Doing the Same Thing in Atlanta?

Posted on October 5, 2007 by

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The Atlanta Hawks in 2005-06 scored 103.5 points and surrendered 108.5 points per possession.  So their efficiency differential – offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency (103.46-108.52) – was -5.1. 

In 2006-07 this team scored, again per 100 possessions, 99.8 points while surrendering 104.9.  This gives the team an efficiency differential of -5.1.  In sum, although the team won four more games in 2006-07, the Hawks were essentially the same team each season.

Understanding the Past

When we look at Wins Produced we see the same story (this is of course no surprise, since Wins Produced simply relates what we know about efficiency differential and wins and applies this to the evaluation of players).  As Table One indicates, the summation of Wins Produced for the Hawks in 2005-06 was 28.2.  In 2006-07 it was 28.3. 

Table One: The Atlanta Hawks in 2005-06 and 2006-07

In each season the Hawks were led in Wins Produced by Josh Childress.  And in each season Childress was the only player to receive substantial minutes and post a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] above 0.200.  Again, average is 0.100.  A team of average players will win 41 games.  A team of players at the 0.200 mark would expect to double the win total of an average team, or win 82 games.  In sum, Childress is really good. Surprisingly, though, Childress doesn’t start for this team.

After Childress this team has Josh Smith (a great small forward and an average power forward), Joe Johnson (slightly above average shooting guard), and Shelden Williams (a slightly above average power forward).  And that was the extent of above average talent on this team in 2006-07.  Given this collection, it’s not surprising that the Hawks have struggled to win 30 games each of the past two seasons. 

Fans of this team know that the problems extend back quite a bit farther than just two seasons.  Since 1999-00 the Hawks have averaged only 27.3 wins per season, with the team’s best campaign being a 35 win campaign in 2002-03.   Prior to the last eight seasons, though, the Hawks were generally an above average team.  From 1977-78 to 1998-99, Atlanta won 55% of its regular season games and only finished below 0.500 four times. So winning has a tradition in Atlanta.

And this leads us to ask, is it possible for Atlanta to return to its “glory” years? 

Guessing About the Future

The only moves the Hawks have made this past summer is the drafting of Al Horford and Acie Law in the 2007 lottery.  That’s really it.  Atlanta, coming off eight consecutive losing seasons, is bringing back twelve players from a team that won 30 games.

This was essentially the same strategy the team followed last summer.  The Hawks in 2006 added S. Williams, Speedy Claxton, and Lorenzen Wright to a team that won 26 games.  And the results were predictable.  With virtually the same roster this team produced virtually the same results.

Is there any reason to believe this strategy will produce different results in 2007-08?  Surprisingly (at least, it was a surprise to me) there’s a small glimmer of hope.  Horford actually posted slightly better numbers than Greg Oden in college last year (0.420 Win Score per-minute for Horford vs. 0.406 for Oden) so it’s possible that Horford can step in and help right away.  Horford, though, does more than just offer the promise of future production.  He plays in the frontcourt.  And this means the Hawks are going to have to take minutes from someone else to get Horford on the floor.

How Horford gets his minutes might indeed be key for this team.  If the addition of Horford pushes J. Smith and Marvin Williams (a below average player at every position and a disaster at power forward) out of the power forward position, then it’s possible the Hawks can improve a bit (let’s say 10 wins).  If the Hawks continue to use J. Smith and M. Williams at power forward, though, any improvement will be somewhat less than 10 wins.

Of course, if J. Smith and M. Williams go to small forward, what happens to Childress?  Ideally the Hawks will just sit M. Williams.  Yes, M. Williams was the second player taken in the 2005 draft. And yes, he was taken ahead of both Chris Paul and Deron Williams (and no, Acie Law doesn’t project to be as good as either Paul or D. Williams – and yes, there are too many people named Williams in this post).  But after two below average campaigns, it might be time to move on.  The Hawks should devote the bulk of the shooting guard and small forward minutes to Childress, J. Smith, and Johnson.  The minutes at power forward and center should go to Zaza Pachulia (a slightly below average center), S. Williams, and Horford. 

These six players range from about average to quite good, and give the Hawks some hope going forward. 

You will note, of course, that I have not mentioned the point guard spot.  At that position the team has Speedy Claxton, Tyronn Lue, Anthony Johnson, and Law.  Lue has never been above average, so he’s not likely to help much.  And again, Law doesn’t project to be an above average player.  Claxton apparently is healthy again, and he has been above average in his career.  So it’s possible that Claxton could be productive.

So let’s put it all together.  Can this team post a winning record?  It’s possible, but it requires the Hawks be healthy, that they put their most productive players on the court, and put these players in the right position.  So far all that hasn’t happened very consistently. Still, if it did happen, the same old Hawks might actually win a few more games.

– DJ

For a discussion of other teams see NBA Team Reviews: 2006-07

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The equation connecting wins to offensive/defensive efficiency is given HERE

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

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