NBA Playoffs 2012 - A quick and dirty look at each of the 16 'First Scoring Options' for the playoff teams

Mar, 25, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Not all teams are created equal. Here we are a few games from the NBA Finals and I think we've seen this with our own eyes. Some teams are built for defense. Some teams are built for offense. Looking deeper on offense, some teams are built to share the ball, while others regress towards a unified focal point. Over the course of the regular season more than a score of teams battled it out for the 16 playoff spots. And on those 16 teams there was one player who really stood out. Yes, it is true: some teams did share the scoring a bit more than others, but every team had that 'one guy'. That "first scoring option," if you will.

Let's take a look at all 16 of those guys, and try to see if there are any similarities.

The Playoff Teams:

Before we got into it I have to point out that picking that first scoring option was hard in some cases. For Atlanta Josh Smith scored the same points per game as Joe, and even played in more games, but I think at the end of games you see the ball in Joe's hands more. On a similar, but altogether different vein, the Spurs share the ball and manage their time. Tony's numbers are lower than normal because of this. Only the offensively inept Sixers have worse stats. Anyway, we can debate who I should have picked in the comments section.

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The Numbers:

Seed Team Player Pos Age MPG PPG FG% FT% 3pt% PPP PPS FGA / Gm FTA / Gm
East 1 Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose PG 23 .. 35.3 21.8 43.5% 81.2% 31.2% .. 0.92 1.18 17.8 6.1
East 2 Miami Heat LeBron James SF/PF 27 .. 37.5 27.1 53.1% 77.1% 36.2% .. 1.04 1.44 18.9 8.1
East 3 Indiana Pacers Danny Granger SF 38 .. 33.3 18.7 41.6% 87.3% 38.1% .. 0.95 1.23 15.2 4.7
East 4 Boston Celtics Paul Pierce SF 34 .. 34.0 19.4 44.3% 85.2% 36.6% .. 0.96 1.33 14.6 5.6
East 5 Atlanta Hawks Joe Johnson SG 30 .. 35.5 18.8 45.4% 84.9% 38.8% .. 0.96 1.21 15.5 3.1
East 6 Orlando Magic Dwight Howard C 26 .. 38.3 20.6 57.3% 49.1% 0.0% .. 0.96 1.53 13.4 10.6
East 7 New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony SF 27 .. 34.1 22.6 43.0% 80.4% 33.5% .. 0.92 1.21 18.6 6.7
East 8 Philadelphia 76ers Louis Williams PG 25 .. 26.3 14.9 40.7% 81.2% 36.2% .. 0.94 1.22 12.2 4.6
Seed Team Player Pos Age MPG PPG FG% FT% 3pt% PPP PPS FGA / Gm FTA / Gm
West 1 San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker PG 29 .. 32.1 18.3 48.0% 79.9% 23.0% .. 0.93 1.23 14.8 4.7
West 2 Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant SF/SG 23 .. 38.6 28.0 49.6% 86.0% 38.7% .. 1.04 1.43 19.7 7.6
West 3 Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant SG 33 .. 38.5 27.9 43.0% 84.5% 30.3% .. 0.93 1.21 23.0 7.8
West 4 Memphis Grizzlies Rudy Gay SF 25 .. 37.3 19.0 45.5% 79.1% 31.2% .. 0.92 1.15 16.4 4.0
West 5 Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin PF 22 .. 36.2 20.7 54.9% 52.1% 12.5% .. 0.99 1.34 15.5 7.1
West 6 Denver Nuggets Ty Lawson PG 24 .. 34.8 16.4 48.8% 82.4% 36.5% .. 0.99 1.30 12.6 3.5
West 7 Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki PF/C 33 .. 33.5 21.6 45.7% 89.6% 36.8% .. 1.01 1.30 16.7 5.7
West 8 Utah Jazz Al Jefferson PF/C 27 .. 34.0 19.2 49.2% 77.4% 25.0% .. 0.98 1.12 17.2 2.9
Average 27.9 35.0 20.9 47.1% 78.6% 30.3% 0.97 1.28 16.4 5.8
Compared to the average, Big Al is … -0.9 -1.0 -1.7 2.1% -1.2% -5.3% 0.01 -0.16 0.8 -2.9

Well then. It seems like Al Jefferson *is* a better than average shooter, but not really a better than average scorer. He takes more shots than average, and scores less than average. But his PPP is +0.01 and his FG% is +2.1% so I guess all is forgiven. I wonder how great his numbers would be if he only got to the free throw line 2 less times a game, instead of -2.9 times. That's, on average, getting one more foul called against his defender. He's a good FT shooter (he's below average for a First option, but still, stop being so critical Amar!), it would be nice to see.

