Posts Tagged ‘Russell Westbrook’

Russell Westbrook’s MVP Bid and History

March 5, 2015

I’m not going to write a big post about whether or not Russell Westbrook deserves the MVP award.  He certainly deserves consideration.  What I am going to write about is how unicorn – rare it is for two different players from the same team to win the MVP award in back to back years.

The last time it happened was 1957 and 1958 when Red Auerbach’s dynasty was still young.  Bob Cousy won his last MVP award in ’57, and Bill Russell won his first MVP award in ’58.

Even having two teammates win MVP while they are both still on the same team is extremely rare.  Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it.  Kareem won his 6th and final MVP award in 1980.  Magic won the first of his three MVPs in 1987 while Kareem was still a Laker.  Moses Malone and Julius Irving both won MVPs as 76ers, but Doc won his before Moses joined the team.

That’s the list.  Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant both won MVP awards, but Kobe’s came years after Shaq left the Lakers.

Really if Russell Westbrook wins the MVP award in this season, while he and Kevin Durant are both in their primes, it will be unprecedented.  Cousy stopped winning MVPs after Russell won his first because Bob was at the tail end of his career, and it was crystal clear that Bill Russell was the lynchpin of the team.  Kareem was well past his prime when Magic won his first.

Of course the reason that Furious Styles has a shot at MVP this year is because he has been a stat-machine on a winning team in the absence of Durant.  Had Shaq missed a little more time in 2003, maybe Kobe would have been a serious contender that year (though Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady both had insane seasons in ’03).  If LeBron had been out in 2011, maybe Dwyane Wade becomes an MVP candidate that year and James takes in 2012.  Basically you need two of top 5 players in the league on one team, and they need to trade off who is doing the heavy lifting from year to year, which won’t happen without something like an injury.

None of this is to say at this point that I think Westbrook is the 2015 MVP front runner.  Stephen Curry and James Harden are probably still the best bets with LeBron James coming on strong.  It’s just that Westbrook’s candidacy is remarkable in light of Durant’s award last season.

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2014 Heat – Most Difficult 3Peat Ever?

January 24, 2014

Right now, at just about the halfway point of the 2014 season, the Thunder, Spurs, and Pacers are all top 25 all-time teams by the Simple Rating System, a one number team rater that factors in margin of victory and strength of schedule. This is by no means a perfect estimation of a team’s ability to win, but as you can see in the below table, it captures something that picks up on many of the greatest teams of all time.

Miscellaneous
Rk Season Tm G W L W-L% MOV SOS SRS
1 1970-71 MIL* 82 66 16 .805 12.26 -0.34 11.91
2 1995-96 CHI* 82 72 10 .878 12.24 -0.44 11.80
3 1971-72 LAL* 82 69 13 .841 12.28 -0.63 11.65
4 1971-72 MIL* 82 63 19 .768 11.16 -0.46 10.70
5 1996-97 CHI* 82 69 13 .841 10.80 -0.11 10.70
6 1991-92 CHI* 82 67 15 .817 10.44 -0.37 10.07
7 2007-08 BOS* 82 66 16 .805 10.26 -0.95 9.31
8 2012-13 OKC* 82 60 22 .732 9.21 -0.06 9.15
9 1985-86 BOS* 82 67 15 .817 9.41 -0.36 9.06
10 1985-86 MIL* 82 57 25 .695 9.04 -0.35 8.69
11 1993-94 SEA* 82 63 19 .768 9.09 -0.41 8.68
12 2008-09 CLE* 82 66 16 .805 8.93 -0.25 8.68
13 1990-91 CHI* 82 61 21 .744 9.10 -0.53 8.57
14 1966-67 PHI* 81 68 13 .840 9.44 -0.94 8.50
15 1990-91 POR* 82 63 19 .768 8.68 -0.21 8.47
16 1969-70 NYK* 82 60 22 .732 9.09 -0.66 8.42
17 1999-00 LAL* 82 67 15 .817 8.55 -0.14 8.41
18 2013-14 SAS 42 32 10 .762 7.86 0.54 8.40
19 2006-07 SAS* 82 58 24 .707 8.43 -0.08 8.35
20 1986-87 LAL* 82 65 17 .793 9.30 -0.98 8.32
Rk Season Tm G W L W-L% MOV SOS SRS
21 2013-14 IND 41 33 8 .805 9.05 -0.76 8.29
22 1961-62 BOS* 80 60 20 .750 9.24 -0.98 8.25
23 2013-14 OKC 43 33 10 .767 7.26 1.00 8.25
24 1972-73 LAL* 82 60 22 .732 8.54 -0.36 8.16
25 1996-97 UTA* 82 64 18 .780 8.79 -0.82 7.97
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/24/2014.

