Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heat Check: Back to the Grill Again in the NBA Finals



The NBA Finals begins tonight and if the Miami Heat want to win the Larry O’Brien trophy, then they will have to go back to where the franchise won its first championship — Dallas, Texas, a city known for its barbecue. Back to the grill again.

Let’s take a look at the numbers from then and now to preview the NBA Finals:
  • Then — 2006 and the season series 
  • Now — match-ups in the 2011 Finals 

This article will use Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal, to measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's efficiency differential and wins. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (Est.WP48), a star player produces +0.200 Est.WP48 and a superstar produces +0.300 Est.WP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:

Simple Models of Player Performance
Wins Produced vs. Win Score
What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say
Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics




Notes from Then: 2006 NBA Finals
Berri posted a comparison of the Heat and Mavs in 2006 and 2011 at the Wages of Wins Journal. Here’s a summary of how both teams have changed, according to his numbers:
  • The playoff rotation for the 2006 Heat would have produced 59.6 wins over an 82-game season. The playoff rotation for the 2011 Heat would produce nearly 19 more wins over an 82-game season. 
  • The three most productive Heat players from 2006 were Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and Udonis Haslem. They combined to provide 67 percent of the playoff rotation’s production. The three most productive players in 2011 are LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh. They have combined to provide 86 percent of the playoff rotation’s production. 
  • Wade produced 0.295 wins per 48 minutes (WP48) in 2006. In 2011, he produced 0.317 WP48. Wade is the same player now that he was then. 
  • The playoff rotation for the 2011 Mavs would have produced 60.1 wins over an 82-game season. The playoff rotation for the 2011 Mavs would produce only three more wins over an 82-game season. 
  • The three most productive Mavs from 2006 were Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry. They combined to provide 62 percent of the playoff rotation’s production. The three most productive players in 2011 are Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and Dirk. They have combined to provide 64 percent of the playoff rotation’s production. 
  • Dirk produced 0.274 WP48 in 2006. In 2011, he produced 0.187 WP48. Despite what the Dead Basketball Poets Society has said, Dirk hasn’t gotten more productive and he isn’t at his best. He’s 33 years-old and declining. 


Notes from Then: 2011 Season Series
The numbers from the season series between these two teams probably don’t mean much because Mike Miller only played four minutes against the Mavs this season and Haslem didn’t play against them at all. Stats for the players that were on the court in those two games can be found in this spreadsheet.





  • Wade was the most productive Heat player against the Mavs in the regular season with an estimated 0.4 wins produced in 80 minutes (0.249 est.WP48). He was above average in every category except free throw shooting and turnovers. 
  • James Jones was the second-most productive Heat player against the Mavs in the regular season with an estimated 0.2 wins produced in 36 minutes (0.325 est.WP48). The Three-Point Shootout Champion shot 5-11 from behind the arc against the Mavs and the Heat could use his shooting against the Mavs zone defense, but the Palm Beach Post reported after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals that he has a strained ligament in his toe. It will be interesting to see whether he contributes in the Finals. 
  • LeBron was the least productive Heat player against the Mavs in the regular season with an estimated -0.1 wins produced in 72 minutes (-0.038 est.WP48). He was below average in shooting efficiency (34%!), steals, turnovers (six per 48 minutes!), blocks and fouls. 
  • Chandler was the most productive Mavs player against the Heat in the regular season with an estimated 0.6 wins produced in 67 minutes (0.422 est.WP48). He was above average in every category except steals. 
  • Kidd was the second-most productive Mavs player against the Heat with an estimated 0.4 wins produced in 76 minutes (0.235 est.WP48). He was above average in rebounds, assists and fouls. 
  • Terry was the least productive Mavs player against the Heat with an estimated -0.2 wins produced in 60 minutes (-0.122 est.WP48). 
  • 84 percent of the Heat’s production against the Mavs came in the first half when they outscored them by 2.3 points per 100 possessions. 64 percent of the Mavs’ production came in the second half when they outscored the Heat by 17 points per 100 possessions. 
  • The least productive players for the Heat in the second halves against the Mavs were Bosh (-0.026 est.WP48), Joel Anthony (-0.104 est.WP48) and Mario Chalmers (-0.246 est.WP48). 
  • The Bulls also outplayed the Heat in the second half of their season series. This spreadsheet details Heat players’ production by quarter against the Mavs.




Notes for Now: 2011 Finals Match-ups
The Heat lost the battle of match-ups with the Mavs at three positions in the regular season — center, small forward and point guard. The small forward match-up was close but the Mavs dominated the point guard and center positions with Kidd, Barea and Chandler. Wade dominated the shooting guard match-up and Bosh (0.149 est.WP48) won the power forward match-up with Dirk (0.040 est.WP48). Bosh was above average in shooting efficiency, scoring and steals. Dirk was below average at shooting efficiency, rebounds, blocks and fouls.

The problem, however, is that the Heat and Mavs only played twice in the regular season. Let’s take a look at how the Heat match up with the Bulls considering all 97 games played this season. This spreadsheet lists the Win Scores produced by both teams and their opponents at each position in the regular season and playoffs and estimates what per-minute production (est.WP48) should be expected in the match-up*.




  • The Heat are only expected to win two match-ups (shooting guard and small forward), but the center match-up should be much more competitive than it was in the regular season if Heat coach Erik Spoelstra continues to use the same rotation he used against the Bulls. 
  • The Mavs rank fifth in limiting the production of opposing point guards and the Heat rank fourth (although Derrick Rose may say they’re the best). Kidd and Barea should win that match-up, especially since Mike Bibby has been the least productive Heat player in the playoffs with -0.057 est.WP48. 
  • The Mavs rank 28th at limiting the production of opposing shooting guards. That’s a recipe for disaster when facing Wade. The Heat defense ranked 10th at limiting opposing shooting guards and it would be shocking if Terry found a way to have an impact in the Finals. 
  • The Mavs rank seventh at limiting the production of opposing small forwards and Shawn Marion probably had a lot to do with that, but it could be tough for him to replicate that performance against LeBron. The Heat rank fourth at limiting opposing small forwards, but the Oklahoma City Thunder had the best defense vs. small forwards in the NBA and Marion found a way to have some big games in the Western Conferene Finals. The Heat will have to be vigilant to limit Marion’s impact on the game. 
  • The Mavs rank 14th at limiting the production of opposing power forwards, which means Haslem could have a big series if he can stick his patented jumper at the elbow. The Heat defense ranks third in limiting production of the opponent’s power forward, so Dirk could become another notch in The Warden’s belt when it’s all said and done. 
  • The weakness of the Mavs defense has been the production of opposing centers, where they rank 20th. If Spo continues to play Bosh heavy minutes at center like he did against the Bulls, then he should be very productive. The Heat rank third at limiting opposing centers, so it will be interesting to see whether they can control Chandler the same way they controlled Joakim Noah in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

When the production across all positions is summed up, it shows that the Heat have a 16 percent win margin over the Mavs. That means the most likely scenario for the NBA Finals is the Heat winning the championship in six games.

Six games is nice, but it ruins the symmetry of the Heat’s post-season: Five. Five. Five. Five.

Prediction: Dessert will be finished in five games.


* The expected WS48 was calculated by multiplying the team’s WS48 at the position by the WS48 the opponent allowed at the position and that product was divided by the league average WS48 at the position.


Opponent WS48 for each team is available in this spreadsheet and was calculated using original data from hoopsstats.com.

Unless referenced otherwise, original game data used for this post was taken from popcornmachine.net and nba.com.

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