Tuesday, June 09, 2015

What Have We Learned From LeBron James and Russell Westbrook and Their Ridiculous Usage Rates?

The Usage Rates of post-season James and regular-season Westbrook (sans Durant) have been astronomical.  While Kobe has still managed to hold down the all-time season mark for Usage (38.7% at age 27), had Westbrook had a full year without Durant, he could have been above 40% Usage.

James in the Finals Game 1 had a 45% Usage.  While that dropped under 40% in Game 2, having a 41.4 Usage % over two games is insane.

So, what have we learned? 

1) It is possible to hog the ball this much.  One would imagine that it would be so emotionally and physically exhausting to have the ball this much and have so much pressure on you that there is a physical limit for Usage that must be about 27 year old Kobe level (38.7%).   You'd think that would be the ceiling.

Not true.  If you literally feel that you have no choice except to lose, it appears that Usage of 40-41-45% is possible and the ball hogging player can come back night after night and play and continue at that same rate for a long period of time.

2) It Doesn't Necessarily Lead to Losing.  Westbrook was able to keep his team in the playoff chase and James has kept his Cavs in the title chase through a remarkable level of ball hogging.  Again - this is contrary to what most folks would believe.  Spread the ball around, allow more guys to touch it, you are going to win more.  Do the opposite, you will lose more.  Not necessarily true.

3) Opponents Will Not Necessarily Try to Take the Ball Out of the One Guy's Hands -- you would imagine that the opponent would pick up full court and double team and trap and do anything in its power to make the other guys (who are almost per se not very good) beat them.  You would be wrong.  Teams against the Thunder did not do so, and the Warriors continue to single team James and even go so far as to say that they are more concerned with him passing than scoring 40 points.

4) High One-Player Usage Can Be Used to Speed Up or Slow the Game -- Westbrook will get his shots and get them quickly.  He doesn't provide much thought process to what he is doing.  On the other hand, LeBron's hogging of the ball appears to serve the same purpose that the 1989-91 Minnesota Timberwolves offense did -- to slow the game WAY WAY down and limit possessions by a vastly superior opponent.  (In the 1984-1994 time period, those two Wolves teams ranked 2nd and 8th slowest out of roughly 250 team seasons for pace of play).    Remarkably, a very slow pace of play and isolation basketball has been successful in the past.  Both the 1990s Pistons and the 1992-93 Bulls were amongst the slowest playing teams of their eras, and both featured a ton of half court isolation ball.  Both won titles. 

5) It is Ugly Basketball -- not much else needs to be said on this point.  The Cavs have basically revisited Mike Brown's old "23 Stand" offense where #23 stands 23 feet from the basket and holds the ball for 23 seconds of the shot clock.  The only difference with the Cavs is that they do occasionally screen and they do occasionally run LeBron into the post.  But it is basically 23 Stand.  Westbrook's style is more akin to the guy who you just HATE playing pickup ball with who makes reckless forays into the paint time after time after time, hits 35% of his layups and then complains that he is being fouled every time. 

The one issue that will be interesting to see with LeBron is whether his Usage dips slightly after the first couple games here.  Westbrook about 75% of the way through the year was on path where maintaining his remarkable pace would have surpassed Kobe's all-time mark, but in the last month of so of the season, his rate suffered for whatever reason - one would expect that since Russ has no conscience that it had to be due mostly to fatigue.  The Finals will likely go at least 6 games.  It seems difficult to believe that a 265 pound man can maintain a 41.4% Usage rate over the next 180 minutes of play.  I mean, my God, he is being guarded by 3 very good defenders (Barnes, Iguodala, Green).  Try playing one-on-one until you score 10 baskets against three top flight different defenders who are rotated in.  You probably never reach 10.  Now imagine that after every shot you take you have to go to the other end and possibly be switched onto Steph Curry. 

Not pretty, unlike 48 year old Salma Hayek:


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