Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Heat Check: Trading Places with Derrick Rose and LeBron James

Chris Perkins published an article for FoxSports Florida that compared the 2011 edition of Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009 because both seemed destined for elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals after finishing with the best record in the regular season.

Like LeBron in '09, Bulls' Rose is on an island

In the article, former Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said it's hard to compare the two teams and LeBron said he thought the two teams were different. Let's see what the numbers have to say about it...

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

Perkins began the article by listing what the 2011 Bulls and 2009 Cavs had in common:
  • "Outstanding defense." The 2011 Bulls had the NBA's best defense this season by only allowing 100.3 points per 100 possessions. The 2009 Cavs had the third-best defense and allowed 102.4 points per 100 possessions.
  • Coach of the Year. Tom Thibodeau won the award in 2011. Mike Brown won the award in 2009. The last five winners of the award have been fired with the blame game clock ticking down on the Oklahoma City Thunder's Scott Brooks.
  • MVP.  Rose produced 11.9 wins for the 2011 Bulls. LeBron produced 27.8 wins for the 2009 Cavs.
  • More than 60 wins. 2011 Bulls outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions, which translates to an estimated 61 wins. The 2009 Cavs outscored opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions, which translates to an estimated 66 wins.

The 2011 Bulls have a better defense, but the 2009 Cavs had the better MVP and regular season. LeBron said the 2011 Bulls have a better roster than the 2009 Cavs because they have "two max players... and some great complementary players as well" while he was the only "max player" on the 2009 Cavs roster. Let's see what Wins Produced says about the teammates for Rose and LeBron.

Rose played with six players that played more than 1000 minutes and provided above average production (i.e. WP48 greater than 0.100) and two players that produced like stars (i.e. WP48 greater than 0.200):

The 2011 Bulls also had a seventh player, Omer Asik (0.113 WP48), that provided above average production in 989 minutes. Carlos Boozer was also on the threshold of star-level production when he came back from an early season injury. The six players listed above combined to produce 41.1 wins for the 2011 Bulls.

LeBron played with five players that played more than 1000 minutes and provided above average production, but none of them produced like stars:

The 2009 Cavs also had a sixth player, Ilgauskas (0.093 WP48), that was almost average in over 1000 minutes of playing time. The five players listed above combined to produce 30.6 wins for the 2009 Cavs.

It looks like LeBron was right — a big difference between the 2011 Bulls and 2009 Cavs was that Rose had much better teammates. The other big difference is that LeBron was much more productive in 2009 than Rose was in 2011.

If LeBron had better teammates in 2009, then perhaps the Cavaliers would have made it to the NBA Finals — or maybe he didn't need them and the 2009 Magic got lucky. Either way, LeBron is in a better situation now, and it's clear that Rose would not have experienced the same success if he had played 82 games in LeBron's 2009 kicks.


  1. Left out some important info: the 2009 LeBron had 5 MORE years of NBA experience and a few more years of playoff experience than D-Rose, plus a trip to the NBA finals. So strength of team aside, maybe Rose did more with less. Run those numbers in a few years and see how they compare. Then again, maybe with LeBron it's all just about LeBron.

  2. Can Rose get better? Yes. It doesn't change the fact that 2011 Rose didn't provide the same production as 2009 LeBron or the fact that 2011 Rose had better teammates than 2009 LeBron.