Glaringly absent from the list are the two time defending champion Heat (currently ranked 235th all-time). This is not necessarily a nail in the coffin of the Heat. The last three teams to three-peat did not make the top 25 either – 1993 Bulls, 1998 Bulls, and 2002 Lakers. However, no other teams from those seasons made the list. 2014 Miami looks to be up against stiffer competition than these other teams, at least midway through the season. There’s a lot of time for these three 2014 juggernauts to slip out of the top 25 and for Miami to right the ship and make it higher up the list.

Assuming that the current rankings hold relatively static through the rest of the season, at least for one or two of these teams, what is the prognosis for the title this year? Well 14 out of the 22 teams in our top 25 who are not currently playing won the title. Of the 8 teams that failed to win the title, half of them lost to teams ranked higher in the top 25, so they didn’t underachieve, they just got beat by higher ranked teams. The remaining four squads that failed to win are:

2013 Thunder – Lost Russell Westbrook in round 1 of the playoffs.
1994 Sonics – Possibly the worst 1 – 8 upset in NBA history.
2009 Cavaliers – Epic fail against an inferior Magic team. LeBron James put up impossible stats.
1973 Lakers – Knicks kicked their butts in a revenge Finals meeting.

That’s one injury excuse, one major collapse, one minor collapse, and one that just got beat in the Finals rematch. The good news for Miami fans is that the 2013 Heat, 1994 Rockets, 2009 Lakers, and 1973 Knicks who won the title those four years also don’t show up on this list. If that Pacers, Spurs, and Thunder keep up their dominant play throughout the regular season, there’s still a 4 out of 22, basically 20% chance that someone will beat them. Heck, it’s very probable that of the Spurs and Thunder, one will eliminate the other. But that still leaves the Heat to go through Indiana to get to the winner of the match-up (you know, assuming many things fall out right for all four teams). Three-peating is never easy, but it should be especially tough against this level of competition.

2014 Team Profile – Oklahoma City Thunder

January 22, 2014

There’s a reason why the push for Kevin Durant to be MVP has teeth. The Thunder is currently the third best team in the league and only a hair behind the Spurs for best in the West. They are a defensive juggernaut at heart, but they play at a fast pace, 6th overall, and have real explosive potential on offense thanks to the NBA’s scoring leader and, when healthy, the hyper-aggressive point guard play of Russell Westbrook. Actually Westbrook’s extended absences this year have turned the Thunder into a team with multiple personalities. Unfortunately for the league, both personalities are deadly on the basketball court. Russ adds a creative and relentless pressure to the Thunder attack when he’s available, and when he’s not, his backup Reggie Jackson steers the ship with great efficiency and plays good defense on the perimeter. Strictly speaking though, OKC’s excellent record with so much missed time from their starting All-Star point guard has to be factored. If Russ can get fully healthy in time to reintegrate for their playoff run, this team can be even more dangerous than the numbers.

Speaking of numbers, the team stats are fantastic. The Thunder ranks third overall in Simple Rating System, third in Margin of Victory, and fifth in Strength of Schedule. They have the 7th best offense by points scored per possession and the 4th best defense as ranked by points allowed per possession. On offense they are top 10 in effective field goal percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and free throws made per field goal attempt (3 of Dean Oliver’s famous 4 factors). Defensively they are third overall in opponent effective field goal percentage and eighth in defensive rebound percentage, so just like Indiana, they excel at keeping the opponent’s made field goals to a minimum and limiting second chance points. However, also like Indiana, they are not good at turning the opponent over, and they have a fairly high turnover rate themselves (bottom 11 in the league).

The reason that the defensive numbers are so reminiscent of the Pacers is probably because they are built a lot like the Pacers with good size at every position, a commitment to defensive position, and one of the league’s best shotblockers on the back line in Serge Ibaka. Serge is also a reason the offense has been so steady in the absence of Westbrook. Ibaka is not much of a one-on-one scoring threat, but he is absolutely deadeye on midrange jump shots, and he’s a serious threat on quick catch and finish cuts around the rim. For those old enough to remember the first Bulls dynasty prior to Michael Jordan’s departure to play baseball, Serge is playing a lot like a more athletically gifted Horace Grant.

