Sports Reference Blog

24 Things You Didn’t Know About Kobe Bryant

Posted by Jonah Gardner on April 7, 2016

In a little under a week, Kobe Bryant will walk onto the floor of the Staples Center for the final time as a player. For good and ill, no player has come to define the post-Jordan, pre-LeBron generation more than Kobe. However, Kobe's off-floor notoriety hasn't always matched his on-the-court achievements. Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Dirk Nowitzki all have more Win Shares than Kobe. Steve Nash has more MVP awards and Allen Iverson has spent more years leading the NBA in Points Per Game.

Yet it's Kobe who has come to be the face of the late 1990s and early 2000s in the NBA. He's proof of the adage that the opposite of love isn't hate, but indifference. Unlike Duncan, who never generated strong feelings, or Dirk, beloved but never feared or loathed, Kobe is a player who was fiercely debated and scrutinized. His game, and your feelings about it, say a lot about what you're looking for in a basketball player and where you see the NBA going.

So, as his career winds down, let's take a look back. I scoured the Basketball-Reference database and found 24 facts, in bold, that shed light on both sides and explain dig into Kobe's complicated, nuanced legacy as an NBA player.

Kobe's Scoring

We'll start with something you probably do know. Kobe scored. A lot. He'll finish 3rd all-time in points, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone.

Of course, Kobe's scoring comes with the caveat that he played a lot. Bryant is one of 5 players with 20 years in the NBA, one more than Malone and five more than Michael Jordan, who is in 4th in points. If you look at PPG, Kobe is 12th all-time, impressive but more in line with how he ranked as a scorer.

It's also notable because Kobe had fewer career PPG than his contemporary, newly-minted HoF Inductee Allen Iverson. AI also had 4 30-PPG seasons, as opposed to Kobe's 3. Iverson's scoring edge over Kobe, however, is also related to the fact that AI played so many more minutes than Kobe (he had a nearly Wilt-esque 11 seasons with 40 or more Minutes Per Game).

So, Iverson played more but Kobe played longer. Using the Player Comparison Finder, we can adjust for both. Here's what their per 36 minutes stats look like (along with Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, who are also part of this cohort) through 2009-10, AI's last season:

Rk Player From FG% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
1 Kobe Bryant 1997 .455 5.2 4.6 1.5 0.5 24.8
2 Vince Carter 1999 .445 5.2 4.0 1.2 0.7 22.2
3 Allen Iverson* 1997 .425 3.3 5.4 1.9 0.2 23.3
4 Tracy McGrady 1998 .435 6.2 4.9 1.3 1.0 22.4
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/6/2016.

So, of the four, Kobe was the most proficient scorer on a per-minute basis, as well as the most efficient. But, AI was actually the best playmaker of the bunch (hold that thought on Kobe's playmaking). And, of course, T-Mac got boards.

So who was the best scoring 2-guard of his era, the true heir to Jordan? As much as I love Iverson, Kobe's case is quite strong.

Kobe's Rings

Everyone knows, by heart, the most popular argument by Kobe's legion of fans: "Count the rings." And yet, if you dig a little deeper, Kobe's 23 wins in NBA Finals games are actually only good for a tie for 8th most since 1963. He doesn't even have the most Finals wins of players on those Lakers teams; Derek Fisher has 24, thanks to his stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

What's more, Kobe never led any Championship team in Win Shares. It won't come as any surprise that the 1999-2000 Lakers, 2000-2001 Lakers, and 2001-2002 Lakers were all led by Shaq, however, Pau Gasol had the most Win Shares on both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 Lakers. Perhaps just as much of a problem is Kobe did lead the 2003-04 Lakers and 2007-08 Lakers in Win Shares, both teams that ultimately lost in the Finals (although, technically Pau had more Win Shares per 48 Minutes than Kobe, suggesting he was actually their best player, and just didn't come over till around the trade deadline).

