Why Are the Clippers the Last Team Standing in the West? Credit Kaman

Posted on November 9, 2007 by

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Who is the last team to lose a game in the Western Conference?  Ten days ago the top choices would be San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, and maybe New Orleans, Utah, or Denver.  As of today, though, all those teams have lost at least once.  In fact, with one exception, every team in the West has lost one game.  And that lone exception – the LA Clippers – is perhaps one of the last teams anyone would have guessed would be the “last team standing” in the West.

Why are the Clippers such an unlikely choice?  The answer begins and ends with Elton Brand. In each of the past six seasons, Brand was the top player on the Clippers.  Across these six years Brand has produced 89.1 wins, and his WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minute] stands at 0.247. Average is 0.100, so Brand has been an extremely good player.

But this past off-season Brand was hurt.  So the Clippers entered this season without their best talent.  One would expect that taking the top talent from an average team would lead to a below-average squad.  After four games, though, this team is undefeated. 

How is this possible?Before answering this question, let me note that last year the Clippers declined from a 47 win team (that advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2006) to a 40 win squad with a lottery pick.  And last September, I said the primary reason for this decline was the play of Chris Kaman.  In 2005-06, Kaman produced 8.6 wins and posted a 0.160 WP48. Last year he only produced 2.8 victories with a 0.061 WP48.  Given such performances, as I bluntly put it, Kaman should be blamed for this team getting worse.

In 2007-08, though, Kaman has dramatically improved.  Specifically, he is hitting the boards very hard.  So far this season he has grabbed 21.7 rebounds per 48 minutes (remember, I thought Jamal Sampson getting 18.4 per 48 minutes was outstanding). He has also improved with respect to shooting efficiency, steals, blocked shots, assists, turnovers, and personal fouls.  As a result, his WP48 after four games is 0.477. 

To put this in perspective, last year Jason Kidd led all players with a WP48 of 0.405. And for even more perspective…Kevin Garnett’s best season was 2004-05, when his WP48 stood at 0.462.  So you can see that Kaman has been amazing in 2007-08.

The Usual Caveats

Of course there are two issues to note.  First, the Clippers are not just about Kaman.  Here are some other WP48 marks posted by the rest of the starting line-up of the Clippers:

Sam Cassell: 0.349

Cuttino Mobley: 0.309

Corey Maggette: 0.206

Tim Thomas: 0.144

In sum, although Kaman leads this team in Wins Produced, other players have played well.

Beyond noting Kaman’s teammates we have to also note the one major kill-joy in November.  Specifically, our sample is too damn small.  The Clippers have only played four games.  Yes, if this was May and we were talking about the playoffs, we would be happy drawing incorrect inferences from such a small sample. In November, though, we know 78 more games are coming and the first four contests don’t mean a damn thing.

And we also “know” that Kaman – given his career to date — has to decline as the season progresses.  At least, I am not expecting Kaman to post the same level of productivity we have seen in the past from Kevin Garnett.

That being said, if we are going to “blame” this guy when the team does worse, we have to give credit where credit is due.  And credit has to go to Kaman, whose play this past week has allowed the Clippers to be the last team standing in the West.

Note on Comments

These past two days I have been in meetings and taking care of another project related to my Intermediate Macroeconomics class (which I will talk about this weekend).  In the past I have read every single comment posted at the WoW Journal.  But today, I have been unable to keep up.  Hopefully I will get a chance to read all of these comments tomorrow. Then again, with 71 comments on Luol Deng and Ben Gordon (who would have thunk that?), it may take awhile.  Once again, thanks to everyone for stopping by and leaving a comment or two (or in some cases, three, four, etc…).  And special thanks to Jason, who I think has done a wonderful job of explaining Wins Produced these past couple of days.  Perhaps I should just move his comments into a blog post and save me the trouble of writing.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also 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

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics