Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Heat Check: Thoughts on Game 3 of 2011 NBA Finals

I wanted to see a Lakers-Heat match-up in the NBA Finals and was disappointed when it turned out to be Mavs-Heat. The only thing I was looking forward to in this series was the Heat defense destroying Dirk Nowitzki and that hasn't happened. Despite all of that, the 2011 NBA Finals has been entertaining and Game 3 was no exception.

Here are some quick thoughts on the Wins Produced stats from Game 3 and a few issues for Game 4:

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 Performances of LeBron & Wade
First, there was the idiotic reporter trying to shine on LeBron by accusing him of "shrinking in the moment." Then there was the regurgitation of the stupid "whose team is it" and "batman and robin" arguments about LeBron and Wade.

It's all so stupid. It's all so typical of the Dead Basketball Poets Society.

Yes, Wade has been fantastic in this NBA Finals. He's producing 0.442 est.WP48 in the Finals which is a big difference from his regular season average of 0.249 est.WP48. What's the big difference between now and then? The opponent.

The Mavs ranked 28th in Opponent Win Score per 48 minutes (WS48) for shooting guards (SGs). The average NBA team allowed opposing SGs to produce a 6.9 WS48. The Mavs allowed them to produce an 8.9 WS48.

Wade is the most productive SG in the NBA. He was going to have a great series against the Mavs as long as he was healthy. Was he expected to produce a 20.8 WS48? No, but he was expected to be very productive, as illustrated in the Finals preview

LeBron, on the other hand, has a much tougher match-up. The Mavs ranked seventh in Opponent WS48 for small forwards (SFs). The Heat were expected to produce a 13.8 WS48 against the Mavs and LeBron is averaging 11.8 WS48. The biggest change in his numbers have been scoring and rebounding. 

LeBron's scoring numbers are down because he's taking nearly seven less shots from the floor and seven less shots from the line per 48 minutes in the Finals. On the glass, he's averaging nearly two less rebounds per 48 minutes in the Finals.  As a result of the change in both of those numbers, LeBron is only producing 0.164 est.WP48 in the Finals. His regular season average was 0.274 est.WP48. 

LeBron attacked the paint more in the first half of Game 3 and took half as many three-pointers as he did in Game 2. If he continues to be more aggressive in Game 4, then he should get enough shots from the floor and the line to improve his production. If that aggressiveness translates on the defensive end, then his rebounding numbers should pick up and his production will start to resemble more of what fans have come to expect. 

Maybe then the Dead Basketball Poets Society will stop comparing LeBron to a psychopathic pedophile.

For more Heat stats from the regular season and NBA Finals, see the Heat Produced Page.

The Importance of Chris Bosh
The Heat have been getting killed at the center and power forward positions in the Finals. The Heat big men have only produced -0.076 est.WP48 at center and -0.048 est.WP48 at power forward (average player = 0.100 est.WP48). To make matters worse, Tyson Chandler and Dirk have improved their production in every game of the Finals:
  • Game 1: Chandler & Nowitzki produced an estimated 0.161 wins, 0.104 est.WP48
  • Game 2: Chandler & Nowitzki produced an estimated 0.451 wins, 0.270 est.WP48
  • Game 3: Chandler & Nowitzki produced an estimated 0.675 wins, 0.395 est.WP48

Bosh, on the other hand, has been less productive in every game of the Finals and has been the least productive Heat player in the series with an estimated -0.3 wins produced in 116 minutes (-0.121 est.WP48). The second least productive Heat player in the Finals has been Udonis Haslem with an estimated -0.2 wins produced in 88 minutes (-0.100 est.WP48). Here's their game-by-game production:
  • Game 1: Bosh & Haslem produced an estimated -0.038 wins, -0.027 est.WP48
  • Game 2: Bosh & Haslem produced an estimated -0.086 wins, -0.064 est.WP48
  • Game 3: Bosh & Haslem produced an estimated -0.353 wins, -0.254 est.WP48

It will be tough for Haslem to contribute in this series while recovering from his foot injury, but the Heat need Bosh to play better. Bosh's shooting efficiency is 31% in the Finals compared to 50% in the regular season. According to the HEAT.com writer, Couper Moorhead, he's getting good looks but it's been tough to finish against a Mavs defense that has played a little over its head. They only ranked 14th in Opponent WS48 at power forward and I think they'll crack as long as Bosh keeps attacking the defense and the glass, but it has to begin tonight.