Kobe did lead the Lakers in playoff Win Shares in 2001 (barely) and 2009, but this still shades Kobe's case when it comes to the rings. For comparison's sake, Dwyane Wade made 5 Finals, 2 fewer than Kobe, but he had the most WS on the 2006 Heat, meaning he was the best player on a championship team more than Kobe was. Dirk made 2 NBA Finals as his team's WS leader, like Kobe, but he won one of those times. It's almost like basketball is a team sport and requires several very good players to win!

Kobe's Playmaking

Of course, you're probably also familiar with the biggest knock on Kobe: He's selfish. It's an image that Kobe hasn't seemed particularly worried about, and has even played up by spending the last couple of years as an unrepentant gunner. But the stats don't back it up. By a lot of measures, Kobe is one of the best assisting 2-guards ever.

Among players listed at 6'6" or taller, Kobe has the 12th highest career Assist Percentage, better than famously generous distributors like Chris Webber and Grant Hill. His 86 10-assist games are 10 more than Michael Jordan had in his career.

It's not that Kobe didn't chuck, it's that the Lakers got them a man who can do both. Kobe had 13 seasons with a Usage Rate over 30% and an Assist Rate over 20%, the most by any player since 1973, the first year we have those stats. LeBron seems likely to surpass that, but it's not a sure thing. And D-Wade, the only other player in double-digits, almost certainly won't.

That even includes 2005-06, the year when Kobe had the highest USG% of all-time. Even then, he still managed to have a 24.1% Assist Rate, diming to Smush Parker and Kwame Brown

Kobe's Rebounding

It's no surprise that a 6'6" man who spent 20 years in the NBA has the 3rd most career rebounds by a G, G-F, or F-G, however Kobe's rebounding ability goes beyond just raw counting stats. His rebounding percentage from 1997-2012 is 15th among G and G-F with at least 10,000 MP in that time period. To put it in perspective, his TRB% of 8.2 was just one point of off Rajon Rondo in that time span, and ahead of both Wade and Russell Westbrook (though Westbrook didn't really become a the menace on the boards he is now until 2013).

Kobe's...Efficiency?

Efficiency isn't a word that we'd associate with Kobe, the NBA's leader in career missed Field Goals, but, in his own way, Kobe was about as efficient as you could want from someone with his level of scoring responsibility (at least, if you exclude whatever alien race Stephen Curry belongs to).

Of the 24 players who took at least 15,000 FGAs in their career, Kobe's True Shooting Percentage ranks a respectable 10th, one spot ahead of Jerry West, and his Effective Field Goal Percentage is 8th among players who averaged 19 or more Field Goal Attempts per game

Efficiency is a bit of a moving target depending on volume. The bar for a creator like Kobe to be a good scorer is different from what we'd expect from someone like Shane Battier.

It was also a different time. Even with all the shooting, Kobe's eFG% was better than the NBA average 5 times in his career, and it was within .01 7 more:

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 3.59.24 PM

Lastly, Kobe was great at drawing the most efficient shot there is: Free Throws. No wing took more Free Throw Attempts in their career than Kobe.

Kobe's Peak

The focus on his championships means that Kobe's peak, oddly, is underrated. His peak mostly fell during the barren post-Shaq, pre-Pau era, but we shouldn't ignore how dominant Kobe was in that era because he didn't win it all.

Kobe's age 27-29 seasons combined rank 14th in WS and 12th in Player Efficiency Rating among players that age, much higher than his career rankings of 18th in WS and 25th in PER.

Expanding it out to ages 21-34, Kobe ranks just as strong. He's 12th in WS, 14th in PER, and 12th in Value Over Replacement Player.

Again, this contradicts the narrative. We think of Kobe as sticking around the NBA to pad his career stats (and make an absurd amount of money). But, while his counting stats have gone up, it's also watered down some of his numbers with below-average seasons.

Kobe in the Playoffs

While the Rings argument is somewhat specious, there's no denying Kobe's greatness in the playoffs. Kobe is 8th all-time in Playoff WS and, from 2000, our first year of plus/minus, to 2012, his last playoff appearance, Kobe has 105 playoff games with a positive plus/minus, trailing only Derek Fisher in that period of time (and, notably, leading Duncan).

