Growing up as a baseball player, two things became incredibly clear to me. Superstitions are nothing to mess with, and statistics are the lifeblood of sport. I was that guy who came off the field and grabbed the scorebook to keep myself entertained when it wasn’t my turn to bat. That led to me getting lobbied by a lot by teammates to score their one hopper to the pitcher that was airmailed into the stands as a double.
As I have grown older and become more obsessed with basketball, I have learned that basketball players are not very superstitious (how else can you explain the number of players who choose to wear the number thirteen–are they crazy?!?) and statistics are not as valuable to rating contributions on the floor (see Kevin Durant and plus/minus controversy).
Of course, that last bit of information has not stopped me from trying to find a way to find value in a player’s stat sheet. Today, that led me to comparing how the Thunder’s core players (Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden) perform when the team wins versus how they peform in losses this season. After the jump, I share what I found.
Surprisingly, I learned that K.D. has very little control of whether the team wins or loses. His numbers are shockingly consistent regardless of whether the team gets the W or not. On victorious nights, he piles up 29.3 points, and if the team comes out on the wrong end, he only scores 26.7. That difference seems to come from the three point line. He has double the three point percentage in wins (38% to 18%) and nearly one more make per game.
One thing I did notice, though, is that the spread of points in wins is uber-consistent–between 25 and 35 points. His three best scoring performances of the season (40 against the Clippers, 37 at Sacramento, and 36 against Boston) have come in games that did not go the Thunder’s way. Also, all three games in which he failed to reach twenty were losses.
As consistent as K.D. has been, Green has been anything but. He certainly plays better in Thunder wins. Keep in mind, it isn’t that he plays differently… His shot attempts, defensive numbers, and fouls are the virtually the same. That means he isn’t be any more or less aggressive when the team is unsuccessful, he is just being more effective when they are successful.
In wins he shoots 48% from the field, 36% from three, and makes 82% of his free throws. In losses, those percentages fall to 38%-20%-68%. Considering that his attempts are approximately the same, it is no suprise that his scoring average is six points less in losses.
It is probably time that I embrace the fact that Westbrook has the capability to be a “true” point guard. He has proven it this season. When the Thunder win, he averages 8.1 assists and has a sparkling 2.5/1 Assist-to-turnover ratio.
In losses, however, he is anything but John Stockton. From the numbers, it appears that he is much more aggressive, in general, when they lose. He has more than twice as many steals in a loss, more blocks, more rebounds and takes more shots (even making them at a higher clip). The one difference? He isn’t passing the ball (5.3 assists), and his turnovers jump from 3.2 to 4.4 making his assist-to-turnover ratio less than half of the figure in wins.
When I started this exercise, I assumed that Harden would be the least crucial to determining the outcome. He is a rookie, isn’t a starter (yet), and he plays, by far the fewest minutes of the four guys expected to be who this team is built around. In the end, though, I am leaning toward saying he may be the most important X-factor.
His averages do not tell that story: In wins, he puts up 10.6 points, 2.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1 steal, and 0.2 blocks. In losses, he puts up 8.6, 2.1, 2.0, 1.2, and 0.4. So basically, his line is no different.
Unfortunately, how he reaches those statistics is entirely different. In losses, Harden takes far more shots and makes far fewer. For instance, he makes just as many three point shots per game, but in losses he does it with four attempts, while in wins he takes about two. In all, he makes 53% of his shots from the floor on a successful night, but only 28% if the Thunder lose.
Anyway, next time you are watching a game, key on how well Green and Harden are shooting and how well Westbrook is running the offense. It will probably tell you all you need to know.