Cavaliers

How Many Stars Do You Need to Win an NBA Title?

| by David Berri

Once again, ilikeflowers has asked a good question: The Cav’s are very top heavy this year and last. Has any team ever won a title when they only had one player in excess of wp48 0.200?

If we define a “star” as a player with a WP48 in excess of 0.200, then we can rephrase this question as follows: Do you need more than one “star” to win a title?

Technically – given our definition – the Cavaliers had two stars. Jamario Moon posted a 0.211 WP48 in 2009-10. Moon, though, only played 1,052 minutes. And he achieved his WP48 number because I think he spent significant time at shooting guard this season. 

Although one could quibble with whether the Cavaliers fit the definition of a team with only one “star” (I am sympathetic to the argument), let’s continue with the question.   We can calculate Wins Produced for every player since 1977-78. With these calculations in hand, these are all the teams that won an NBA title with only one player posting a WP48 in excess of 0.200.

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  • Detroit Pistons [2003-04]: Ben Wallace [0.312 WP48]
  • LA Lakers [2001-02]: Shaquille O’Neal [0.332 WP48]
  • Houston Rockets [1993-94]: Hakeem Olajuwon [0.289 WP48]
  • LA Lakers [1986-87]: Magic Johnson [0.444 WP48]
  • Seattle Supersonics [1978-79]: Gus Williams [0.208 WP48]
  • Washington Bullets [1977-78]: Wes Unseld [0.254 WP48]

So across 32 seasons, only six teams have managed to win a title with only one “star.” And only four since 1980. 

If we define a “superstar” as a player with a 0.300 WP48, we can see that three of the above teams have managed to win a title without a “superstar.” Two more teams  — the Lakers in 2008-09 and Miami in 2005-06 – also managed to win a title without a defined “superstar.” In sum, since 1980, only three teams have won a title without a “superstar.”

Now let’s look at the Final Four this year. The Lakers and Magic each have multiple “stars” and one “superstar” (Pau Gasol for the Lakers and Dwight Howard for the Magic). Although the Celtics have two “stars” (Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett), neither “star” is a defined “superstar” in 2009-10. Turning to the Suns, we see only one “star” (Steve Nash) and no “superstar”. 

So if you believe having multiple “stars” and one “superstar” is necessary to win a title, fans of the Magic and Lakers should be optimistic. Of course, we have seen teams win without meeting these thresholds.  In other words, this doesn’t suggest fans of the Celtics or Suns should be that dismayed by this quick analysis.

- DJ

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