On offense the team is heavily reliant on one-on-one and pick and roll action by Durant, Jackson, and, when available, Westbrook. They have a solid drive and kick system, and they also do a good job finding their bigs like Kendrick Perkins and the rookie Steven Adams on the move around the rim. Their only good facilitator from the power positions is Nick Collison, and their best offensive units have historically tended to include him. The Thunder, and specifically their coach, has been criticized for a lack of creativity in offensive sets and player rotations, but considering the overall lack of creative players in the absence of Russell Westbrook, a 7th best rating overall against a very tough schedule is pretty impressive. Maybe we should just chalk that up to Durant’s amazing exploits, but if so, then kudos to Coach Brooks for empowering KD to put this team on his shoulders.

The prognosis for OKC is entirely wrapped up in the health of Westbrook. Like any other contending team, losing their second best player is pretty devastating when it comes to making a deep playoff run. Defensive excellence and Durant’s explosiveness may carry them through a couple rounds, but getting past the better teams in the West without Russ’s contributions seems impossible. Hopefully for fans of great basketball, Westbrook is back in time for the Thunder to make a solid run. If he is, and the team is firing on all cylinders, they are a legit contender to win a title, maybe not favorites but nipping at the heels of the Spurs and Heat and every bit as capable as Indiana. They will have the best player in any series they play unless and until they meet the Heat in the Finals, and having the best player goes a long way in this league.

Kevin Durant Solidifies Case for 2014 MVP

January 20, 2014

The more the season goes along the more certain I become that Kevin Durant is our MVP.  Below is more statistical evidence of his tremendous season.  The below table, courtesy of Bastketball-Reference.com, shows all the seasons in which a player had a PER of 30+ and a Win Share per 48 minutes of 0.300+.  Obviously these aren’t perfect measures or anything, but it is a rare enough feat to manage either a 30 PER (18 times) or a .0.300 WS48 (10 times), that accomplishing both in the same season is a truly unusual statistical achievement.  Basically it says that a player is simultaneously ridiculously productive and ridiculously efficient.

Player

Season

Age

G

PER

WS/48

Wilt Chamberlain* 1963-64

27

80

31.6

0.325

Michael Jordan* 1987-88

24

82

31.7

0.308

LeBron James 2008-09

24

81

31.7

0.318

Michael Jordan* 1990-91

27

82

31.6

0.321

LeBron James 2012-13

28

76

31.6

0.322

Kevin Durant 2013-14

25

41

30.5

0.324

As you see, if he continues at his current pace this season, Durant will join an elite group of 3 players including Wilt, MJ, and LeBron.  Jordan and James both managed it twice, and both won the MVP each time.  Wilt got there once, but Oscar won the MVP that year.  Given that both PER and WS have to be heavily estimated for seasons prior to 1977, it’s probably fair to limit this to just the Jordan and LeBron seasons anyway.

In my opinion, as long as Durant can keep up this production and efficiency, and his team can weather the loss of Russell Westbrook and keep in the top 4 in the Western Conference (and staying ahead of the Heat wouldn’t hurt), he’s got to be the hands-down favorite for league MVP.  It might sound strange after all the praise we’ve heaped on LeBron’s shoulders this season, but I can’t see it any other way right now.

2014 NBA MVP Race – 1/3rd Season Mark

December 26, 2013

We are 28 or 29 games into the NBA season now, which gets us just past the 1/3rd mark. The early going has 5 purported MVP candidates, the most in a long time. They are:

LeBron James

Kevin Durant

Chris Paul

LaMarcus Aldridge

Paul George

All of these players have had tremendous early season success, and their teams are all winning big. I’m sure fans of the Heat, Thunder, Clippers, Blazers, and Pacers could all make good arguments in favor of their candidates. I, however, cannot. I only see three real defensible options in that list: James, Durant, and Paul. They are 1, 2, and 3 in WS/48 and PER and have a hefty separation from LaMarcus and George.

Aldridge’s real claim is that he’s playing fantastic ball for a team that is significantly better than anyone predicted, and George’s claim is that he is the best player on the winningest team. A determined man could draw out the arguments for either of them, but I don’t think there’s enough support. I just wanted to include those two because I think they deserve the recognition and a clever proponent could make a case. Consider them honorable mention.

