NBA Finals: How Much Star Power Do You Need To Win A Title?

John Hollinger pointed out that we shouldn't be too surprised to see a team with only one real star on the biggest stage of the NBA. He basically said that similar constructed teams have had success in the NBA before the Mavericks. He used his PER-metric to rate the players. We all know that this metric isn't too precise in rating a players performance because it doesn't take into account the defensive impact in example. But it sill holds some value and while reading Hollinger's article I asked myself why you would need multiple stars anyway. It's a team-game right? Before the second round against the Lakers I was very optimistic that the Mavericks should have a good chance against the Lakers. The Lakers would have three of the four best players in that series but the Mavs would have the clear roster advantage from the 4th down to the 12th player. You know what happened. The Mavs bench was huge. My consideration was really simple: A team might have more star-power (often described as "overall talent") but those two or three players can't play all the time. If you are only able to sub in a bunch of scrubs for them while the opponent can use their quality depth who's got the advantage? Furthermore: Like Miami's Big 3 ... those stars might even have to deal with other subpar players in the starting lineup. Mike Bibby's PER in the playoffs is 3.7, Joel Anthony's 7.7, good for 10th and 12th on the team. But they have played the 4th and 6th most minutes in the playoffs so far.
In the worst case you have a good depth behind you star players (but obviously those replacements won't play a lot) and on the other positions you got the choice between dumb and dumber. So how are these two teams constructed? Do good players get the majority of the minutes or do they have to deal with subpar players a lot in the rotation?

I used the PERs from the regular season here to judge a players performance and put them into three categories: A PER of under 12 which represents a subpar player. A PER between 12 and 18 (league average is 15) for good players and a PER of 18 or higher for "stars." According to Hollinger this isn't quite correct because a PER of 18+ is only a "solid 2nd option" but that was good enough for me to categorize the teams. Then I calculated the portion of the total minutes in the playoffs each group has played.

Click through to see the results.

Team PER18% PER12-18% PER12%
Dallas 29.78% 57.38% 12.85%
Miami 50.77% 7.79% 41.43%


Explanations: PER18% is the portion of total playoff minutes that players with a PER of 18 or higher have played. PER12-18% is the portion "good" players, according to regular season PER, have played and PER12% is the portion the "subpars" have played.

As you can see Miami has way more "star-power". Slightly over 50% of their minutes go to LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But they virtually don't have good players after that. Only 7.79% of the total minutes are taken by players with a regular season PER of at least 12. That's Udonis Haslem. The other two players that fit that  category, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire, don't play at all because Erik Spoelstra chose a smaller lineup without a traditional center in the playoffs. Then they play a bunch of guys that during the regular season weren't very good. Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, Joel Anthony and Mike Miller. The Mavericks meanwhile own a very deep team. They use 3 players that owned a PER of 12 or lower in the regular season: Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Brian Cardinal. But those players are playing very few minutes while Mike Bibby and Joel Anthony, as said before, got a decent amount of the minutes for the Heat so far. All the other starters and bench players who get the majority of minutes are at least "good" players or above: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Jose Barea, Peja Stojakovic, Corey Brewer, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion and, of course, Dirk Nowitzki. Think about it: The Heat, because of their lack of depth, have to play subpar players for over 40% of the time while the Mavericks only have to deal with that issue 12% of the time. Outside the talent edge that the Heat surely own: That's a huge discrepancy.

To go a step further: What's history telling us about the construction of former Finals participants. Has there ever been a team that gave so many minutes to subpar players over this and the last decade?

Team PER18% PER12-18% PER12% Champs?
DAL 2011 29.78% 57.38% 12.85% ???
MIA 2011 50.77% 7.79% 41.43% ???
LAL 2010 43.43% 38.61% 17.96% YES
BOS 2010 46.16% 44.83% 9.00% NO
LAL 2009 40.77% 47.29% 11.94% YES
ORL 2009 17.08% 50.21% 32.71% NO
BOS 2008 36.00% 51.07% 12.93% YES
LAL 2008 33.54% 65.79% 0.67% NO
CLE 2007 31.79% 51.97% 16.24% NO
SAS 2007 43.52% 16.42% 40.06% YES
DAL 2006 47.16% 38.11% 14.73% NO
MIA 2006 35.05% 39.63% 25.32% YES
SAS 2005 44.87% 40.02% 15.12% YES
DET 2005 16.28% 72.74% 10.98% NO
DET 2004 34.47% 58.52% 7.01% YES
LAL 2004 35.48% 37.28% 27.24% NO
SAS 2003 17.65% 66.85% 15.51% YES
NJN 2003 30.05% 39.45% 30.50% NO
LAL 2002 35.09% 42.53% 22.38% YES
NJN 2002 16.56% 74.87% 8.58% NO
LAL 2001 35.45% 41.76% 22.79% YES
PHI 2001 37.98% 54.46% 7.56% NO
LAL 2000 33.49% 37.37% 29.14% YES
IND 2000 0.00% 93.27% 6.73% NO


The table is sortable and consists all the participants of the NBA Finals in the last 12 years. As you can see the Heat lead that list in the PER12% category. That means they play the most "subpar" players of any team during that 12-year span. The only team that is even close are the San Antonio Spurs of 2007. Most teams also played a good amount of decent players (PER12-18%). Dallas is in the middle of the pack or slightly above that with 57.38% while the Heat are dead last. In the 18+ category this years Heat, as expected, lead while the Mavs are in the bottom third in that regard. Although there is a tendency that you more likely will win a title when you have the edge in PER18% (6-5) it looks pretty random to me. The situation is very unique anyway. Mavericks would only be the second team to win a title with a PER18% of under 30% and Heat would be only the second team to win a title with a PER12% of over 30%.

The Mavericks have a chance to close out the series tonight. Teams are 22-12 in those games in the 2-3-2 format. 12-9 on the road. And I have to agree with Hollinger. If the Mavericks closed the series out tonight we shouldn't be too surprised.

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