You also might have heard that Kobe's not afraid to take the big shot. Since 2000, he's taken 122 Field Goal Attempts in the last 2:00 of the 4th quarter or OT when the game was within 5 points. In other words, that's 122 crunch time shots. Since 2000, only LeBron has taken more.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 4.48.25 PM

Not only that, but you might have noticed Kobe's Field Goal Percentage of .418 on those shots. You have to scroll all the way down to KD or Ray Allen, who've taken half as many clutch shots as Kobe, to find a better FG%. LeBron has a claim, especially considering that he likely has several more playoff runs ahead of him, but for now, Kobe has an excellent argument for the best clutch shooter of the 2000s.

Kobe's Advanced Stats

Maybe you aren't impressed by traditional stats and want to see what Basketball-Reference's play-by-play data says. Well, since 2000, Kobe's teams have been 6.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. The Lakers' eFG% is 20 points higher, and, despite Kobe's poor defensive reputation in recent years, their Defensive Rating is basically unchanged. Oh, and in the playoffs, that plus/minus figure goes up to 8.1 points per 100 when Kobe's on the floor.

The debate over Kobe's legacy seems to have cooled off in recent months. This can't be how Kobe wanted to go out, adulated but not feared, celebrated because he poses no real threat anymore. As a competitor and a person, Kobe seemed to thrive off the hate. We may disagree about the breadth and reach of Kobe's legacy, but as these stats show, the fact of that legacy can't be debated.

 

Posted in Announcement, Basketball-Reference.com | 27 Comments »

Happy Opening Day 2016!

Posted by Hans Van Slooten on April 3, 2016

It's been a long winter in Philadelphia (and in Minnesota). In honor of Sunday and Monday, the greatest days of the year, here are some Opening Day features we have here at B-R:

Give them a try, and enjoy baseball's return.

Posted in Announcement, Baseball-Reference.com | 3 Comments »

Sports Reference’s Tonsorial Consulting Service Expands to Basketball

Posted by Jonah Gardner on April 1, 2016

Last year, to great fanfare and critical acclaim, we announced the Baseball Reference Tonsorial Consulting Service, a feature that allowed the segment of our users who also happen to be baseball players to experiment with new directions for their hairstyle and/or facial hair. The results were astonishing. While we're not at liberty to divulge the names of our clients, we think you will agree that 2015 was an excellent year for hair in baseball.

baseball

We want to thank everyone who participated in our pilot program. We're pleased to announce that for 2016, the B-R Tonsorial Consulting Service will be expanding to the professional basketball!

TCS

 

Go to any active player (and some retired one) and give yourself a new look free of charge.

Read the rest of this entry

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MLB’s 11 Best Opening Day Starters

Posted by Jonah Gardner on March 31, 2016

For most sports, their biggest day is the final one. While the NFL, NBA, and NHL all schedule marquee games for their season opener, the event itself pales in comparison to the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, or the Stanley Cup Finals. But baseball is somewhat different. While the World Series is obviously a huge event, Opening Day is, in and of itself, nearly as big a deal. Put it this way: the 2013 petition to make Opening Day a national holiday had over 100,000 signatures. Wikipedia's article about the first day of baseball season is just titled Opening Day. There's no need to clarify which sport we're talking about.

One of the best parts of Opening Day is the pageantry and build-up surrounding the selection of the Opening Day starter. In many ways, the choice of who gets the ball on Opening Day says a lot about where a team's mindset is at heading into the season. It's acknowledged as an honor, but not one that automatically goes to, on paper anyway, the "best" pitcher. For example, here's the 30 pitchers who started their team's opener last year: Read the rest of this entry

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Try the Play Index for FREE Through April 15

Posted by Jonah Gardner on March 28, 2016

Baseball season is here and to celebrate, you can use the Play Index for free through April 15! Just go to this page, sign up, and use this coupon code: analytics

The Play Index is our name for the various tools we've built that allow you to search the hundreds of thousands of players, seasons, teams, box scores, and even plate appearances collected in our database. Of all the research methods that we offer, none is more powerful than the Play Index. Have you ever wanted to know the answer to questions like:

What hitter had the most 40 HR seasons?

