Lab Guide: Why You Should Learn to Love “RINGscore”
I’m obsessed with the NBA Finals. Chances are that if you’re visiting this site, you are too. “The Finals” provide the grandest stage of them all, a proving ground for the greatest players in the game to show off their mettle. We all know the legendary players who have made their mark there – MJ, Russell, Magic Johnson. We also know the great talents who failed there – Barkley, Ewing, Karl Malone.
As a casual observer, I can rattle off player ring counts as if I studied them for a final exam. Jordan won 6 rings, Wilt won 2, Russell won 11… and Durant just nabbed his 1st one.
But here’s my question: are all championship rings created equal?
Do Kobe’s 5 titles mean as much as Duncan’s 5 championships? Do Wade’s 3 rings carry more or less value than Bird’s 3 banners? That’s the great question that I wanted to tackle. So I opened up my spreadsheet, downloaded stats and went to work. After endless trial-and-error, formula modifications and reasonableness checks, what emerged is a model.
No, not that kind of model. Unfortunately. Rather, it was a statistical model that took in all sorts of key NBA finals inputs. It then spit out a nice, lovely, singular output:
A RINGscore “grade”.
This number became the basis for an entire section of this site. I wouldn’t have published something if I thought it was rubbish. Rather, I’ve come to view these results as something that adds immense value to player-vs-player legacy debates. So without further adieu, I’d like to elaborate on this statistic and explain it for you, the reader.
The following is a guide on 1) What RINGscore represents, 2) What factors into RINGscore, and 3) How to use & analyze RINGscore in comparing Finals performances from player-to-player.
Section 1: What “RINGscore” Represents
Simply put, “RINGscore” rates how well a player performed in a particular NBA Finals series. To help illustrate this, see below for two opposing infographics that utilize RINGscore. They are the “NBA Finals Storyboards” for Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson from their 1991 NBA Finals matchup.
There is a ton of information tossed at you in these infographics. But hopefully, you quickly noticed the black box containing “RINGscore” and a number. For the 1991 NBA Finals:
- Michael Jordan earned a RINGscore of 40.06 for the series
- Magic Johnson earned a RINGscore of 21.24 for the series.
Michael Jordan’s Bulls not only won and defeated Magic’s Lakers. He also thoroughly outplayed Johnson, which is evidenced by the wide gap in their RINGscores. I’ll elaborate further in the next section on “why”. However, RINGscore basically tells me this: Michael Jordan outplayed Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals and earned more credit because of his performance.
Before moving on to the next section, I will provide another example to follow. See below for a comparison of LeBron James and Stephen Curry from the 2016 NBA Finals:
For the 2016 NBA Finals, I can see that:
- LeBron James earned a RINGscore of 45.17 for the series
- Stephen Curry earned a RINGscore of 18.59 for the series.
This makes sense, as James’ Cavaliers emerged victorious in the series. Therefore, earning a higher RINGscore makes sense. But why is there such a large divide between their scores? Surely it’s not just a matter of winning and losing. Was James’ performance THAT far superior to Curry’s, to warrant such a higher grade?
Wait a minute… now I have another question. Based on observing these 4 storyboards, it’s also telling me this:
- Lebron James’ 2016 NBA Finals performance earned him a RINGscore of 45.17, which is higher than…
- Michael Jordan’s 1991 NBA Finals series, which netted him a RINGscore of 40.06. This is higher than…
- Magic Johnson’s 1991 NBA Finals output, which earned him RINGscore of 21.24. Despite its’ low score, it is higher than…
- Stephen Curry’s 2016 NBA Finals performance, which outputs a RINGscore of 18.59.
Did I just compare 4 players’ Finals performances from across eras to one another? Yes, I certainly did. That is exactly what “RINGscore” represents: a measure used to rate and compare NBA Finals player performances to one another, across eras.
Section 2: What Factors Into “RINGscore”
I’m sure that by now, you are asking yourself: “But what goes into RINGscore? What does it consist of?” I am here to tell you, right now!
First, here is the re-stated definition of the stat:
“RINGscore” is a calculation of a player’s output & result within a single Finals series, win or loss.
