“Finals Experience”

I haven’t been able to write much recently, and I missed game 3 due to an important family matter. This brings the number of bloggers I know that are going through family tragedies to 2. Luckily there has been some good writing out there recently, especially if you’re a stathead like me. Page23’s Kevin Pelton put out a column about how the Pistons are winning instead of the Lakers losing the series (though we’re still waiting for the second installment of the Future of NBA Statistics). Newcomers to my links section, under the bleachers, are putting out some great stuff about both basketball & baseball. A few days ago they wrote:

Another sports debate that gets me worked up is the one over experience, as in “will the Pistons’ lack of Finals experience hurt them?” It seems like the sort of thing that you can only cite after a team wins or loses — “well, the Pistons lost because they didn’t have enough Finals seasoning.”

These guys hit the nail right on the head with this one. How can something exist if it isn’t a good characteristic of future performance? I can say that adding Shaq to a team gives it a good chance to win a championship because he was clearly the best player on a championship team. Horace Grant played in 6 different Finals. They should both have “Finals experience,” but I would say adding Shaq to a team gives them a better chance of winning it all than Grant.

Two years ago, I’m sure somebody out there attributed the Lakers victory over the Nets to the Lakers’ “Finals experience”, and the Nets lack thereof. However the Lakers simply had the better team. Last year the Nets were the ones with the “Finals experience” advantage, since the Spurs hadn’t been to the Finals in 4 years. Of the Spurs top 3 scorers, only Duncan had been to the Finals before, whereas New Jersey’s top 5 scorers all had “Finals experience.” In this series the Spurs won in 6 games. The most recent lopsided “Finals experience” mismatch is the 1991 Finals. The Bulls hadn’t been in any of the previous Finals, while their opponents, the Lakers, had been in 7 of the last 9 Finals. In this case, having experience meant nothing, as the Bulls won in 5 games.

I can understand this kind of thought process. You perceive that a team that recently has been to the Finals has some kind of advantage over a team that hasn’t been to the Finals, because these teams win more often than not. However is the “Finals experience” the cause for this?

You can look at “playoff experience” the same way. If you look at the history of the playoffs, and took all the matchups where one team made the playoffs the year before, while the other didn’t, I’m sure the team with the previous playoff experience has a high winning percentage. Again is this because of the “playoff experience” factor? No. Most likely teams don’t miss the playoffs one year, then are good enough to win their first round matchup the next year. Turnaround isn’t that quick in the NBA, unless you can get a top notch guy. Even that isn’t a guarantee, as proved by Michael Jordan’s first year. In fact it took Jordan’s Bulls 4 years to get out of the first round. The important factor was not “playoff experience,” but rather being a good team.

The same can be said about “Finals experience.” When you have a team that has the ability to win it all, they should be able to compete at a high level for a few years, and might win a few championships. The “Finals experience” doesn’t make a team win, but rather it’s the other way around. A team wins multiple Finals because the team is great at winning to begin with.

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Mike Kurylo

Mike Kurylo is the founder and editor of KnickerBlogger.net. His book on the 2012 Knicks, "We’ll Always Have Linsanity," is on sale now. Follow him on twitter (@KnickerBlogger).