Reviewing the Northwest Division

Posted on December 19, 2007 by


The Eastern Conference has been reviewed (Atlantic, Central, and Southeast Division).  Now it’s time to move on to the Western Conference.  And so we head to the Northwest and the home of the Jazz, Nuggets, Blazers, Sonics, and T-Wolves.

Wins and Efficiency Differential

Following the format of the previous reviews, I will start by noting each team’s won-loss record and efficiency differential (offensive efficiency – defensive efficiency).

Utah: 14-12, 5.1

Denver: 14-10, 3.6

Portland: 13-12, -2.0

Seattle: 7-18, -7.0

Minnesota: 3-20, -8.4

The top team in this division – in terms of record – is the Denver Nuggets. But the top team in terms of efficiency differential is the Utah Jazz.  The Jazz, though, have not won as often as their differential suggests.  Their differential says this team will win at least 15 more games than the Blazers by the end of the season. But in mid-December, the Blazers are only ½ games behind Utah. 

Why is Utah underperforming?  And why are the Blazers out performing their differential?

Those are great questions.  And I don’t know the answers.  But I can tell you which players are responsible for the differential we observe.  So let’s turn to that story.

Wins Produced and WP48 for the Northwest Division

This story begins with Table One, where the Wins Produced for each team is reported.

Table One: A Team-by-Team Review of the Northwest Division

As I have done with each previous division review, here are a few brief notes on each team.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz are led by four players – Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Deron Williams, and Ronnie Brewer.  This quartet is on pace to produce 57 wins.  Unfortunately, the rest of this team is on pace to produce less than nothing.  The drop-off with respect to Mehmut Okur is most surprising.  Relative to last year, Okur is rebounding less and having problems hitting shots.  If Okur (or Paul Millsap or Matt Harpring) regains the form we saw last year, the Jazz might be able to contend with the Best in the West.  If not, a repeat of last year – when this team was not quite as good as the very best in the Conference — may be the story when the season is over.

The Denver Nuggets

The good news in Denver is the improved play of Marcus Camby and Allen Iverson.  Each of the past four seasons Camby has surpassed the 0.300 mark in WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  Average is 0.100, so going past the 0.300 mark is amazing.  Well, this year Camby’s WP48 stands at 0.461.  Not sure what word to use for this level.  Needless to say, Camby ranks among the league leaders in WP48 and Wins Produced.

Camby is not the only player who has improved.  In 2004-05, Iverson posted a career high 0.152 WP48 for the 76ers.  This year his mark stands at 0.160, so the Answer is playing as well as he ever has. 

The same story cannot be said for Carmelo Anthony.  Anthony’s WP48 stands at 0.048, his lowest mark since 2004-05.  One issue is Melo’s shots from beyond the arc.   Last year he was below average but still launched 2.3 bombs per game.  This year he is still below average but now taking three per contest.  In addition, he’s not shooting as well within the arc.   For Anthony this decline in shooting efficiency is a real problem. Other than scoring, Anthony doesn’t do anything really well.  And if he’s not scoring efficiently, then Melo is just not helping much.

Portland Trail Blazers

When Greg Oden was lost for the season it was expected Portland would struggle.  But after 25 games this team is above the 0.500 mark.  How is this possible?

As noted, efficiency differential says that this record is a bit of an illusion.  But even if this team was winning as much as their differential suggests, Portland would still be exceeding expectations.  At least, I didn’t expect this team to win 36 games this year.

When we look at Wins Produced we see two players leading this team’s charge back to respectability. And those players are Brandon Roy and Joel Przybilla.  Roy was the Rookie of the Year last year, so his play is not a surprise. Przybilla, though, is one of those players who doesn’t look good when we consider traditional scoring based metrics (points per game, NBA Efficiency, Player Efficiency Rating).  But when we consider his above average rates of rebounds, blocked shots, and shooting efficiency, we can understand why his WP48 is so high.

I would add that Przybilla posted WP48 marks of 0.243 and 0.186 in 2004-05 and 2005-06.  So he has been above average before (in other words, Henry Abbott was correct to note his contribution).

Seattle Super Sonics

Kevin Durant – the supposed savior of this franchise (wherever it might eventually be located) – has already been the subject of numerous posts.

July 12, 2007: Looking Back at the NBA Draft, Part Two

July 7, 2007: Disappointing Durant

July 21, 2007: Durant Disappoints Again

October 31, 2007: Will Kevin Durant Be the Best Rookie?

November 16, 2007: Choosing the Best Rookie in November

November 27, 2007: Evaluating Future Stars in Baseball and Basketball

November 28, 2007: The Top Rookies, Again

November 29, 2007: Re-Hashing Durant, Melo, and Stack

What can we say now?  When we look at the numbers after 25 games, we can say that Durant is getting better.  Over all, though, he’s well below average. 

I think such a statement very much needs to be clarified. People seem to be confusing these two questions:

1. How productive has a player been?

2. How productive will a player be in the future?

With respect to the first question, Durant has been quite bad.  With respect to the second, he may indeed morph into a superstar.  Certainly many people see that potential.  But if we only look at what he has done so far, we would hold off on the word superstar.

As for the rest of the Sonics, this team has three above average big men – Kurt Thomas, Nick Collison, and Chris Wilcox – and then nothing else.  Thomas and Collison have not played the entire season.  If these two do play consistently the rest of the season, one can expect the Sonics to finish a bit beyond the 22 wins currently projected.

Minnesota Timberwolves

This team was the subject of the following post a few days ago.

T-Wolves Minus Garnett Equals the Worst NBA Team

There isn’t much to add to this column, other than to note that after 23 games Al Jefferson is the only above average player on the roster.  That’s it. 

Ranking All Players

Before I close this post, here are all 70 players ranked in terms of Projected Wins Produced.

Table Two: The Players of the Northwest Division

Again one should note how simple a projection Table Two presents. This analysis simply takes the minutes played so far and projects to 82 games.  So the projection for Nene – or anyone else who hasn’t played all season — is incorrect. Still, for most players it gives us a sense where they are going.

What stands out in Table Two is the dominance of the Utah Jazz.  Four of the top six players in the division are in Utah.  They currently have the top point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and power forward.  Unfortunately, they also have two of the least productive centers.  And as noted, as long as that continues Utah – despite an amazing starting line-up – may fall short of contending with San Antonio and Phoenix.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially 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

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.