Ben Wallace Makes Me Unhappy

Posted on July 11, 2006 by


In the interest of full disclosure I need to note that I was born in Detroit and still follow the Pistons.  So I was not real happy that Ben Wallace decided to leave Detroit for the Chicago Bulls.  Consequently, the analysis that follows may be biased by my immense distress at this obvious crisis. 

Of course in every crisis there is an opportunity.  And the opportunity I have is to review the history of Ben Wallace in Detroit.

The Big Ben story actually begins with the demise of the original Bad Boys in Detroit (okay, not really true, but that’s where I want to begin). The Bad Boy era officially ended in Detroit when Dennis Rodman was shipped to San Antonio for Sean Elliott in 1993.  In 1992-93 with Rodman playing only 62 games the Pistons accumulated 40 victories.  The next season the Pistons, led supposedly by Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Sean Elliott, managed to win only 20 games.  Although that was a painful season to watch, the Pistons were rewarded with a very high draft choice in 1994.  Originally the Pistons were going to select Darko Milicic with the third pick in the 1994 draft, but after being told that he was only nine years old, the Pistons settled on Grant Hill.

In Grant Hill’s first season the Pistons only won 28 games, but 10.1 of these could be credited to Hill so it was clear the Pistons had a future star.  In 1995-96 this was confirmed.  Hill’s Wins Production rose to 22.2 and Detroit won 46 games.  The next season was even better. Looking back at Hill’s career, the 1996-97 campaign was his finest.  He produced 26.6 wins and had a Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48) of 0.405.

What does it mean to have a WP48 of 0.405?  As detailed in the book, an average NBA team will produce 0.500 wins per 48 minutes so an average NBA player will have a WP48 of 0.100.  So a mark of 0.405 is extremely good.  To put that in perspective, only Kevin Garnett in 2005-06 bested the 0.400 mark. 

Hill went on to play three more seasons with Detroit.  By the conclusion of Hill’s sixth season his career Wins Production stood at 100.6.  His career WP48 stood at 0.284. In sum, Hill was a very good player in Detroit.

In the summer of 2000, though, it all came to an end.  The Orlando Magic had a plan to build a championship team around Hill and Tracey McGrady.  So the Pistons arranged for a deal, where they would get a virtual unknown in Ben Wallace, and the Magic would get a player who looked like a future Hall of Famer.

For Hill the deal did not work out so well.  Injuries have limited him to only 135 games over the past six years and he has only produced 17.2 total wins for Orlando. 

Ben Wallace, though, has gone from unknown to star of an NBA championship team.  In six seasons with Detroit Big Ben has produced 133.4 wins.  His WP48 has averaged 0.373.  Yes, Ben Wallace has actually been more productive for Detroit over the past six seasons than Grant Hill was over the previous six. 

Could the Pistons have known what they were getting when they made this deal? Ben Wallace played four seasons before arriving in Detroit.  The first three were with Washington and the last was in Orlando.  Although he was part of the rotation in Washington and Orlando, he never averaged more than 26.8 minutes a contest and was by no means considered a future star.

If we look at his per-minute production, though, we see that it was odd Big Ben didn’t command more minutes prior to his career in the Motor City.  During his only season in Orlando Wallace produced 13.4 wins and had a WP48 of 0.328.  His last season in Washington, he produced 8.1 wins and posted a WP48 of 0.315. 

Interestingly, Washington received eight wins from Ben Wallace in limited playing time during the strike shortened season of 1999 and still packaged him with Terry Davis, Tim Legler, and Jeff McInnis for Isaac Austin.  Austin, for his entire career, scored 3,095 points and produced 0.37 wins.  Yes, the Wizards traded a player who produced eight wins in one season for a player who in his career produced less than one victory.

So the Magic looked pretty smart with that deal.  But then, after stealing Big Ben from Washington Orlando then gave him to the Pistons for a player who was actually a bit less productive.  

All this analysis would certainly be helped by a table showing the career marks of Grant Hill and Ben Wallace.  And if I knew how to put tables in our blog, I would put the analysis of Grant Hill and Ben Wallace right at this spot. As it is, you will have to click HERE to see the career numbers of Grant Hill and Ben Wallace.

And now the Ben Wallace era in Detroit has ended.  The Pistons have signed Nazr Mohammed to at least ease the loss of one of the game’s most productive players.  Last year Mohammed posted a WP48 of 0.148. So he was above average, but hardly Ben Wallace.  Had Mohammed offered this level of productivity in Wallace’s minutes last year the Pistons would have won 11.3 fewer games.  In other words, it is not likely the Pistons would have been thought of as title contenders with Mohammed instead of Big Ben. 

Last year was actually one of the better seasons in Nazr’s career.  Across Mohammed’s career he has only produced 22.0 wins.  His career WP48 has only been 0.120. 

Again, if I could put tables in here I would add one right about here.  But I can’t, so please go to the previous link to Hill and Wallace above, or just click HERE and scroll down to see Nazr’s career record.

Judging by what Mohammed has done for his career, the Pistons are in trouble.  What about Ben Wallace?  Is he worth the reported $60 million over four years the Chicago Bulls are paying?  If each regular season win is worth $1 million – and I have reason to think that is not a horrible estimate (not great, but not horrible either) – then Wallace needs to produce 60 wins over the next four seasons to justify his wage (ignoring what he does in the playoffs, which would be a bonus).  Over the past four seasons Wallace has produced 85.4 wins.  But he will be 32 when the season starts and his game does depend on working harder than everyone else.  He also needs to be on the floor, and one wonders if every coach is going to be happy with a player who cannot offer much scoring.  Assuming age does not dramatically diminish Big Ben’s ability, and that he gets steady playing time, the Bulls made a good deal.

But how much better are the Bulls?  The Bulls look to be adding Ben Wallace and PJ Brown in the frontcourt in place of Tyson Chandler and the recently waived Othella Harrington.  Chandler is actually a very productive player, so his loss hurts.  PJ Brown has produced more than 100 wins across his career, but he and I are actually the same age.  When the season starts both of us will be 37.  I know I don’t feel like running up and down a basketball court any more, and judging by Brown’s performance decline last year, he might not feel much like doing this any more either.

If we look at the productivity the Bulls lost, and we assume Wallace and Brown can maintain what they did last year in their first season in Chicago, then the Bulls have added about seven wins.  So next year, the Bulls could be projected to win 48 games.  Given the expected decline in the Pistons, at this point the NBA Central Division looks to be a toss-up.  Of course, teams have not finished moving the pieces, so it is way too early to call this race.   

– DJ