LeBron James is stepping up in fourth

Because of his lack of scoring, much has been made about how ineffective LeBron James has been in the fourth quarter of the NBA Finals. However, as James pointed out, his contributions have been made with his defense and playmaking.

In the fourth quarter of the finals, James has scored 9 points compared to Dwyane Wade’s 23. That discrepancy has led to the argument that Wade has been far more effective late in games. However, James also has five fourth-quarter assists that have led to 12 points. Looking at Points Created, James has accounted for just 8 fewer points than Wade on the offensive end. (Wade has three fourth-quarter assists that have led to 6 points.)

But what about the defense? Synergy Sports video tracking looks at the number of times Player X guarded Player Y and can determine how many points were scored in a given matchup.

4th Quarter Points Per Play
2011 Playoffs, Entering NBA Finals

As Dirk Nowitzki said on Monday: "They keep sticking him on Jet (Jason Terry) in the fourth quarters and he's been doing a good job ... "

The numbers agree.

In the fourth quarter, James has been Terry’s primary defender on seven plays, holding him to zero points on 0-of-5 shooting. James also has been effective on others (Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd), allowing a total of 5 points on 10 plays.

The first graphic (above) is a postseason breakdown of plays, points and points per play averaged by notable Mavericks leading into the Finals.

LeBron James As Primary Defender
4th Quarter of NBA Finals

The second graphic breaks down of the number of plays in which James spent as the primary on-ball defender. Taking each player’s average points per play and multiplying it by the number of plays in which they were guarded by James, we get an expected number of points equal to 8.61.

Since James has allowed just 5 points, his fourth-quarter defense has saved Miami 3.61 points. Wade has saved 2.59 points. In other words, James has been a point more valuable on the defensive end of the floor.

By taking into account James’ value as a facilitator and defender, James’ worth in terms of Net Points is 24.61, compared to 31.59 for Wade. Although the concept of defensive points saved is admittedly rough, it helps quantify a player’s contributions on the defensive end of the floor.