Best In The World: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade?
Miami Heat President Pat Riley used to routinely send text messages to Dwyane Wade during the 2008 Olympics with the following characaters: "B.I.W." But according to Michael Wallace, of the Miami Herald, Riley isn't sure who to text "B.I.W." to this year. After signing three all-star free agents this summer and with Kevin Durant's performance at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, Riley's confusion is understandable, so I'm going to help him out and rank the best NBA players in the world based on their performance in the 2008 Olympics and 2010 FIBA World Championships.
My ranking will be based on the Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced metrics developed by Prof. David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal. These metrics were developed to measure how much a player contributes to wins using boxscore statistics. There are two key stats output by these metrics - Estimated Wins Produced per 40 minutes (EWP40) and Estimated Wins Produced (EWP). Forty minutes is the length of a game in international competition. An average player would be expected to provide 0.100 EWP40.
Pinky & The Brain: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant Try To Take Over The World
Before the summer started, Kevin Durant finished second in voting for the NBA MVP award behind LeBron James. Then he and his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook, were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers. Then the summer started, and Durant and Westbrook began trying to take over the world in the FIBA championships.
Durant and Westbrook were the most productive players for Team USA and led the way to the gold medal in Turkey with insane drives to the rim, brilliant shooting accuracy and an estimated 5.7 wins produced between them in 13 games during the exhibition tour, preliminary round and single-elimination tournament for the FIBA World Championships. Durant went from finishing behind LeBron James in the NBA MVP voting to leap-frogging his performance in the 2008 Olympics on the way to a FIBA World Championships MVP award while making a claim for the title of best forward in the world. The table below compares Durant's performance in the 2010 World Championships to LeBron's performance in the 2008 Olympics.
|Statistics||Average Forward vs. |
Team USA in 2010
|Kevin Durant||LeBron James|
|Points Per Shot||1.08||1.22||1.38|
|Adjusted Shooting Percentage||53.9%||60.8%||68.9%|
|Free Throw Percentage||56.5%||89.1%||48.6%|
|Free Throw Attempts||4.0||6.2||4.7|
Durant's performance in the World Championships and LeBron's performance in the Olympics are almost statistically even when compared against the level of FIBA competition in 2010.
Offensively, LeBron was the more efficient scorer but Durant was the better volume scorer because he got off more shots, got to the free throw line more often and was a much better free throw shooter. However LeBron's passing gave him a slight advantage.
Defensively, they created nearly the same amount of net possessions for Team USA. Durant was a better rebounder and ball-handler but LeBron's 4.1 steals per 40 minutes would have been an equalizer if he didn't commit so many fouls to get them, which gave Durant a slight edge in those categories.
While Durant's climb to LeBron's level on the world stage this summer was impressive, it didn't help decide which player should start getting B.I.W. text messages from Pat Riley. The upcoming NBA season will tell whether Durant has truly closed the gap between he and LeBron, but what do past NBA seasons tell us?
F*** FIBA: Why NBA MVP LeBron James Should Be Considered Best In The World
In the last two seasons, LeBron James has gone from being the King of Akron to King of the NBA by winning back-to-back MVP awards. While Kevin Durant may have battled LeBron to a statistical standstill on the international court, LeBron has been the more dominant player domestically. According to the Wages of Wins Journal, he produced 54.3 wins in 6,020 minutes from 2009 to 2010 while Durant only produced 30.2 wins in 6,124 minutes. The difference was just as pronounced in their five head-to-head match-ups over the last three seasons.
|Statistics||LeBron James||Kevin Durant|
|Points Per Shot||1.19||0.98|
|Adjusted Shooting Percentage||59.4%||48.9%|
|Free Throw Percentage||72.9%||88.1%|
|Free Throws Attempted||10.1||8.8|
Again, they may be statistically even in FIBA play but on the NBA hardwood, LeBron has dominated Durant to-date. The only thing Durant has done better than LeBron in their head-to-head match-ups is free throw shooting. Unless Durant closes the gap this season, I'm recommending that Riley sends those SMS messages to LeBron before he sends them to Durant. But what about the other two all-stars the Heat signed this summer?
Going Hard In The Paint: The Chris Bosh Bid For World Supremacy
Many sports pundits have said that Chris Bosh is not on the same level as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade but when it comes to international basketball that's simply not true. Only Wade and Kevin Love have been more productive for Team USA than Bosh on a per-minute basis since 2008. Only Wade, Durant and LeBron have produced more estimated wins for Team USA than Bosh since 2008. Simply put, Bosh has been the most productive big man for USA Basketball and deserves to be in the conversation for best NBA player in the world. The table below shows how his FIBA play stacks up against LeBron James.
|Statistics||Average Forward in 2010 Team USA Game||LeBron James||Average Center in 2010 Team USA Game|
|Points Per Shot||1.08||1.38||1.07||1.57|
|Adjusted Shooting Percentage||53.9%||68.9%||53.6%||78.3%|
|Free Throw Percentage||56.5%||48.6%||50.6%||86.7%|
|Free Throw Attempts||4.0||4.7||3.5||8.9|
As you can see, Bosh was clearly LeBron's peer in the 2008 Olympics and was even slightly more productive but the difference is so close that it doesn't solve Riley's texting problem. Durant, LeBron and Bosh have performed similarly during the 2008 Olympics and 2010 World Championships. Can Dwyane Wade separate himself from the pack?
Flash Back: Dwyane Wade the Redeemer
As dominant as Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Bosh were against FIBA competition, their performance does not even compare to what Dwyane Wade did in the 2008 Olympics with the Redeem Team.
|Statistics||Average Forward in 2010 Team USA Game||Kevin Durant||LeBron James||Dwyane Wade||Average Guard in 2010 Team USA Game|
|Points Per Shot||1.08||1.22||1.38||1.50||0.97|
|Adjusted Shooting Percentage||53.9%||60.8%||68.9%||74.8%||48.7%|
|Free Throw Percentage||56.5%||89.1%||48.6%||67.2%||59.3%|
|Free Throw Attempts||4.0||6.2||4.7||10.2||4.1|
Wade's offense is what sets him apart from Durant and LeBron in international play. He was 7.8 times more productive than the average guard in a 2010 Team USA game while Durant and LeBron were 4.3 times more productive than the average small forward and Chris Bosh was 4.6 times more productive than the average center. Wade was the most productive player for the Redeem Team with an estimated 4.1 wins produced in just 251.6 minutes (five players received more playing time). So Pat Riley can keep sending those "B.I.W." text messages to Dwyane Wade until someone proves them to be untrue in the 2012 Olympics. Who will be in Riley's five in 2012?
12 For '12: Best NBA Players For the 2012 Olympics
If Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski use Estimated Wins Produced to select five guards, four forwards and three centers under the age of 35 for the 2012 roster, then it would look like this:
(Adj. For 2010)
A starting lineup of Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Bosh doesn't look bad - especially with Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony coming off the bench. If USA Basketball chooses to use the EWP40 of players from 2008 and 2010 to assemble the roster, then it would like this:
(Adj. for 2010)
The major change in this lineup is that Kobe Bryant would replace Derrick Rose; Kevin Love would move into the starting lineup; and Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and Rudy Gay would be the first subs for each position off the bench. Regardless of which lineup is actually chosen for the 2012 Olympics, I think LeBron, Durant and Bosh are likely to be the most productive players in London (unless Kevin Love gets significant playing time). If that's the case, then Wade will be able to pass the torch to one of his teammates and Riley will not even have to update his address book when he wants to text "B.I.W." in two years.