Game Three Thoughts: The Amazing Vujacic and What a Lakers Dynasty Would Mean for Most NBA Fans

If we look at WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes], the top players for the Lakers in the regular season in 2007-08 were Andrew Bynum (0.394), Pau Gasol (0.273), Lamar Odom (0.253), Kobe Bryant (0.247), and Trevor Ariza (0.245).  In Game Three of the NBA Finals, Bynum didn’t play, Ariza only played nine minutes, and Gasol and Odom were quite a bit below average.  Yes, Kobe was above average, but without any help from the other top players on his team, one would suspect that the Lakers would be in trouble.

Well, they were in trouble.  Despite horrific games from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics were within striking distance down the stretch before finally losing by six. Beyond the poor play of key players on Boston, how did the Lakers prevail?

Table One: Analyzing Game Three of the 2008 NBA Finals

The answer: Sasha Vujacic.  As Table One indicates, the top player for the Lakers in Game Three was Vujacic.  In 28 minutes, he took 10 shots from the field and four shots from the free throw line.  This relatively small number of shots was transformed into 20 points.  In addition, Vujacic grabbed four rebounds, blocked a shot, had an assist, never turned the ball over, and only committed two personal fouls.  In sum, he played extremely well.

How Good is Vujacic?

Of course, people might wonder, exactly how good is Vujacic?  For an answer, we turn to Table Two.

Table Two: The Career of Sasha Vujacic

Table Two reports the career performance of Vujacic.   When we look at the individual statistics, we see that Vujacic – after his first two years in the league – is an excellent shooter.  We can see this in both his shooting marks from the field and the line.  With respect to Net Possessions (Rebounds + Steals – Turnovers) he is about average, while his performance with respect to blocked shots, assists, and personal fouls tends to below what we see from an average shooting guard.

If we put it all together – in terms of Win Score – we see a player who is about average for his career.  But of course the career mark is reduced because of his first two seasons.  If we look at just 2007-08 we see a player who is above average. 

When we turn to the 2008 playoffs (before the finals), though, we see a mark that’s below par.  He was still above average with respect to shooting efficiency and turnovers.  But with respect to everything else, Vujacic was below average before he faced the Celtics.

Actually, if we look back at Game One and Game Two of the Finals, we see that Vujacic was also well below average against the Celtics.  But despite these performances, Vujacic did manage to play extremely well in Game Three.

So what has this all taught us?  Hmmmm…nothing.  Wait, I see one lesson.  Anyone can have an outstanding game.

Of course, Vujacic was not the only outstanding Laker. Jordan Farmar, Kobe, and Ariza were also above average.  One should note that because Vujacic – a shooting guard – played 28 minutes in Game Three, Kobe must have played the majority of his  minutes at small forward.  Even as a small forward, though, Kobe was better than average.

As for the Celtics, we did see a few good performances in Game Three.  Ray Allen, James Posey, and Kendrick Perkins all played well.  Unfortunately, everyone else was below average, and Paul Pierce easily played the worst game we have yet seen in the 2008 NBA Finals.

A Laker Dynasty?

Now should the Celtics be worried?  I’m not sure about Boston’s players and coaches, but I do think all non-Laker fans should be a bit concerned.  To see why, go back to the top of the column.  Next year the Lakers will have the following above average players who will be younger than thirty: Andrew Bynum (21 years old), Jordan Farmar (22 years old), Trevor Ariza (23 years old), Sasha Vujacic (24 years old), Pau Gasol (28 years old), Luke Walton (28 years old), Lamar Odom (29 years old).  These seven players are joined by Kobe, who will only by 30 years old next season.

In contrast, the Celtics – the best team in the 2007-08 regular season – employ the following above average players: Rajon Rondo (22 years old), Kendrick Perkins (24 years old), Leon Powe (25 years old), Eddie House (30 years old), Paul Pierce (31 years old), Kevin Garnett (32 years old), James Posey (32 years old), Ray Allen (33 years old), P.J. Brown (39 years old).  Yes, this is a nice collection of talent. But two-thirds of the above average players employed by Boston in 2007-08 will be thirty years or older in 2008-09.  In other words, Boston’s window is closing fast.

If we look back at the Lakers, we see that LA has both starters and bench players who are both young and who can produce wins in large quantities.  Such a collection of talent has to be the early favorites to win in 2009.  And given the age of these players, we might be seeing the beginnings of yet another Lakers dynasty. In sum, the Lakers might be winning a number of titles after this season.  Therefore, non-Laker fans might have another reason for Boston to win this year. 

Let me close by noting that if you are a Lakers fan, seeing your team win in 2008, 2009, 2010, etc… is going to be fun.  But if you are not – and I assume most NBA fans are in the “not” category – NBA basketball might be on the verge of less interesting times.  At least, I think seeing the Lakers win year after year is less interesting for the majority of basketball fans who do not “Love LA.” So for this year, all non-LA fans should hope the Celtics can “Beat LA.” Because I don’t think that’s going to happen in 2009 (or 2010, etc…).

- 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.

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