Who’s second to LeBron James? The answer may surprise you


(Associated Press)

Ask anyone who the best player is in the NBA over the past decade and you should get a near unanimous choice: LeBron James.

King James has scored 21,516 points, been named the league MVP four times and Finals MVP twice. He has won two championships and leads all players over the past decade in Win Shares (163.5) - an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player – and all active players in MVP Award shares (5.4).

Last night’s performance against the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals was just a glimpse into his dominance. Bron-Bron had 12 points in the first quarter, 25 at the half and 40 entering the fourth quarter. He tied his playoff career high with 49 points plus added six rebounds and three steals.


LeBron tied his playoff career-high with 49 points on 16-of-24 shooting from the field, including 3-of-6 from three, to lead to the Heat past the Nets in Game 4 of the East Semis on May 12.

So if LeBron is the best, who is second best?

It is an interesting debate. The list of candidates is impressive (in no particular order): Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki.

Let’s break down the candidates in terms of offense and defense.

Offense

Kobe leads the field, scoring 33.6 points per 48 minutes and getting involved the most in terms of Usage Percentage (33.6 percent), an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.

Dwayne Wade is used the second most (32.5 percent), has comparable scoring per 48 minutes (32.7) to Kobe and generates the third most wins shares per 48 among the group (0.200). Only Chris Paul (0.246) and Dirk Nowitzki (0.217) create more.

Dwight Howard, however, is a force on the offensive glass: he grabbed 11.8 percent of the offensive rebounds, the highest by far (Tim Duncan is second 9.6 and Kevin Garnett is third with 6.7). Howard was also lights-out as a shooter with an Effective Field Goal Percentage – which adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal - of 57.9 percent.

Here is their ranking in each offensive category. A lower bar indicates a better ranking.

Defense

This is a three-horse race between Dwight Howard (1.3 steals per 48, 2.9 blocks and 29.1 percent of defensive rebounds), Kevin Garnett (1.7 steals per 48, 1.7 blocks and 28.1 percent of defensive rebounds) and Tim Duncan (1.0 steals per 48, 3.0 blocks and 27.7 percent of defensive rebounds). Those three also have the lowest defensive rating  (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) with 99, 98 and 97, respectively.

Here is their ranking in each defensive category. Again, a lower bar indicates a better ranking.

Four Factors

Dean Oliver distilled the game down to four key factors and assigned weights to each in terms of their contribution to winning games:

  1. Shooting, measured by effective field goal percentage (40 percent)
  2. Rebounding, measured by rebounding percentage (25 percent)
  3. Turnovers, measured on a per-possession basis (20 percent)
  4. Free throws, measured by taking a team’s free throws made divided by their field goals attempted, which eliminates the influence of pace (15 percent)

Here is how the field stacks up (lower bar is a better ranking).

The second best player over the past decade is clear: Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets.

No one in the league is a more dominant force defensively than Howard. He was the first player in league history to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award three consecutive times (2009-2011) and has helped limit opponents to a 48.1 percent effective field goal percentage over his career.

Offensively, his teams have scored 4.1 more points per 100 possessions with him on the court than when he is on the bench and their eFG% has blown up as well: 52.4 percent with him on, 49.0 percent when off.

Who would you choose for second best NBA player in the last decade?

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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