Now, see below for factors used to calculate the stat:
- RINGscore rises if a player:
- Factor 1: Wins the series
- Factor 2: Posts high “per game” averages in PTS, REB, AST, STL or BLK
- Factor 3: Wins the series in fewer games OR loses the series in more games
- Factor 4: Frequently finishes as the overall game leader in PTS, REB, AST, STL or BLK
- Factor 5: Plays against a tougher opponent, i.e. is considered the “underdog”
- Factor 6: Records high single-game stats in PTS, REB, AST, STL or BLK
- Factor 7: Scores efficiently on high volume; i.e. “True Shooting %” and “Usage %” are both high
- Factor 8: Player participates in consecutive Finals series. More points are awarded for winning consecutive Finals series
- Other minor factors are considered as well
- RINGscore lowers if a player does the opposite of what’s listed above.
In simpler terms, positive & significant impact on a Finals series boosts a player’s RINGscore. Negative & non-significant impact on a Finals series decreases a player’s RINGscore.
Let’s make this easy by looking at those NBA Finals Storyboards from the 2016 NBA Finals. For convenience, I’ll re-post them here:
Referring to the factors stated above, here is how each player performed in those categories:
Factor #1: Wins the Series
- LeBron James’ Cavs won the series. RINGscore
- Stephen Curry’s Warriors lost the series. RINGscore
Factor #2: Posts high “per game” averages in PTS, REB, AST, STL or BLK
- Lebron averaged 29.7 PTS, 11.3 REB, 8.9 AST, 2.6 STL & 2.3 BLK in the series. That’s a Combined FinalsBOXSCORE of 54.8 (!!). RINGscore
- Curry averaged 22.6 PTS, 4.9 REB, 3.7 AST, 0.9 STL & 0.7 BLK in the series, for a Combined FinalsBOXSCORe of 32.8. This is less output than the average team leader posts in a Finals series. RINGscore
Factor #3: Wins the series in fewer games OR loses the series in more games
- James’ Cavaliers won the series in 7 games. This is actually the “worst” that a winning team can do in a Finals series. Imagine if the Cavs had won the series in a 4-0 sweep! So despite winning, this is the only category which reduces James’ series grade. RINGscore
- Steph’s Warriors lost the series in 7 games. This is the “best” that a losing team can do in a Finals series. So despite losing, this category actually helps Curry’s grade. RINGscore
Factor #4: Frequently finishes as the overall game leader in PTS, REB, AST, STL or BLK
- Across both teams, LeBron James finished as the overall game leader in multiple stat categories. He led 6x in AST, 5x in BLK, 4x in STL, 3x in PTS and 2x in REB (just absurd haha). This adds up to a GameLeadTOTAL of 20, which is the highest I’ve come across. RINGscore
- Across both teams, Stephen Curry finished as the overall game leader in a few stat categories. He led 1x in PTS, 1x in REB, and 1x in BLK. This adds up to a GameLeadTOTAL of 3, which rates very low compared to the average output of a team’s leading player in the Finals. RINGscore
Factor #5: Plays against a tougher opponent, i.e. is considered the “underdog”
- Refer to the Difficulty Modifier (DIFF) in the infographics. DIFF awards a small bonus to teams who are NOT favored to win. DIFF assesses a small penalty to teams who ARE favored to win. This gives credit to players who play well against elite competition, while reducing credit for teams who are overwhelmingly better than their opponent. So if both teams are evenly-matched, DIFF = 100. If your team is the underdog, DIFF > 100 (bonus). If your team is the favorite, DIFF < 100 (penalty). Generally, DIFF scores range from 85 to 115 (-15 or +15 from the middle representing heavy underdogs/favorites).
- The Cleveland Cavaliers were considered the underdog in this series, by a wide margin. This is reflected by the DIFF score of 111.2, which is +11.2 pts from being considered an evenly-matched series. Therefore, LeBron’s output totals were multiplied by a bonus to give his performance more credit. RINGscore
- The Golden State Warriors were considered the favorite in this series, by a wide margin. This is reflected by the DIFF score of 89.1, which is (-10.9) pts from being considered an evenly-matched series. Therefore, Steph’s output totals were multiplied by a penalty to reduce credit for losing to an inferior opponent. RINGscore
Factor #6: Records high single-game stats in PTS, REB, AST, STL or BLK
- To calculate GameMaxTOTAL, I review each game’s box score within a Finals series and record a player’s highest stat output from across the series. His highest PTS total may have occurred in Game 1, while his max AST total may have occurred in Game 4. The purpose is to measure the maximum output in a Finals across the 5 major categories of PTS, REB, AST, STL and BLK.
