One of the points we make in our book is that Ben Gordon is not exactly the second coming of MJ. Although Gordon is a shooting guard who can score, he is not above average in shooting efficiency and doesn’t do much else particularly well. Consequently, unlike MJ, he doesn’t produce many wins.

But he does score. And the Bulls have decided to help him out in the wins department. Since losing to the eventual champion Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs the Bulls have added Ben Wallace, Tyrus Thomas, Adrian Griffin, and P.J. Brown. At the same time, Tyson Chandler, Darius Songaila, Othella Harrington, and Eric Piatkowski have left the building.

What impact will these moves have on the Bulls ability to accumulate wins next season? Before we answer that question, let me act like an economist and make a few assumptions.

First, let’s assume that the productivity of each player per-minute will be the same next season as it was in 2005-06 (although we will have to adjust this if the player is expected to change positions).

Second, let’s assume I can predict the productivity of Tyrus Thomas, the player the Bulls drafted a few weeks ago (I do have a model that does do this, and no, I am not going to provide details of this just yet).

Third, let’s also assume that the line-up I see the Bulls having right now is the line-up they will have next season. That means, no more moves and certainly no injuries.

And fourth, let’s assume that my guesses for how many minutes each player will play and the position where each player will line-up is correct.

Oh wait, one last assumption. Let’s assume that you really would want to know how many games each team is going to win before the season starts. Think about that for a moment. If we knew with certainty the final outcome before we started, would we bother watching any of the games?

Okay, given all those assumptions, how many wins can the Bulls expect? As I see it, the roster currently breaks down as follows: At center I am placing Ben Wallace and P.J. Brown. The power forward positions will be manned by Tyrus Thomas, Mike Sweetney, and Malik Allen. The small forwards are Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. Shooting guards include Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, and Adrian Griffin. Hinrich will also play some at the point, along with Chris Duhon. For now I am ignoring Thabo Sefolosha (I don’t have any way to predict the productivity of foreign rookies at the moment).

If this is how the positions break-down, and player’s perform as they did in the past, then as one can see HERE , the Bulls can expect to win 64 games.

As I write 64 a dialog has commenced in my head. On the one hand, I don’t believe the Bulls will win 64 games next season. In fact, given that the Bulls are rivals of the Pistons – the team I have followed since I was a child – I hope this is wrong. On the other hand, if the Bulls do win 64 games next year, boy, would I look smart. So I am a bit torn by this forecast.

Let me comment on why I think the Bulls will likely improve on the 41 games they won in 2005-06. Clearly Ben Wallace helps quite a bit. Big Ben produced 20.1 wins last year for the Pistons. Yes, Tyson Chandler is a productive player, but he only produced 10.3 wins in 2005-06, so Big Ben is a big upgrade at center.

The other big issue is a bit more subtle. If you look at the Bulls minutes last year it is clear that either Deng or Nocioni had to log minutes at power forward. In fact, more than 1,500 minutes had to be played at the four spot by one of these players. The addition of Tyrus Thomas – assuming he plays – allows the Bulls to keep both Deng and Nocioni at their more natural small forward position. So the Bulls can expect further wins at both small forward and power forward.

Now does all this mean that everyone should head to Vegas and bet on the Bulls to win 60 plus games? No. At least, if you do and lose your money I’m not responsible.

Remember the list of assumptions that were made. Although players in the NBA are fairly consistent from season to season, there is some variation in performance. Some players will get worse, others may get better. Beyond this point, I cannot predict injuries and I am guessing on how many minutes the coaches are going to play each player. In fact, I only looked at eleven players for the Bulls and we know Chicago will play more players than this next year.

In all, this was just a fun exercise that suggests the Bulls look to be a better team in 2006-07. And that would be the one point this post is making. The evidence suggests that the Bulls will be better next season.

And what does that mean for Ben Gordon? He will probably be the leading scorer on this better team. He probably still won’t produce many wins. But the NBA pays scorers quite well, especially those who play on very successful teams. So in the end, Ben Wallace may make Ben Gordon a very rich man (okay, he is a rich man, how about an even richer man?)

