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Magic Pick on Someone Their Own Size, Lose: NBA Finals Game One in Graphs

Roger PAnalyst IJune 6, 2009

The Lakers and Magic met in LA, and the result wasn't pretty for Orlando fans.

The Lakers had what the Cavaliers didn't: a slew of big men to throw at Dwight Howard, and enough length to put pressure on the perimeter shooting. Now that a whole day has passed, I've had time to crunch the numbers, and the spider graphs tell us a lot.

First, let's take a look at the overall team graphs.

The most tell-tale piece, obviously, is the disparity in field goal percentage—the Lakers shot 46.1 percentage, and the Magic shot a bottom-dwelling 29.9 percent (remember that the graphs show adjusted numbers, so the gap appears even larger).

That otherworldly-poor shooting contributes to the high rebound numbers for both teams, for the sheer fact that more missed shots mean more rebounds. The Lakers won the rebound duel, 40-31 (including 15-10 on offensive boards).

Orlando's assists are low, as well, which is also a result of poor shooting. It means that more points came either from put-backs, or not at all.

It's worth noting that since the scale of the graph is tuned to the regular season highs, several of these values go off the charts.

So what does it mean? For one thing, it means that the Lakers won the big man battle. You can see that in the team graphs without even looking at individual stats. The big man stats (FG%, rebounds, and blocks) center at the lower left of the graph, and the Lakers dominate there.

Any team shooting that low of a percentage is not getting good production in the paint (where a good center can typically shoot around 50 percent). And while the Magic had one more block than the Lakers (eight to seven), the rebounds gap speaks volumes about problems in the middle.

And you probably know the actual numbers already—Dwight Howard ended with only 12 points, and ten of them were from the free throw line. That's right—he only made one basket in 35 minutes. Backup Marcin Gortat made more field goals than the superstar, All-Star, gold-medal-winning Howard—by making two.

The other clear point is that the Orlando offense struggled all around. The graphs are structured so that the top of the graph is offensive measures, and the bottom half is defensive. Look at the top half of the graph, and the difference in area covered by the two graphs is shocking. The Lakers led—no, dominated—in all three offensive categories.

Isn't it interesting how those offensive stats are all tied together? A low shooting percentage correlates with both fewer assists and more rebounds. The Lakers were hitting on all cylinders—passing to get a good shot (measured by assists), making those shots (FG%), and pounding the boards when they didn't (rebounds). Those add up to their 25-point victory.

The results of the other graph aren't going to surprise anybody. It's what I call the superstar graph—Kobe vs. Dwight. Here it is:

Kobe's graph is like poetry. Look how well-rounded it is. Look how his points are way, way off the charts. Kobe played like an all-time Great, and like someone who's not going to let this series get away.

Dwight's, however, is a fiasco. For the first time in the history of spider graphs we see a negative value, as his 16.7 percentage shooting fell below the 25 percent threshold the graph is built on—that's why the origin (center) is not included in the graph's area. He couldn't eke out more blocks or steals than Kobe, and his 15 rebounds are his only saving grace.

One of the main purposes of the spider graphs is to show, at a glance, all-around player performance. It speaks volumes about Kobe's all-around performance Thursday night. And it likewise speaks volumes about how completely Dwight was shut down offensively.

Fellow Bleacher Report writer Ro Frac already pointed out how these charts hearken back to the original graph comparing the two teams' performance over the whole season (found in this article here). In that graph, the Lakers and the Magic had almost identical rebound numbers—the difference being that they reflect an individual effort of Howard's for the Magic, and an overall team effort for the Lakers.

It's clear which won out in Game One.

We can't expect to see Howard so completely shut down in the games to come, but we do know that the Lakers have the size and the tools to push Orlando around.


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An explanation of the spider graphs is found in the original article here.

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