Posts Tagged ‘kobe bryant’

Kobe Bryant is Fading Away and Other Aging NBA Stars

October 13, 2014

I’ve been watching a lot of preseason NBA ball this past week, and it looks like Charles Barkley is still correct. Eventually Father Time conquers all.

There’s a litany of aging NBA stars playing out what may be their last professional contracts over the next couple of years – Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen if he signs somewhere, and maybe even Tim Duncan (that group in 2006 would have been the best team ever). I’m leaving Dirk off the list not because he isn’t an aging star but because it looks like his style of play will allow for a gentler slope of decline. Timmy probably belongs off the list with Dirk for a similar reason and because Pop takes such good care to protect him from the rigors of the 82 game season.

I’ve seen all of the Lakers preseason games, and 36 year old Kobe Bryant bears an uncomfortably close resemblance to 38 year old Michael Jordan of the Washington Wizards. The skillset is still there. He has all those familiar moves carefully crafted over an NBA lifetime spent winning scoring titles and championship rings. But the grace is gone, that athletic lift that put Kobe in another stratosphere.

Bryant has always taken and made a lot of tough shots. That’s part of his mystique. He can get up a shot with a chance to go in from anywhere at any time against anyone. But it’s getting to be more difficult to add easier, more efficient scoring possessions to those tough ones. The blow-by ability off the first step is harder to come by. The explosive dunk over the top of a help defender in the lane is a rarer highlight. Losing that ability to slash into the paint at breakneck speed and fly through the air at the rotating defender cuts down on trips to the free throw line. One drive per game that used to result in a drawn shooting foul that is now counted as a missed shot or a turnover becomes a huge hit to a player’s efficiency rating.

For the first three preseason games, Bryant has a TS% of 0.416. He has scored 34 points on 36 shot attempts with only 11 free throws attempted in 3 games and 0 made three pointers (he’s only attempted 1 three-pointer). Three games is a meaninglessly small sample, especially in the preseason. And the first two games weren’t so bad (3-13 in game 3 brings the total efficiency down a lot), but I watched the games, and I see real problems. Too many fade away jumpers against set defenders. Too few open shots off quick hitting attacks. Too many dribbles to get into the lane. It doesn’t take much in terms of a slower step or lower elevation to put the defense in position to impact those field goal attempts.

I saw all the same things with Jordan in Washington. A string of games where he seemed to play pretty well but when you looked at the box score his shooting was under 45%, and he barely got to the line followed by a putrid 30% shooting game and very few high 50% or unicorn-rare 60%+ shooting games to balance things out. In his youth and even the tail end of his prime, MJ would pepper his game log with really great shooting nights to offset the mediocre games. As a Wizard that just didn’t happen because even when he was making the majority of his tough shots, he still wasn’t getting himself enough easy opportunities (free throws and layups). So games that would have been 50+ points on 70% shooting for a younger MJ wound up being 35 points on 55% shooting for #23 in blue. They were exciting to watch, all the more so because so many of his makes were on tough, contested shots, but the end result was that what should have been a spectacular game was merely a good game. This is the territory that Kobe appears to be entering.

The problems Steve Nash faces are even more obvious. Once the premier fast break and pick and roll point guard of the league, Nash now lacks the quickness to get by defenders or turn the corner coming off screens with a live dribble. Pressure defense bothers him because he’s not a threat to blow by an off-balance defender and get into the lane. His handles are still good. His shot is still pure. And he was never a speed demon. Logically it would seem like his game could survive getting slower, but that little bit of separation he used to get is narrower than ever. He can still bounce in a perfect pocket pass or whip a lefty behind the back no look to the corner, but his scoring threat is severely reduced, which in turn means those open passing lanes are harder to come by as the opposing defense reacts less and less to his attempts to drive and shoot.

The defense is going too. Kobe can still put in a very solid effort one on one, but his days of wreaking havoc on opposing team offensive schemes are gone (and have been for a few years really). Nash was never much of a defender. Even KG isn’t dominant defensively anymore. He’s still sound in his rotations. He’s still seven feet tall. But he doesn’t close out on shooters like he used to. He can’t switch and stay in front of a dribbling guard for multiple seconds to snuff out a possession. His show and recover and other help defense actions are all a step slow.

