Notes on the NBA Finals


Today at 11:15 EST, Dave Berri talked with Kathleen Hays and Vonnie Quinn on Bloomberg Radio. The topic? Why the NBA Finals, of course!

Dave often compares going on the radio to an exam; you have to know what you’re planning on talking about and have important details on hand in case the topic comes up. Because of this, Dave often prepares notes heading into an interview. Today we’ll show you the kind of notes that Dave prepares for a 7 minute interview. Everything that follows this sentence was in Dave’s notes for today’s interview!

The Competitive Balance Story

The lockout of 2011-12 was supposed to be about competitive balance. It certainly lowered player salaries and increased profits for teams. But competitive balance (as we would expect) did not change.  We measure competitive balance by comparing the standard deviation of winning percentage to the standard deviation that would exist if teams were competitively equal. Prior to this season, this ratio had been 2.8 since the payroll cap was enacted in the early 1980s. This past year this ratio was 2.8. So the balance hasn’t changed.

We can see a similar story when we look at who is in the Finals. Since 1984, the following teams have won titles: Celtics (3), Lakers (8), Pistons (3), Bulls (6), Rockets (2), Spurs (4), Heat (2), and Mavericks (1).  So only 8 of the NBA’s 30 teams have won titles. And except for the Mavericks, all of these teams have won more than once. These trends will continue again in 2013.

Paying the Players

It’s important for fans to know that players are really only paid for the regular season. While there is a playoff bonus pool, it is quite small relative to a player’s salary. And since regular season salaries for players are capped, star players get very little monetary reward for advancing deep into the playoffs (except maybe more endorsements, although I am not sure the impact of winning a title on endorsement levels).

According to the NBA’s 2011-12 Playoff media guide, since 1982, the NBA’s playoff pool been as follows:

Year Total Playoff Pool
2013 $13,000,000
2012 $13,000,000
2011 $12,000,000
2010 $12,000,000
2009 $11,000,000
2008 $11,000,000
2007 $10,000,000
2006 $10,000,000
2005 $9,500,000
2004 $8,875,000
2003 $8,750,000
2002 $8,000,000
2001 $7,500,000
2000 $7,500,000
1999 $7,500,000
1998 $7,000,000
1997 $7,000,000
1996 $7,000,000
1995 $7,000,000
1994 $6,000,000
1993 $5,000,000
1992 $4,000,000
1991 $3,200,000
1990 $2,400,000
1989 $2,400,000
1988 $1,750,000
1987 $1,750,000
1986 $1,750,000
1985 $1,750,000
1984 $1,750,000
1983 $1,500,000
1982 $1,500,000

As with last season, this year the NBA will paid out $13 million from its playoff pool. Since each team can divide playoff pool money how it chooses, each player’s “average” payoff is the team’s bonus divided by 25 to include all 15 players, assistant coaches, trainers and other team personnel (methodology taken from NewsOK):

Team  Bonus   Average Bonus 
Best Record (NBA)  $     374,947  $           14,997.88
Best Record (conference)  $     328,078  $           13,123.12
Second Best Record (conference)  $     263,695  $           10,547.80
Third Best Record (conference)  $     196,848  $              7,873.92
Fourth Best Record (conference)  $     154,701  $              6,188.04
Fifth Best Record (conference)  $     128,906  $              5,156.24
Sixth Best Record (conference)  $        87,921  $              3,516.84
Teams participating in the 1st round  $     194,016  $              7,760.64
Teams participating in the 2nd round  $     230,853  $              9,234.12
Teams participating in the Conference Finals  $     381,482  $           15,259.28
Losing team, NBA Finals  $  1,525,515  $           61,020.60
Winning Team, NBA Finals  $  2,302,232  $           92,089.28

Spurs and Heat Stories

The Spurs are back in the Finals for the fifth time since 1999

In the regular season, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were above average and produced 23.1 wins. But the team won 35 additional games, and 24.4 of these wins can be linked to the play of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Tiago Splitter. None of these players were lottery picks. Essentially, the Spurs have re-built a title contender without getting high draft picks or hiring expensive free agents. This illustrates that teams can build title contenders without losing a bunch of games or having a bunch of money. You just need to know how to acquire productive players (who are available after the lottery each year).

LeBron James has worse teammates than Carmelo Anthony

After the Knicks lost to the Pacers in the second round, people have argued that Carmelo Anthony needs better teammates for the Knicks to win a title. But relative to LeBron, he already has better teammates. This past year, Anthony produced 2.2 wins in the regular season while his teammates produced 49.4 wins. LeBron James produced 20.0 wins while his teammates produced only 41.7 wins. So, the problem wasn’t Melo’s teammates. The problem is that Carmelo Anthony simply isn’t a great player.

