The real scoring race finish
Coming into the last day of the season the scoring race between Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant was tight. Kobe needed 38 points to take the scoring title from Durant. I was completely prepared to hear David Robinson comparisons if Kobe blew out Sacramento. Then Kobe sat out against Sacramento and Durant narrowly won the scoring title, which is defined by the NBA as the player that leads in points per game.
To call it a scoring race between Durant and Kobe is ridiculous. Simply comparing how many points two players score doesn’t actually tell you much. In fact, that is the very essence of the Yay Points! thesis. Scoring points matters but how you score them matters too.
A point is a valuable commodity, but it is not the only stat in basketball that matters. Using points as a form of currency can we put a value on the other stats in basketball? The answer is yes and that doing so is very good at explaining winning. When we look at the cost of a shot in basketball it actually costs the team around a point. This is because a shot gives up possession of the ball and the exchange rate for possessions to points is roughly one. It is the case that a free throw attempt is worth less than half a point and this is because around half the time the free throw doesn’t result in a change of possession.
Leaving out shot attempts and free throw attempts leaves out a very important piece of information needed when evaluating players. It turns out that in terms of the scoring race that Durant is in first place, the same story can’t be told for Kobe.
Let’s do a quick breakdown. If we take the number of points a player gets, subtract the number of field goal attempts (remember a point is worth a shot) and subtract 44% of their free throw attempts we see how many NET points (pun intended) a player earns us. As a last step if we divide by games played we get the real rundown of the scoring race.
On a points per game basis, sure Kobe is near the top of the heap. The trick is he takes the most shots. Combine his shots and free throws and he’s spending 25.2 points a game (while earning 26.5 points a game) This is two more shots a game than Durant and three more a game than LeBron and Love (his closest competitors). Put it all together and Kobe isn’t in the same field as Durant and Bron (the real winners in the scoring race.) No, Kobe is in the same company as Chalmers, Tony Parker, Rodney Stuckey and Devin Harris. We should note Tony Parker has also been getting a lot of credit too. He is in essence a Kobe Light.
We should point out the NBA set the rules on the scoring title. Teams pay for points per game. Kobe is doing the best strategy to maximize his value. As fans we want wins and titles. Of course for most player their ability to make a big dent on their team wins is little and for any player the odds of a title are low. I might be able to criticize Kobe for not scoring effectively but that’s much like him criticizing this blog for its lack of articles on cricket. While Kobe’s scoring may make Laker fans unhappy as it doesn’t help them win, the real villain is the NBA and its management. By putting an award based just on points per game, and hosting All-Star games for top scorers and paying ludicrous salaries to the top scorers, why wouldn’t Kobe (and others) race to score inefficiently?