NBA

NBA Playoff Performance Analysis: LeBron, Barkley, Nowitzki, Wade

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In the last post, we continued our examination of high-volume and variance, looking at a dozen of the best players of this generation and their postseason box score statistics. As a quick recap:

Of the four players whose teams fell of a cliff in their “bad” shooting games (under 50% True Shooting), only Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers failed to show a comparable positive effect in his “good” shooting ones. Why?

One possible explanation, as explored in the original installment on variance in wings, is that because Bryant has played on so many good teams, they feel the negative effects of his bad shooting more than they gain from the positive of his good shooting — think diminishing returns. LA still boasted a .458 win percentage in his “bad” shooting games and a .778 one in his “good” games.

But could there be something more? If we dig a little deeper, we see that Bryant’s shooting patterns in those games differ from James, Wade and Nowitzki. Here are all the players examined in their bad shooting games, with field goal attempts per 36 minutes played (FGA’s/36), assists per 36 and the difference in those rates between all other games:

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“Bad” Shooting Games
FGA’s/36
Difference
Assists/36
Difference

Duncan 99-07
17.3
2.2
3.4
0.2

Garnett 00-08
17.6
1.9
4.3
0.5

Malone 91-01
19.1
1.6
3.0
0.0

Robinson 91-98
16.3
1.6
2.6
-0.1

Kobe 01-10
19.8
1.0
3.9
-1.0

Hakeem 91-97
18.7
0.8
4.1
0.7

Jordan 91-98
22.3
0.6
4.7
0.2

Barkley 91-96
16.9
0.5
3.6
-0.3

Dirk 01-11
16.1
0.4
2.5
0.3

Wade 05-11
17.6
0.1
5.2
0.1

Shaq 95-03
17.5
0.0
2.5
-0.5

LeBron 06-11
17.0
-0.4
5.9
0.1

Kobe shoots an extra shot per 36 minutes when he’s shooting poorly. His assists drop off more than other player. Certainly, along with LA’s drop in win%, it’s a piece of soft evidence suggesting Kobe has “shot LA out of games.” Conversely, again echoing the pattern seen in the regular season, LeBron James actually decreases his shooting attempts when he’s not scoring efficiently. He was the only player of the dozen to do so.

Which leads us to the next question: What happens when these players shoot a lot? Let’s define high-volume shooting games as ones with 25 field goal attempts or more. Here’s what our batch of superstars looks like in the playoffs in such games:

High Volume Shooting
25+ FGA G’s
Frequency
TS%
Win%
difference

Jordan 91-98
64
50.8%
.544
.688
-.135

Kobe 01-10
52
35.1%
.529
.596
-.112

Hakeem 91-97
22
26.2%
.554
.727
.211

James 06-11
17
21.0%
.571
.529
-.111

Malone 91-01
24
17.8%
.506
.667
.216

Wade 05-11
11
17.2%
.513
.455
-.187

Shaq 95-03
21
15.8%
.569
.714
.107

Barkley 91-96
6
10.7%
.627
.333
-.227

Robinson 91-98
4
7.7%
.506
.750
.292

Dirk 01-11
8
7.1%
.594
.625
.139

Duncan 99-07
7
5.4%
.514
.429
-.260

Garnett 00-08
3
4.9%
.447
1.000
.534

There are two trends that stand out here:

  1. The star wing players tend to shoot way more than star big men
  2. The win percentage of big men went up in high-volume shooting games, save Barkley (a non-traditional player) and Tim Duncan (only seven game sample).

The first one might be as surprising as finding out Jordan and Kobe shoot a lot. The second pattern is a little more thought-provoking though.

The general idea looks clear: Kobe, MJ, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade lose more frequently when they shoot a lot. This happens even though James increases his TS% in such games (Dirk and Barkley are the only other players to increase TS% in high-volume shooting games.) Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Karl Malone win more frequently when they shoot more, even though Hakeem and Malone have their efficiency dip (Shaq stayed the same). This could be a total coincidence. Or it could be a reflection of something causal about bigs and smalls.

If I had to muster up a guess, I’d say it has something to do with wing players controlling shot selection; Guards dial up their own number, sometimes too frequently. Perhaps they should feed good post players more, as it tends to be a higher percentage option. As for Lebron, maybe his teams were just that bad (see below).

Finally, to come full circle, let’s look at these players breakdown by Game Score, calling “good” games ones with a GmSc over 25, and “bad” games ones with a GmSc under 15. First the good:

 

“Good” Games
GmSc >25
Frequency
Win%
difference

Jordan 91-98
62
49.2%
.710
-.087

Hakeem 91-97
32
38.1%
.625
.087

James 06-11
30
37.0%
.767
.237

Shaq 95-03
48
36.1%
.792
.262

Barkley 91-96
19
33.9%
.632
.145

Wade 05-11
21
32.8%
.952
.511

Dirk 01-11
36
31.9%
.722
.333

Duncan 99-07
36
27.9%
.667
-.011

Robinson 91-98
14
26.9%
.643
.222

Kobe 01-10
35
23.6%
.886
.284

Malone 91-01
28
20.7%
.679
.155

Garnet 00-08
10
16.4%
.700
.249

And the bad:

“Bad” Games
GmSc <15
Frequency
Win%
difference

Shaq 95-03
3
2.3%
.667
.044

Jordan 91-98
14
11.1%
.429
-.366

Hakeem 91-97
10
11.9%
.400
-.195

James 06-11
14
17.3%
.071
-.660

Barkley 91-96
13
23.2%
.308
-.297

Duncan 99-07
30
23.3%
.533
-.184

Dirk 01-11
30
26.5%
.300
-.266

Kobe 01-10
40
27.0%
.400
-.369

Malone 91-01
37
27.4%
.351
-.251

Wade 05-11
18
28.1%
.389
-.307

Robinson 91-98
16
30.8%
.313
-.243

Garnet 00-08
21
34.4%
.286
-.314

It turns out that LeBron’s teams have been absolutely lost without him. A single win in 14 tries, and that was narrowly produced by the Detroit Pistons scoring all of 72 points. The Cavs could have won five of those 14 games and James would still have the greatest differential in win% between “bad” games and his remaining games of anyone in that table. The average margin of defeat in those game was -12.2 and the Cavs averaged a woeful 93 points per 100 possessions. For perspective, only two teams have posted a sub-93 Offensive Rating since the inception of the 3-point line. Yowzers.

On the other hand, Miami is nearly unbeatable when Dwyane Wade has a big game. The only loss was to Boston last year at the buzzer, and technically, Wade’s never lost in the playoffs with a Game Score over 26.1. Not far behind Wade is Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers, who went 31-4 in Bryant’s big games. Although Kobe posted a Game Score over 25 less frequently than everyone but Kevin Garnett and Malone.

For the big men, David Robinson again looks terrible next to his rival Olajuwon. Hakeem rarely had a bad game, and trailed only Jordan with how frequently he topped a 25 GmSc. Shaq, apparently, never really had a bad playoff game in his prime.

**All Stats in this series are through the second round of the 2011 playoffs.

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