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NBA Playoffs: Are Lakers, Mavs Better When Kobe, Dirk Shoot More?

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After this series of posts on volume and variance, a few people were wondering how some of these numbers would look in the playoffs. For this series I’ll examine the 12 best players since 1991 and their postseason performances. Who is the most consistent? Who scores 30 points most often? Perhaps most interestingly, how do these games affect team results? Is Los Angeles more likely to win if Kobe Bryant shoots the ball a lot?

Here are the 12 players involved in the proceedings:

Essentially, the perennial all-nba performers of the last 20 years, with the exceptions of point guards like Steve Nash and Gary Payton, and Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady. Point guards were excluded because it was not their role to shoot, or score, on the level of the players examined here.

Due to the nature of the box score, it’s important to keep in mind this is primarily an exercise in offensive performance. Let’s start simple with a summary table of performance and variance, looking at points, True Shooting%, Field Goal% and Game Score, (the respective standard deviations are listed to the right of each column). Data updated through the second round of the 2011 playoffs. Click on the heading to sort by that category.

Playoff Variance Pts StDev TS% StDev FG% StDev GmSc StDev
Jordan 91-98 32.5 7.9 .558 10.2% .479 9.7% 24.0 8.8
Barkley 91-96 26.3 9.2 .571 16.0% .499 14.8% 23.1 11.4
Hakeem 91-97 27.5 7.7 .576 11.2% .536 9.7% 23.1 8.3
LeBron 06-11 28.9 8.6 .562 10.8% .460 11.4% 22.9 9.1
Wade 05-11 27.8 7.6 .576 13.7% .485 11.9% 20.8 9.0
Duncan 99-07 24.0 7.3 .560 11.9% .506 11.7% 20.2 8.5
Shaq 95-03 28.3 7.5 .569 10.3% .518 10.8% 20.1 8.9
Dirk 01-11 25.6 8.2 .582 14.1% .462 13.2% 20.0 9.2
Kobe 01-10 28.8 7.7 .548 10.9% .452 9.5% 19.9 8.5
Robinson 91-98 23.2 6.9 .543 14.7% .470 14.7% 19.5 8.4
Malone 91-01 26.7 6.5 .532 10.5% .465 10.3% 19.4 7.8
Garnett 00-08 22.3 5.8 .525 11.6% .471 9.7% 18.6 7.5

Remember, the regular season examination of high-volume in wing players suggested that it was better to be consistent on good teams and that high-variance, high-volume performances were better on weaker teams. Although let’s not forget that regardless of standard deviation, Michael Jordan is scoring at a significantly higher volume than the rest of the field.

Some quick observations: LeBron and Dirk — two players heavily criticized for perceived playoff failures — are two of the highest variance players in scoring and in Game Score (Game Score is a rough look at an overall game performance based on classic box score stats.) The difference between Dirk and LeBron here is that Nowitzki does it with high-variance shooting and James does it with shooting consistency in the ballpark of Karl Malone, Shaq and MJ.

On the flip side, Kevin Garnett is the most consistent player by both scoring and Game Score. Given how bad some of his teams were, it’s a piece of evidence supporting the notion that Garnett never forced the game to him and extended outside of his comfort zone. That might be an admirable quality, but even against defenses overloading on him, it might have behooved his teams upset chances to play a higher risk game.

As a start, we can check such a hypothesis by looking at team performance in good shooting games versus bad shooting games. Previously, good shooting games were defined as games with a TS% over 60%, and bad ones were under 50%. Let’s stick with that here:

“Good” Shooting G’s > 60% TS Frequency Win% difference
Dirk 01-11 50 44.2% .720 .403
Wade 05-11 28 43.8% .857 .440
Hakeem 91-97 35 41.7% .543 -.049
Duncan 99-07 52 40.3% .712 .062
Barkley 91-96 22 39.3% .636 .166
LeBron 06-11 29 35.8% .828 .328
Shaq 95-03 44 33.1% .727 .154
Jordan 91-98 41 32.5% .878 .184
Robinson 91-98 16 30.8% .438 -.063
Kobe 01-10 45 30.4% .778 .156
Malone 91-01 31 23.0% .677 .187
Garnett 00-08 13 21.3% .769 .353

Garnett hit the 60% mark with the least frequency of the group. His teams performed exceptionally well when he did shoot efficiently, and they didn’t drop off too much when he shot poorly. This supports the original idea of higher-variance performances on bad teams; KG probably wouldn’t have hurt Minnesota much if he forced his offense more.

Of particular interest are the three players still playing the 2011 playffs: Wade, James and Nowitzki. Their teams win significantly more when they shoot well, so much so that LeBron’s teams and Wade’s teams have win% approaching Michael Jordan‘s Bulls teams when MJ shot well.

Think about that for a second.

When Dwyane Wade shoots well, Miami has won at the rate of a 70-win team. When he doesn’t hit the 60% mark, a 34-win team. And he’s hit the mark in nearly half his playoff games, more than anyone on the list outside of Dirk Nowitzki. This further echoes the idea that Wade has been something special in the postseason.

“Bad” Shooting G’s < 50% TS Frequency Win% difference
Malone 91-01 51 37.8% .431 -.164
Duncan 99-07 35 27.1% .600 -.102
Garnett 00-08 21 34.4% .429 -.096
Shaq 95-03 25 18.8% .440 -.227
James 06-11 22 27.2% .364 -.348
Kobe 01-10 48 32.4% .458 -.312
Dirk 01-11 30 26.5% .167 -.448
Wade 05-11 20 31.3% .350 -.377
Hakeem 91-97 16 19.0% .500 -.088
Barkley 91-96 17 30.4% .353 -.262
Robinson 91-98 21 40.4% .524 .072
Jordan 91-98 34 27.0% .588 -.227

The converse drives home their importance even further. Dirk, Wade and James see their teams fall off the most when they shoot poorly. Wade and James see their teams fall apart, but for the Mavericks it’s even worse. Dallas is 5-25 when Dirk boasts a sub-50% TS%. Basically, Dallas has been absolutely hopeless if Dirk is off. (Note that Garnett’s team didn’t suffer much in his 21 bad shooting games.)

Ah, but what to make of someone like David Robinson? The Admiral, along with Wade (75.0%) and Dirk (70.8%) was one of three players with over 70% of his games (71.5%) in the extremes of shooting efficiency (over 60% or under 50% TS). Yet, Robinson’s shooting has almost no impact on his team, one way or the other. And he shot poorly more than anyone in the lot.

His rival centers — Hakeem and Shaq — rarely had bad shooting games. Curiously, the Rockets were slightly worse when Olajuwon was over 60% and under 50%. Make of that what you will. Just remember, Olajuwon rarely had bad shooting nights, often had good ones, and posted the second-best Game Score of the group behind Michael Jordan.

Part II will focus on high volume shooting games and take a closer look at performance based on Game Score.

Get more great analysis from ElGee over on BadPicks. Also, follow him on Twitter @ElGee.