Sunday, May 22, 2011

Heat Check: The Gator Effect

The big story from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals was Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller finally joining the Three Kings in the lineup for the first time all season. Haslem and Miller led the Florida Gators to the NCAA title game in 2000. Can they have the same effect on the 2011 Miami Heat?

Let’s take a look at the numbers behind the Gator Effect...

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

The Gator Effect in Game 2
Only two Heat players provided above average production in Game 2 — Haslem (0.312 est.WP48) and Miller (0.369 est.WP48). They produced like superstars.

This spreadsheet provides the wins produced stats estimated from the Game 2 box score.

Haslem and Miller combined to account for 31 percent of the Heat’s production in Game 2 with 15 points on 12 shots and three free throw attempts, 12 rebounds, three assists, one block, two steals, one turnover and six fouls. While Haslem and Miller were productive, Heat lineups with them in the game were a -11. Why was that?

Below is a list of the players (their est.WP48 for the game) and the time they spent on the floor with Haslem and Miller in Game 2.

Only 23 percent of the minutes given to Haslem and Miller’s teammates were played by below average players in Game 2. The problem in Game 2 for Haslem and Miller lineups was the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Miller produced -0.564 est.WP48 in the last three minutes of the third quarter from zero points on zero shots, zero rebounds, zero assists and one foul. The Heat were -3 in that stretch. Bibby (-0.103 est.WP48) and Magloire (-0.060 est.WP48) also contributed to that deficit. Haslem produced -1.057 est.WP48 in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter from two points on four shots with zero rebounds, one steal, one turnover and two fouls. He said in the post-game press conference that he was tired at that point in the game. The Heat were -6 in that stretch. Bosh also contributed to that deficit with -0.060 est.WP48 in the fourth quarter.

Basically, a bad eight minute stretch by Miller and Haslem sapped the productivity of their lineups. As I mentioned on this week’s Miami Heat Talk podcast, the concern for Haslem (and possibly Miller) moving forward is whether or not they can remain productive when the schedule shifts to games being played every other day.

If they can maintain their productivity without injury or fatigue, then the Heat will be in good position to win the Eastern Conference Finals. How good a position exactly? Let’s take a look at the Gator Effect on the series.

The Gator Effect on the Eastern Conference Finals
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra played Haslem and Miller 17 percent of the available minutes in Game 2. Due to injuries, they only played six percent of the minutes in the regular season but were productive with Haslem producing 0.124 est.WP48 and Miller producing 0.110 est.WP48.

Based on the players’ performance in the regular season and first 2 rounds of the playoffs, the Heat were only expected to have the advantage at two positions — SG and SF (see the ECF Preview).

If Haslem and Miller will receive significant minutes, then how does it change the match-ups in the Eastern Conference Finals?

This was the Heat’s primary rotation before the Eastern Conference Finals:
  • PG — Bibby, Chalmers
  • SG — Wade, Jones
  • SF — LeBron, Jones
  • PF — Bosh, Howard, Jones
  • C — Anthony, Ilgauskas, Bosh

This was the Heat’s primary rotation in Game 2:
  • PG — Bibby, Wade, Chalmers
  • SG — Wade, Miller
  • SF — James, Miller
  • PF — Bosh, Haslem, Anthony
  • C — Anthony, Bosh, Haslem, Magloire

This spreadsheet lists the production of each player at their positions in the new rotation before the Eastern Conference Finals.

This spreadsheet lists the revised match-ups with the Bulls based on the new rotation.

The spreadsheets illustrate that the Gator Effect on the Heat’s rotation is significant at four positions.
  • It increases the production at PG by having Wade play with Miller in the backcourt instead of Chalmers, but the Bulls still have the advantage in that match-up.
  • It increases the production at SG by having Miller as Wade’s backup instead of Jones because Miller can contribute in more areas than shooting while the reigning Three-Point Champion tends to be one-dimensional. The Heat were already dominating that match-up but Miller’s presence pushes the Bulls’ estimated production at that position below zero.
  • Miller projects to have the same effect at SF as SG.
  • While the production at PF decreases a little, the production at C increases because playing Haslem enables Spoelstra to use Bosh at that position instead of Joel Anthony. The Heat still lose that match-up with the Bulls, but it goes from being a foregone conclusion to competitive.

The end result of the Gator Effect is that the Heat’s expected winning percentage against the Bulls increases by 16 points with Haslem and Miller in the rotation. Those numbers are based on playing at a neutral court.

In a seven-game series, the Gator Effect increases the Heat’s likelihood of going to the NBA Finals from 62 percent to 86 percent. The Gator Effect increases the odds of the Heat defeating the Bulls in six games from 23.3 percent to 26.8 percent, and it increases the likelihood of winning the series in five games from 14.9 percent to 25.2 percent.

The key to the Gator Effect, though, is health and consistency. If Haslem and Miller can stay healthy and productive when the schedule shifts to games being played every other day, then the Heat could very well clinch the Eastern Conference crown by 11 PM Thursday night.

I’m sure the Bulls didn’t expect the series to be easy, but it just got a lot harder.

Wrestling with Gators ain't easy...
...but if you think you can come out here & do it, then good luck to you.

If you’re interested in the impact Haslem and Miller would have had on the Heat’s regular season, then see this article.

Original position data for the Chicago Bulls used in this post was taken from

Original game and position data for the Miami Heat used in this post was taken from and

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