The Demon Deacon Trio

Posted on June 2, 2007 by


A few days ago I noted that Chris Paul has consistently out-performed Deron Williams. This has been true their first two seasons in the NBA, as well as each player’s last season in college. This analysis led John Burger – one-half of the famed Burger-Walter sports economics team – to argue that Wake Forest might have the best trio of graduates currently playing in the NBA. The trio Burger notes includes Paul, Tim Duncan, and Josh Howard.

Now Burger is a graduate of Wake Forest, so his analysis might be a tad biased. Still, I thought his claim was worth investigating.

Last year 458 players took the court in the NBA. The top 10% of these players are listed in the following table.

Table One: The Top 10% of 2006-07

Before getting to Burger’s claim, I wish to note that 50% of all wins were produced by these 46 players. In other words, just as the NBA suffers from competitive imbalance at the team level, it appears to be just as imbalanced at the player level. I would also add that except Portland and Seattle, every team has at least one player in the top 46. Of course, both Portland and Seattle hope their lottery picks this year will allow them to place a player on the list for 2007-08.

Of the top 46 players in 2006-07, eight came to the NBA straight out of high school. Another five are international players who never played in the NCAA. The remaining 33 players come from 26 different colleges and/or universities.

Only four universities place more than one player on the list: Duke, Arizona, Wake Forest, and UConn. Of these, both Duke and Arizona join the Demon Deacons with a talented trio. So the race for most talented trio comes down to these three schools.

Arizona is the easiest to eliminate. None of Arizona’s players – Andre Iguodala, Gilbert Arenas, and Jason Terry – rank higher than 24th. So these players, although good, are not likely the most productive trio.

So this leaves us Duke and Wake Forest. The Duke trio – Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Elton Brand – produced a combined 46.9 victories. This mark bests the Wake Forest trio by 2.6 wins.

So is Duke the best? Well, not quite so fast. The Duke players played 8,705 minutes, which is nearly 1,200 minutes more than Paul, Duncan, and Howard. Consequently, when we look at Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48], the Wake Forest trio’s mark of 0.282 bests the Duke mark of 0.259.

In sum, my objective (and unbiased) analysis appears to confirm Burger’s assertion that his alma mater boasts the best trio in the NBA. At least, that’s my story until a Duke graduate objects.

– DJ