Doggy’s Data vol.1 - Who really improves in the playoffs?

Imadogg August 5, 2011 0

Allow myself to introduce myself. This is the first edition of Doggy’s Data, where Imadoggy Dogg brings you the latest NBA stats and research his crazy mind ponders about. He doesn’t always talk in both first and third person like I’m doing now. Enjoy.


People talk so much about players jumping to another level in the playoffs, guys choking and being the reason their team exits early in the postseason, yadda yadda blah blah.. but when we get down to it, who really improves in the playoffs? And how often do the “greats” actually play worse in the playoffs?

I decided to do some “on-the-surface” research on the matter (more on that later). I looked at a sample of 54 players - every single Finals MVP in NBA history, and those players who made any All-NBA team at least 6 times in his career. What I did was simple: looked at their career regular season PER, looked at their career playoff PER, and noted the improvement (or decline) in PER in the playoffs compared to the season.

Here are the results….

Tracy McGrady, the “second-round virgin”??? *Shocked*

Now, before you go all crazy after looking at these results, there’s some limitations. Don’t go thinking T-Mac is GOAT and Payton is the most overrated player ever. I had a sample size of a little over 50 players, and while the selection process makes some sense (Finals MVPs show they had some level of playoff success - the All-NBA teams show lots of regular season success)… why 6+ All-NBA teams? Why not include guys with 4 or 5? Or anyone who’s made it? Well.. to save time. I’m not a robot.

Also, I compared regular season career stats vs playoff stats; that can be misleading if you want to see if a guy actually improved. For example, if a guy makes the playoffs for half his career, you have a full career’s worth of season stats to add up for PER, and half a career of playoffs. I might show that his stats dropped in the playoffs.. but maybe for every single individual year he played in the playoffs, his stats increased (meaning the years he didn’t make the playoffs, his PER was higher than usual, which would throw off the results). If I get time, hopefully I can go more in-depth.

And why PER? Just an easy way to measure stats.

So what have we learned? The stats show that most players have a decline in stats in the playoffs. Out of the 54 players listed, only 17 of them showed an improvement in PER in the playoffs - under 1/3rd of them. Why? There’s more preparation in the playoffs, you’re playing tough teams always, the opposing team will obviously focus on the best player, and plenty of other reasons. Does that mean most of these players aren’t postseason legends? Hell no! You have to watch for yourself, judge for yourself. Intangibles, clutch, etc etc etc do not show up on the statsheet.

Remember, take from these stats what you will. I’m here to just post what I find, you can make the judgment calls.

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