Apparently Marty, Stacey, and I are “three Real Smart Guys.” At least, that is what Michael Bradley of CBS Sportline.com claims in a column posted on Thursday. Bradley makes this unbelievable claim in the course of arguing why Kobe Bryant is not the MVP this season. Bradley’s argument about Kobe echoes a post I made to The Wages of Wins Journal on April 15.
The basic argument both Bradley and I make is that Kobe Bryant’s scoring is the primary reason people think he is league MVP. But in terms of shooting efficiency, Kobe does not achieve his lofty scoring totals by hitting the highest percentage of shots. He scores many points because he takes many shots.
Now one can argue that if Kobe took fewer shots, or played with better teammates, his shooting efficiency would rise. One problem with this story, at least with respect to Kobe, is that the empirical evidence does not support the argument. In 2005-06 Kobe took more than 27 field goal attempts per game, a mark that surpasses his previous high of 23.5 in 2002-03. If the story that shooting efficiency falls as shot attempts rises were to hold in the case of Kobe, then 2005-06 should be his least efficient season.
If we look at points per field goal attempt – which is calculated by subtracting free throws made from total points scored and then dividing by field goals attempted [(PTS-FTM)/FGA]– we see that Kobe was able to score 0.98 points per field goal attempt in 05-06. Relative to his career, this is not his lowest level of efficiency. In fact, in 2005-06 Kobe had the highest shooting efficiency of his career. In other words, when Kobe had Shaq and he shot less, his efficiency was actually lower. This is of course not conclusive evidence that efficiency doesn’t improve when players shoot less, but the Kobe evidence doesn’t support that story.
Does this mean Kobe was the best player in the league last season? Well, the appropriate comparison is not Kobe to himself, but Kobe to other players. As I noted last month, relative to the other MVP candidates, Kobe is still one of the least efficient scorers. Again, this is relative to other MVP candidates. Relative to the all players in the league, he is about average in shooting efficiency.
If we go beyond shooting efficiency and consider a player’s total contribution to wins, we see evidence that Kobe is a great player, although not the most productive player in the league. Overall he ranked 17th in Wins Produced. This means he was still very, very good. Just not the very, very best.
By the way, points-per-field goal attempt is not one of our inventions. I first read about points-per-field goal attempt – as it was calculated above – in a piece written by the ever-brilliant Rob Neyer in 1996. And you thought Rob only knew baseball.