Which Mets pitcher had the most strikeouts in a road game?

What team had the most 2-out RBIs in a season?

What was the best WAR in a season by a pitcher with 15 Ws or under

And that's just scratching the surface. You can search full seasons since 1871 and individual games and streaks since 1913. You can also search for splits, individual events like inside the park HRs, pitcher vs batter matchups, and much more. The Play Index is the secret weapon of journalists, bloggers, front offices, fantasy experts, historians, and more.

It's normally just $36/year, but to celebrate the start of the 2016 MLB season, we're letting you try it out for free! Go to the sign-up page and enter the coupon code "analytics" to use the Play Index for free through April 15.

Posted in Announcement, Baseball-Reference.com, Play Index | 3 Comments »

Who is the Best March Madness Coach in the NCAA?

Posted by Jonah Gardner on March 24, 2016

The Michigan State Spartans' defeat at the hands of noted powerhouse Middle Tennessee was a shocker for a number of reasons. MSU wasn't just the 8th 2-seed to lose to a 15-seed; they also had, according to our pre-tournament March Madness forecast, the best odds of winning the title. Even after the loss, Simple Rating System ranks the Spartans as the 3rd best team in the nation. And that's not to mention their star player, Denzel Valentine, who is the only person since 1994-95 to average 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Read the rest of this entry

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The 10 Biggest March Madness Upsets

Posted by Jonah Gardner on March 16, 2016

You've done the research, read the tea leaves, reviewed the charts in our paradigm-shifting blog post on how seeding affects tournament performance, and locked in your March Madness bracket. Now all that's left to do is sit back, invent a creative excuse to give when your boss asks why you need Thursday and Friday off work, and watch as a college that sounds like the name of a fictional school from a novel about MFA students eliminates your top seed of choice.

Upsets are a crucial part of the fabric of the NCAA Tournament. In a differently structured postseason, like one where teams played multiple best-of-7 series over the course of a couple months, the team that's favored on paper would win a lot more. But what fun would that be?

So, as we head into the weekend most primed for upsets, let's take a look back. Here are the 10 biggest March Madness upset wins in history. And perhaps we can find some lessons to identify who might be this year's March Madness Cinderella team. Read the rest of this entry

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Is It Better To Be a 12-Seed Than a 9 in the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by Jonah Gardner on March 9, 2016

Have you tested your office computer's streaming capabilities? Made sure your Venmo account is all set? Refamiliarized yourself with terms like Net Rating, Simple Rating System, and RPI? If not, you'd better get on it, because March Madness is almost here!

This Sunday, the Selection Committee will announce the 68 teams that comprise this year's race to the Final Four. And, immediately following that, millions of people will begin filling out their bracket. Every year, you carefully research the teams, read up on the players, scout the tactics, and then inevitably see your bracket obliterated in the first weekend when FREAKING DUKE LOSES IN THE ROUND OF 64 AGAIN. Read the rest of this entry

Posted in CBB at Sports Reference | 1 Comment »

Search for Largest College Football Margins of Victory

Posted by Mike Lynch on March 4, 2016

We recently added a point differential search option to the School Game Finder in the Play Index at College Football Reference. So you can now search for things like college football's biggest blowouts since 2000. You can also see that 2013 Florida State has the best cumulative season point differential since 2000. And that 2008 Florida has the most double-digit wins in a season since 2000. We hope you enjoy these new search capabilities.