Bosh has faced a tough playoff run against four of the top 15 power forwards in the NBA (based on Wins Produced) and it's almost over. He just needs to finish it off. 

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has given 84% of the available minutes in the Finals to LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony. Those six players have provided 81% of the Heat's production.

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle has given 92% of the available minutes in the Finals to Dirk, Shawn Marion, Chandler, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, JJ Barea and DeShawn Stevenson. Those seven players have provided 111% of the Mavs' production.

These numbers would imply that the difference in the series has been the Heat bench outplaying the Mavs bench. Henry Abbott and John Hollinger have even gone so far as to suggest that Carlisle should consider replacing Peja Stojakovic (-0.356 est.WP48 in the Finals) with Corey Brewer (0.006 WP48 in regular season) to improve the Mavs bench production.

I think that's ludicrous. Yes, the Heat reserves have outplayed the Mavs reserves. Here's the est.WP48 for the reserves from both teams in the Finals:
  • Game 1: Heat reserves produced 0.054 est.WP48, Mavs reserves produced -0.112 est.WP48
  • Game 2: Heat reserves produced -0.087 est.WP48, Mavs reserves produced -0.196 est.WP48
  • Game 3: Heat reserves produced 0.085 est.WP48, Mavs reserves produced -0.276 est.WP48

Those results should have been expected. In the regular season, the Heat reserves (ranked 14th by WP48) were more productive than the Mavs (ranked 19th by WP48).

The biggest problem for Carlisle isn't really Peja (although he's been very unproductive). Carlisle's biggest problem is that his first two players off the bench, Terry (-0.105 est.WP48) and Barea (-0.404 est.WP48), have been the two least productive players on the Mavs.

While Carlisle is getting terrible production off the bench from his guards, Spoelstra is getting good production from his backup point guard. Chalmers has produced 0.100 est.WP48 in the Finals and has outplayed Barea so badly that the Heat are winning the PG match-up in the series with 0.234 est.WP48 at that position.

J.E.T. Math: Where 4 = 7
Every game in the NBA Finals is a big game, but Game 4 has been tough for the Heat in the last two series, as Diego Quezada from Hot Hot Hoops pointed out on Twitter:

From: @DiegoMIAHeat
Sent: Jun 7, 2011 11:23a

Heat's last two Game 4s went into OT. Big difference between 3-1 & 2-2. Huge game for both teams.

sent via Twitter for iPhone
On Twitter: http://twitter.com/DiegoMIAHeat/status/78119840585490432

After three games, the Heat have only outscored the Mavericks by eight points. The Heat have scored 104 points per 100 possessions and allowed the Mavs to score 100.5 points per 100 possessions. That +3.5 differential translates to an expected 1.8 wins produced in three games, but the Heat have only produced an estimated 1.6 wins. Yes, this series has been very close.

The Heat had only produced an estimated 1.6 wins against the Celtics after three games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Heat proved they were the more dominant team in overtime of Game 4 as they outscored the Celtics by 85.6 points per 100 possessions during that five minute span.

The Heat outscored the Bulls by 61.9 points per 100 possessions in the overtime of Game 4 for the Eastern Conference Finals. If it comes to overtime in Game 4 of the Finals, the Heat should be ready. It's tough to match the Heat's defense at its highest level of intensity for a short five-minute stretch. That's how they blow opponents out in overtime.

What about the Mavs in Game 4? The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran the following quote from Jason Eugene Terry today, "'This is it for us. I'm looking forward to Game 4 and we are going to treat it as Game 7.'"

Terry and the Mavs haven't played a Game 7 since the 2006 Western Conference Finals when they beat the Spurs in overtime (see this listing). That 2006 Spurs team produced an efficiency differential of +7.7 during the season. The 2011 Heat produced an efficiency differential of +8.2 during the season. That's not a big difference.

The 2011 Mavs, however, have produced an efficiency differential that's 2.1 points per 100 possessions lower than the 2006 Mavs. Five years later, the Heat are better and the Mavs have gotten worse. That should be the difference in Game 4 and the rest of this series.

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