So in descending order of who I think the early season MVP has been…

3rd Place – Chris Paul

PER

WS48

+/-

Win%

27.2

.289

5.6

.655

If you want to develop a narrative for why Chris Paul deserves to be MVP over LeBron and Durant, you need to focus not on his metrics, which are good enough to qualify but not better than theirs. You also can’t focus on team success because the Clippers haven’t been as good as Miami or OKC.

But you can focus on player role and just how good Chris Paul is at being the best point guard in the league. Paul is currently averaging 11.2 assists against 2.6 turnovers per game for an assist to turnover ratio of 4.3:1. That is crazy good. The next highest assist per game players are Stephen Curry and John Wall who “boast” AST/TO ratios of 2.36:1 and 2.45:1 respectively. LeBron’s AST/TO ratio has dropped to a career low 1.9:1, which is on the low side for a wing player averaging better than 5 assists per game. Durant’s is even worse, but he’s not much of a passer in general.

That being said, Chris’s shooting percentages are down this year, and while his team’s SRS is top 5, they are a good deal behind the Heat and Thunder. For the job Paul has done running his team, adjusting to Doc River’s coaching philosophy, and helping DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to have career years, he has a genuine case for the MVP. However, he doesn’t’ quite stack up to the next two guys.

2nd Place – LeBron James

PER

WS48

+/-

Win%

29.7

.293

5.0

.786

I can’t write enough about the season LeBron James is having. His scoring efficiency is confounding and astounding (I have to pay Walt Clyde Frazier $1.33 for the use of that line). You can look up the box score stats and the metrics, but just take a look at the shooting percentages.

FG% 59.5

2P% 64.6

3P% 39.8

TS% 67.4

eFG% 63.6

Those figures are impossibly great. But I stumbled across some even more staggering numbers. LeBron is currently 2nd in made field goals this season behind only LeMarcus Aldridge. LeBron is tied for 19th in field goal attempts. LaMarcus is first in field goal attempts. LaMarcus has taken 132 more shots than LeBron, and he has made 9 more shots than LeBron. Let that sink in for a second. Not impressed? Not surprised that LeBron is drastically more efficient than LA? Okay, try this one on for size:

Player

FG Made

FG Attempted

LeBron James

259

435

Kevin Durant

251

512

James has made 8 more shots from the field this season than Durant has and taken 77 fewer shot attempts. That’s insane.

The argument in LeBron’s favor is simple. He’s the best player in the league. He’s the player most teams, coaches, fans, and political leaders fear. He’s a basketball demigod who cannot be killed by conventional weapons. Also he’s having the above impossibly efficient season while sitting 4th in point per game, 9th in assists per game, first in PER and first in WS/48. Not to mention he’s by far the best defender of the top 3 MVP candidates and the most versatile player in the game. He’s less a 2 and more a 1a at this point.

1st Place – Kevin Durant

PER

WS48

+/-

Win%

27.9

.290

6.3

.823

The argument for Durant is that he is having a more productive season than LeBron even if he is less efficient in his per minute / possession performance. KD is first in scoring and his efficiency numbers are also outstanding with a 62.8 TS%. Kevin is actually ahead in raw +/- per NBA.com. He’s +6.3 while LeBron is +5. Some of that difference is minutes played, but some of it is that the Thunder with Durant on the floor have been slightly better than the Heat have been with LeBron on the floor. The Thunder also maintain a better winning percentage and higher margin of victory than the Heat, and they do so despite a more difficult schedule and the early absence of Russell Westbrook. Durant also has a better ORtg – DRtg net difference and a higher usage rate.

So, per the +/-, the Dean Oliver metrics, and the team stats, Durant is having the best season, and he’s playing more minutes, which means his per possession stats, while slightly lower than LeBron’s are of greater value because he actually plays more possessions (his team pace is faster too).

This is the first year since 2009 that anyone has had a really solid argument to take the MVP title from LeBron. Durant was great last year with his Larry Bird-like 50-40-90 shooting season while coming in 2nd in points per game, but James was even better, and the Heat were phenomenal. This year James is the more efficient one (though his TO% is atrocious), but the case can be made that Durant is doing more for his team, and his team is better. Sounds like an MVP to me.