Posted in Announcement, CFB at Sports Reference, Play Index | Comments Off on Search for Largest College Football Margins of Victory

Looking at the 2016 NBA MVP Projections

Posted by Jonah Gardner on March 2, 2016

Once a day, the Basketball Reference Twitter account sends out a message like this one:

If you click on the link, it takes you to the Basketball Reference MVP projections. Using a model based on previous voting results, the MVP Tracker projects the odds that every player has of winning the 2016 NBA MVP race, if voting were held today. Here's how it shapes up today:

Rk Player Tm Prob%
1 Stephen Curry GSW 76.3%
2 Russell Westbrook OKC 7.8%
3 Kevin Durant OKC 5.0%
4 Kawhi Leonard SAS 2.9%
5 Draymond Green GSW 2.8%
6 LeBron James CLE 2.2%
7 Chris Paul LAC 1.3%
8 Kyle Lowry TOR 0.8%
9 LaMarcus Aldridge SAS 0.4%
10 James Harden HOU 0.4%
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2016.

 

Invariably, that Tweet gets replies like this:

Or, when it pulls from the bottom half of the Top 10, ones like this:

At the risk of making things awkward during Sports Reference lunch breaks, I largely agree with the replies. Stephen Curry could probably sit out the rest of the season, declare that he believes Seth Curry would beat Oscar Robertson one-on-one, and announce that his favorite Star Wars movie is The Phantom Menace and still win the NBA MVP Award.

At the same time, I think these projections do tell us a lot about which players voters have targeted in the past and why certain candidates might or might not be catching on.

So, with that said, let's go through some of the major candidates, what their case for MVP is, and what our projection system thinks of them. I'll try to apply my own, imperfect human brain to the matter and see if I can bridge the gap between man and machine.

Chef Curry

So let's start with Stephen Curry. The model gives Steph a 76.2% chance of winning MVP. His case is simple: he's the best player, on the best team, having one of the best seasons of all-time.

Curry's eFG% of .643 is not only the best ever by a 30 PPG scorer, it's also the first time a 30 PPG scorer has even broken .600. His Player Efficiency Rating is the best ever, while his WS/48 are merely the 2nd best ever. Oh, and his team has already clinched a playoff spot, 2 months out. So, what the heck, computer?

For starters, the best player doesn't always win. MVP voters are very smart, but they aren't necessarily looking at stats like PER. Steph would hardly be the first 30 PPG scorer to lose MVP and, even if you factor in his bonkers efficiency, the 1990 MVP race featured 2 players (MJ and Malone) scoring 30+ PPG and shooting over 51% from the field and neither won.

Of course, neither of those players were on the best team in their conference that year, let alone one that would challenge for the best record in history. The MVP projection accounts for the Warriors' record, but not the historic implications of it or the fact that they have a shot at the best record of all-time.

This gets at, perhaps, the biggest difference between the projections and the perceptions: there's no way a model can adequately account for narrative. On paper, the Warriors are just 4 games up in their conference, yet that dramatically undersells their once-in-a-generation dominance.

They have the best record in NBA history through 59 games, they haven't lost to a title contender all season, and they blew out the Spurs the one time they played. Because none of that is going into the model, the Warriors' lead seems larger to us than the projection can recognize.

It also can't account for the tactical advantage that Steph's off-the-dribble shooting gives the Warriors. When someone can do this, it bends defenses past their breaking point, creating easy looks for teammates. Steph's jump shooting is the flux capacitor that powers the entire Warriors Machine.

At the same time, I don't want to undersell the model. Weird things happen, voters do get MVP wrong sometimes (just ask any Kobe or LeBron fan about the 2006 MVP race), and the model wants to account for that. 76.2% seems low to me, but it's still very, very high for a (rather conservative) projection system.

A Sound of Thunder

2nd and 3rd in the projections are Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, which is in itself another reason why Steph's chances are higher than they may appear. If there were a convincing 2nd option (say, KD putting up his numbers on a team with the Spurs record), we might be more willing to accept the idea of Curry's odds sitting at 75%.

However, KD and Russ are running so close that neither one has a huge advantage to us as observers. The projections don't account for the fact that they're teammates, but that will likely lead to vote-splitting, further solidifying Curry's lead. Seeing which one you prefer, however, presents a fascinating Rorschach Test.

