also wasn’t helped by head coach Mike Brown and his player selection.  Brown was apparently seduced by the ghost of  Shaquille O’Neal (WP48 0.86, a below average mark) and all the points scored by Mo Williams (WP48 0.116, just slightly better than average).  Meanwhile, Varejao (WP48 0.181), Moon (WP48 0.191), and West (WP48 0.121) were often kept on the bench, much to the detriment to the team. 

So are those the final answers? No, we are forgetting the most important fact: The Boston Celtics may be much better than their final record indicates.   Let’s just assume that the second half of the season was an injury-driven aberration.  If that is true, then maybe the first half numbers of this team are the best measure of the team’s quality.

 Table 2- Celtics win projection based on the Minutes allocation in Celts-Cavs series and WP48 after 41 Games

Following this logic, let’s turn to Table 2.  This table reports the WP48 of each player on the Celtics after 41 games.  It then utilized the minutes allocation in the series against the Cavaliers. With these two numbers in hand we see team capable of winning 68.2 games. The Celtics at 100% are a fantastic team that has multiple options to carry the load (i.e are not 43% driven by the King and his elbow).

And in contrast to Mike Brown, Doc Rivers (other than perhaps overplaying Rasheed) maximized the value he could get from his team.   If LeBron was at 100% (and apparently he wasn’t), the Cavaliers would be expected to win based on these projections by the barest of margins.  Much like good Cavs teams in the 80’s ran into great Bulls teams, a bit of bad luck – and perhaps some poor decisions – have once again denied the city of Cleveland a title.  Let’s hope for the Cavaliers’ sake that these unfortunate circumstances (and the forces of economics as described in Stumbling on Wins) does not lead their relationship with LeBron down the same path as Kareem and the Bucks.

– Arturo Galletti

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