How Did Philadelphia get to the Finals in 2001?

Posted on July 24, 2006 by

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Over the last few posts I have focused on scorers and role players.  The story of Philadelphia in 2001 continues this tale.  Here are the questions I wish to address:

First, if Iverson is not one of the game’s great players, how did Philadelphia reach the NBA Finals in 2001?

Second, what happened to Philadelphia after 2001?

Okay, those are the questions. Let’s begin with the 2001 season. That year the 76ers won 56 games, the most Philadelphia has ever won in the Iverson era.  If we sum the Wins Produced on this team, we get 52.4 wins. If Iverson only produced 5.2 wins, who produced the other 47.2?  Recall my discussion of scorers and role players.  Philadelphia only had one full-time scorer that season, and that was Iverson. Consequently, as the first table listed HERE indicates, the wins on that team came mostly from its role players.  Specifically, the team was led by George Lynch , Aaron McKie, and Tyrone Hill.

Now let me stop right there.  People are going to say, a team of Lynch, McKie, and Hill wouldn’t have won many games.  Certainly they would not have made the NBA Finals.  That is almost certainly true, but that does not invalidate the analysis.  As I have argued, a team needs both scorers and role players to be successful.  A team of all role players will likely fail.  A team of all scorers, much like the New York Knicks this past season, will also fail to win many games.  In sum, you can’t win with a team of players like Ben Wallace. But you also can’t win with a team of players like Allen Iverson or Stephon Marbury, either.

So both role players and scorers are important.  But as indicated HERE, some teams rely more on scorers, others rely more on role players.  What path has Philadelphia taken?  As indicated HERE over the past six years it is the role players who have led Philadelphia.  The production of these players seems to dictate the ultimate fortunes of the team.  To see this, let’s look at what happened after 2001.

Dikembe Mutombo came in the midst of the 2000-01 season and in 2001-02 led the team in Wins Produced.  Matt Harpring came on the scene that season, also, and turned out to be the second most productive player.  Other productive players on this team included Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, and even Derrick Coleman.

Moving on, the next season Philadelphia was led by its guards.  Mutombo and Harpring were gone, but Snow, McKie, and even Iverson led the team in Wins Produced.   But these three guards were not the whole story.  The top eight players in minutes played combined to produce 46.3 wins.  None of these players were truly phenomenal, and all but Iverson and Van Horn were role players.  Still, most of these top eight players were above average performers and their efforts resulted in the 48 wins we saw in the final standings. 

The next season the wheels came off the bus.  The team added Glenn Robinson to assist Iverson in scoring.  Robinson, as we note in The Wages of Wins, was not very productive in 2003-04.  Furthermore, Iverson got hurt.  Without any scorers, a key input in the NBA production process, the team of strictly role players was not very successful – although Samuel Dalembert, Kenny Thomas, Eric Snow, and Aaron McKie were individually above average players.  Beyond these four players, though, the 76ers basically received no substantial contribution from anyone and the team could only win 33 games.

In 2004-05 the team rebounded to 43 wins, although the summation of wins produced was only 39.  The team had five above average performers: Andre Iguodala, Allen Iverson, Kyle Korver, Samuel Dalembert, and Aaron McKie.  These five players – one scorer and four role players – produced virtually all the team wins. 

This last season Iguodala, Iverson, and Dalembert still played well.  Korver, though, declined substantially and McKie was gone.  With these two role players no longer contributing, and no one available to replace this lost production, the team only won 38 games. 

So what have we learned about Iverson and the 76ers? For the past six years this team has tried to win with one scorer and a collection of role players. When that one scorer played and the role players were productive, the team was good.  But if the scorer was gone, the team does not appear to have players who can step into the scoring job.  So the team plays badly.  Furthermore, if the role players do not produce, the team also suffers.

In sum, Philadelphia does not simply rise and fall with Iverson. Iverson is important to this team, but only because he is one of the few scorers this team employs.  So when Iverson is gone, the team of role players suffers.  Despite this impact, I would argue that it is the role players that primarily determined whatever success Philadelphia has had these past six seasons.  These players may not be noticed by many fans, but the data says that it is the role players who have produced most of the wins Philadelphia fans have seen these past few years.   

– DJ

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