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The Little Guy

Despite not being convinced that Dennis Rodman was better than Michael Jordan, the comparative hype over LeBron James' postseason performance over Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki serves as a reminder that there really is a bias in intuitive judgments in favor of high-scoring perimeter players versus guys who do other things better. James played very, very well but when you look at the numbers his somewhat higher scoring came at the expense of a considerably lower TS% and higher turnover ratio. Meanwhile, James is a very good rebounder for his size but he's still way worse than the big men.

Fundamentally, perimeter play looks more impressive since it involves all that driving and leaping, but this can get a little misleading at times. In particular, defensive rebounding almost never looks impressive when you're doing it right, but everyone knows that if you surrender tons of offensive boards you're going to lose the game.

May 23, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

This is pretty close to the thesis of a Malcolm Gladwell column which hates on The Answer, although not strictly in favor of Big Men.

Posted by: The Navigator | May 23, 2006 12:38:41 PM

Whoops. Maybe I should scroll down the home page a little before posting in haste.

Posted by: The Navigator | May 23, 2006 12:40:01 PM

The thing is, that when it comes down to it, smaller guys can rebound, to a degree. At least to a degree that far exceeds the big guys ability to handle the ball, initiate the offense, et seq.

Posted by: Pooh | May 23, 2006 1:04:40 PM

For what it's worth, Lebron and Dirk had identical PERs for the regular season to lead the league. Shawn Marion had a better PER than Steve Nash.

Posted by: blah | May 23, 2006 1:45:40 PM

the "hype," (i'd call it "excitment," myself) over lebron's post-season performance is very simple to understand: here's a 21-year-old playing with a seasoned maturity and elevating his team. why shouldn't he receive the accolades he's gotten? the pistons certainly think you should believe the "hype."

Posted by: howard | May 23, 2006 2:06:44 PM

here's a 21-year-old playing with a seasoned maturity and elevating his team

Indeed - the most impressive play he made all post-season was at the end of Game 6 vs. the Pistons - down 3 with about :07 left, he took his time and found a wide open guy in the corner (but the called a foul on the pass off...), he knew exactly what he was doing the whole time.

Posted by: Pooh | May 23, 2006 2:10:59 PM

Pooh gets at the varying distinctions of "best." Spike Lee (apocryphally) argued that Jordan was better than Russell, despite the difference in the number of rings, because a team of five Jordans would beat a team of five Russells. If we aren't folding that sort of analysis in somewhere, then it's criminal how rarely Kareem gets mentioned in the GOAT conversation.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 23, 2006 2:57:53 PM

Little guys are almost always more fun to watch - I mean, Jordan going up and around defenders or Shaq going through defenders? The answer is easy. Plus, how do you think Spud Webb and Nate Robinson won those slam dunk contests, while no center ever has?

OT - I'd like to hear Matthew's take on Greg Mankiw's post on the "Harvard paradox": students are getting more unhappy while at Harvard, yet Harvard's yield (accepted students who enroll) keeps going up. We know that Matthew thinks that Harvard attracts some unfun, crazy undergrads. But why does the yield nevertheless keep going up? Don't high school students understand about Harvard?

Posted by: Al | May 23, 2006 3:43:43 PM

At least LeBron didn't whine as much as Duncan while he was still getting EVERY CALL! It's been a few years since I've seen crybabying that obnoxious in the playoffs. Now when I read another Jonah Goldberg post at the Corner crying about Ramesh's book not getting reviewed by "liberals", I think, "Why that's positively Duncan-esque."

BTW when was it decided by the league that Bruce Bowen can stand in front of the offensive player he's guarding and slap and swat the offensive player on the arms repeatedly?

Posted by: keatssycamore | May 23, 2006 3:57:58 PM

The Association bestowed that privilege unto Bowen many seasons ago. Apparently being a perimeter "defensive specialist" means you get to commit fouls without getting called on them.

Lord, do I HATE Bruce Bowen.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | May 23, 2006 5:26:24 PM

I give him credit for managing to refrain from undercutting Dirk every time Nowitski pulled-up over the top of Hacktastic.

Posted by: Pooh | May 23, 2006 6:44:53 PM

BTW when was it decided by the league that Bruce Bowen can stand in front of the offensive player he's guarding and slap and swat the offensive player on the arms repeatedly?

