Notes and Links on the 2011 NBA Finals

Posted on June 14, 2011 by


When the 2010 finals ended last summer, I quickly put up some numbers and offered a few thoughts.  This year (as I noted on Sunday), I am a bit distracted.   So I am going to simply link to a host of numbers and thoughts offered by others.

Let’s start with some numbers.  Arturo Galletti has all the numbers (and more thoughts and comments).  And these numbers tell us that Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Mario Chalmers were above average for the Heat in the Finals. But Chris Bosh – the lesser light of the Heat’s Trio – didn’t really help.  For the Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki gets the most attention.  But Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler led the team in Wins Produced in the Finals.  And Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson were also quite productive.

Across the entire NBA playoffs, the two most productive players were Wade and James.  But of the next five, the Mavericks employed three (Kidd, Chandler, and Nowitzki).

The importance of Tyson Chandler seems to be understated by observers of the Mavericks.  Chandler really was the key addition to the Mavericks in the offseason.  And  Ty Willihnganz – with Marginal Win Score —  argues  that Chandler was the most productive player on the Mavericks in the Finals.  Ty also noted recently that in the 1960s – when players like Bill Russell and Wes Unseld won MVP awards without scoring 20 points per game (or leading the league in assists like Steve Nash) —  people seemed to understand that players like Tyson Chandler (rebounders who don’t score much) are really quite valuable.  As Ty notes, this idea seems to have been lost over time.

Ty also made another interesting observation about history and stats.  Throughout the playoffs, commentators kept noting various “historical statistics”.  As Ty recently argued, this practice is often quite misleading.

Surprise, ESPN’s historical “statistics” can be misleading!

The Dallas Mavericks lost Games One and Three of the NBA Finals, and yet won the NBA title. The Boston Red Sox lost their first six games of the season, and yet they now appear to be a likely playoff participant (Coolstandings: 80%). Each turn of events has brought a smile to my face because each has cut against one of the more annoying practices at ESPN – the naked historical citation.

It drives me wacko when ESPN tries to overdramatize the significance of certain outcomes by providing historical statistics without also providing context for those citations.

For example before and after both Game One and Game Three of any given playoff series, you can bet your newborn’s college fund that Stuart Scott will mention that the winner of Game One goes on to win the series 80% of the time, and that the winner of Game Three does something similar.  And, you can also be sure that in the first few weeks of a baseball or football season (but, curiously, no other sport), if a “favorite” team loses their initial “x” number of games, ESPN will waste time digging up statistics showing how few teams have reached the playoffs or won the championship after such a start. This, you see, artificially enhances the significance of early contests, whether early in a given season, or early in a given playoff series.  Whereas most fans would probably conclude that the losing team in each case still had ample opportunity to recover, ESPN provides historical numbers to try to dissuade such thinking.

The figures they use are accurate, I don’t contend they are not.  But the way ESPN presents the figures is misleading because they present them without contextual explanation.

For instance, the reason most teams that win Game X or Game Y of a series go on to win the series is, often, they are simply the better team.  A fair number of NBA playoff series throughout the Association’s history have been lopsided affairs.  But the Miami-Dallas contest was a fairly even match. So yes, the likelihood of ultimate success diminished with each loss by either team, but given the even nature of the contest, the impediment caused by the loss was not as great as ESPN suggested.

And the “beginning of the season” statistics are even more misleading, especially when applied to a team with obvious talent.  I would venture to guess that nearly 70% of the teams in history that have started a Major League or NFL season with 3 consecutive losses have sucked (less so in baseball, I guess, but the baseball citation is clearly the more preposterous given the enormous number of remaining games).  Most of those teams had little or no chance to qualify for the playoffs or win a championship, whether they started 0-3 or 3-0.

But that should not persuade one to conclude that a distinctly stronger team in the same situation would face the same low odds. It wouldn’t. If most houses in town are made of straw, then one can conclude that most of the houses in town will not survive a windstorm. But that does not make it more likely that the few houses made of brick will suffer the same fate.

Of course, making such a distinction neccesarily involves a certain amount of dispassionate, critical thinking on a person’s part, something ESPN tries to discourage.  Its bad for ratings.

Final Links to Contrarian Opinions

Let me close with three links to alternative views on the finals. Much of the attention has focused on how happy people are that LeBron has lost.  Matthew Yglesias – with The Progressive Case For The Miami Heat – and Jonathan Weiler – with In Defense of LeBron James – both offer a different perspective on LeBron James (that will likely upset some people… and I am okay with that).

Yglesias also offers a broader lesson on what we can learn from the Mavericks winning the title.  With Dirk Nowitzki And The Virtues Of Immigration, Yglesias notes  the important benefits of immigration.

One last note… Andres Alvarez should be along later today (or at least soon) with even more comments on the Finals.  And soon we are going to start commenting on the NBA Draft.

– DJ