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Monday Morning Musings - Shot Inflation and MVPs

It's Monday morning, and I have a few thoughts about the NBA relating to Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Allen Iverson, and James Harden.

Russell Westbrook - Upside Down World

The world has turned upside down. At one point in my blogging career, I called Westbrook an overrated chucker while some told me he was an MVP candidate. Then, the world shifted. Now, Westbrook is an MVP candidate by our numbers -- he ranks 5th in total Wins Produced for the 2016-2017 NBA season as of this writing. Westbrook is on pace to be the first player to average a triple-double for the season in the three-point era. And yet, now some in the mainstream have turned and are saying Westbrook is overrated! What the heck is going on? The obvious answer is, of course, many have trouble de-coupling players from their teams. Before Michael Jordan was winning Finals MVP three-peats, some thought he was a chucking ball hog. Players like Tracy McGrady have gotten similar raps. The Thunder are a worse squad because they lost Kevin Durant. And Westbrook is forcing it a little and has declined a bit in production since last season. Regardless, his production is quite good. And as I noted on Twitter, it's a tad odd to suddenly turn on Westbrook.

Kawhi Leonard's "Improvement" and Allen Iverson Inflation

Another player we think is MVP worthy is Kawhi Leonard. Per-minute he's having his second best season. He's great. And in another case of the world not making sense - we think he might be overrated this season. Look, don't get me wrong, I just called Kawhi an MVP level player. The Spurs are lucky to have him, and he's a huge part of why they're staying relevant post Tim Duncan. That said, his production hasn't gone up from last season, it's dipped (a little!) And, what's more, while we can praise his defense, the Spurs were first in the NBA in defense last year as well as this year. It's hard to act like that much has changed. Well, except for the fact that Kawhi has increased his points per game by five. And while it's great that he's doing this on fantastic efficiency, it actually matches what he did last year, kind of. On that exact note

A fun stat I've always loved about Allen Iverson is the following - in the 2000-2001 NBA season, Allen Iverson's True Shooting Percentage was 51.8%. The league average for True Shooting Percentage was also 51.8%. Average shooting is hard to think of as MVP-worthy. Here's where it gets funny, though, in 2016-2017 a True Shooting of 51.8% would rank worst in the NBA, even worse than the Orlando Magic (52.2% True Shooting), who have only won 36% of their games. This is something the Wins Produced formula has always accounted for. A player's production is compared to league average. This is because sports are a zero-sum game. It doesn't matter if your scorers get better if every other team also has their scoring improved. So to wrap it all together.

Kawhi's points have gone up while his efficiency has stayed about the same (61.6% True Shooting, which is, admittedly, fantastic). But scoring in the NBA has improved (league average is 55.2% True Shooting, last season it was 54.1%). So again, we're not saying Kawhi is bad, he's amazing. We're saying that compared to league average, his scoring has been dinged a little by "inflation" (but it's still great).  So we just don't know if we buy that he's seen a significant spike in production.

Jamison Tinsley and Yay [Net] Points!

Congrats to this year's "Yeh Points Challenge" winner Jamison Tinsley, who is sporting his "Yay Points" victory shirt. Jamison Tinsley guessed that James Harden would put up a monster game on February 11th, and shockingly, he did! In fact, it's almost a perfect Boxscore Geeks game as Harden took fifteen of his seventeen shots from three, connecting on eight of them. Harden also got to the line for seventeen shots. When the dust settled Harden scored 40 points (almost 16 Net Points) in under thirty minutes. Great job Jamison, and we'll see if he can defend his crown next year!

Well, there are some NBA musings, here's hoping for an exciting week of NBA basketball!

-Dre

And Westbrook is forcing it a lot... I fixed that for you.
Excellent historical point, Dre about the Jordan critics, and also completely accurate. There was a point in time where people questioned whether Jordan could "share" or something stupid like that... we forget that before the almighty "championships" people viewed him as a potentially flawed player. -- Ty
But if Kawhi maintains his excellent efficiency while upping his volume, doesn't that take away true shot attempts from teammates unlikely to be able to match a .616% TS?

Put another way, isn't more of a good thing always better?
Teddy,

That is the case but you'd need to know the TS% of the marginal true shot attempts he added. Just because the total TS% is above average doesn't mean the extra shot attempts he took this year are. Quick and dirty example. Say average is 50% and last year Leonard was 12-20 (60%). Then this year he is 12-22 (54.5%). That's obviously not better even though he still has good efficiency on additional volume.
Birks42,

Good point, thanks. I guess I'm assuming the TS% of the extra shot attempts is still very good seeing as how his overall TS% didn't change at all. It's impossible to say exactly which shots are the "extra" shots but his overall efficiency is still excellent.
I think "popularizing" true net points (TNP) would really help people understand the relationship between efficiency, volume, and comparing that to the league average. Win score uses net points, but that more or less assumes a league average TS% of 0.500.

Using briks' example (where league average TS% is 0.500), Kawhi would have 4 TNP (24 points - 2*0.500*20FGA). The following year, he would have 0 TNP (24 points - 2*0.500*22FGA). You can simply replace FGA to include FTA (using the 0.44 conversion), and replace the 0.500 TS% with whatever is league average for that year.


Allen Iverson is probably along with Kobe the most overrated players in NBA history but its easy to see why - most fans of the game only care about raw points scored and those 2 were among the best at getting raw points
@Art
Great idea!

A variation of true net points can be found on NBAMetrics.com The site shows scoring production for Iverson, Kobe, Jordan even Wilt & Oscar compared to league average every year of their careers.



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