I was going to complain about this, but it was so blatent that I thought there must have been some rule change, or some rule I never understood before, that allowed this. I'd never seen anything like that before.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 23, 2006 7:15:40 PM

Bowen was able to get more contact on Dirk at the top of the arc than Dampier was on Duncan in the freaking post...AND Duncan used the bitch-slap-and-spin move repeatedly without being called...not to mention Timmeh going over the back (Stackhouse being such a flopper, he ended up over the camera dudes on about 5 straight possessions...)

Simmons noted today that it was an all-time Bavetta Game performace

Posted by: Pooh | May 23, 2006 7:39:38 PM

You people are crazy. The reason the Spurs got more calls is that Dallas played a perimeter game while the Spurs played a post game. You're not going to get a lot of calls if all you are doing is shooting jump shots.

Posted by: Al | May 23, 2006 9:57:32 PM

Detroit had better bring it in game 2. If I were Miami, I'd be looking to put a bullet into their brains before they wake up.

Posted by: Petey | May 23, 2006 11:40:16 PM

"the comparative hype over LeBron James' postseason performance over Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki serves as a reminder that there really is a bias in intuitive judgments in favor of high-scoring perimeter players versus guys who do other things better."

That bias may indeed be there, but the LeBron hype is not an example of it.

The audience is long familiar with the exploits of Timmy and Dirk. LBJ is a newcomer to the party, and that brings attention.

Posted by: Petey | May 23, 2006 11:43:18 PM

Lebron deserves a lot of accolades, because the entire Cavaliers team besides him is so bad. Nowitzki and Duncan have truly talented teams around them. With that said, though, Nowitzki has been underrated all season long and should I think have won the MVP. He has a good claim to being the best player in these playoffs as well. Perhaps the upcoming Mavs championship will start to get him due credit.

Posted by: MQ | May 23, 2006 11:53:37 PM

"James played very, very well but when you look at the numbers his somewhat higher scoring came at the expense of a considerably lower TS% and higher turnover ratio. Meanwhile, James is a very good rebounder for his size but he's still way worse than the big men."

Also, when you look at one method of statistical all-around measure that tries to incorporate all of the above and more, you find James about even with Nowitzki, and above Duncan.

Posted by: Petey | May 23, 2006 11:59:11 PM

Petey, I want to withdraw my objections, and second your nomination of the "Other Games" thread for Stupidest. Thread. Ever.

Not that I missed out on that much money -- I'm just making the boast/admission that I was initially correct, if gutless.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 24, 2006 12:16:23 AM

"I'm just making the boast/admission that I was initially correct, if gutless."

Meh. I think both getting into and getting out of that position were essentially neutral decisions.

Since I'm giving Phoenix close to a zero chance to win the conference finals, I think betting against the Spurs to lose the West at even money was basically neutral.

Sure, the Spurs didn't make it. But the series with Dallas came out basically even. Heads, you win. Tails, you lose.

I'll note that my recommendation to you in that thread would've made you 3 -1 money, (assuming I'm not crazy about Phoenix having no chance...)

-----

I'm feeling pretty smug myself right now about my betting skills. I picked up Miami and Dallas before the playoffs started, as I thought they were easily undervalued. And while Detroit may yet again get off the ropes, I think they're playing with fire this series.

Posted by: Petey | May 24, 2006 1:00:55 AM

Petey:

You are crazy. Phoenix has a damn good change of beating Dallas. For what its worth, they split the season series with Dallas and lost one of the games in double OT. They match up well against Dallas.

Posted by: blah | May 24, 2006 1:40:47 AM

Al, I'm not counting free throws, I'm counting Bruce Bowen's continuous fouling on Nowitski, while Duncan shot throws every time Dampier breathed on him (strangely, however Diop did not...)

And I dare you to tell me that Duncan has not become an enormous whiner.

Posted by: Pooh | May 24, 2006 1:49:51 AM

"For what its worth, they split the season series with Dallas"

That's not worth much at all.

Posted by: Petey | May 24, 2006 1:55:05 AM

The reason the Spurs got more calls is that Dallas played a perimeter game while the Spurs played a post game.

Whatever you do, don't compare the shot charts from that series. It could destroy your mind.

Posted by: Dick Bavetta's Superego | May 24, 2006 2:40:18 AM

Whatever you do, don't compare the shot charts from that series. It could destroy your mind.

OK, I take your challenge. I counted up game 7's shots.

Dallas: 46 perimeter shots (they shot 24-46), 35 shots in the paint (57% of their shots were from the perimeter)
SA: 28 perimeter shots (they shot 10-28), 48 shots in the paint (37% of their shots were from the perimeter)

To me, that easily accounts for the measily 7 more fouls committed by Dallas.

Posted by: Al | May 24, 2006 4:12:16 AM

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