After the Answer

Posted on October 10, 2007 by

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After 24 games last season the Philadelphia 76ers were 5-19.  And then Andre Miller and Joe Smith arrived (in the Allen Iverson trade) and the 76ers suddenly were transformed from the NBA’s worst team to a distinctly average club.  After the arrival of Miller and Smith, the Sixers won 30 of their last 58 contests (an outcome I predicted exactly).  This pace translates into 42 victories over 82 games.  Again, with Miller and Smith this team was average. 

Although this team was average, everyone on the team was not.  Table One reports the Wins Produced and WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes) of each Sixer player in 2006-07 (and 2005-06 as well).

Table One: The Philadelphia 76ers in 2005-06 and 2006-07

The Good

From Table One we see that Andre Iguodala, Sam Dalembert, and A. Miller were quite a bit above average.  These three players produced 29.0 wins and combined to post a WP48 of 0.180.  Average is 0.100, so these players were quite good.

Unfortunately, the rest of the roster combined to offer a Wins Produced of only 3.9.  Again, the discussion of the Pareto Principle revealed that it’s not unusual for a team to get most of its production from just three players.  The Sixers, though, received virtually all of their production from just three players.

The Average

That’s not to say that everyone else was “bad.”  For example, the aforementioned Joe Smith was quite close to average.  Before discussing the truly “bad” on this roster, it might be a good idea to discuss what Smith meant to this team in 06-07.

One problem the Sixers had was a lack of big men.  Looking over the minutes of this team, it is clear that at some point the 76ers had to be playing at power forward Rodney Carney and/or Kyle Korver.  These two players are below average for small forwards.  Moving either to power forward – which it appears the Sixers did for at least 800 minutes last year — is a serious problem.

Now why is it a problem?  The average power forward grabs 11.4 rebounds per 48 minutes played.  An average small forward only grabs 7.6 boards in this time (by the way, someone asked for averages for all positions, and yes I will post these at some point).  So moving an average small forward to power forward will cost a team about four rebounds per 48 minutes.  Since each rebound is worth about 0.033 wins (as noted in The Wages of Wins), losing four rebounds will cost 0.132 victories.  If you did this every 48 minutes, across an 82 game season you would lose eleven more games.  Obviously the Sixers didn’t play a small forward at power forward for 48 minutes of each game all season.  Still, you can see why playing players out of position can be so costly.

The Bad

And this was not the only costly decision the Sixers made last season.  Again, every player on this team was not good or average.  We noted the very good.  And we noted the average.  Now it’s time for those that are neither good nor average.

Willie Green – who I profiled a few days ago – offers so little production relative to an average shooting guard that he cost the team 4.6 wins.  And Carney, whether he played small forward or power forward, also cost the team wins.

Unfortunately for Sixer fans, it’s not entirely clear that the problems of this roster have been fixed. Both Green and Carney are still employed.  And it looks like both will play in 07-08.

Adding Reggie Evans

As for the power forward spot, average Joe Smith has moved on to Chicago.  And Steven Hunter, another big man from last year, was traded to Denver.

The good news is that Hunter was traded for Reggie Evans.  For his career, Evans has a 0.216 WP48. Due to his ability to rebound, Evans is a very productive power forward.

But he is also short and unable to score much.  This is why the Sonics – who got to 50 wins in 2004-05 partly because Evans was so productive – were willing to let him go to Denver in middle of the 2005-06 season.  And this is why Denver – despite seeing a WP48 of 0.266 from Evans last year – was willing to trade him to Philadelphia for Hunter (a taller player who also can’t score much).

Persistent Problems and a Vague Forecast

Although I think Evans should be on the floor thirty plus minutes a night, I suspect this will not happen in 07-08.  And that leads me to ask – what other big men are going to play? The team has Dalembert and first round pick Jason Smith.  It also has Shavlik Randolph, who played well last year before a serious injury.  After that, all that is left is Calvin Booth (who has never been very productive in his eight year career), Herbert Hill (a second round draft choice), and Louis Amundson (whose career so far has consisted of 91 minutes).

This lack of big men suggests to me that once again the Sixers will be playing people out of position.  And on top of playing people out of position, the Sixers will also likely give minutes to Carney and Green, and lottery choice Thaddeus Young (a player Chad Ford at ESPN.com compared to Al Harrington, a player I have frequently noted is not very productive).  Given what we know of Carney, Green, and Young it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect much help from any of these players in 07-08.

There is good news.  A.Miller, Dalembert, Iguodala, and Evans will produce.  This combination could move the 76ers past the 35 win mark. But expecting much more requires that someone else on this roster does something.  Of course it’s possible that will happen. But given what we have seen before, it seems unlikely.

Making Forecasts

Okay, I sort of made a forecast for the 76ers. And I should note that I have gone through the roster of each team and sort of made a forecast for all 30 NBA teams.  So you should look for a post on this before the season starts.  I should note that I still have to review the 2006-07 season for Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, and, Phoenix before I get to my forecast.  And I should also note that I do not intend to give a specific wins forecast for each team.  For reasons I will explain, I do not think a specific number is justified by what we know.  Still, I think a general idea where each team will finish can be noted. 

One Last Observation

The title of this post is “After the Answer” and I have barely mentioned Allen Iverson.  This is actually quite consistent with what we do in The Wages of Wins.

If you have heard of The Wages of Wins, yet never actually read the book, you might think much of our book was about Allen Iverson.  Certainly much of the coverage of the book by the media has focused on our evaluation of “The Answer” and how that differs from popular perception.

In reality, though, Iverson is barely mentioned in the book.  Iverson’s star power– and its impact on attendance– is noted in the discussion of competitive balance in the NBA (Chapter Five).  And his impact on wins is noted across six pages in Chapter Seven.  Other than additional brief mentions here and there, the rest of the book doesn’t discuss Iverson at all.  In fact, much of the book isn’t even about basketball.

Still, the Iverson story was what Malcolm Gladwell seized upon in telling The Wages of Wins story in The New Yorker (an article I still enjoy reading for obvious reasons).  And Gladwell was correct, what we say about Iverson captures the basic point we make about the NBA.  Decision-makers in the NBA overvalue scoring and undervalue shooting efficiency and other aspects of performance.  And although the 76ers in 06-07 demonstrated quite clearly what happens when less production is replaced by more production, I think the bias towards scoring still persists in the NBA.

– DJ

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