Westbrook's famously reckless game is among the NBA's great aesthetic joys. However, after Durant's injury, Westbrook found a way to amp up the production without sanding down his edges. The result is that Westbrook has risen from supporting actor to lead.

He has 9 triple-doubles this year, trailing only Draymond (and he's the first player since Jason Kidd in 06-07 and 07-08 to have 2 seasons in row with at least 9). He's 2nd behind Rajon Rondo in Assists Per Game, while also scoring twice as many points as The Yoga Instructor and out-rebounding him. Barring a slowdown, Russell Westbrook will be the 1st player not named Oscar Robertson to average 24 PPG, 10 APG, and 7 RPG in a season.

Durant's game is less like a Swiss Army Machete and more like a lightsaber. He's scoring 27.9 PPG with an eFG% of .575 and a True Shooting Percentage of .635, both of which are historic achievements we'd be able to more fully appreciate if Steph weren't regularly lighting basketball courts on fire.

KD's precision and efficiency mean that some advanced stats, like Offensive Rating and WS/48, prefer him to Westbrook. Of course, Westbrook leads in PER and the Thunder's Net Rating is 13.7 points per 100 possessions better when Russ is on the floor, versus 11.2 for KD

Durant's getting blocks while Russ is getting steals; Westbrook crashes the boards on offense while KD cleans the defensive glass. The question, as it is, seems to come down to quantity vs quality. You could say that Westbrook does (ever so slightly) more, while KD does less, but does it all (ever so slightly) better.

In that case, the projection backs Westbrook because, traditionally, the voters are looking for that quantity. Only 4 players have won MVP while putting up numbers at or below KD's mark of 8.1 rebounds per game and 4.6 assists. 3 of them outscored Durant in points per game, 3 played all 82 games, and 3 played more minutes per game than KD is averaging.

Westbrook and Durant are as close to a true elite partnership, without a clear alpha dog, as we've seen. Unfortunately, that fact will probably cost both of them any kind of shot at MVP.

How Much Should Defense Matter?

Despite being ranked 4th, Kawhi Leonard may have a clearer path to 2nd in the MVP voting than either Westbrook or Durant, thanks to context. In his favor are two things that our model can't really account for.

First, Leonard is probably the NBA's best defender. However, he does it in ways that are largely absent from box scores. His 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks are impressive, but Paul Millsap actually has better box score numbers.

What Millsap doesn't do is hold opposing teams to 96.1 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor. That's Kawhi's mark and the only one that's better this year is Tim Duncan, who's spent roughly 2/3 of the time on the floor this year that Leonard has. And that's what's quantifiable by advanced stats. Watching the games, it's clear that Leonard's hard work and shutdown-D is the linchpin of the best defense of the last 10 years.

What's important to note, however, is that ignoring defense is probably the correct approach for a projection system to take. For instance, here are three candidates from a recent MVP race:

Totals Per Game Shooting
Rk G MP FG FGA 3P 3PA FT FTA TRB AST STL BLK PTS eFG%
1 79 38.8 9.6 18.8 1.2 3.5 6.4 8.4 7.5 7.0 1.6 0.6 26.7 .541
2 78 37.6 7.9 13.4 0.0 0.1 7.0 11.7 14.1 1.4 1.4 2.4 22.9 .593
3 81 37.4 8.8 19.7 1.6 4.8 5.9 6.9 4.1 7.7 1.0 0.6 25.0 .485
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2016.

 

Player 1 is LeBron James, just months removed from The Decision and the "Not 4, Not 5, Not 6" pep rally. Player 3 is 2010-11 MVP Derrick Rose. And Player 2 is Dwight Howard. Given how close the race is on the numbers, Dwight's earth-shattering defense (he had a 94 Defensive Rating that year) should have put him over the top, but voters largely ignored it, in favor of Rose's superior offensive burden.

