Carrying the burden

There has been some discussion lately as to whether the Lakers are better when Bryant scores a lot versus when he facilitates others’ scoring. I thought I’d look at the game-by-game data to investigate: The correlation between Bryant’s percentage of team total field goals attempted and point differential is -.539; between Bryant’s percentage of team total assists and point differential is -.609. This is inconclusive, but it indicates that when Bryant does a lot of the scoring, or a lot of the passing (i.e. the team relies on him increasingly exclusively), the team does poorly. This is likely because Bryant’s statistical load-carrying results from his teammates playing poorly, and when they do so, they are more likely to lose. One other interesting finding is that the correlation between Bryant’s assists/field goal attempts and point differential is 0.312–implying that as Bryant’s game shifts more toward facilitating (ignoring his statistics relative to team totals), his team does better. For comparison, the same correlation for Derek Fisher is -0.032 (essentially insignificant), Gasol is 0.123, Odom is 0.198, Kevin Garnett is 0.302, Paul Pierce is 0.023, Ray Allen is 0.152, and Rajon Rondo is 0.127. To the extent that anything can be gleaned from such simple correlations, we might take away that Bryant’s facilitating is very important to Laker success.

I thought I would also take a look at how different players’ contributions affected team outcomes. To do this I used PVC (percent of valuable contributions) for each game for six different players, and plotted that against team scoring differential (the colors of the dots are what type of game they played):

Gasol gives us a fairly small sample size, but it would appear that he mostly contributes about 15% of his team’s valuable contributions, and their success changes little when he does more.

Odom appears to have a “sweet spot” in the middle of his PVC range–if he has a poor game or plays low minutes, or if he has to carry the burden, the team falters.

It appears that as Bryant carries and increasing amount of the load for the Lakers, they do poorly. This might mean that if Bryant makes it all about himself, his teammates play badly, or it might mean that in games in which the Lakers are faring poorly, Bryant attempts to take over–the causal arrow in this, and all of the other graphs, is very cloudy.

Allen’s PVC appears to have little to do with team success.

The trend is somewhat ambiguous, but it appears that Pierce has bigger games when the Celtics play well.

Like  Bryant’s, this is another fairly obvious downward trend. My intepretation is that the high PVC games are those in which Garnett’s teammates fail to show up, and thus he carries the load. With little or no help, he cannot win the game on his own.

Let me know if these graphs hold any more insight for you, or if I’m reading them wrong, or if they mesh with your subjective notions. If I can get the data, I might look at Michael Jordan’s numbers, to see whether or not he really could take over games and lead his team to victory.

Edit: Here’s Jordan’s Chicago years, regular season post-1986-87 (my data only goes back that far). He shows a similar pattern, although his PVC goes substantially higher–he had some big games. The sparseness of the data on the high end makes it tough to make firm conclusions. Note also that one problem with interpreting all of these is that in huge blowouts (either for or against), the starters are often taken out early, leading to a diminished PVC. This could be fairly heavily influencing the trends here.

Double edit: You might be interested in seeing the results of the first game, in terms of individual contribtions, which I’ve tabulated here.

Triple edit: Since it’s apparently been lost on one of our commentors, I should mention that the fit lines are loess smoothers, and were not, in fact, drawn in MS Paint.

7 responses to “Carrying the burden

  1. David excellent stuff as always. Are these playoffs’2008 data?

  2. rapidadverbssuck

    Serhat: Thanks, and yes, this includes all games through the end of the Conference Finals.

  3. David,

    Jordan’s statistically great playoff games generally had more to do with team performance and execution in the triangle (working in the low post, working his way to the foul line shot, the occasional explosion to the basket).

    I recall only a few instances (the Flu Game and the Byron Russell Game) where he had to impose his will because Pippen was struggling and the rest of the team couldn’t find its shot. But generally when Michael struggled and missed a lot of jumpers AND his teammates couldn’t make the jumpers they were given, the Bulls lost.

  4. Kobe and KG, it seems to be, are not volume shooters. They excel when they are allowed to pick their spots and use their talents to decided advantages – which may just be facilitating the offense, getting folks involved, and having less of a “statistical” impact on the game.
    Paul Pierce, on the other hand, is a volume shooter. That’s his job – and its a limited responsibility. Score points.
    Kobe and KG have more responsibilities that dictate overall success. If they score too much, too often, they aren’t getting their job done.

  5. Nice “trend lines”. I actually bust out laughing when I saw how you drew those things through randomly scattered dots.

  6. rapidadverbssuck

    Thanks Nathan! But I can’t claim responsibility for the drawing of the lines–they’re locally weighted scatterplot smoothing lines, or Loess curves.

  7. Interesting stuff! Is it just me, or are Odom and Kobe a lot more scattered than Pierce and Allen? I’m sure there’s a statistical measure of how variable the plot is… any luck on that? Not sure what it would mean, though.

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