Who is Valuable in Conference Finals

Both Conference Finals series present interesting dichotomies. Oklahoma City and Dallas is a battle of the young and the old, the 2000s against the 2010s. Chicago and Miami is a battle of team-building strategies. A battle of superstars against a team that executes in the half court and works together through strong defense.

We will see how Oklahoma City and Dallas pan out. The praise for Chicago was effusive and non stop as the defense shut down Miami in the second half. We are seeing how these teams are coming together and even seeing the conflicts of sharing the big stage. The Alpha Dog Theory is fully at work as observers finally get to discover who gets the ball in “crunch time” and when the chips are on the table for the Heat. The Thunder’s series with the Grizzlies was marked by the disagreement — or apparent disagreement — between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Much like those debates, the entire MVP debate was about what mattered more in the conversation — the eye test or the stats test. It became an exercise in defining what “valuable” means.

Rose had all the intangibles. He was flashy, scored in bunches and had the highlights to boot. Plus his team had the best record in the league. There were plenty of statistical arguments showing Rose’s impact was not as big as our eyes would have us believe. That Dwight Howard affected more possessions defensively. That Kobe Bryant or LeBron James had a bigger impact on their teams than Rose.

Rose has proven throughout the postseason that he deserved the accolades (even though MVP is just a regular season award). He has time and again put the team on his shoulders and carried them through to victories. His value to the Bulls should not be questioned.

However there are still questions over what it means to be “valuable.” Is it being the best player on the best team as Rose was? Is it being the linchpin of an offensive and defensive strategy as Howard was? These are questions MVP voters will be debating until the end of time it seems. There is no objective criteria to determine the definition of “valuable.” 

David Berri of Wages of Wins accepted the challenge of further defining what value is. Berri attempted to find the most productive player on each team by evaluating wins produced and then trying to determine a team’s wins produced if their most productive player was replaced by an average player. There were certainly some interesting results occurred.

There were your usual suspects on the list — Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and LeBron James. But there were also surprising results.


First the usual suspects. Rose was indeed the Bulls’ most productive player. He had a 0.188 wins produced per 48 minutes and 11.8 wins produced. That put him in the middle of the pack. What might be even more encouraging for the Bulls is that replacing Rose with an average player, they would still have won 55.5 games. This is not saying Rose is not important. Rather it probably says Rose puts Chicago over the top.


But compare that to the Heat. They rely on their stars and their most productive player, LeBron James, a lot more to get them to this level. James posted a 0.361 wins produced per 48 minutes and 23.0 wins produced. Miami would have won only 44.0 games according to Berri if James were replaced with an average player. That seems to be intuitive considering where the Heat finished last year with just Dwyane Wade in the mix.

Now consider the alleged rift between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. According to Berri, Durant was far more productive than Rose. He had a 0.222 wins produced per 48 minutes and had a 14.1 wins produced. The Thunder would have won just 43.3 games if Durant were replaced with an average player. Westbrook is a special player, but Durant is clearly a lot more vital to Oklahoma City’s success.

Dallas is a team though that has a peculiar most productive player. According to Berri, Jason Kidd was the most productive player for the Mavericks. The Mavericks would have won 45.3 games if Kidd were replaced with an average player. Like with Chicago, it suggests Dallas could survive without its most productive player, but not for long.

These numbers tend to suggest the Bulls are best equipped to handle any temporary absence from Rose. But of course the NBA Playoffs are all about matchups whereas the regular season can be more about surviving the ups and downs of a season. Chicago would not be able to survive for very long without Rose.

Some more interesting tidbits from Berri’s numbers:

–Al Horford was the Hawks’ most productive player and the Hawks would have won only 30.4 games if Horford were replaced with an average player.

–Showing how close to Denver’s ceiling the team was and how no one player was any more important than the other, Nene Hilario was the team’s most productive player with 9.9 wins produced.

–The Timberwolves would have won only 2.9 games if Kevin Love were replaced with an average player.

–Landry Fields produced 14.4 wins for the Knicks to be their most productive player. Shows a superstar is only as good as his support.

–The Suns would have won 29.6 games if Steve Nash were replaced with an average player.

Photos via DayLife.com.

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily