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Throwing Michael Finley Under the Bus

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In his Toronto recap, stampler brought to our attention some laudatory words directed to the Spurs by ESPN stats guru John Hollinger. Stampler did a great job in responding to it all, and like him, I definitely think the 04-05 team is better than this current version. Manu's playing great right now, but he was considerably better during those playoffs.

There's one specific Hollinger comment I would like to respond to:

On its face this sounds absurd, I realize -- isn't winning the whole point? But as I've been trying to beat into people's heads over and over again, point differential is a better indicator of future success than won-loss record. In other words, if you were trying to pick a game between the Mavs and Spurs tomorrow, you'd be better off ignoring the standings and looking just at point differential.

He's right about point differential being a better indicator of future success. But by success he does NOT mean "who has the best chance to win the title." He means, and yes I'm putting words into his mouth, if the Spurs and Dallas were to play the same 100 game schedule starting now, the Spurs are the better pick to win more games because they have the better point differential.

But, obviously, a seven game series between the two teams is a whole other enchilada. 30 point blowouts against the Raptors mean little when the Spurs simply have trouble matching up against DAL.

Before I go on I want to apologize for what I am about to do... which is piss in everyone's Cheerios. The Spurs are playing ridiculously well right now, and my confidence is definitely growing with each win. But I have come across some interesting data I wanted to share.

Let's move on to some other, more fun stats. Player pairs from 82games.com. The simplicity behind these numbers (which are through the All Star break) belies their hypnotic powers. There's a lot of info here; info that I'm in the middle of parsing. Let's a take a look at the main table, and I'll provide some explanations.

First, take a look at the blue diagonal numbers. That's the point differential per 48 minutes for the individual player. For example, for every 48 minutes Parker plays, the Spurs outscore their opponents by 8 points.

Let's stay with the Parker row and move to the right under Beno. The table shows +3: for every 48 minutes Beno and Parker are on the court together the Spurs outscore opponents by 3 points. Therefore Parker plays better without Beno than with him. This relationship, where Player B (Beno) theoretically "makes" Player A (Tony) worse, is designated with a white background. Moving down the Beno column you can see that the only players he "makes" better are Bowen, Oberto and Elson. This is designated by a green background. Of course, allow me to point out the obvious; it's hard to make players better when you're replacing Tony Parker.

A quick look at the table leads to some not-so-startling conclusions:

  1. Every Spur plays better with Manu than without him.
  2. The same can be said for Timmeh.
  3. Finley makes everyone, except Bonner, worse. Part of this has to do with his backing up Manu (though over 30% of his minutes occur with The Sickness on the floor), and part of his to do with the fact Finley sucks ass.
If you scroll down the page you will see that 82games.com breaks down each player pair into great detail. The analysis possibilities are nearly endless. I've taken the time to filter out some interesting and meaningful tidbits. First, the ten most effective players pairs per 48 minutes, with a minimum of 90 minutes of playing time.

Uhh. There's a certain Frenchman whose name is conspicuously absent. Monsieur Parker does come in at number 11 (paired with Ginobili), but he only appears 3 times in the top 20. The only name that doesn't appear? Michael Finley.

Of course no top 10 list is complete without it's counterpart: the ten least effective player pairs.

Jesus; did Jacque sleep with Barry's wife or something? -23.3 points per 48 minutes? In Tony's defense, his name isn't on this list, either. Barry's on there 4 times; Finley 5. But these numbers can mislead if you're not careful... you need to look closer to understand how colossally bad Finley has been.

The Spurs are +3.5 per 48 minutes with Finley on the court (through today). They are +12.3 when he's off the court. That's -8.8 points per 48 minutes. The question is how bad is that? There's one quick way to check. How many other NBA players who play at least 40% of their team's minutes have a worse net +/-?

  1. Ryan Gomes, Boston, 64% of minutes, -10.9 net +|-.
  2. Hakim Warrick, Memphis, 51% of minutes, -10.2 net +|-.
  3. Gary Payton, Miami, 42% of minutes, -14.2 net +|-.
  4. Kenny Thomas, Sacramento, 44% of minutes, -9.3 net +|-.
  5. Andrei Kirilenko, Utah, 55% of minutes, -8.9 net +|-.
That's the whole list. Two of those guys are youngsters playing on teams going nowhere (in other words, you can take the time to see what you have). Everyone except Pat Riley knew Payton was done. Kirilenko is young, playing out of position and actually led his team in net +|- last year (in other words, Sloan has reason to believe he'll improve).

Michael Finley is NOT one of the worst players in the NBA. However, he is one of the most detrimental players in the league. The key to the Spurs title hopes may be finding a way to keep him off the floor. And against the likes of PHX and DAL they won't be able to do that. And THAT is why I have been championing James White (who would, if nothing else, shoot less); why I took the Spurs to task for not acquiring Maggette when they had the chance. While a solution may not be obvious, the problem is, and the problem is Michael Finley. And from what I can tell the Spurs aren't doing much to address it. Unless encouraging him to shoot more is considered addressing the problem.

One last comment: Nick Van Exel's net +|- last year? -8.9. Finley's at -8.8 right now. God help us.