In general, voters emphasize offensive production over defense. You can argue this is changing, or that Kawhi's once in a lifetime talent could transcend this pattern, but the projection system can't hear you.

The second factor is a more tactical one. The race between KD and Westbrook is so close that, even if a voter were likely to pick one, it's not clear which one they'd pick. It's not hard to see them splitting the vote, or even that lack of a clear choice pushing voters to Kawhi.

It's also unlikely that a voter would pick one member of the Thunder and then turn around and vote for the other in 3rd place. Since the MVP award was created in 1956, only one pair of teammates -- Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1972 MVP race -- have both finished in the top 3.

Our model is trying to predict who will win, not necessarily predicting the Top 5 in order, which means it isn't interested in accounting for the fact that MVP voters tend to spread the love among multiple teams as they work their way down the ballot.

Kawhi's MVP case is even more interesting when set against someone who isn't getting very much buzz at all: LeBron James.

LeBron is currently in 6th in the MVP projections, with just a 2.2% chance of winning. Yet he looks a lot more like a traditional MVP than Kawhi. Here they are, side by side:

Rk Player Tm G MP FGA FG% 3PA 3P% eFG% TRB AST STL BLK PTS
4 Kawhi Leonard SAS 54 32.5 14.4 .511 3.8 .488 .575 6.7 2.4 1.8 0.9 20.5
6 LeBron James CLE 57 35.9 18.8 .505 3.8 .284 .534 7.2 6.6 1.4 0.6 24.9
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2016.

You can see Kawhi's only real advantage on box score numbers is his efficiency. LeBron is scoring more, rebounding more, and assisting more. He's running fairly close on steals and blocks. What about the narrative that LeBron is somewhat coasting through the regular season to save his production for the playoffs? That could be true, but he's playing more minutes per game, and more games, than Kawhi.

What we have is basically the KD-Westbrook debate with 2 new variables, one that the model picks up and one it doesn't. On the one hand, Kawhi has a massive advantage in defense, which historically hasn't factored in voting that much. On the other, there's the fact that Kawhi's team is 8 games ahead of LeBron's, something which has historically mattered a great deal to voters. As a result, the model has Kawhi ahead, matching the conventional wisdom.

But wait, there's one more multi-positional defensive wizard who needs to have a say in this discussion. The model gives Draymond Green a 2.8% shot at the trophy, which paradoxically feels both high and low to me.

It's high for the simple reason that Steph is going to beat him in MVP voting. With that out of the way, however, I'd like to argue that Draymond is more deserving of consideration than he's getting. It's Green's freakish positional versatility that fuels Golden State's Death Star lineup. Green leads the league in triple-doubles, is the first player in nearly 20 years to average 13/9/7, and has played more minutes this year than Curry.

The model doesn't consider the fact that Green and Curry are teammates (other than the fact that it won't include more than 2 players from any team), but it's helpful to look at the Bulls. In years where both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were eligible, and both received votes, Scottie finished 9th, 5th, 11th, and 10th in the MVP race. The only year he cracked the Top 8 was 1995-96, a year when the Bulls finished with a record you might be familiar with.

Like Pippen, Green's contributions are largely off the box score and secondary to the transcendent scorer he plays with. Kawhi gives us a look at what it would look like if a Pippen/Draymond type player was the best player on a transcendent team. While the model is probably underrating his ranking relative to the competition, it is also correctly assessing that his defensive contributions aren't typically valued highly enough by voters to make him a real threat to Steph's coronation.

Some years you get a close MVP race, and some years Stephen Curry does things no one has ever seen on a basketball court before. But there's value in projecting out an MVP field that's 10 candidates deep, just like there's value in voting for a Top 5 for MVP, instead of just a winner.

Durant, Westbrook, and Leonard are all having historic seasons in their way. LeBron is adding another amazing year to an astonishing career. Draymond is the glue that holds the Warriors beautiful art project in place. And that's not to mention what guys like Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard, and Chris Paul are doing.

Posted in Announcement, Awards, Basketball-Reference.com | 2 Comments »