Oh, one last note. I did the same exercise for the Pistons, the team I have followed since my childhood in Detroit. Despite what Flip Saunders says, losing Ben Wallace doesn’t help the Pistons. Right now they look like a team that will have trouble getting to fifty wins. Again, just a prediction and hopefully that one doesn’t come true either.

— DJ

*Basketball Stories*

Kevin

July 21, 2006

You’ve mentioned that your metric is accurate because it correlates very well to team wins over the last 10 seasons. So the values you put on the various statistics seem correct. My question is if there is any further work on analyzing the distribution of those statistics among the players, and if they describe the value of each individual player accurately. For example, if Nash drives into the paint, draws two defenders and gives a no look pass to Marion for a wide open dunk, it would seem that Nash should be credited more than Marion for the possession. Now take this example to the extreme and say this is how the Suns score on every possession, at end of the game Marion’s win score will be twice as high as Nash’s, (ignoring all other parts of the game of course) even though it would seem that Nash was more responsible for the win. So my question is, do these types of situations present problems for your metric? Are these situations so infrequent that they are not significant? Will the extra stats that players don’t “earn”, (i.e. wide-open dunks, rebounds with no opposing player with 20 feet) even out so it affects each player equally? Clearly if you combine all the stats for the team they correlate to wins as you’ve shown, but perhaps the win score method missattributes those win score values within a team? I’m ordering Wages of Wins now and I look forward to see if any of this is addressed in the book.

dberri

July 21, 2006

Kevin,

If Marion’s productivity entirely depends upon Nash, then before Nash arrived in Phoenix we should have seen a very different Marion. Marion, though, has always been an above average player.

By the way, if you look through The Wages of Wins Journal you will see an item posted (I think in May) on the value of Nash and his impact on Nowitzki. Basically, I am not sure the evidence is overwhelming that Nash makes his teammates significantly better. That being said, Nash is still a really productive player.

Hope you enjoy the book. Please let us know what you think.

Jason

July 21, 2006

My understanding is that the scores are corrected for the average score at each position. The average interior player *should* have a higher fg% (since they are more likely to be the recipients of such passes) and *should* get more rebounds. The wins produced subtracts the average for the position out from the player to compensate for this. [This is usually where I get lost trying to calculate them myself since the averages I get, even adjusted for playing time, add up to a whole lot more wins than there are games in a season.]

I suspect that the dynamic aspect of basketball tends to bring in some error here as it’s not always easy to classify some players and specific duties that often result in win-score stats aren’t necessarily split up on every team along a perfect 5-position breakdown. This is my suspicion, but I don’t really yet know how to deal with it or if it actually presents significant error in the analysis.

dberri

July 21, 2006

Jason,

I think I really need to finish writing the paper that will put forward how to calculate Wins Produced, complete with all the math and all the steps. I hope you are not spending too much time trying to recreate this from what we say in the book.

The book is really for a general audience. Our sense in writing the book is that few people would really want to see the math, so all this was left out. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work for everyone.

Jason

July 21, 2006

Too much time? Depends on who you ask, but I find I learn much much more if it’s a bit of work to get to the answer.

Tom Mandel

July 22, 2006

Oh oh, this is a very depressing post, DJ. As you know, I’m a Wizards fan, and the Bulls are our incipient big rivals. My whole weekend is shot, man. I just can’t have this, I can’t.

Being slightly more serious for a moment, what do you think of the Wiz picking up Songaila? Helpful?

dberri

July 22, 2006

Tom,

More bad news I am afraid. In three seasons Songaila has yet to be above average and last year was the least productive so far.

If it makes you feel better, seeing the Bulls do better than the Pistons makes me unhappy also.

There is room for hope, though. This is just a forecast. I would not be suprised if it turns out to be incorrect. In fact, I hope I am wrong.

Scott

September 30, 2006

The Bulls win 50 games! I did a similar calculation for fun using Dean Oliver’s player wins and losses and the player’s production from last year. I assumed that the rookies (Thomas and Sefolsha) would have to play at least as well as the players they would be replacing to see the floor time under Scott Skiles. However, I would gladly accept your prediction of 64 wins should it come true.

http://www.blogabull.com/story/2006/7/20/155223/901

dberri

September 30, 2006

Scott,

I’m a Pistons fan so I hope you’re right.