The LA Lakers in 2005-06

Posted on October 14, 2006 by

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Chapter Six of The Wages of Wins is called “Shaq and Kobe.” The purpose of this chapter was to introduce Wins Produced, and the story of Shaq and Kobe was used to explain this metric.

The story is quite familiar to NBA fans. In 1996 these two stars came to the LA Lakers. After three seasons of moderate success, Shaq and Kobe led the Lakers to three straight titles from 2000 to 2002. Across these three championship seasons Kobe produced 37 wins, an outstanding level of productivity. Shaq, though, offered 67 wins. In sum, Kobe was great but Shaq was better.

In 2002-03 Kobe was the more productive performer, offering 19.1 wins while Shaq only produced 17.7 victories. The next season – as detailed in the book – Shaq again produced more wins than Kobe. Unfortunately, while each player struggled to establish himself as the star of the team, the actual team failed to win the NBA title.

In the summer of 2004 the Shaq-Kobe feud led the Lakers to a choice the team probably did not want to make. The team could go forward with either Shaq or Kobe, but not with both. The Lakers decided to go with the younger star, signing Kobe to a long-term contract and sending Shaq to Miami.

In the last two seasons Shaq’s new team has been quite successful, winning the NBA championship in 2006. Kobe’s Lakers, though, have had some problems. In 2004-05 the Lakers only won 34 games and missed the playoffs. Last year the team won 45 games, but was not considered a serious contender for the NBA title.

So did the Lakers make the wrong choice? In 2005-06 Shaq was still more productive than Kobe, at least on a per-minute basis. But that is probably not the relevant comparison. Shaq’s per-minute productivity this past season was the lowest of his career. When you couple this with Shaq’s inability to stay on the court – he has only averaged 67 games per season across his career – it is not a surprise to find that Shaq’s wins production has declined considerably. Shaq only produced 8.5 wins last year, a mark that is about half Shaq’s career Wins Produced average. In contrast, the still younger Kobe produced 14.3 wins, a mark that led the Lakers in 2005-06.

Of course Shaq had help in Miami, a team led by Dwyane Wade. Kobe was not entirely alone in LA, but he could count the players who also made significant contributions to the Lakers cause on one finger. Beyond Kobe all the Lakers really have is Lamar Odom, who produced 14.1 wins.

After we get past Bryant and Odom we see a few players who are close to average or well below average. Smush Parker leads this pack. Smush was surprisingly average, producing 6.1 wins and generating a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] of 0.106 (average WP48 is 0.100). Luke Walton was actually a little bit better than average, posting a WP48 of 0.127. But after Parker and Walton we see a collection of players who were consistently less productive than the Lakers would like.

In the off-season the Lakers lost Devean George, a player who has generally been below average; and added Vladimir Radmanovic and Maurice Evans, two players who have also generally been below average.

Given these moves, one suspects the Lakers are hoping the players from 2005-06 will play better. There is actually some hope that Kwame Brown can produce. In 2003-04 Brown produced 6.1 wins and had a 0.130 WP48 for the Wizards. So it is possible for Brown to be above average. And who knows if 2005 lottery pick Andrew Bynum – a player taken out of high school – can develop into a productive performer?

If Brown and Bynum do produce, the Lakers could improve upon its 45 win performance last year. Still, one doubts this team can match Shaq’s Heat in wins this season. And as long as that fails to happen, even if Kobe produces more wins than the Diesel, LA fans might wonder if the team truly made the right choice in 2004.

– DJ

Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say