Ok, so we’re actually nearing the end of this year’s playoffs. Cleveland and Golden State qualified to the finals, and will battle for the title. It’s not really surprising, but still – good job Cavs and Warriors! I’m really torn between those two teams, but I think that the Warriors are a real “Destiny Team” this season. They are destined to win, all the stars are aligning themselves for them. They are playing the best and the most eye-pleasing basketball. They finished with a truly historic record of 67-15. They have the MVP, the most delighting player in the league – Steph Curry. And so far they looked incredible in the playoffs. Let’s say that if you’re saying that they don’t win it’s like some saying that Blanka Vlasic won’t win the 2008 Olympic title. Oh, wait…
But hey, after all this is a blog devoted to sports stats, so let’s talk some stats (although I do have a new Hall Of Fame induction coming up soon. Brace yourself and all that). So, here will be are a few things I wanted to single out. So let’s begin, shall we?
Much attention is being dedicated to the regular season all-time stats leaders and not as much to the all-time leaders in the playoffs. I mean, for example – everybody know that John Stockton is the all-time assists leader in the regular season, but far less people know who is the all-time assists leader in the playoffs (a hint: his name rhymes with Panic Ronson). And this is just one example. I’ve got more, don’t tempt me to use them.
The playoff stats don’t get the same respect as the regular season ones, but perhaps this is not an issue of racism. Perhaps it should be that way. Think about it: In the regular season everyone enjoys the same conditions. Everyone play 82 games, no matter whether your team won 60 games or 20 games. But in the playoffs you right from the start only have the players from the best 16 teams, and those who play on the bestest teams enjoy further inequality because they get to play more games in the playoffs and they get to the playoffs more often, and so they can rack up stats over the years. And if that wasn’t enough – the playoffs underwent more changes over the years than the regular season did. First there was that additional round added, and then all the series became the best of 7. That’s a whole lot of inequality added between the players from recent times and those of the past. To put things in perspective – in the regular season teams have been playing a total of 82 games since the 1967-68 season.
So yeah, maybe there is logic behind giving the regular season stats more respect.
But nevertheless, playoff stats are stats too, and as such they get my love. And I want to share some thoughts I had and some things I noticed regarding them.
Let’s start with the all-time scoring leaders. MJ‘s the man here, as we all know. However, Kobe, who is currently (and eternally?) 3rd all-time, came very, very close to overcoming him and claiming the #1 spot to himself. He had this awesome run in the playoffs starting from 2008, and each year he climbed further up the leaders list. By the time the Lakers were eliminated by OKC in the second round of the 2012 playoffs, Kobe had 5,640 points. Kareem, who was (and is) second all-time, had 5,762 points and Jordan, the all-time leader, had 5,987. Which means that Kobe was a mere 348 points shy (Kobe… shy?!) from claiming the top spot to himself. The all-time playoffs scoring leader! How über-cool is that?!
Judging by his year-by-year numbers, I estimated that he has a really good chance of breaking the record in the following season’s playoffs. I mean, in the 2012 playoffs Kobe scored 360 points in 12 games. If the Lakers were to progress to the second round in the 2013 playoffs, I had no doubt in my mind that Kobe will claim the top spot, what with his obsession with Michael and his über-competitiveness. I really like this word – über. It makes everything seem more of a something. This is an über-blog. See? Damn, ze Germans know their thang…
Anyway, the 2012-13 season was great for Kobe. He played really well at 34 years of age, averaged 27.3 points per game, and led the Lakers to the playoffs after a very shaky start. I was sure that we are about to witness the historic occasion of him passing Michael and Kareem, but alas! Two games before the end of the season Kobe tore his Achilles tendon, and effectively ended his career (true, he played since then, but it was never and probably will never be the old Kobe). Such a shame, really. And saying that is a huge understatement.
Without Kobe, the Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the first found, Kobe remained lying at 3rd place, and with the way the Lakers are looking right now he has exactly zero chances of ever playing in the playoffs again. Thus, it seems that MJ’s top spot is safe for now. Well, at least for this year and the next one, since LeBron is closing the gap really fast. He currently has 4,805 points (6th place all-time) and that’s with 4-7 games remaining in this year’s playoff. He can move within 1,000 points of MJ this year already, and considering the fact that he averages about 500 points per post-season trip, he has a real chance of overtaking Michael two years from now… stay tuned!