- LeBron recorded one of the highest GameMaxTOTAL‘s in Finals history in 2016. His 75 GameMaxTOTAL consists of the following peak series outputs: 41 PTS, 16 REB, 11 AST, 4 STL and 3 BLK. This was a thoroughly dominant output on the game’s biggest stage. RINGscore
- Curry recorded a slightly above-average GameMaxTOTAL in the 2016 Finals. His GameMaxTOTAL of 58 consists of the following peak series outputs: 38 PTS, 9 REB, 6 AST, 2 STL, 3 BLK. This is a good output compared to the average, so RINGscore
Factor #7: Scores efficiently on high volume; i.e. “True Shooting %” and “Usage %” are both high
- I combined “True Shooting %” and “Usage %” into one stat: “SCORE%“. With SCORE%, it takes into account the player’s involvement in the offense and his shooting efficiency. It rises as both TS% and USG% increase, and vice versa. So if a player shoots a slightly lower TS% than another, but handled a higher offensive load, then he’d get more credit with SCORE%.
- James shot an efficient 49% FG rate during the 2016 Finals. In addition, I calculated his SCORE% at 50%. This stat combines his 33.4 USG% and 56.2 TS% into one number that reflects how effectively he shot on high volume. RINGscore
- Curry is widely known as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Although he didn’t win the 2016 Finals, he did shoot well. Curry’s 41% FG shooting could have been better, but he also converted on 40% of his 3-pointers and 93% of his free throws. This is reflected in his ridiculously-high 58.0 TS%, which he posted while carrying a high offensive burden (30.8 USG%). RINGscore
Factor 8: Player participates in consecutive Finals series. More points are awarded for winning consecutive Finals series
- In the storyboard above, refer to the FinalsMODIFIER section. A bonus is rewarded to a player if competing in a consecutive NBA Finals appearance. The awarded bonus is higher if a player 1) wins multiple consecutive Finals series, or 2) competes in 3 or more consecutive Finals series. The awarded bonus is smaller if a player 2) loses Finals series, or 3) competes in no more than 2 consecutive Finals series.
- For LeBron James, the 2016 NBA Finals represented his 6th consecutive appearance in the championship series. However, he had lost the prior year so the 2016 title was just a solo one. Therefore, he was given the FinalsMODIFIER bonus of “3peat+ Finals L/1W”. The “L/1W” is shorthand for “Loss or 1 Win”. So he received a minor FinalsMODIFIER boost for having played in multiple consecutive series, yet only have won the 1 title. Still, it’s better to receive a FinalsMODIFIER bonus than not to. RINGscore
- For Stephen Curry, the 2016 NBA Finals represented his 2nd consecutive appearance in the championship series. He had won the previous year, but did not pull off the coveted “back-to-back” titles. Therefore, he received the smallest FinalsMODIFIER bonus of “Repeat Finals L/1W”. He received credit for playing in a consecutive title series, but did not receive all of the credit possible had he actually won. Again, it is still beneficial to receive a FinalsMODIFER bonus than not to. RINGscore
Section 3: How to Use & Analyze “RINGscore”
The final step is to learn how to utilize “RINGscore” to get the most value out of it. See below for a Q&A that I asked myself when creating it, and continue doing so as I analyze its’ results:
Q: What does the RINGscore of one player’s Finals mean when compared to another’s?
A: The higher the score, the more that a player accomplished in his respective series than another person did. Of course, this is only in reference to measurable figures like stats, team records, etc. For example, see below for a player-vs-player comparison. Shaq’s 2000 NBA Finals generated a RINGscore of 40.33, the 2nd-highest of all-time. When compared to Kobe Bryant’s 2010 Finals RINGscore of 34.14, this means that Shaq’s 2000 performance was more impactful and effective in that series then Kobe was in his series. This bears out, as Kobe was good-but-not-legendary in 2010, while O’Neal put up one of basketball’s most dominating Finals performances in league history.
Q: Does a player have a cumulative RINGscore “career total” if he plays in multiple Finals series?
A: Yes! Total RINGscore adds up the individual RINGscore grades from each series in a player’s career. For example, Hakeem Olajuwon played in 3 NBA Finals. He scored very highly in each Finals series. However, his career Total RINGscore will simply not be higher than that of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played in 10 NBA Finals. This makes sense, as your Total RINGscore will increase each time that you advance to basketball’s biggest stage. See below for a comparison of Hakeem’s and Kareem’s career Total RINGscore’s.
