News Flash: Teams Generally Perform Well When Their Leading Scorers Score at Least 30 PointsSome NBA commentators enjoy cherry picking numbers to support their favorite storylines; for instance, Mike Wilbon long ago fell in love with the idea that the L.A. Lakers' success is directly linked to Kobe Bryant attempting less than a certain number of shots. Wilbon articulates this sentiment with such conviction that you half expect Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to jump out of his special "throne chair" on the sidelines to tackle Bryant if Bryant is approaching Wilbon's magical number (a number that Wilbon seems to adjust from time to time to make sure that the winning percentages superficially correlate with his "theory"). After all, if the Lakers are all but guaranteed to win as long as their best player shoots less frequently--reread that again in case the crux of Wilbon's contention escaped you the first time around--then wouldn't Coach Jackson do anything in his power to stop Bryant from shooting? Do not be deceived by the fact that Jackson won six championships in Chicago with Michael Jordan capturing the scoring title each time; Wilbon is an ESPN-certified NBA expert and he has decreed that the secret to winning in the NBA is to take the ball out of the hands of your best player and distribute shots to less talented players who are not as willing and/or able to create their own shots under pressure.
Sarcasm aside, Wilbon's "theory" sounds less than convincing to anyone who is intelligent and thinks about the subject for at least 10 seconds. Field goal attempts are an odd way to evaluate a scorer, because FGAs can consist of "hand grenades" (shots fired up to beat the shot clock buzzer after a teammate passes the ball to a player right before the shot clock "explodes"), half court heaves at the end of quarters, late game shots launched in a flurry as a trailing team desperately tries to come back and other anomalies; the chicken-egg question that Wilbon never discusses is whether Bryant's "extra" field goal attempts cause losses (as Wilbon apparently believes), whether they are the result of Bryant picking up a heavier load in games that the Lakers are losing because his teammates disappeared or whether other factors are involved.
Rather than arbitrarily designating a certain number of field goal attempts to be good or bad, let's take a look at the NBA's top scorers this season and examine how their teams do when they have big scoring nights. No NBA player is averaging 30 ppg this season but all of the top scorers have had several 30-plus point scoring games, so that seems to be a reasonable cutoff point to designate a "big" scoring game--40 point games would provide a very small sample size, while 20 or 25 point games would just be "average" performances for these guys.
Here is a list of the NBA's top 10 scorers this season, including their scoring averages, their teams' records and their teams' records when they score at least 30 points:
1) Kevin Durant, 28.5 ppg. The Oklahoma City Thunder are 27-13 overall (.675) and 13-2 (.867) when Durant scores at least 30 points.
2) Amare Stoudemire, 26.0 ppg. The New York Knicks are 22-17 overall (.564) and 9-4 (.692) when Stoudemire scores at least 30 points.
3) Monta Ellis, 25.7 ppg. The Golden State Warriors are 16-23 overall (.410) and 7-4 (.636) when Ellis scores at least 30 points.
4) LeBron James, 25.4 ppg. The Miami Heat are 30-11 overall (.732) and 9-2 (.818) when James scores at least 30 points.
5) Kobe Bryant, 25.3 ppg. The L.A. Lakers are 30-11 overall (.732) and 9-3 (.750) when Bryant scores at least 30 points.
6) Dwyane Wade, 25.1 ppg. The Miami Heat are 30-11 overall (.732) and 10-2 (.833) when Wade scores at least 30 points.
7) Derrick Rose, 24.5 ppg. The Chicago Bulls are 26-13 overall (.667) and 6-3 (.667) when Rose scores at least 30 points.
8) Eric Gordon, 23.7 ppg. The L.A. Clippers are 13-25 overall (.342) and 2-3 (.400) when Gordon scores at least 30 points.
9) Dirk Nowitzki, 23.6 ppg. The Dallas Mavericks are 26-12 overall (.684) and 4-2 (.667) when Nowitzki scores at least 30 points.
10) Carmelo Anthony, 23.5 ppg. The Denver Nuggets are 22-16 overall (.579) and 5-4 (.556) when Anthony scores at least 30 points.
One could enlarge this survey by looking at more players and/or a longer period of time and one could break down the data based on opposing teams' winning percentages among the 30 point games but there is little reason to believe that a team--whether it is contending for a title or languishing at the bottom of the standings--does worse when its best scorer exceeds his scoring average. That is probably why teams tend to focus their defensive game plans on stopping elite scorers, which is also why lesser players can sometimes accumulate the gaudy field goal percentages that fool so-called experts (and stat gurus) into believing that teams should allocate field goal attempts based strictly on field goal percentages; earlier this season, a prominent NBA scout told me that a "stat guru" had once said to him that teams should "start the players with the five highest field goal percentages because field goal percentage is such an important statistic." The "stat guru" was completely oblivious to the reality that this would result in ludicrous lineups consisting of role players who have limited capabilities to create their own shots.
I know that every TV and radio talking head has a stack of statistics and facts placed in front of him before each broadcast plus a producer constantly talking to him in his ear; what I simply cannot fathom is why so many people on TV and radio say things that just do not make sense and then try to support this nonsense with faulty and/or misleading data. Is it really that hard to think logically, are media members so devoted to storylines that they consider to be "higher truths" that they make intentionally misleading statements or do certain people simply lose all sense of pride/self respect regarding their work once they have "made it" (in terms of receiving huge salaries)? Consumers should be disappointed that many of the people who get paid the most to provide commentary/analysis are so unprofessional about their work; paraphrasing a line from "Fiddler on the Roof," would it spoil some vast eternal plan if the large scale content providers hired more people who both understand the subject matter at hand (whether that subject is NBA basketball or anything else) and possess top notch writing skills? I have file folders that are packed with old articles that I have cut out from various newspapers and magazines because those articles contain interesting facts, perspectives and opinions--you can find some of them here--but far too much of what is published today is unreadable, let alone being worthy of being reread and savored.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:41 AM