NBA X-Mas Carol: Starring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Tracy McGrady & David Stern
David Stern is a Scrooge.
There hasn't been a lockout in the NBA since the end of the 20th century, but Stern and the NBA took one step closer to a lockout when they informed the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) that they would not exercise the option to extend the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) one year, despite unprecedented TV ratings and a record-setting $100 million in season ticket sales.
Hope you enjoyed the five Christmas games played on Saturday because they could be the last ones fans can enjoy on Christmas till 2012 unless David "Scrooge" Stern learns "how to keep Christmas well" just like old Ebenezer did in the classic Charles Dickens novella. There were no Christmas games played when the NBA locked out the players in 1998.
We all know how Ebenezer learned his lesson. He was haunted by three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. If there's any hope of celebrating Christmas with NBA games next year, then the league needs its own ghosts to show Scrooge Stern the light.
But who should be those ghosts?
There have been 554 performances by 329 players on 22 teams in 28 Christmas games during the 21st century (from 2000 to 2009). Let's take a look at the stats for those Christmas games and select who the most productive players were, are and will be. Those will be the ghosts cast to convince Stern to stop putting money before the fans' enjoyment of an NBA Christmas.
This article will use Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal, to measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's performance. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (EWP48), a star player produces 0.200+ EWP48 and a superstar produces 0.300+ EWP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:
Tracy McGrady: Ghost of NBA Christmas Past
The first player to haunt David Stern on Christmas Eve 2011 should be Tracy McGrady, the Ghost of NBA Christmas Past.
The Ghost of NBA Christmas Past should be two things: 1) the most productive Christmas player and 2) a washed-up Christmas player (they are a ghost from the past, after all).
With 1.3 wins produced, T-Mac has been more productive than any other player on Christmas in the 21st century. The table below lists the 10 most productive NBA Christmas players from 2000 to 2010.
|Rank||Player||GP||MP||Wins Produced |
per 48 minutes
T-Mac never scored less than 40 points on Christmas and produced four times more than the average player on a per-minute basis.
His Christmas productivity was insane. It also ended seven years ago.
McGrady has not played on Christmas since the game in 2003, when he dominated a rookie named LeBron James with 0.647 WP48 compared to LeBron's -0.104 WP48. In the last seven years, however, his WP48 in the regular season has declined from 0.326 (superstar level) to 0.070 (below average) after multiple injuries and microfracture knee surgery robbed his game of its productivity.
Speaking of declines, T-Mac's understudy for the role of NBA Christmas Past is the declining Shaquille O'Neal.
Until this year, Shaq was the most productive Christmas player in the 21st century with 1.4 wins produced. This Christmas, however, he was the least productive player on the court in Orlando with an estimated -0.156 wins produced. As a result, Shaq is now the second-most productive Christmas player in the new millennium.
In terms of per-minute and single-game performance, T-Mac was always more productive than Shaq in Christmas games. Shaq's advantage, though, was that he played 150 more minutes on Christmas than T-Mac.
Matt Winick, the NBA VP of Scheduling and Game Operations, likes to schedule games with marquee teams and players on December 25th. Shaq has been fortunate enough to be a marquee name that played on marquee teams with other marquee players every season this decade.
The 66 teams scheduled on Christmas from 2000-2010 had the following primary characteristics:
- Made the playoffs the previous season (51 times);
- An All-Star player from previous season on the roster (six times);
- Previous season's scoring leader on the roster (three times);
- First pick from that summer's draft on the roster (three times); or
- Called Madison Square Garden home (two times).
McGrady's teams were never scheduled on Christmas after he left Orlando, while Shaq played more minutes on December 25th than every other player except Kobe Bryant.
Unlike Shaq, Kobe didn't take advantage of all the Christmas games he played in his prime. Kobe's production has been below average with just 0.082 WP48 in 11 games.
As he said after the Heat game on Saturday night, he always sucks on Christmas. In fact, his poor performance in that game (0.069 WP48) enabled Amar'e Stoudemire, who produced an estimated 0.139 WP48 vs. the Chicago Bulls in the first Christmas game on Saturday, to pass him for 10th place on the list of most productive Christmas players in the 2000s.
At 32 years old, Kobe was always going to decline like Shaq at some point and fall off the top 10 Christmas list. In fact, there are a few other players currently in the top 10 that will probably follow Kobe off the list and won't be considered for Ghosts of NBA Christmas Past 10 years from now (when there will probably be another lockout):
- No. 4 Lamar Odom: As long as he remains on the Lakers, he'll get plenty of chances to play on Christmas, but at 31 years old, his performance will start to decline. His poor performance against the Heat (estimated -0.097 WP48) doesn't inspire any confidence that he'll be able to remain in the top 10, let alone the top five.
- No. 6 Chauncey Billups: Despite his age (34), he's still productive when the sleigh bells ring. He produced an estimated 0.320 WP48 against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, but if Carmelo Anthony leaves Denver, then Chauncey probably won't get many opportunities to play on Christmas in the future.
