The 2011 NBA Finals can be thought of as a re-run from a show we saw in 2006. In 2006, the Miami Heat faced the Dallas Mavericks for the NBA Championship. This match-up was interesting because it was the first time since 1978 that the NBA title was a contest between two cities that had never seen their team win an NBA title. And that meant we were guaranteed to have a city win a championship for the first time.
Why is this interesting? Currently 29 cities are hosting an NBA team. Of these 29 cities, 15 have never hosted an NBA champion. So it is nice when a city has a chance to join this exclusive fraternity.
In 2006, the Mavericks won the first two games of the Finals. At that point it seemed clear that Dallas was about to host an NBA Champion. But when the Heat took the last four, it was Miami that got to host the parade (and Dallas got to be very disappointed).
When we look back on this contest from 2006, it appears that Miami’s victory was an upset. Dallas won 60 games in 2005-06 with a 6.64 efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency). The Heat only won 52 games. And the Heat’s differential of 4.10 suggests Dallas – who had home court advantage – should have been a clear favorite.
When we look at each team’s playoff rosters, though, the Mavericks’ advantage diminishes. The following two tables report how many games Dallas and Miami would be expected to win across an 82 game season, given per-minute performance in 2005-06 and the minutes and position played in the 2006 playoffs.
As one can see, given the rosters employed in 2006, these teams were essentially equal. The Heat’s roster was led by Dwyane Wade, but Miami also had five additional above average players (average WP48 – Wins Produced per 48 minutes – is 0.100). And that roster would be expected to win about 60 games.
The Mavericks were also expected to win about 60 games, with a roster led by Dirk Nowitzki and seven above average performers.
Nowitzki was 27 years old in 2005-06. When we look at the Mavericks today – reported in the table below – we see that Nowtizki is now 32 years of age. And not surprising – and contrary to what we hear about Nowitzki today – his productivity has declined.
But as the above table indicates, Nowitzki’s teammates – relative to what we saw in 2005-06 – have improved. Five years ago Nowitzki only had only teammate in the Mavericks’ rotation who was producing beyond the 0.200 mark. Today he has three teammates – Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion – who were beyond the 0.200 mark.
Unfortunately, Nowitzki is not the only player in the Finals with better teammates.
Dwyane Wade’s teammates – relative to what we saw in 2006 – are also much better. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Mike Miller are clearly the key additions. And those additions suggest that the story line we saw five years ago is about to repeat. Yes, it appears that Wade and the Heat will once again deny Nowitzki a title. Which means Miami gets to host another championship parade, and the fraternity of cities that have hosted such events will not get any bigger.
That being said, upsets do happen. So it is possible the Mavericks will prevail. But the performance of these players in 2010-11 indicates that Wade, James, and Bosh will win the title they expected to win last summer.
Let me close by noting that the quirks of the NBA schedule has left us without basketball until Tuesday night. While you wait, you might be interested (or you might not) in what was said in this forum the last time the Mavericks and Heat met in the Finals. Back in 2006, The Wages of Wins Journal had only existed for a couple of months. And The Wages of Wins had just been published. As one can see, the posts from 2006 are rather familiar (apparently, scoring is overvalued in the NBA). In other words, the final participants are not the only story-line that has repeated since 2006.