Q: That seems to unfairly favor Kareem and guys that played in Finals more frequently. How do you use RINGscore to fairly measure the impact of players who only had a few opportunities to play?
A: I also wanted to find this out. So, I took the average of each player’s RINGscores across their careers. This gives us the output AvgRINGscore. What this illustrates is consistency at the highest level. AvgRINGscore rises with elite performances and falls with no-show’s. So a player is rewarded if he consistently played at an elite level throughout his Finals series appearances. See below for the same graphic as above, except this time filtered for leading AvgRINGscore. You will see that Olajuwon beats Abdul-Jabbar in this measure.
Hopefully you’re now well-versed in RINGscore and what it means. I will now wrap-up this guide by giving you a few personal insights I’ve gleaned from analyzing the RINGscore results thus far:
- Bill Russell is ridiculous. He’s 1st in Total RINGscore, tied-3rd in AvgRINGscore & has a Top 10 HiRINGscore. His consistency from series-to-series is unparalleled.
- Michael Jordan’s GOAT claim can be seen here. He’s 1st in AvgRINGscore, which shows his elite play and reliable consistency while playing on basketball’s grand spectacle. His 1991 and 1993 NBA Finals are 2 of the 8 highest recorded RINGscores in the database. Meanwhile, he’s tied-1st with the highest GameMaxTOTAL of 83! This occurred in the ’93 Finals against Phoenix. Jordan had game outputs of 55 PTS, 12 REB, 9 AST, 5 STL and 2 BLK. #HisAirness
- Shaquille O’Neal is the far superior NBA Finals performer when compared to Kobe Bryant. Shaq is tied-1st with a GameMaxTOTAL of 83, which came from his dominating 2001 Finals series vs Philadelphia. He recorded individual game high’s of 44 PTS, 20 REB, 9 AST, 2 STL and 8 BLK. Meanwhile, Kobe’s best GameMaxTOTAL ranks 25th, coming in at 66 from his 2010 Finals against Boston. Also, Shaq posted 3 of the Top 7 TotalBOXSCORE figures. All of them came from his 2000-2002 threepeat run. Bryant was a great contributor in those series, but not to the level of O’Neal. Lastly, Shaq recorded 3 of the Top 6 RINGscores from his jaw-dropping threepeat Finals run. Shaq’s highest RINGscore was 40.33 (2000 NBA Finals), while Kobe’s highest is 37.80 (2009 NBA Finals).
- Hakeem Olajuwon was DREAM-LIKE in each of his 3 Finals appearances. He recorded one of the highest RINGscore figures from a Finals loss (1986 NBA Finals). Meanwhile, his legacy-defining 1995 Finals win over the favored Orlando Magic netted a RINGscore of 39.48, good for 7th all-time.
- Tim Duncan may have been quiet on the court, but he played extremely well throughout his Finals career. Without a doubt, his best performance came in 2003 against the New Jersey Nets. That Finals netted Duncan a 40.28 RINGscore, the 3rd-highest of all-time. He averaged 24 PTS, 17 REB, 5 AST and 5 BLK, while also setting the Finals record for BLK’s in a series. “The Big Fundamental” led both teams in PTS, REB and BLK while also ranking 2nd in AST. Duncan’s GameLeadTOTAL of 18 is the 2nd-highest in the dataset. He led all 6 Finals games in BLK and REB… which is just ridiculous. Meanwhile, he posted a O-Rtg of 109 and a D-Rtg of 83. Basketball doesn’t get much better than that.
- Last, but not least, comes “The King”. LeBron James doesn’t lead many categories, but he ranks very high in nearly all of them. However, his claim to fame is one worth celebrating. James lays claim to the single-highest RINGscore ever recorded, coming from his 2016 Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors. His RINGscore of 45.17 is five points better than 2nd-place. It was the perfect storm for scoring highly in this model: Be a historic underdog, defeat a historic team, and dominate in absolutely every statistical category by a wide margin. That’s exactly what he accomplished, and this is reflected by the historic score.
Tell me what you think about RINGscore. Is it useful? Is it ludicrous?! Tell me. I create these stats to deliver something of value to the NBA fan community. So let your voice be heard by Tweeting me @NBAStatsLab. Otherwise, thanks for reading!