Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2011 NBA Finals

Thanks to EvanZ from the APBRmetrics forum and The City, I might have the data I need to apply my analysis to a number of Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks lineups soon.  But, in the meantime, I wanted to provide my suspicions on which team adheres more to the theories I have provided here.  

This blog is all about team chemistry and no team has played better team basketball than the Dallas Mavericks.  They create an advantage, either through Dirk in the high post or the pick and roll, followed by good decisions on passes and shots, resulting in easy uncontested shots.  Granted, the defenses each team has faced were not the same and the analyses on this blog have been limited to the offensive side of the ball, so take this with a grain of salt.  

First, looking at the distribution of two-point field goals, where a wider distribution has proved beneficial, I anticipate that the Mavericks have the advantage.  Dirk Nowitzki takes by far the largest chunk of the team's two-point field goals, with Shawn Marion and J.J. Barea chipping in with some shots around the basket, Jason Terry taking less than a handful of open mid-range jumpers and Tyson Chandler throwing in the occasional dunk or put-back.  The Miami Heat, on the other hand, have Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh taking a similar number of two-point field goals.   

Unless the Heat can find someone to stop Nowitzki without help, the Mavericks will continue to be able to start the offense through Nowitzki in the post, force help, move the ball, and get open three-point shots by any of their very capable three-point shooters.  Similarly, the Heat will also have to slow down the pick and roll to slow down the Mavericks ball movement.  I look forward to seeing how much the Heat use James on Nowitzki as he may be the only one with the strength and athleticism to make things hard enough on Nowitzki to limit the need for help defense. 

When it comes to three-point field goal attempts, where more attempts and a more even distribution predict an increase in offensive efficiency, it isn't even close.  With great three-point shooters like Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Peja Stojakovic, not only do the Mavericks take and make more three-point field goals, they do so at a better percentage, and I anticipate that the statistics will show that they have a more even distribution of three-point attempts among the five players in their lineups.  James, Wade, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby and James Jones all take three-point attempts, but the latter four split much of their time, and Wade, Bibby and Miller all have shot under 25% for the playoffs.  Also, the Mavericks take higher quality, uncontested three-point attempts, on catch and shoot opportunities due to superior ball movement partly explaining their higher efficiency beyond the arc, where observation tells me that many of the Heat's three-point attempts are contested shots taken by James and Wade, or on broken plays or transition, which may be hard to come by against the savvy Mavericks defense.

As far as shooting from the field goes, the Mavericks have shot about 2% better from two and over 6% better from beyond the arc during these playoffs. 

When it comes to getting to the line, where a more even distribution predicts greater offensive efficiency, despite Nowitzki's domination at the line during the playoffs, at first glance the Heat appear to hold the advantage when it comes to distribution, as James, Wade and Bosh all get a good number of attempts each game, taking about 24 between them during the playoffs.  That said, the rest of the Heat take about 5 attempts per game.  Joel Anthony earned 2.1 attempts per game, James Jones, who didn't play much against the Bulls, has earned 1.1 attempts per game in the playoffs, while nobody else on the team has averaged an attempt per game in the playoffs.  Although no one on the Mavericks comes close to the attempts Nowitzki has earned in the playoffs, they have more players who get to the line each game, evening the distribution some  Terry has averaged 3.7 attempts, Chandler 3.1, Brendan Haywood 2.5, Marion 2, Barea 1.8 and Jason Kidd 1.5.  These are game averages, a far cry from giving us an idea of how the attempts are spread among players in the lineup.  Nevertheless, there may not be a significant difference between the two teams when it comes to the distribution of free throw attempts.  

With offensive rebounding, where a more even distribution predicts an increase in offensive efficiency, it is the Heat that have more players contributing in that regard, with James, Wade, Bosh, Anthony and Udonis Haslem all averaging an offensive rebound or more a game.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas also rebounds well offensively, however it remains to be seen whether he will see the floor in this series, as the primary lineup he played in during the playoffs was absolutely destroyed by the opposing lineups and he failed to see the floor against the Bulls.  For the Mavericks, Chandler, Marion and Haywood dominate the offensive boards, with Nowitzki and Kidd chipping in just over half an offensive board a game.  It appears that the Heat have a more even distribution, giving them the advantage, but despite that, both teams have averaged the same number of offensive rebounds per game in the playoffs.  So, despite the fact that the Heat have more bodies who attack the offensive glass, it appears the Mavericks offset that with the superior offensive rebounding ability of guys like Chandler, Marion and Haywood. 

As far as distributing the ball goes, because it is hard to see much of a difference on first glance at the distribution of turnovers (where a number of players on each team contribute to similar team totals), it comes down to assists, where a more even distribution predicts an increase in offensive efficiency.  For the Heat, James and Wade dominate the ball and in turn the assists, averaging 5.5 and 4.1 assists respectively.  No one else on the team has averaged over 1.5 assists during the playoffs, with point guards Chalmers and Bibby averaging 1.5 and 1.2 assists per game, respectively.  This makes for a higher standard deviation; a negative in this analysis, and the team as a whole has averaged just over 15 assists per game as a result. 

For the Mavericks, although Jason Kidd has accounted for a large chunk of the team's assists during the playoffs at 7.7 per game and focuses almost entirely on facilitating the offense apart from when he is wide open for a three-point attempt, Nowitzki, Terry, Barea and Marion all average over two assists per game at 2.7, 3.2, 3.5 and 2.1, respectively.  With Dallas' ball movement and likely higher percentage of shots on the catch and shoot than off then dribble, this is not a surprise.  It appears the Mavericks have the advantage here as well. 

So, on first glance, the Mavericks appear to have a significant advantage on the offensive end, which is reflected by their playoffs offensive rating of 113.00 and the Heat's playoffs offensive rating of 106.74 (see www.basketballvalue.com), which will require a significantly superior effort by the Heat on the defensive end to overcome, something they absolutely could be capable of.  That said, with the Mavericks showing the ability to step up during stretches defensively, particularly in fourth quarters against the Lakers and Thunder, and Marion and Chandler in particular playing inspired defense, I will go out on the limb and take the older, wiser, underdogs in the series with confidence and in Game 1 tonight, where the Mavericks hold an advantage with their team play, ball movement and ability to get uncontested shots.   

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