Player Productivity Data

More Heat Stories:

  • LeBron is easily the most productive player for the Heat.
  • Chris Andersen – a mid-season acquisition – has been the second most productive player in the post-season. Andersen (who is not much of a scorer) has generally been productive across his career.
  • Chris Bosh was only average in the regular season and he has been below average in the post-season.
  • Norris Cole has been a surprise in the playoffs. He was the least productive player on the Heat in the regular season.

Miami Heat in the regular season (numbers from The NBA Geek):

Player WP48 Wins
LeBron James 0.334 20.0
Dwyane Wade 0.223 11.1
Ray Allen 0.143 6.1
Chris Bosh 0.104 5.3
Shane Battier 0.135 5.0
Mario Chalmers 0.112 4.8
Mike Miller 0.182 3.4
Udonis Haslem 0.114 3.4
Chris Andersen 0.206 2.7
Joel Anthony 0.112 1.3
Rashard Lewis 0.021 0.3
Dexter Pittman 0.149 0.0
James Jones 0.006 0.0
Terrel Harris -0.02 0.0
Josh Harrellson -0.08 -0.1
Juwan Howard -0.16 -0.2
Jarvis Varnado -0.22 -0.2
Norris Cole -0.04 -1.5
Totals: 0.149 61.7

Miami Heat in the playoffs:

Player WP48 Wins 
LeBron James 0.27 3.71
Chris Andersen 0.434 2.1
Norris Cole 0.186 1.3
Dwyane Wade 0.146 1.61
Ray Allen 0.141 1.11
UdonisHaslem 0.261 1.59
Mario Chalmers 0.095 0.85
Mike Miller 0.155 0.26
James Jones 0.133 0.06
Chris Bosh 0.072 0.77
Rashard Lewis -0.056 -0.04
Joel Anthony -0.022 -0.03
Shane Battier -0.032 -0.2
Totals 13.09

More Spurs Stories:

  • On a per-minute basis, Kawhi Leonard has been the most productive Spur in the regular season and in the playoffs
  • Tim Duncan (who is 37 years old – ancient by NBA standards) was very productive in the regular season, but below average in the playoffs
  • In both the regular season and playoffs, the Heat were the better team. And they have home-court advantage. But the difference in these teams is small. So it’s not obvious who is going to win this series.

San Antonio Spurs in the Regular Season (numbers from The NBA Geek):

Player WP48 Wins
Tim Duncan 0.230 10.0
Kawhi Leonard 0.247 9.3
Danny Green 0.189 8.7
Tony Parker 0.180 8.2
Tiago Splitter 0.187 7.8
Manu Ginobili 0.163 4.7
Boris Diaw 0.074 2.6
Nando De Colo 0.100 1.9
Matt Bonner 0.080 1.5
DeJuan Blair 0.069 1.2
Cory Joseph 0.130 1.1
Patrick Mills 0.071 1.0
Gary Neal 0.010 0.3
James Anderson 0.136 0.3
Tracy McGrady 0.000 0.0
Aron Baynes -0.065 -0.2
Stephen Jackson -0.022 -0.5
Totals: 0.140 57.8

San Antonio Spurs in the Playoffs:

Player WP48 Wins 
Kawhi Leonard 0.315 3.42
Danny Green 0.223 1.96
Tony Parker 0.144 1.55
Manu Ginobili 0.188 1.41
Tiago Splitter 0.178 1.04
DeJuan Blair 0.393 0.48
Cory Joseph 0.134 0.42
Matt Bonner 0.111 0.54
Patrick Mills 0.278 0.1
Nando De Colo 0.216 0.04
AronBaynes -0.022 -0.01
Tracy McGrady -0.045 -0.02
Boris Diaw 0.029 0.11
Tim Duncan 0.063 0.63
Gary Neal -0.034 -0.15
Totals 11.51

Playoffs are for fun, not science

Here is one of my favourite quotes from Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (p. 70-71):

…if one team is good enough to warrant beating another in 55% of its games, the weaker team will nevertheless win a 7-game series about 4 times out of 10. And if the superior team could beat its opponent, on average, 2 out of 3 times they meet, the inferior team will still win a 7-game series about once every 5 match-ups. There is really no way for a sports league to change this. In the lopsided 2/3-probability case, for example, you’d have to play a series consisting of at minimum the best of 23 games to determine the winner with what is called statistical significance, meaning the weaker team would be crowned champion 5 percent or less of the time. And in the case of one team’s having only a 55-45 edge, the shortest significant “world series” would be the best of 269 games, a tedious endeavor indeed! So sports playoff series can be fun and exciting, but being crowned “world champion” is not a reliable indication that a team is actually the best one.

In sum, the playoffs don’t “prove” anything. And we can’t “know” who is going to win before this starts.

– DJ and Devin


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