Scorers and Role Players in the NBA

Posted on July 23, 2006 by


In The Wages of Wins we make the observation that it might be best to evaluate scorers in the NBA relative to other scorers.  Recently I updated the analysis seen in our book in this forum via an examination of the top scorers in 2005-06 – which one can see HERE. This analysis demonstrated that most scorers are very productive in terms of Wins Produced, although there are a few top scorers whose actual contribution is below average.

This analysis has led me to think about the value of scorers just a bit more formally. Young Hoon Lee and I recently completed an article where we present a production function for the NBA.  Output in this function is wins.  The inputs are the players, which we organized according to the position the players play. 

The discussion of scorers, though, led me to think of a different formulation of the NBA production function.  Instead of the inputs being point guards, centers, etc…, I thought it would be interesting to separate the players into just two groups: Scorers and Role Players. 

Previously I defined a scorer as a player who produces at least one point every two minutes played (or 0.5 points per minute).  Such a definition would be a problem for some teams since not every team has a player who scores at this rate.  Consequently, I am relaxing the definition of a scorer to a player who scores four points every ten minutes played, or sixteen points every forty minutes played (or 0.4 points per minute).

Given these two inputs, how many wins do teams get from their scorers?  And how many wins do they get from their non-scorers – who I will call the Role Players?

I looked at each team this past season in a fashion far less sophisticated then what Young Hoon Lee and I did for our article.  Basically all I did was add together the wins produced by a team’s scorers and then did the same for the team’s role players (so I did not estimate a production function). Follow this link to a table that reports what I found.  

On average each team’s scorers produced 59% of a team’s wins, although there was quite a bit of variation around the mean. The Wins Produced by Portland’s scorers was actually negative.  After Portland we have Denver, whose scorers only produced 18.9% of the Nuggets total wins.  At the other extreme there was Utah, whose scorers produced 99% of the team’s wins. 

The top teams tended to be more balanced and can generally by found in the middle of the table.  For example, the scorers for the Pistons produced 46.5% of their wins while the Spurs scorers contributed 64.6% of San Antonio’s Wins Produced.

What does this exercise indicate? Scorers tend to produce the majority of wins in the NBA.  Still, a team cannot depend on scorers alone. The role players also matter.  The top five teams in the league received on average 22.1 wins from their role players.  In other words, the top teams manage to get contributions from the players whose primary job is to put the orange ball in the hoop.  But these teams also receive contributions from the players charged with doing all the other tasks necessary to consistently win basketball games. 

– DJ