Shaquille O’Neal was the first superstar I saw go from hyper-talented but raw rookie to dominant superstar to faded legend. I missed the first stage of that arc with the Jordan / Barkley generation, and I missed the first two stages with Bird and Magic. But the KG / Kobe era is close to me because I’m the same age as those players. To me they still seem like they should be young bucks in the prime of their careers, but stardom in the realm of athletics doesn’t work that way. So it’s time to lower our expectations and just enjoy the good moments when they come up. I’m sure Nash has one more game in his bones where he controls the tempo, gets the defense on a string, and makes his teammates all look like stars. And Pierce will hit a game winner and shout to the stands. And Bryant will toss in 50 hard-fought points. It just won’t happen often, and it won’t be easy.

Neil Young told us that it’s better to burn out than fade away. MJ and Kobe have taught us that even when your athletic flame has burnt out, you can still hit a fade away. Thank god that highlights are forever young.

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2014 All-Star Mock Selections

January 14, 2014

The 2014 All-Star team is shaping up to be an honor of attrition. Injuries that have either hampered player production or that could keep players out of the game itself will have a huge influence on the final rosters and make it hard to predict who will actually play. Right now Kobe Bryant has the most guard votes in the West, but he is hardly deserving of a selection this year and likely won’t be able to participate, and he’s just one of many.

I’m making my selections based on who is healthy right now and who I think deserves to replace the injured stars. Criteria is based solely on this season, and winning counts as well as individual performance.

East

Guard – Dwyane Wade
Guard – John Wall
Frontcourt – LeBron James
Frontcourt – Paul George
Frontcourt – Carmelo Anthony

Guard – Kyrie Irving
Guard – Jeff Teague
Frontcourt – Roy Hibbert
Frontcourt – Chris Bosh
Frontcourt – Joakim Noah
Guard – Michael Carter-Williams
Guard – Kyle Lowry

West

Guard – Stephen Curry
Guard – Tony Parker
Frontcourt – Kevin Durant
Frontcourt – Kevin Love
Frontcourt – LaMarcus Aldridge

Guard – James Harden
Guard – Mike Conley
Frontcourt – Blake Griffin
Frontcourt – Dwight Howard
Frontcourt – Dirk Nowitzki
Guard – Damian Lillard
Frontcourt – Anthony Davis

My West team is missing Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook due to injury, and I think Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe and / or Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas all have arguments for backcourt worthiness as well. Up front I didn’t get Tim Duncan or David Lee in because the conference is just stacked to the brim with great wings and bigs, but they definitely deserve mention. Choosing among those two and Dirk and Davis was very difficult and basically came down to Davis being too fun to watch to miss the All-Star game and Dirk getting the credit for the Mavs season while Parker and Curry rep their teams. No matter how you shake it out, 12 spots just isn’t enough to for this conference.

The East on the other hand was kind of tough to fill. I was sorely tempted to make a team of all Heat and Pacers with Melo and Wall thrown in for good measure. I considered Andre Drummond as a rep for Detroit, but as fun as he is to watch and as good as his per possession stats are, I think a few other guys deserve the spots more. Next year if he starts making a slightly less deplorable percentage of his FTAs, he’ll be in for sure. Missing Brook Lopez and Al Horford steals two of the East’s best frontcourt players, but it’s the guard position that is comparatively weak. Wade, Wall, and Kyrie are gimmes. After that? It would be a totally different scenario if Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and Deron Williams had healthy seasons but instead we get a few players who may never make another All-Star team.

On thing I will give the East, they are the more versatile bunch. You could call LeBron and George both guards and start a huge line-up with Melo, Bosh, and Hibbert, and it would actually be a great unit. The West really doesn’t have any swingmen, but they are deep with quick talent and big athletes and shooters.

What do you think? Did I miss anybody completely? Did I botch one ranking or another or several? Letting me know.

NBA Top 50 – MVP Shares

December 27, 2013

Rank Player MVP Shares
1 Michael Jordan* 8.138
2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 6.203
3 Larry Bird* 5.693
4 LeBron James 5.387
5 Magic Johnson* 5.129
6 Bill Russell* 4.827
7 Shaquille O’Neal 4.38
8 Karl Malone* 4.296
9 Wilt Chamberlain* 4.269
10 Tim Duncan 4.261
11 Kobe Bryant 4.206
12 David Robinson* 3.123
13 Moses Malone* 2.873
14 Kevin Garnett 2.753
15 Bob Pettit* 2.628
16 Hakeem Olajuwon* 2.611
17 Oscar Robertson* 2.479
18 Charles Barkley* 2.438
19 Steve Nash 2.429
20 Jerry West* 2.09
21 Kevin Durant 2.019
22 Dirk Nowitzki 1.804
23 Elgin Baylor* 1.659
24 Allen Iverson 1.567
25 Bob McAdoo* 1.494
26 Patrick Ewing* 1.424
27 Chris Paul 1.423
28 Julius Erving* 1.407
29 Dave Cowens* 1.338
30 Dwight Howard 1.249
31 Willis Reed* 1.073
32 Derrick Rose 0.981
33 Alonzo Mourning 0.968
34 Jason Kidd 0.933
35 George Gervin* 0.911
36 Bob Cousy* 0.882
37 Tracy McGrady 0.855
38 Dominique Wilkins* 0.849
39 Gary Payton* 0.823
40 Dwyane Wade 0.793
41 Clyde Drexler* 0.778
42 Scottie Pippen* 0.716
43 Sidney Moncrief 0.695
44 Dolph Schayes* 0.69
45 Wes Unseld* 0.639
46 Bernard King* 0.625
47 Rick Barry* 0.592
48 Chris Webber 0.588
49 Elvin Hayes* 0.571
50 Grant Hill 0.52

A couple days ago, we put together a top 15 list using playoff success as our criteria for consideration and then boiling down using stats, titles, and awards. It was a stilted approach in that I set out to be as inclusive as possible in determining playoff success but then was totalitarian in crediting the awards.

The above list is the top 50 cumulative career percentage of MVP votes received. Essentially the voters have a 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place vote every year. If one player were to receive 100% of the 1st place votes, he still would not get all the MVP shares for that year, because the 2nd and 3rd place votes comprise part of the whole. Since the voting is rarely ever that one-sided, generally the actual award winner’s total share leaves a lot for the runners up to add to their total.

What’s nice about measuring with the shares rather than just giving an arbitrary credit for winning the award is that it credits guys who were consistently high in the running but may have lost out to others due to missed games or when two great players starred for the same team and split the vote. Shaq and Kobe are good examples of players who may have got in each other’s way when it came to actually winning the MVP but both consistently received large portions of the vote – they are 7th and 11th respectively even though they each only won a single MVP award.

The other good thing about using voting results as a measure of player greatness is that voters can approach the game from a more nuanced perspective than numbers. If we picked MVP by statistics each year, Wilt would have 10, and Russell would have very few. Something was happening to make voters break the 60s up into some votes for Wilt, some votes for Russell, and enough votes for Oscar to win one year. As I wasn’t around at that time, and heck even the people who were avid fans didn’t have great exposure to all the teams and players, the views of the voters are all the context that we really have to go on to help supplement the raw numbers.

A quick note on the limitations of stats: take a look at Michael Jordan’s season in 1992. His team won 67 games and absolutely dominated the league with a margin of victory of 10.44. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant had their most efficient seasons. Obsessive basketball nerds like Bill Simmons (and me) consider 1992 to be the season where Jordan was at the peak of his basketball ability. It is also his worst statistical season in half a decade. His PER fell 4 points. His TS% dropped by 2.5. His free throw rate dropped by 4%. His ORtg fell by 4 points.

Basically all of his personal efficiency numbers tanked, and his team was better for it. Why? Well I was 13 at the time, and I don’t remember seeing him do anything all that different, but I’d guess it’s because he was giving up some of the isolation plays that led to his drives to the rim for easy scores and free throws in order to run the triangle and keep his teammates involved. Whatever happened, I don’t think MJ fell of a cliff at the age of 28, and his new play style worked to the tune of the best season any team had between the 1987 Lakers and the Bulls again in 1996.

So while Jordan’s box score stats indicated that this was the worst he’d played in half a decade and show a massive drop from 1991, his MVP shares actually went up by 1% from his previous MVP and by over 10% from his first MVP in 1988 (when he had the best season ever by PER standards). Granted, the metrics that I’m referring to didn’t exist back then, and the points, assists, and rebounds were still strong, so maybe that increase in MVP shares isn’t voters capturing nuances of Jordan’s game so much as voters responding to a dip in Barkley’s production and the absence of Magic Johnson. Still this is one subjective record of a player’s impact on his team and on the league that we have access to, and it dates all the way back to the late 1950s.

