How Fewer Wins Led to More Pay for David West

Posted on September 20, 2007 by


One of the tricks in posting daily on a blog is finding work by other people that you can comment upon.  Yesterday I followed this shortcut by focusing on a post at Shades of Blue – a blog dedicated to the Memphis Grizzlies.  Of course I did more than just link to the comment. I also created some value added (I think) by providing a review of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2005-06 and 2006-07.  And this review was then noted by Chip Crain at Shades of Blue (where he added some value as well).

Today I could continue the back and forth with Shades of Blue.  But variety is the spice of life (or some such cliché) so I am going to turn instead to a wonderful comment by Ryan Schwan from The Hornets Fan (a blog dedicated to the New Orleans Hornets).  Below is Schwan’s comment in its entirety.  I follow with a brief discussion which explains what I liked about this post and why a decline in the productivity of David West resulted in a very lucrative payday for the young power forward.

David West – not interesting?

While I was creating yesterday’s post about the Hornets and how they are not interesting(i.e. unfairly ignored! Really!) it occurred to me that David West is to the Hornets what the Hornets are to the rest of the NBA. On Hornets Fan sites, they talk about Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler as the two stars on the team. West is ignored or listed as possible trade bait, and you’ll find nothing about him on Youtube. Since I’m a big fan of his, I originally titled this post as “The Defense of David West” and was going to try and list reasons why he’s fantastic and shouldn’t be ignored. I mean, he has been the teams leading scorer for two years. But as you can see, that title didn’t remain.

Part of that is his game – he’s fundamentally sound, not super athletic, and neither overpowers nor leaps over his opponents. He doesn’t take over games. But late in a game a graphic will appear that says he has 21 points, and I’ll stare at it in surprise. Going over the game in my mind, I’ll begin to appreciate just how efficient and effective he had been over the course of the game. It’s one of the things I enjoy about watching the Hornets – that little surprise when I realize that West is quietly destroying the other team.

So – I decided I’d take his numbers and prove that he’s that efficient fantastic player that I always knew him to be. I started at ESPN, and got a fairly promising 18+ PER from John Hollinger. Since 15 is average, I now had proof he was better than most! But then I went to the Wages of Wins site and found out last year he only posted a Win Score of .094 – which is below the average of .100 for NBA players. So after cursing David Berri and his suddenly ridiculous system of evaluating players I went back to West’s career statistics.

As I worked to prove he is a good, or at least above average player . . . it quickly became apparent he isn’t one. Among starting Power Forwards, per 48 minutes, he was 16th in Scoring, 15th in assists, 16th in Rebounding, 27th in Blocks, 21st in Steals and his FG% was only slightly above average for the kinds of shots he took. Only his FT% and low turnover rate stand out. Out of thirty starters in the league – that lands him right smack down in Completely Average territory.

So after mentally apologizing to Dave Berri, I admitted I had found my own answer to why he’s the forgotten man on the team. He doesn’t get attention because he does nothing that hurts the team, but he doesn’t do anything to truly dominate either – which happens to be the perfect recipe for being ignored.

Of course, he’s just now entering his prime, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he averaged 20-22 points per game next year – which should be enough to garner him some attention. But for now, he appears doomed to labor in relative obscurity, with only die-hard Hornets Fans to appreciate him. Poor guy.

Average at Everything Means You Are Average

What is great about Schwan’s post is the process he followed to reach his conclusion.  He started with what is typically focused upon when discussing a player – points scored per game.  West can score, so he looks pretty good. He then turned to the most popular “advanced” metric, John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating. And PER tells us that West is an above average power forward.

But when Schwan turned to Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48), he sees a below average mark (quick note, Schwan says his Win Score is 0.094, but that is actually WP48).  So we have measures that are giving conflicting signals.

To settle the dispute, Schwan goes back to individual stats.  And what does he find?  It turns out that West is just about average at everything.

Schwan noted this in his post.  I thought I would also report a bit more on this story with the following table.   

Table One: The Career of David West

The first column reports what West did in 2006-07.  The last column reports what the average NBA power forward does in the NBA.  When we compare West to the average power forward we see that he is quite close to average in almost every statistic.  He is a bit below average with respect to shooting efficiency (measured via points-per-shot), rebounds, steals, blocked shots, and assists.  He is above average with respect to free throw percentage.

It’s important to remember that wins in the NBA depend on shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, and turnovers, as well as blocked shots, assists, and personal fouls (with the latter three not worth as much as the first items on the list).  Wins do not depend on shot attempts. 

If a player increases his shot attempts, but does not change his shooting efficiency, he will certainly score more points.  But his wins production will not change.  Unfortunately, metrics like NBA Efficiency and PERs will actually reward a player for just taking more shots (a point made HERE and HERE).  Consequently, despite the fact West is virtually average at everything, the fact he takes more shots than an average power forward results in an above average NBA Efficiency and PERs value. 

The Evolution of West

Let me emphasize that West last season was not a “bad” player.  I think of “bad” as well below average.  West was average, so he was “not bad”.  When we look at his rookie season, though, we see that West was quite a bit better than “not bad”.

In West’s rookie season he was slightly below average with respect to shooting efficiency and steals. He was well below average with respect to shot attempts, consequently he was a below average scorer.  But his rebounding was well above average.  He was also above average with respect to blocked shots and assists.  And his wins production was also well above the average mark.

In 2004-05 West was hurt.  The following season, though, West played major minutes and his game was transformed.  Rebounding happened less often.  Scoring happened more often.  His overall productivity, though, declined.  And when his shooting efficiency dipped this past season, his overall productivity declined even further.

Why did West evolve from an above average rebounder/below average scorer to an above average scorer/below average rebounder (at least, above average scorer in points, not shooting efficiency)? It appears that West was reacting to the incentives NBA players face.  Scoring is highly valued in the NBA.  Top scorers get top dollars.  Even inefficient scorers like Allen Iverson, still get top dollars. 

And West’s switch to scoring appears to have paid off.  In October of 2006 West signed an extension with the Hornets that will increase his pay from about $2 million in 2006-07 to $10.65 million in 2007-08.

Yes, like many players before him, West discovered that scoring does indeed pay in the NBA.  Does it have to particularly efficient scoring? No, average efficiency will do just fine. Unfortunately, when we look at what causes wins, average production does lead to just average wins.  And that is true, no matter what you are paying average.

– DJ