- No. 7 Kevin Garnett: The Big Ticket cracked the top 10 this year after unwrapping a big performance against the Orlando Magic on Saturday with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting, five rebounds and four steals for an estimated 0.439 WP48.
- No. 8 Anderson Varejao: Without the ability to ride LeBron's coattails into Christmas games, he probably won't get the opportunity to play on December 25th anytime soon.
- No. 9 Jason Kidd: As the second-oldest player on the top 10 Christmas list, he's low-hanging fruit at No. 9. The Dallas Mavericks haven't played on Christmas in two years and may not be invited anytime soon with the oldest team in the league.
Dwyane Wade: Ghost of NBA Christmas Present
With 1.2 wins produced, Dwyane Wade has the third-highest Christmas production this century after Tracy McGrady (1.299 wins produced) and Shaquille O'Neal (1.276 wins produced).
Since the Christmas lights starting dimming on the careers of those two a few years ago, Wade is poised to take over the top of the Christmas list right away.
A sore knee limited his performance against the Lakers this year to an estimated 0.074 WP48 and 0.056 wins produced in 36 minutes. If Wade had been healthy and hit his Christmas average of 0.248 WP48, then he would have passed T-Mac for the No. 1 spot this Christmas.
In fact, after T-Mac's 2003 Christmas game against LeBron, Wade had the second-best Christmas game this century against Kobe and the Lakers in 2006. He scored 40 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor and 15-of-16 from the line with four rebounds, 11 assists, four steals and four blocks to produce 0.764 WP48—that's SEVEN times better than the average player.
The table below lists the best single-game performances on Christmas in the 2000s.
|Rank||Player, Team||Date||Score||MP||Wins Produced |
per 48 minutes
|1||Tracy McGrady, ORL||12/25/03||ORL 113 - CLE 101||50||0.647||0.674|
|2||Dwyane Wade, MIA||12/25/06||MIA 101 - LAL 85||41.3||0.764||0.658|
|3||Kevin Durant, OKC||12/25/10||OKC 114 - DEN 106||41||0.704||0.602|
|4||LeBron James, MIA||12/25/10||MIA 96 - LAL 80||38.2||0.745||0.593|
|5||Mark Jackson, NYK||12/25/01||NYK 102 - TOR 94||34||0.812||0.575|
|6||Ben Wallace, DET||12/25/05||DET 85 - SAS 70||38.5||0.705||0.566|
|7||Dwyane Wade, MIA||12/25/09||MIA 93 - NYK 87||38.2||0.612||0.487|
|8||Mo Williams, CLE||12/25/09||CLE 102 - LAL 87||39.2||0.595||0.486|
|9||Damon Stoudamire, POR||12/25/00||POR 109 - LAL 104||40||0.574||0.478|
|10||Jason Kidd, DAL||12/25/08||DAL 102 - POR 94||36.6||0.618||0.472|
With LeBron and Chris Bosh with him in Miami, Wade will get plenty of opportunities to play on Christmas once Scrooge Stern and the owners let them. Wade has the most to lose in a lockout because at 29 years old, he won't be able to maintain his current level of production for too many more years. Being locked out of next year's Christmas game could prevent him from building up enough wins to hold down the No. 1 spot for an extended period of time.
That's why he's perfect for the Ghost of NBA Christmas Present.
LeBron James: Ghost of NBA Christmas Future
'Twas the night before Christmas...and LeBron James was only ranked 23rd on the list of most productive Christmas players in the 21st century with 0.439 wins produced.
One beatdown of the Lakers and 24 hours later, LeBron had jumped 18 spots to No. 5 on the list with a total of 1.032 wins produced.
Yes, LeBron's performance against the Lakers in the NBA's marquee Christmas matchup was that good.
Everyone knows about the triple-double. What everyone doesn't know is that it was LeBron's best game of the season and the fourth-best Christmas performance in the 2000s with an estimated 0.593 wins produced in 38.2 minutes for an estimated 0.745 WP48.
At 26 years old, with a marquee team built to be a perennial title contender for the next three to five years, LeBron will get to dominate plenty of games on Christmas day after the NBA and NBPA negotiate a new agreement. Barring injury, he should have no problem passing Wade, Shaq and T-Mac by the time the next CBA expires.
That's why he's the Ghost of NBA Christmas Future.
LeBron could be haunted by his own Christmas ghost, though, because as impressive as his 18-spot jump may be, it's almost nothing compared to what Kevin Durant did.
On Christmas Eve 2010, Durant had only played in one Christmas game and was ranked 117th with 0.095 wins produced. He was surrounded by other one-hit Christmas wonders like Allen Iverson (ranked 115th with 0.102 wins produced) and washed-up Christmas veterans like Jermaine O'Neal (three GP, ranked 119th with 0.090 wins produced).
By 10:30 PM Christmas night, Durant had launched himself all the way to 15th with 0.697 after a brilliant shooting display against the Denver Nuggets in Oklahoma City. Durant scored 44 points with an adjusted shooting percentage of 80 percent (that means he scored an average of 1.6 points per shot).