The weakness of using this measure is that MVP voting is not an exact science by any means. The criteria is ill-defined to the point of being almost useless. How is “value” defined for NBA players? Is it the player who personally accounts for the most wins on his team? If so then the best producer is probably that guy. Is it the player who takes a step back statistically to allow others to flourish? If so it’s probably the best player on the winningest team. It’s a very nebulous concept, and some players seem to get the lion’s share of credit that could be more evenly distributed. Take a look at Karl Malone sitting between Shaq and Wilt on the list. The asterisk next to his name is to indicate that he’s in the hall of fame, but it should be to indicate that 40% of his MVP shares belong to John Stockton, who incredibly does not make this list at all.

I stumbled across this list on Bastketball-Reference.com, and thought it was worth sharing. It’s not a definitive ranking by any means, but it is a good snapshot of how great players have been perceived by award voters over the years and certainly has some merit as a tool to help add some context to the box score numbers.

15 Greatest NBA Players

December 24, 2013

The 15 greatest players in NBA (and ABA) history:

1. Michael Jordan
2. Bill Russell
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
4. Wilt Chamberlain
5. LeBron James
6. Tim Duncan
7. Shaquille O’Neal
8. Magic Johnson
9. Julius Erving*
10. Kobe Bryant
11. Larry Bird
12. Jerry West
13. Hakeem Olajuwon
14. Sam Jones
15. Bob Pettit

*Includes ABA career

Here at Double Dribble we’ve done player rankings in the past, usually based on one statistic or another, examining who is “best.” For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to formulate a system for ranking players based not on who is or was the best player but on who had the greatest career. I don’t usually think in those terms, but a few recent discussions have intrigued me. In particular Rick Fox stated in an NBA Hangtime podcast that Kobe Bryant would go down as the greatest player in Lakers history and NBA history. Note- greatest, not best.

What’s the difference between being the best and being the greatest? My interpretation is that being the best means having the highest level of ability with ability being a mix of physical talents, practiced techniques, and IQ for the game. When we debate whether LeBron James might be better than Michael Jordan, we compare their abilities as players. Greatness is about accomplishments including significant statistical measures, team success, and awards. So if one were to say that Larry Bird was better than Magic Johnson, but that Magic had the greater career and deserves a higher place in the GOAT list, that’s not necessarily a contradiction.

Greatness is easier to support than bestness, but it is also more driven by circumstance. Charles Barkley may have been a better overall player than Karl Malone, but that is a long, difficult argument that requires considerable support and explanation. Karl will go down as greater than Barkley because he had more post-season success and maintained better health for longer. One could contend that had Barkley played with John Stockton his whole career like Karl did, he would have had more playoff success. Easier to justify greatness but more circumstantial.

All of this lead in is to say that I decided to focus the lens on greatness for this player ranking exercise. I took a cue from Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post and ESPN fame. Wilbon told me (in an online chat) that he would take the 1984 draft class of Jordan, Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and John Stockton over the 2003 draft class of James, Wade, Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony because the former group made more NBA Finals. I thought that was an odd criteria, but when it comes to legacy and the measure of greatness, deep playoff runs are really the crux of the argument.

Longevity, statistical milestones, and awards are all very important, but playoff success is often where the race starts. Think of comparable players like Allen Iverson and Isaiah Thomas. AI led the league in scoring multiple times and won a league MVP. Zeke went to multiple finals, won two championships, and has a Finals MVP. Which of them is typically considered greater? Thomas. Hands down. We don’t even get to consider stats because we stop considering at the back to back titles. Is Zeke better? Is he more valuable? Those are completely separate questions.

Rather than insist that players made the NBA Finals a certain number of times or anything quite that arbitrary, I ran a search, year by year of players that played a sufficient number of games to win the title regardless of how far they actually progressed. This number was a moving target over the years as league expansion and playoff reformatting impacted the number and length of playoff series. In the NBA today a team must win 16 games in order to be champion. For most of the history of the ABA it only took 12 wins. For most of Bill Russell’s career, a team could win a title in just 9 games.

