Do we under-value scorers and should Al Harrington cash in?

Posted on July 12, 2006 by


A few days ago I posted a comment on Carmelo Anthony receiving a maximum contract.  In that post I noted that Anthony is a leading scorer in the NBA, but not a leader in the production of wins.  One criticism people have directed towards our valuation of NBA players is that it appears to under-value scorers.  I think it might be a good idea to address this issue. Specifically, can a player be above average in terms of both scoring and wins production?

Actually we explicitly comment on the valuation of scorers in the book in our discussion of Ben Gordon’s rookie campaign.  Although Gordon was a unanimous selection to the All-Rookie team and also won 6th man of the year, his rookie campaign was hardly a success in terms of Wins Production.  At least, relative to other players at his position, he did not appear very productive.

As we note in the book, maybe scorers need to be compared to scorers.  After all, someone needs to score if a team is going to win.  With this in mind, we stated the following on p. 153: 

Still, we agree that someone must score at some point if a team is going to succeed. In our analysis we have made it a point to compare a player relative to his position. Perhaps the same thinking applies to evaluating a scorer like Gordon. Comparing a scorer to a non-scorer might be unfair, since each plays a different role on the team. Perhaps we would be better off comparing Gordon to other scorers.

Of course, to make this comparison we need to define what we mean by the term “scorer.”  In the book we defined a scorer as any player who played at least 2,000 minutes and averaged one point scored every two minutes played.  In 2004-05 33 players fit this definition.  This was the same number of players I find when I look at 2005-06. 

Each of these 33 players were analyzed in terms of Wins Production and Wins Production per 48 minutes (WP48) during the 05-06 regular season.   

Now I tried adding a table with this analysis as a picture, but it didn’t work too well.  One day I will figure out how to get tables into these posts.  For now, please go HERE for the analysis of scorers in 2005-06. 

The results reveal that most scorers look pretty good in terms of our performance metrics.  The average team wins 0.500 games per 48 minutes, so the average player will produce 0.100 wins per 48 minutes played.  Of the 33 scorers examined, 26 or 79%, posted an above average WP48 in 05-06. Interestingly this was the same percentage we observed in 2004-05.  Given these results, if you assumed that a scorer was an above average player, you would be right quite often.

But you won’t be right all the time.  Seven of these players were not above average.  These include the aforementioned Carmelo Anthony and Ben Gordon.  Additionally, Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, Richard Hamilton, Al Harrington, and Zach Randolph offered below average levels of wins production in 05-06. So relative to their scoring peers, these players don’t appear to be very productive.

The results with respect to Al Harrington are especially significant.  If we look over Harrington’s career we see that his performance in 2005-06 was in some sense unusual.  Prior to this last season Harrington had never met our definition of a “scorer.”  So his scoring totals in Atlanta were somewhat out of character.  His lack of wins production, though, was not.  Harrington has never been an above average producer of wins in the NBA.  Given this history, it will be interesting to see what kind of contract he will sign this summer.  Will people over-value Harrington’s one year of scoring?  Or will his lack of wins production dampen enthusiasm for his services? 

And more importantly, if Harrington doesn’t cash in, will he think this is my fault?

— DJ