Also posted at The Sports Economist
A few weeks ago the ever insightful Bill Simmons of ESPN.com announced his choice for NBA MVP. Simmons went through each of the players he thought were the top candidates and settled on Kobe Bryant.
If we look strictly at player productivity, or Wins Produced, one can see that Kobe was not the most productive player in the NBA during the regular season. This past season he produced 14.3 wins, which ranked 17th in the NBA. Among shooting guards, he ranked third, behind Dwayne Wade – 18.2 Wins Produced – and Paul Pierce – 17.3 Wins Produced. It is important to remember that nearly 460 people played in the NBA this past season, so Kobe ranked in the top 5% of all basketball players. The data tells us, though, that he did not offer the highest level of productivity.
In voting for the MVP award Kobe finished fourth, behind Steve Nash, LeBron James, and Dirk Nowitzki. When we look at Wins Produced we also see Kobe trailing these three players. King James produced 20.4 wins in the regular season, Nash finished at 18.6, and Nowitzki produced 18.0 wins. In sum, Kobe was very good, but not the very best.
What about the playoffs? One of the myths we explore in The Wages of Wins is that star players raise their level of play in the playoffs. In the excerpt to Chapter Eight, posted on our website, we discussed Michael Jordan’s performance in the playoffs vs. what he offered in the regular season. Utilizing a metric we introduced in the book – Win Score – we offered evidence that although Playoff-Jordan was very, very good, he was not as good as Regular Season-Jordan. In other words, like most stars we investigated, Jordan’s performance in the playoffs tended to dip slightly.
If we look at Kobe in 2006 we see that he was indeed like Mike, at least in the sense that his performance dipped slightly in the playoffs. His per-minute Win Score in the regular season was 0.199. In his seven games in the playoffs this year his Win Score was 0.165. I would add that in Kobe’s eight other trips to the playoffs his per-minute Win Score dipped six times. So this year was not any different. And again, I would emphasize, this is what typically happens to stars in the NBA. Performance in the post-season tends to dip slightly, even after we control for the general dip we see in all player performance when the NBA moves to its second season where only good teams get to play.
Of course one might ask, what exactly is Win Score? It is a simple measure of player performance, easier to calculate than Wins Produced – although not quite as intuitive. The correlation between Win Score and Wins Produced, if you bother to adjust the former for position played, is quite high. Details of each metric are offered in our book, which should be available in book stores in the next two weeks.