My base criteria for consideration was 4 seasons where the player played at least enough playoff games to have won a championship with a minute average over 30 per game. I then took the top 4 seasons by each of these players (4 seasons is pretty tough to come by and narrowed the list nicely) and rated them based on weighted statistical (I used averaged PER and WS48) measures and gave additional credit for each finals made, championship, finals MVP, and regular season MVP all weighted against different values. I’m not going to put my formula here because it is still evolving and isn’t especially scientific, but these particular players were pretty much constant no matter how I shifted the scale, and the top 5 didn’t really change (though James and Duncan are in a near-tie at this stage).

Examining the results, I was surprised that the list gave me almost exactly what I would expect at the top. Jordan, the big three centers, and LeBron in some order is what I think most experts would give for a top 5. Then Magic, Bird, and Kobe would make most lists. Shaq and Doctor J are probably a little more surprising, but when you look at their accomplishments (if you include the ABA for Doc), they’re pretty hard to ignore. Hakeem is often included ahead of O’Neal but I just couldn’t find any statistical measure or accomplishment scale that would allow for that. Dream might have been better. He might have been more valuable. He wasn’t greater.

The most surprising exclusion was Oscar Robertson, and again, this is entirely because of the greatness criteria. Oscar’s Royals just didn’t advance far enough in the playoffs often enough. He does in fact have 4 total seasons and shows up at #30 on this list, but two of those seasons are in Milwaukee with Kareem when Oscar was past his prime. If I weighted regular season stats and factored them in as well, Oscar would likely make the top 15 (I should probably do that).

The only player who really stands out as a surprise to make the group is Sam Jones, but when you consider he was often the leading scorer on the Russell title teams, it’s not inconceivable that he deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest, if not the best, players ever. Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek just missed the top 15 cut off, and Karl Malone and Dwyane Wade weren’t far behind them.

Players who might make a best list but missed the criteria for this greatest list due to not making it deep enough into the playoffs quite enough times include Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, David Robinson, Dirk Nowitzki, Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, and current stars like Chris Paul and Kevin Durant.

Quick positions breakdown: 5 guards (Jordan, Magic, Bryant, West, and Jones), 5 centers (Russell, Kareem, Wilt, Shaq, Hakeem), and 5 forwarders (LeBron, Duncan, Doc, Bird, Pettit)

Quick era breakdown: 5 Late 1950s to Early 1970s (Russell, Wilt, West, Jones, Pettit), 6 Mid 1970s to Mid 1990s (Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Doc, Bird, Hakeem), 4 Late 1990s to Early 2010s (LeBron, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe)

LeBron James Re-Writing the Way We Look at Stats

December 6, 2013

One fifth of the way through the NBA season, the reigning, defending, undisputed MVP of the last two seasons, LeBron James, is at it again. Building on last year’s incredible jump in scoring efficiency, James is currently hitting shots at unprecedented percentages. No 25 point per game scorer has ever eclipsed his effective field goal percentage mark of 63.2 or his true shooting percentage of 68. His “regular” shooting percentages are also amazing. He’s on the cusp of having a 60-40-80 season (60 FG% – 40 3P% – 80 FT%) and hitting career best levels in all three categories.

By a per minute or per possession measure, LeBron is having a year for the ages. However, by a per game box score stat measure, he’s having his worst season since his rookie year. His points, assists, and rebounds averages are all at or near the lowest since his first season, and his turnovers are the second highest of his career. The reason for the dip in overall production is obvious. He’s playing the fewest minutes he ever has, and his team’s pace, while not historically low compared to other teams James has been on, is below league average. A more obscure reason for the drop in point production is that LeBron’s usage rate is at its lowest since his second year. So the reason for the dip in points, rebounds, and assists from his career averages is that James is getting fewer opportunities and being more selective in the opportunities he chooses to take.

What’s really fascinating to me is that no one anywhere is giving LeBron grief about his per game statistics dropping. It helps of course that they are still fantastic stats. He’s third in points per game behind the last two scoring champions, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. He’s also still maintaining that elite wing player production of 25 pts with 5 rebounds and 5 assists (only Durant can match that feat this season). Still at first blush to a casual observer it does look like he’s gotten worse at literally everything. But no one seems to see that. Every commentary I’ve seen is focused on his off the charts efficiency. I think this demonstrates a sophistication in the NBA consumer. Reporters and columnists write to their audiences, and everyone seems to feel that the average NBA fan understands that efficiency is an important measure in player value. That wasn’t always the case.

