Monday, May 30, 2011

Heat Produced: How the East Was Won

The Miami Heat got to the NBA Finals, which begin Tuesday at 9 PM, by defeating the Chicago Bulls 83-80 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals to clinch the series 4-1.

Let’s take a look at how the East was won, by the numbers...

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

Game 5 Notes:
The Wins Produced stats estimated from the box score for Game 5 against the Bulls can be viewed HERE.

Analysis of the stats from Game 5 can be found on Twitter along with play-by-play commentary that explains how the Heat clinched the series in Chicago.

Eastern Conference Finals Notes:
The Wins Produced stats estimated from the box scores for the Eastern Conference Finals can be found on the Heat Produced Page.

Series MVP: LeBron James
LeBron narrowly edged out Chris Bosh for the title of most productive player in the series with an estimated 1.038 wins produced from 27.4 points scored with 49% shooting efficiency, 8.3 rebounds, 7 assists and 3.8 turnovers per 48 minutes (0.221 est.WP48). Bosh produced an estimated 1.023 wins from 26.8 points with 59% shooting efficiency, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 2.3 turnovers per 48 minutes (0.237 est.WP48).

Sixth Man of the Series: Mike Miller
Miller was the most productive Heat player off the bench in the series with an estimated 0.58 wins produced from 11.8 points scored with 56% shooting efficiency, 14.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 4.5 fouls per 48 minutes (0.327 est.WP48). Not only was he the best Heat reserve, but he was also the best Heat shooting guard in the series. Miller produced an estimated 0.053 more wins than Dwyane Wade who only produced an estimated 0.128 wins per 48 minutes from 22.8 points scored with 41% shooting efficiency, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 4.8 turnovers. Wade averaged 0.249 est.WP48 in the regular season and 0.217 est.WP48 in the playoffs.

Best Coach: Tom Thibodeau 
Thibodeau has gotten killed for his performance in the series (see HERE and HERE for two examples) but I think that may be an overreaction driven more by him winning Coach of the Year than his actual coaching in the Eastern Conference Finals. Thibs gave six players (Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans) 78% of the available playing time and they produced an estimated 109% of the Bulls’ wins (Kyle Korver and Omer Asik had negative impacts on the Bulls' production).

The problem for Thibodeau and the Bulls was that Rose and Noah were outplayed at the point guard and center positions, which were supposed to be their strength and the Heat’s weakness.
  • The Heat defense decreased Rose’s shooting efficiency from 49% to 38% and his passing from 9.9 assists per 48 minutes to 7.6. Rose also averaged less rebounds, steals and blocks than he did in the regular season but more fouls. Rose was exposed on defense when the Heat went big as Wade averaged 16.6 free throw attempts per 48 minutes at point guard. That’s more than double his free throw rate at shooting guard in the series.
  • The Heat defense decreased Noah’s shooting efficiency from 58% to 32%, cut his trips to the line in half, reduced his scoring by 50% and his rebounding by nine percent. Noah’s foul rate increased by 18% as he tried to guard Bosh and failed. Bosh shot nine percentage points better in the series than he did in the regular season and was able to maintain his free throw rate.
In the regular season, Rose (0.197 WP48) and Noah (0.254 WP48) were the best players at their position on the Bulls. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Noah was still the most productive center Thibodeau played and even though C.J. Watson (0.314 est.WP48) was more productive than Rose, he could not have been expected to play him more than the MVP. I think Thibodeau’s rotation was fine, the players in it just weren’t able to outplay their counterparts. As Alfredo Arteaga from said on the latest Miami Heat Talk podcast, the blame really belongs with Gar Forman.

The second knock on Thibodeau was his play-calling, particularly the isolation sets called for Derrick Rose at the end of games. As Danny Martinez from Hot Hot Hoops reported in his Eastern Conference Finals preview, the Bulls offense was at its best in isolation and pick-and-roll sets for the ballhandler. According to Synergy Sports, the Bulls had the best ISO offense in the NBA this season and the Heat had the fifth-best defense against that set. The Bulls were the ninth-best offense running pick-and-roll sets for the ballhandler but the Heat had the second-best defense against that set. An ISO set for Rose was the best call Thibs could make, based on 93 games of evidence coming into the series.

As for the Heat, head coach Erik Spoelstra gave six players (LeBron, Bosh, Wade, Joel Anthony, Mike Bibby and Udonis Haslem) 82% of the available playing time and they responded by providing 82% of the Heat’s production. Mario Chalmers and Miller were the seventh and eight players in the rotation despite being two of the five most productive players in the series, but Spo really can’t be faulted for that. Miller would never get more minutes than Wade, regardless of how well he played and how poorly Wade performed. Chalmers (0.101 est.WP48) was more productive than Bibby (0.026 est.WP48) but Chalmers was terrible in the first two games (-0.354 est.WP48), so Spo made the right move limiting his minutes early in the series.

I don’t think Spoelstra was outcoached in the series, but Thibodeau got the edge by the numbers simply because Spo waited to play Haslem and Miller until after the Heat got blown out in Game 1. Spoelstra said after Game 2 that he questioned himself as to whether he should have played them more earlier in the playoffs. Hindsight is 20-20 but I think Spoelstra’s vision for his rotation is clear moving forward.

And that is how the East was won — with great play from LeBron and Bosh, a surprising boost from Miller and a good adjustment by Spo.

Regular season Bulls stats were taken from

The Heat's estimated wins produced stats for the entire playoffs are posted on the Heat Produced Page.

Unless referenced otherwise, original game data used for this post was taken from and


  1. Thanks for the summary.Why can't we blame Thibodeau for benching his most productive bigs in the 4th quarter?

    I thought this series would change people's opinions but they seem to be unmoved. I listened to Rich Bucher on the BS report, spouting his usual nonsense. The guy sounds like a religious fanatic, or some dude who believes the world is flat or something. Even Simmons was getting uncomfortable and trying to tell him that the basic stats (shooting %, turnovers, assists etc) say he is wrong, Lebron played well and Rose didn't; but he is not interested. I actually feel sorry for this guy because everything he believes about Basketball has been destroyed and he is now clinging onto Dirk with all his might. Why cant he just admit that he was wrong? Its just basketball.

  2. @Kabelo:

    You can blame Thibs for benching Boozer & Rose but I think it's a flawed argument. He benched Boozer because he was a defensive liability & wasn't scoring efficiently. In the games he scored efficiently, he played in crunch time (i.e. Game 3). As for Rose, his production was reduced to that of an average player & he couldn't guard Bosh. Taj Gibson played Bosh better than Noah (not well, but better).

    As for changing people's minds, Dan LeBatard said he read a psychology book (I forget the name) that said the human brain is actually wired to reinforce it's pre-conceived notions before it dispels them. With that in mind, it's not a surprise that people's opinions haven't changed. Plus, Ric Bucher is brain damaged. You have to lower your expectations for the mentally challenged.