Wednesday, May 14, 2014

NBA Playoffs 1st Round Comparison

Most people I've talked to feel like they've watched an entire NBA Playoffs series after seeing the first round of this year's playoffs.  It's been amazing basketball.  I've said before, we are watching players whose numbers resemble that of other "golden eras" of the NBA.  

The first round for the most part over the past few years has meant a few games in overtime each year.  As far as this tournament goes, the first round isn't necessarily the most competitive because of the match-ups.  Teams are "seeded" based on regular season performance in each conference and in general teams that are "seeded" further apart will not have as competitive a match up in the first round, thus the advantage to perform well in the regular season to get the 1 seed.  The western conference has had some amazing games in the first round.  Several of the games have gone into overtime.  In fact, more than the last several years combined.  

Below is a simple network of playoff games that have gone into overtime 2010-2013.  Each line indicates a series that was played and each arrow is a game.  Blue=Western, Red=Eastern, and the width of the line is the margin of victory (gotta looks closely) and the arrow points to the visitor away from the home team.  

NBA Playoffs 1st Round 2010-2013

The margin of victory for instance in the Bulls-Nets game last year was 8 points (also 3OT).  For all these games, the average margin of victory was 6 points.  Most of these games you will notice are Eastern conference teams.

NBA Playoffs 1st Round 2014

2014 has been a different story.  In just the Memphis-Thunder match up we've seen 4 games go into overtime (it's been a grind).  These two teams were very competitive and did not demonstrate in general, the match up expectations we have based on "seeding".  The average margin of victory for all these games was 3 points.  The west has been very competitive in the first round.  There have been more first round match ups that have gone into overtime than the past 4 years combined and then the margin of victory has on average been half of what the margin was 2010-2013.

Stamina.  The players for the teams that have advanced are going to need it and most of the people I've talk to need it just to watch the games.  So if you feel like you've watched an entire series, those feelings are legitimate...and we're only out of the first round.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

MVP and Speech

Kevin Durant delivered an amazing MVP acceptance speech Tuesday in Oklahoma City.  The award clearly meant much to "Mr. Reliable" as he's now called in multiple media outlets.  He went player by player through his teammates discussing some of their attributes and how they have contributed to him winning the award and making him a better player.   In general, the MVP speech isn't something that I would think in general there is a lot of expectation on.  Meaning, the public feels like you can accept the award, thank a few people, and get back to business.  That's why KDs speech was so unusual.  We can compare it to Lebron's speech this last year.  The sheer difference in length is the first difference you may notice between the two MVPs.

It is interesting to note what words were used.  I chose only the top 11 words from each player to get a sense of how they focused their speech.  Both players mentioned "guys" a lot as well as "team" which gives a sense that they were both giving credit to their teammates.  Graphed against each other, the two speeches show a bit more interesting parts in terms of the frequency of words.

"Love" for instance was a big part of Durant's speech, his communicating the way he felt about his team and those around him was really important.  His speech was about thanking people, showing his appreciation for those around him.  We can also see Durant was also concerned about being "better" and can infer from the text that those around him were the people that made him better since appreciation, love, and team were mentioned so much.  If we scale the graph to only show those words mentioned 13 times or less, we can see where some words were used several times by either player and not by the other.

Here we see "team" mentioned over 10 times by Kevin Durant and only 1 time by Lebron.  Lebron referred to his team as "guys" and we can't discern just from these words that his speech wasn't about his team.  But, it is clear just from looking at word usage that Kevin's speech was clearly more about team than Lebron's without having to listen to the speeches themselves.  Those of you who watched/listened Durant's speech understand that going player by player was a clear objective for his accepting the award and that communicating the importance of his team in the journey was a priority.

As mentioned before, this speech isn't something to have high expectations for, which is why what Durant said and how he said it was so remarkable.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Mr. Reliable

Earlier this week a headline came out in the Oklahoman newspaper which most know by now.  The "Mr. Unreliable" headline grabbed national attention and it was perceived this small Oklahoma City market was deriding the (arguably) No. 1 player in the NBA and likely MVP of 2014 of their own team.  The writer of the article came out and apologized for the headline he was not responsible for, and dismissed the implication that OKC perceived Kevin Durant as an "unreliable" player.

I'm not sure what the headline was getting at when it described KD as "unreliable".  Maybe "unreliable" at making free-throws in that game?  We'll probably never know fully what exactly that headline was getting at.  For Kevin Durant, he was a champ about it, didn't care, basically had the "I've got a game to play" mentality that rose above the chatter, and put up 36 points.

In terms of what reliability in an NBA player is, in general I thought about it as consistency.  Is the player consistently good or can we rely on them to perform well.  To measure where we could place KD, I took the deviation of minutes and points for the top 20 scorers in the NBA and graphed them against each other.  There are plenty of other metrics, just chose minutes and points.

As you can see, there are several players in the top 40% (top 8) whose "consistency" in minutes played and points is high (or low deviation from what they averaged for the season).  Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are the most consistent by this measurement.  But obviously this isn't a necessarily impressive stat unless we know how many points they are making or how many minutes they are playing.  Consistency or reliability isn't helpful for a team if a player is consistently bad, not that these two players are at all bad.  

Below is another graph showing the total number of minutes played and the total number of points made during the regular season.  Not totally surprisingly, KD is in another realm this season in both minutes and points compared to the other top 40%.  This is important because no one else in the top 40% of consistent players in minutes and points is in the top 40% of total minutes and points except Kevin Durant and Kevin Love.  

Kevin Durant is playing an incredible amount of time and scoring an incredible amount of points.  While doing that, he's in an elite group of "consistent" or "reliable" players.  He's not only in a top tier in terms of minutes and points reliability, but is being reliable in the most awesome way.