The one criticism that comes up a little is that LeBron might not be taking enough total shots for the good of his team. The notion from an advanced stats perspective is that total team usage is always going to be 100%, and the lower a super efficient star’s usage is, the more of an onus that puts on the other players to make up the difference. Simply put, the less shots LeBron takes, the more shots the rest of the Heat players have to take, and since they aren’t as good at making shots as he is, that’s potentially bad for the team, but James and Spo have to determine exactly what the balance between aggressiveness and efficiency should be.

An obvious example of this sort of value in high usage was the potent combination of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman. Rodman had virtually no scoring skills. He could make layups, but other than that his shots were usually tossed up at the rim on a whim with luck as their guide. BUT Dennis was the best per-possession rebounder the game has ever seen. A perfectly even breakdown of usage would be 20% from each player on the court (5 man units), but Rodman only gave 10%. So the rest of the team had to absorb the unused 10% of possessions he left on the table. Since Jordan used over 30% of all possessions (with very low turnovers), that meant that the remaining 3 players on the team didn’t have to go outside their own comfort levels to help account for Dennis’s lack of usage. Jordan covered the gap himself (and then some). With Pippen’s usage hovering around 25%, that left just 35% for the other big minute players to account for, and Kukoc, Harper, Kerr, and Longley could easily handle that in any combination.

What the Heat’s usage breakdown should be is a little different, and really the question is less one of usage and more one of shot distribution. Usage rate is inclusive of field goals, factored free throws, factored assists, and turnovers set against league and team pace numbers and then minutes adjusted. LeBron’s usage remains fairly high (nearly 30%), but his FGAs and assists are both down. So the question becomes, who is taking shots and making plays instead of LeBron? LeBron’s Heat are equipped with a good number of players capable of creating shots and making plays. Wade (the team is 2 – 3 with Wade sidelined so far this season) has the goods to be a great first option. Bosh can be a great option. Ray Allen off screens still works. Both Chalmers and Cole can penetrate a defense. Beasley can get his own shot. So maybe it’s worth it to the Heat for LeBron to dial it back on the shooting attempts and ratchet up the efficiency since his teammates can pick up the slack.

Aside from finding the right internal balance of LeBron efficiency vs. LeBron production for the Heat, I have to ask, how do we, as fans and armchair analysts, evaluate players when production is trumped by efficiency? I have received many complaints in the comments on my posts wherein I attempt to equalize stats between different eras through pace adjustment. Time and again passionate readers remind me that an increase in available possessions doesn’t necessarily mean that players on faster teams had more opportunities to use those possessions. However, as sort of an inverse of that point, does having and using fewer possessions make it easier to be more efficient?

Ordinarily, I’d say not necessarily. For instance, Kobe lost touches and shot opportunities to Shaq for several years, and that didn’t always put him in position to take easier shots. O’Neal occupied the paint and turned Kobe into a jump shooter, which by and large is the least efficient of his scoring methods. LeBron has the opposite working in his favor. Coach Spoelstra has emptied the paint for him. So LeBron is conserving energy by playing fewer minutes and has direct driving lanes to the rim when he catches the ball in the post (it’s a credit to James’s passing skills that team defenses honor the Heat’s offensive spacing). Good old Dean Oliver showed a relationship between usage and efficiency (his ORtg numbers decreased as usage increased), but I don’t know if there are any concrete studies on total possession used vs. scoring efficiency. Are we now in an era so different from what has come before, even a decade ago, that we need to find a way to calculate the relative values of efficiency vs. production?

However we gauge the value of LeBron’s amazing shooting, what makes the scoring efficiency even scarier is that while his overall FGAs have dropped his 3PAs and FTAs have remained steady, and that’s despite the drop in minutes. He’s less taxed and still focused on getting high value opportunities. James is creating (or possibly rediscovering) a new model for how to be a superstar on a great team. Play smarter instead of harder. Do less to achieve more. How does that stack up to our older view of high production equating to good play? Based on his PER and WS/48, pretty damn well. How do we compare this direction basketball seems to be headed with the places we’ve been before? With great care and attention to detail.