You need a superstar to compete. Of the many arguments stat heads and conventional fans get in to, this one everyone agrees on. Here’s some basic stats:
- Since 1978* every championship team, with the exception of the 1979 Seattle Supersonics was lead by a player in the top 10 as measured by Wins Produced for the season.
- Since 1978* every team to make the finals, with the exceptions of the 1979 Seattle Supersonics and the 1999 New York Knicks, was lead by a player in the top 15 as measured by Wins Produced for the season.
A question is, what type of players become great? I broke it down into the following categories for what type of player they were last season:
- Rookies (this season)
- Below Average Players (WP48 < 0.100)
- Average Players ( 0.150 > WP48 >= 0.100)
- Good Players (0.200 > WP48 >= 0.150)
- Great Players (WP48 >= 0.200)
Let’s see how that shakes out:
|Category||Top 20 Players based on Previous Season|
|Below Average Players||31|
Of the 680 players we have the previous season’s data for, we can see a very odd curve. The odds that a great player will be a rookie or have had a below average season the season before? Terrible! In fact, the same is true with average players. If a player will help your team contend, the best bet is for them to already have been a good or great player!
This post isn’t that optimistic for teams without great players. The basic rule for success in the NBA is to get a superstar and use them to be great for multiple years. And the data supports this.
As a last note, many people will discuss strategies for getting great players. The simple truth is that the problem is not about getting star players, it’s about scarcity. A team tanking, clearing cap space, or making bold claims will not create more stars. There will always be a limited amount. LeBron James can only play for one team. The salary cap rules make most of them look the same. Unfortunately a lot of success in the NBA will have luck built in (Will your draft pick pan out? Will a team trade you a star? Will your market be appealing to a star?) That’s why my basic advice to any team is not overpay for players, to try and wins games and take advantage should the opportunity arises. However, I suspect that advice will not always be followed.
*1978 is the first year we use as it is the first year the modern boxscore was used in the NBA and this is needed to calculate Wins Produced.