The best team in the NBA this season has been the Cleveland Cavaliers. And yet I have not written about this team since last December. So let me remedy this oversight by answering some questions about the Cavaliers (this is a trick I have seen writers use which essentially requires that I interview myself).
Let me start with the basic data.
Table One reports what the Cavaliers have done after 77 games this season. The two standard views are presented. First we see that the Wins Produced for the Cavaliers stands at 56.2 this season. If the veteran players had maintained what they did last year, the team’s Wins Produced would be 63.9. So although the Cavs are the best team in 2009-10, had these players did what the did in 2008-09 this team would be even better.
Okay, that’s the team picture. Here are a few questions.
How much has LeBron meant to the Cavaliers?
Of the team’s 56.2 Wins Produced, 27.1 can be traced to King James. So LeBron is producing nearly half the team’s wins.
How does LeBron compare to Michael Jordan?
LeBron is 25 years of age and is posting a 0.443 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. In 1987-88, MJ was 24 years old. Here is what he did that year, and each of the next three seasons:
- 1987-88: 27.2 Wins Produced, 0.394 WP48
- 1988-89: 32.9 Wins Produced, 0.486 WP48
- 1989-90: 28.7 Wins Produced, 0.431 WP48
- 1990-91: 27.6 Wins Produced, 0.437 WP48
After the 1990-91 season, Jordan never surpassed the 0.400 mark or produced more than 25 wins in a single season. In other words, MJ peaked around 25 and then slowly declined (and it was – as we generally see – a slow decline). If LeBron follows this same pattern, then he will not quite get to what MJ did in 1988-89. But the difference is not very large.
Who is helping King James?
Just like Jordan was not a one-man team, King James is also getting help. But who we think is helping depends upon where we look. If we consider per-game scoring, the key helpers on this team are Mo Williams (15.5 points per game), Antawn Jamison (15.5 points per game), and Shaquille O’Neal (12.0 points per game). No other player is averaging in double digits.
If we look past scoring, though, we see that two of these three scorers aren’t helping much. The lone exception is Jamison. Last year, Jamison posted a 0.178 WP48. This season his mark is 0.176. So Jamison – despite his advance age – is still helping.
An average player posts a WP48 of 0.100. In addition to Jamison, we see that the Cavaliers are getting above average production from Jamario Moon [0.190 WP48], Anderson Varejao [0.185 WP48], Delonte West [0.123 WP48], and J.J. Hickson [0.119 WP48]. With six above average performers, it’s clear the Cavaliers are not just LeBron. And that is why this team leads the NBA.
Who is not helping the Cavaliers?
Although LeBron is getting quite a bit of help, as noted above this team should be even better. The two players primarily responsible for the team’s decline are Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. This is actually an observation made last December. At the time I argued that these two players needed to do better if Cleveland was going to separate themselves from the other teams in the league. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Boston (and perhaps LA) has declined. Still, the lead Cleveland enjoys would be more impressive if the biggest players on this team could play bigger.
Will Cleveland win the NBA title in 2010?
And now for the big question. Last year the Cavaliers were the best in the regular season and failed to reach the NBA Finals. The team that tripped them up was the Orlando Magic. This year, the Magic are somewhat better. And the Cavaliers have decline a bit. Still, Cleveland is the better team and they will have homecourt advantage. So I would favor Cleveland to come out of the East and for LeBron and company to advance to another NBA Finals. And in the Finals, I expect Cleveland to be victorious.
As you consider this prediction let me note that I was victorious the True Hoop Stat Geek Smackdown last year. So that might suggest I know something. Then again, I picked Cleveland to beat Orlando last year (so what do I know?). In other words, I think Cleveland should be favored. But the playoffs are not a foregone conclusion.
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.