Starbury Loses His Star

Posted on November 15, 2007 by

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If I understand the story correctly (and that’s a big if) Stephon Marbury decided this week he was not happy coming to work anymore because he didn’t want to come off the bench.  The Knicks responded by taking away his paycheck, which suddenly caused Starbury to come to work. 

Given that this is an incident with a New York player, it’s not surprising that the media blew the entire event out of proportion.  So I thought it would be a good idea to dispel three myths about Marbury’s personal strike.

Marbury Myths

First, this is not evidence that the New York Knicks are not a well-managed club.  Well, at least, this event was not necessary for us to reach that conclusion.  The courtroom drama this summer, coupled with years where the Knicks managed to place themselves at opposite ends of the payroll and wins rankings, is enough to convince us that the Knicks are not well-managed.

Second, this event does not bring down the rest of the league (and yes, I think I heard Bill Walton make this argument, although I wasn’t paying real close attention).  I doubt anyone decided not to go to a game this week, or not watch a game on TV, because Isiah Thomas and Marbury were feuding.  And if they did, that is more than just a bit silly.

And finally, and this is the big myth, Starbury is really not much of a star.  At least he hasn’t been for most of his career. 

As we often do here, let’s go to the numbers.

The first number I want to cite is salary.  According to Basketball-Reference.com (who gets the numbers from Rodney Fort and Patricia Bender), Marbury has been paid about $111 million in his career.  And according to Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com, he is scheduled to be paid $40.3 million more over the next two seasons.  So he has certainly been paid like a star.

When we look at the stats, though, it’s hard to see what he does to earn this money.  Consider Table One, where Marbury’s year-by-year performance in each statistical category is reported. 

Table One: Stephon Marbury’s Career Numbers

Per 48 minutes, Marbury has been below average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, and turnovers.  He’s above average with respect to assists and personal fouls.  He has scored at an above average rate – hence the name Starbury – but that’s because he takes an above average number of shots.  And he gets to do that because possessions on his team typically start with him having the ball and therefore he often gets to call his own number.  In sum, it doesn’t appear that Marbury is outstanding with respect to any aspect of the game.  Most of his numbers are around the average mark, which would lead one to conclude that he is just an average player.

When we turn to The Wages of Wins metrics — Win Score, Wins Produced, and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] – we see (as the stat-by-stat analysis suggested) Marbury has generally hovered around the average mark in his career.  In five seasons he was above average, in six others he was below average.  His career WP48 stands at 0.107, which again is about average.

Table Two: Stephon Marbury’s Career Wins Production

The one outlier was 2004-05, where Marbury posted a 0.208 WP48 and produced 14.19 wins.  How did this happen?  It wasn’t a sudden change in rebounds (still below average), or steals (still below average), or turnovers (still below average).  No, the key was a sudden – yet not sustained – increase in shooting efficiency.  By increasing his points-per-shot to 1.011, Marbury was able to increase his Wins Production by nearly eight (relative to his career average).  Such a result suggests, as was argued earlier in the week, that scoring can indeed produce wins (like that’s a surprise).

Unfortunately, Marbury was not able to sustain what he did in 2004-05.  His last two seasons he has been paid $33.6 million for about 8.2 wins.  That works out to four million a victory. If all NBA teams paid at this rate, the NBA would have to be borrow money just to pay its players.  So one suspects, Marbury has been a bit overpaid these last two seasons.

To Bench or Trade?

So should Marbury be benched or traded?  Looking at last year’s performances, it doesn’t look like this team has many better options.  Both Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson were below average last year.  This year Crawford has a Win Score per 48 minutes of 4.15, which is below average.  Robinson has a mark of 9.33, which is well above average.  But Robinson has only played limited minutes.  Consistent with Isiah’s past decision-making, he is giving Crawford 40.5 minutes per game while Robinson only plays 18 minutes each night.

One should note that Marbury’s per 48 minute Win Score is 5.32, so if he wanted to argue he’s a better option than Crawford he would have a point. In the end, it might not be his play that led to his benching. It could be that Isiah just doesn’t like Starbury.

And so should these two part company?  That would require that another team make a trade.  According to Chris Sheridan, a bumper crop of free agents in 2009 might make the acquisition of Marbury attractive.  In Sheridan’s words:

…it would come down to a question of whether a team could suffer through two years of paying Stephon Marbury (or buying him out) in order to have financial freedom 20 months down the road.

I am not sure such a strategy is a great idea.  Sacrifice two seasons so you can bid on free agents? Somehow I can’t see this paying off. 

My sense (and I could be wrong) is that without a buy-out, Marbury and Isiah are stuck together.  Such a scenario is not too good for fans of the Knicks.  But it should provide the rest of us with some entertainment. 

– 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