And speaking of LeBron – you know, the dude has a real chance of finishing in the top 10 of all-time in all 5 major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks), and I’m not even mentioning games played. Right now, at age 30, he’s 6th in points, 17th in rebounds 4th in assists, 7th in steals and 30th in blocks. So points, assists and steals are ok. Rebounds? As of now LeBron has 1,478 of those. Larry Legend, who is 10th all-time, has 1,683. So the difference is 205 rebounds. This year LeBron can rack up at least 30 more (and up to 60, if the finals go to 7 games). The rest of the gap? LeBron can grab that amount in one good playoff run. And he surely has several more left. So the rebounds will be ok. Blocks are the stat that worries me, since LeBron is a decent – but not great – considering his physical gifts – shot blocker. For example, he never had a 100-100 season (steals-blocks), something that Jordan managed to accomplish twice.
In his playoff career so far, LeBron had accumulated a total of 156 blocks, while the amount required to enter the top 10 is 250 (Big Ben Wallace). Now, that’s a challenge. Let’s say LeBron finishes this year with 160 blocks. This leaves him 90 blocks to have over the rest of his career. In his best playoff run in terms of blocks (2010-11), LeBron managed to accumulate 25 of them. So this means he will need at least 4 years, and probably 5. Well… still, that’s a bit of a tough mission, you know. LeBron is 30 years old already. 5 years from now – who knows what he’ll be like? But still, if not 5 then 6 years and he’ll make it for sure. Then, at the age of 36, LeBron will proudly enter the top 10 in blocks. And become the only player ranked in the top 10 in all of the 5 major categories. Wow!
I think this is a really reasonable prediction. 36 is not such an old age, especially in today’s basketball, and I reckon LeBron won’t retire by then. Plus, he has a knack of playing on good teams who make the playoffs each year (he played in the post-season in each one of the last 10 years). And I reckon he will continue this trend in the future as well. I just can’t see him failing to make the playoffs like Kobe did in 2004-05, he’s just too good of a player. Having LeBron on your team automatically guarantees you a playoff berth.
And speaking of Kobe and LeBron, do you remember that this match-up was David Stern’s wet dream in the end of the 00’s? Kobe’s Lakers and LeBron’s Cavs were two of the top teams in the NBA back then, and Kobe and LeBron the top 2 superstars. Such a final was what everyone (including myself, I must admit) were drooling on. It was supposed to be the battle of two of the biggest superstars, kind of like Magic vs. Larry in the 80’s. Or Brian Scalabrine vs. Luke Walton in the 00’s.
Well, we all know what happened. Kobe or LeBron were present in each and every final in the NBA for the past 9 fucking season, but despite this amazing fact – they never met each other! Boom. Seriously?! Yes! See for yourself: 2007 – LeBron, 2008 – Kobe, 2009 – Kobe, 2010 – Kobe, 2011 – LeBron, 2012 – LeBron, 2013 – LeBron, 2014 – LeBron, 2015 – LeBron. 9 consecutive years that one of these two mega-stars reached the final, and yet they never reached them together and thus denied us of the opportunity of watching them go at each other.
The last thing I wanted to mention has to do with those unique players who for some weird reason improve their game and their stats in the post-season. As we all know, playoffs are played differently than the regular season. The defenses are better and it’s harder to do the stuff you do during the regular season. And while it’s true that many players improve their averages in the post-season, most of them accomplish it only as a result of their increased minutes. In the playoffs the stars and the best players get to play more, and thus have a chance to crank up their averages. Therefore, it’s way more useful to look at the per-36 minutes stats, a feature they have at BBR.
For example – take LeBron. His regular season career averages:
27.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.9 apg.
And his playoffs career averages:
27.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 6.6 apg.
However, let’s look at his per-36 minutes stats. Here are the regular season ones:
25.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.3 apg.
And in the post-season:
23.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.6 apg.
You catch my drift?