That said, comparing Big Al to a data set that includes Lou Will seems like apples to oranges. Let's look at how Big Al stacks up against the other guys who play inside.

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Vs. Other people who either play some PF or C:

Seed Team Player Pos Age MPG PPG FG% FT% 3pt% PPP PPS FGA / Gm FTA / Gm
East 2 Miami Heat LeBron James SF/PF 27 .. 37.5 27.1 53.1% 77.1% 36.2% .. 1.04 1.44 18.9 8.1
West 5 Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin PF 22 .. 36.2 20.7 54.9% 52.1% 12.5% .. 0.99 1.34 15.5 7.1
East 6 Orlando Magic Dwight Howard C 26 .. 38.3 20.6 57.3% 49.1% 0.0% .. 0.96 1.53 13.4 10.6
West 7 Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki PF/C 33 .. 33.5 21.6 45.7% 89.6% 36.8% .. 1.01 1.30 16.7 5.7
West 8 Utah Jazz Al Jefferson PF/C 27 .. 34.0 19.2 49.2% 77.4% 25.0% .. 0.98 1.12 17.2 2.9
Average 27.0 35.9 21.8 52.0% 69.1% 22.1% 1.00 1.35 16.3 6.9
Compared to the average, Big Al is … 0.0 -1.9 -2.6 -2.8% 8.3% 2.9% -0.02 -0.23 0.9 -4.0

Hmmm. This looks a bit different. Against other inside players his fg% is below average. He's much better at ft% in this group though. But his PPP, PPS (aka "The Devil" to some fans, ha ha), and PPG are all lower. He still manages to take more shots per game. He's shooting more here. And scoring less here. Higher FGA. Lower PPG. It almost seems like this all can be reduced to an issue of points and shots, but no no no no no, don't try to find a ratio that looks at that directly. The devil is in the details, after all.

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I guess this is where I go on a mini-rant:

I think the largest disparity is that Big Al gets to the line 4 times less than the other 'bigs' who are first options on their playoff teams. That said, part of that could be that you'd just expect the four other guys to get more star calls. Even if that's 3 extra unheard of BS FTAs per game, he's still -1.0 FTA. He's still below what the average is, even if you give him a 3.0 FTA cushion. That seems like a trend. If you look back up to the 16 man chart the average first option goes to the line 5.8 times a game. That is significant. It is statistically significant, as Big Al goes to the line -2.9 times, and a standard deviation is only +/- 2.1 times. (It's not beyond two standard deviations though, but is it between one and two deviations)

In order to make up for this, to score at a good enough rate to return to average, he needs to be shooting better than he is. He's not below average in FG%, but that's just one metric. He's above average in PPP, which is also great. But he's not above average enough to make up for his deficiency. It's sad.

The average for the 16 man data is 20.9 ppg off of 16.4 shots. Big Al gets you 19.2 ppg, off of 17.2 shots. Shoots more for less return. This, in my language, is the essence of inefficiency. Yes, he shoots +2.1 fg% more, but in order to shoot at the same RATE as average, he'd need average 22.0 PPG while right now he only averages 19.2. That means he'd have to score +2.8 more ppg. That is easier made up by going to the line more -- or alternatively, increase his FG% by a lot. The other bigs who play big score higher in FG%. Blake is at 55 fg%, Dwight at 57%. Big Al is at 49%. These are just some of the other first option bigmen on playoff teams.

I tried to make this as apples to apples as possible. But maybe we just need to accept that no matter how much we love him, Big Al isn't ever going to be a legit first option on a successful team? He's not going to be an All-Star, or All-NBA type. He doesn't get to the line enough compared to other first options. He doesn't make up for it by shooting astoundingly high.

It's hard to admit someone you love isn't good for you. As a pacifier, yes, Big Al is lovely. But if our franchise is going to have to grow up, we're going to have to move past Al. And this is just looking at his scoring against other first options on playoff teams. His best thing is scoring. This doesn't even bring up defense at all -- aka that thing that Kanter and Favors play.

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