The Washington Wizards in 2005-06

Posted on October 1, 2006 by

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An average team will win half its games. Obviously this implies that per 48 minutes the average team wins 0.500 games. Given the nature of basketball, this in turn implies that an average player will produce 0.100 wins per 48 minutes played. So if we observe a team where every player produces 0.100 wins per 48 minutes played, we can expect that team to win 41 games. And with that insightful analysis, the story of the Washington Wizards in 2005-06 begins. Believe it or not, this story is going someplace.

Okay, what if every player produced 0.200 wins per 48 minutes played? Such productivity should translate into a team that wins all 82 games, or a perfect record. Although we are not going to see an entire team of 0.200 players, we can still think of players who have a WP48 in excess of 0.200 as perfect players.

Last year 254 players played at least 1,000 minutes in the NBA regular season. Of these, 36 were perfect players, and as one can see HERE, none played for the Wizards.

If we simply look at the 119 above average players, though, we see six players – Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Jared Jeffries, Antawn Jamison, Antonio Daniels, and Etan Thomas – who played for Washington. Only Boston, Dallas, Indiana, Miami, and San Antonio managed to have this many above average performers.

Still, no perfect players played for the Wizards. To put this in perspective, last season six teams – Detroit, San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, Miami, and Cleveland — managed to win at least fifty games. Each of these teams was led by at least one perfect player — Ben Wallace, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James — who was prolific in Wins Produced (Wins Produced is discussed HERE and HERE).

The Wizards were lead in Wins Produced by Arenas, who offered 11.1 wins and a 0.157 WP48. Of last year’s playoff teams, only the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks were led in Wins Produced by a less productive player.

And this was the basic problem for the Wizards. At each position the Wizards had a player or players that hovered around the average mark. At center we saw Brendan Haywood and Thomas. At the forward spots were Jamison, Jeffries, and Butler. The backcourt had Daniels and Arenas. Except Haywood – who is quite close – all of these players are at least average. But none came close to the 0.200 mark.

For a team to seriously contend for the title it should win more than 50 games. To get past this mark, it helps to have one player who can produce at least 15-20 victories. For example, the Cavaliers have LeBron James, who produced more than twenty wins last year. What this means is that before any other player is added to that roster the Cavaliers know they are well on the way towards the 50 win mark. Of course, last year Cleveland barely made it. But we can expect, because Cleveland gets to start with LeBron, the process of building a title contender in Cleveland will not be as difficult as it will be for a team like the Wizards.

To see this point, imagine if the Wizards wanted to win 60 games next year. To do this, the average player on the roster would have to have a WP48 of 0.150. If your best player is at 0.157, though, you are going to need an entire roster of players just like your best player to get to 60 victories. Obviously that is going to be an impossible roster to assemble.

This is why when we look back at past NBA championship teams we frequently associate one or two players with each team. Miami last year had Shaq and Flash. The Lakers in years past had Shaq and Kobe, and before that Magic. The Spurs had Tim Duncan. The Bulls had Jordan. The Celtics had Bird. Although it is theoretically possible to build a championship team with a large collection of good players, it is clearly much easier if you have one player who can get produce a large quantity of wins all by himself. And historically, that is the blueprint championship teams have followed.

Right now the Wizards appear to lack that one special talent. And its collection of good players was depleted when Jeffries signed with the New York Knicks. Jeffries was only slightly above average, so this by itself is not a huge loss. But the players added – DeShawn Stevenson and Darius Songaila – produced virtually nothing last year. So the Wizards do not look improved.

Of course, all is not lost. Perhaps Arenas is truly on the verge of stardom. Perhaps he can raise his productivity level and join the 36 NBA players who eclipsed the 0.200 WP48 mark. If he does, that might be enough for the Wizards to join the Eastern Conference elite. If he can’t – and no one else emerges — the Wizards may once again make the playoffs. But contending with the top NBA teams does not look to be part of the picture.

Quick programming note: With this entry the Eastern Conference in 2005-06 has been reviewed. Between now and the end of October I will review each team in the Western Conference.

— DJ

Teams Analyzed Thus Far

Atlanta Hawks

Boston Celtics

Charlotte Bobcats

Chicago Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers

Detroit Pistons

Indiana Pacers

Miami Heat

Milwaukee Bucks

New Jersey Nets

New York Knicks

Orlando Magic

Philadelphia 76ers

Toronto Raptors