With an estimated 0.602 wins produced, he could have singlehandedly beaten Denver. It was the third-best Christmas game this millennium, slightly better than LeBron's game against the Lakers just because Durant played three more minutes.
The foundation for LeBron vs. Durant was laid this summer. If the Thunder can live up to the preseason hype and this season's MVP race turns out as many people predicted, then Matt Winick will have the marquee teams and players the NBA likes for its prime time Christmas game for years to come.
Hopefully, Scrooge Stern will learn the true spirit of NBA Christmas, and he won't rob the fans of a single matchup with a lockout.
Director's Cuts: The 10 Worst NBA Christmas Players
While Christmas brought out the best in players like T-Mac, Shaq, Wade or LeBron, it also brought out the worst in others.
These players have no hope of ever being cast as the Ghost of NBA Christmas Past and would only haunt Stern if he was faced with the prospect of hiring replacement players in 2012.
The table below lists the Christmas performances best left on the cutting room floor, i.e. the 10 worst Christmas players of the 21st century.
|Rank||Player||GP||MP||Wins Produced |
per 48 minutes
- Steve Smith: Now he's an NBATV analyst, but 10 years ago Steve Smith was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers seeking revenge against the Lakers on Christmas Day. The Blazers won the game 109-104 despite Smitty only scoring three points on 1-of-8 shooting with two turnovers and four fouls in 36 minutes.
- Darius Songaila: He contributed to two Christmas losses with the Wizards and Kings by shooting 6-of-15 from the floor and 0-of-1 from the line for 12 points with four rebounds, three turnovers, two steals and six fouls. Most teams prefer their power forwards to grab more than four boards in 35 minutes.
- Tony Battie: The worst Christmas loss this decade happened in 2002 when the New Jersey Nets, led by Jason Kidd, beat the Boston Celtics by 36 points. With 1.7 wins produced in the game, the Nets were productive enough to beat the Celtics two or three times. Battie contributed -0.184 wins to the humiliation.
- Robin Lopez: Both of his Christmas appearances rank in the bottom 20 of the Christmas list.
- Pat Garrity: In the 2000-01 season, he was the third-least productive player on the Magic with -0.072 WP48. Two years later, he was the least productive player on the Magic with -0.062 WP48. He managed to play much worse than those season averages in the Christmas games for both seasons.
- Eric Gordon: He had an abysmal game against the Suns on Christmas Day 2009, but he could get the chance to remove his name from this list if Blake Griffin's star power can land the Clippers a future Christmas game.
- Juwan Howard: In three Christmas games with three different teams, he's only managed to raise his production above zero once. He produced 0.028 WP48 with the Blazers in last year's 107-96 Christmas win over the Nuggets.
- Mike Bibby: The best shooter Chris Webber says he ever played with shot 11-of-30 from inside the arc in two Christmas appearances. The Kings were 1-1 in those games.
- Devean George: He should thank Steve Blake. George was the least productive Laker on Christmas in the new millennium with -0.195 wins produced until Blake topped him with an estimated -0.205 wins produced against the Miami Heat on Saturday.
- J.R. Smith: His no-show against the Thunder on Saturday (estimated -0.208 WP48) pushed him below Michael Finley (-0.224 wins produced) into the last spot on this list.
Bonus Material: Remaining Cast of Characters
Here's who I would cast from the NBA for the remaining characters from A Christmas Carol:
- Jacob Marley: Larry O'Brien, NBA Commissioner from 1975 to 1984. If any of Scrooge Stern's old business partners can get him to see the light when it comes to negotiating with the players' union, it should be O'Brien. As Stern's predecessor, he negotiated two major CBAs in 1976 and 1983. The 1976 CBA introduced free agency to the NBA, and the 1983 CBA introduced the salary cap and revenue-sharing with the players. See Wikipedia and Larry Coon's NBA Salary Cap FAQ for more details.
- Bob Cratchit: Billy Hunter, NBPA Executive Director. Hunter came on board in 1996, the same year Scrooge Stern got the NBPA to sign off on rookie scale contracts. Two-and-a-half years later, Scrooge Stern locked the players out until they agreed to maximum salary restrictions. Hunter could use some NBA Christmas kindness to prevent a lockout in 2011.
- Tiny Tim: Greg Oden. 'Nuff said.
- Fred (Ebenezer Scrooge's good-hearted nephew): Pat Riley, Miami Heat President. Miami's Three Kings, with Riley and owner Mickey Arison, have given players and teams a model for cost-effective winning while increasing fan interest, publicity, ticket sales and TV ratings. The CBA negotiations should go like this...
NBA (to NBPA): You all need to agree to be more like the Heat players (i.e. take less money to put together an entertaining team).
NBPA (to NBA): You all need to agree to be more like the Heat owners and management (i.e. build a title contender in partnership with the players).
NBA and NBPA: Agreed. Done.
Greg Oden: God bless us, everyone!
Scrooge Stern: Bah, humbug! Let’s take our talents to the King of Diamonds club!