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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Stepping Up in the Playoffs

NBCSports.com has just published my article titled "Stepping Up in the Playoffs," which discusses one of my statistical pet peeves: comparing a player's career regular season and playoff scoring averages to determine whether or not that player "steps up" in the playoffs. The flaw with this approach is that each regular season generally has a roughly equal effect on a player's scoring average but playoff seasons vary widely in length. Also, a player's best scoring regular seasons may not coincide with the seasons in which he played the majority of his playoff games. "Stepping Up in the Playoffs" examines a method of "adjusting" playoff scoring averages to account for these factors and looks at how this adjustment affects the scoring averages of several prominent players. You can find the article here:

Stepping Up in the Playoffs

posted by David Friedman @ 12:05 AM


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At Wednesday, December 06, 2006 4:55:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Good article. It is easy for certain factors to sway playoff numbers one way or another.

I like that you explained why the drop-off in Wilt Chamberlain's playoff numbers aren't indicative of a subpar performance. I once read an article by Elliot Kalb where he claims Chamberlain greatly underperformed in the 1962 playoffs. What's important to note, though, are two things:

1. Wilt may have averaged 50 ppg during the regular season, but he averaged "only" 40 ppg during the regular season against the Celtics.

2. Warriors Coach Frank McGuire felt that, given the Warriors' limited success against the Celtics during the season, they needed to change their approach in the playoffs. Rather than try to always force the ball in to Wilt in the low post, McGuire had Wilt come a little farther out to open the court up a bit, and they forced the ball to Wilt less.

I don't think you can really blame Wilt when you look at the fact that the Warriors were very successful: they lost in Game 7 by two points (with a couple of controversial calls as well).

This illustrates the danger in relying too much on stats to judge a player's performance. Of course, it's difficult not to do that with players from the 60s. What little more I know about Wilt's 1962 playoff performance is based on a paragraph or two from a few different books.

It's a shame that, for all the analysis of Wilt's regular season feats during 1962 and his 100 point game, there aren't many detailed accounts of the playoffs.

It's also a shame that there is so little film available of the NBA of the 60s. It would really help clear up the numerous mysteries of Wilt Chamberlain's career (such as the incredibly low amount of shot attempts during the 1969 playoffs and part of the 1968 playoffs).

At Wednesday, December 06, 2006 3:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

On several occasions, Chamberlain's teams lost to Russell's Celtics by small margins in the playoffs. As Harvey Pollack's research has shown, Chamberlain outscored and outrebounded Russell head to head during their careers.

Robert Cherry's Wilt: Larger Than Life addresses some of the issues that you mentioned and Chamberlain himself wrote about these subjects in his various autobiographies, so there are some descriptions of these playoff series.


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