This is what happens to almost all of the players, due to the more intense level of play in the playoffs. However, there are several examples of players, a truly unique group, who actually manage to step up their game and their stats when things get rough.
But first, let me dispel some popular myth: MJ, despite being the greatest basketball player evar, and one of my all-time favorite players – is not one of them. The stats tell the story. His regular season per-36 minutes stats:
28.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.9 apg
And his playoff per-36 minutes stats:
28.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.9 apg.
So far so good, right? Well, yeah. But, MJ’s regular season stats include the two years he played with the Wizards, those two seasons that Bill Simmons prefers to pretend they never really happened. And well, he’s got a point. Jordan’s legacy was built before those Wizards years, and he never made the playoffs while playing in Wizards uniform – his playoff numbers only refer to his time with the Bulls. So perhaps it’s more fair to compare only his Chicago numbers. And his Chicago per-36 minutes regular season numbers look like this:
29.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.0 apg
See what I mean? Even Michael wasn’t more efficient in the playoffs. His FG% was also down, from 50.5% in the regular season (Bulls era only) to 48.7%. Now, this doesn’t mean that Michael is not as great as he is revered. He is every bit of great as people say. He’s simply not one of the players whom I mean in this part.
Well, if not MJ then who?! Well, Reggie Miller also earned a reputation for being a clutch performer who thrived in the playoffs. Let’s see how he fares: Reggie’s regular season scoring average (per 25 minutes. JK, I wanted to see whether you’re still paying attention): 19.1 ppg. Reggie’s playoff scoring average: 20.2 ppg. Ding ding ding, we have a winner! A player who is actually a more efficient scorer in the playoffs!
Another player who manages to pull off such an improvement, and even a more pronounced one, is Hakeem The Dream. Hakeem’s regular season’s per-36 minutes scoring average is 21.9 ppg, while in the playoffs he’s skyrocketing to 23.5 ppg. Now that’s what I call an improvement! Hakeem even does it while improving his FG%, from 51.2% in the regular season to 52.8%. Über-impressive. The only drawback is that he’s pulling less rebounds per minute, steals the ball less, and blocks less. But let’s not let this spoil the celebration.
The last player I want to mention in this context (but surely not the last player who fits this criterion) is the player who made me start thinking about this whole thing. CP3, Chris Paul. Now, I know what people say about Paul – that he’s a loser who’s never been past the second round in the playoffs. Now, the second part is true, but the first one is complete bullshit. Anyone who’s been following the NBA in the past decade must admit that he was THE best PG in the league during that period. And he’s been stellar, no less, in the postseason as well – for the Hornets AND the Clippers. If you watched the Clippers in this year’s playoffs, you know that he did pretty much everything in his power. His memorable game 7 performance against the Spurs, playing and limping with a sprained hamstring, is the stuff legends are made from. I know that people compare it to Isiah Thomas‘s memorable game against the Lakers and say that Paul’s performance is not in that caliber because Thomas pulled it off in the Finals and Paul did it in the 1st round. But hey, guess what – the Pistons fucking lost that game! And the Clippers won, and guess who scored the winning basket? Chris Fucking Paul!
Anyway, after this year’s playoffs it’s ridiculous to say that Paul is a loser or a choker or whatever. It’s the Clippers’ curse that kept them from beating Houston and advancing to the conference finals, not Paul (or Blake for that matter, who also had a tremendous playoff run, and officially became one of the top… say 8 players in the game today, in my opinion). Just look at Paul’s per-36 minutes numbers.
18.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 9.9 apg, 2.3 spg, 47.4 FG%, 36.4 3PFG%
19.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 8.9 apg, 2.1 spg, 48.3 FG%, 39.0 3PFG%
True, he dishes less assists, but look at his scoring – it’s up! And so are his FG% and three-point shooting %. This is a player who steps up his game when it matters. It’s really stupid to say that he doesn’t deliver in the playoffs. He’s one of the really few whose FG% is up, and remember – he’s a fucking guard! He scores most of his points away from the basket (not to take anything from The Dream, but still…).
So with that optimistic conclusion we’ll cap it off for today. The next post will probably be about the induction of a new member to our Hall Of Fame. Fancy a guess about who it might be? A hint – it’s not Sam Bowie!