The Rise of Andray Blatche?

Posted on January 26, 2008 by

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On Wednesday we officially reached the mid-point of the NBA season.  As each team has reached its own midpoint, I have been downloading the team’s data from NBA.com.  And after the Hawks cross the halfway point next Tuesday, I will be able to complete my mid-season data base.  With data in hand, I will then start posting a number of columns on where the NBA stands at halftime. 

Andray Blatche at the Mid-Point

While we wait for the Hawks to get to 41 games, I thought I would post a quick thought on Andray Blatche of the Wizards.  The Wizards played their 41st game last night, and their record of 23-15 – achieved mostly without Gilbert Arenas – has been surprising.  In searching for an explanation for Washington’s success, some might look at Blatche.

Last season Blatche’s per game averages were 3.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 0.6 blocked shots.  This year Blatche is averaging 6.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocked shots.  Focusing on points scored, Blatche’s leap represents a 68% improvement. If we turn to a metric like NBA Efficiency, which considers all the box score statistics, we see a per-game mark that has improved from 5.5 to 9.0. That’s a 64% improvement.  Clearly Blatche is part of the solution in Washington.

Okay, if you read this forum on a regular basis, you might guess I am going to say the numbers on Blatche actually tell a very different story.  And you would be right.

Table One reports what Blatche did in 2006-07, where he played 682 minutes, and what he has done this season in 750 minutes. 

Table One: Andray Blatche in 2006-07 and 2007-08

Table One shows us that Blatche has improved slightly with respect to shooting efficiency from the field.  He is also better at getting to the free throw line and converting those shots.  Turning to the possession variables, we see improvement with respect to steals.  But he has regressed with respect to rebounding and he still has a problem with turnovers.  We also see regression with respect to personal fouls, although his blocked shots have increased.

When we look at everything, via NBA Efficiency and Win Score, we see two different stories.  NBA Efficiency says Blatche has improved.  Win Score says Blatche has regressed.  The key difference, as is often noted, is that metrics like NBA Efficiency doesn’t penalize a player sufficiently for inefficient shooting.  Although Blatche has improved slightly from the field, he is still well below average as a scorer. Hence, his increase in shot attempts actually hurts his team (again, as noted, metrics like NBA Efficiency tell the opposite story). 

Reviewing the Re-Signing of Blatche

Last August I commented on the Wizards re-signing of Blatche. At the time, Blatche was described by Ernie Grunfeld – Washington’s general manager – as a “solid contributor.”  This comment led me to post the following:

The argument that Blatche has been a “solid contributor” to the Wizards is supported by the NBA Efficiency measure.  As we report in The Wages of Wins, NBA Efficiency is a good predictor of free agent salary.  So although we don’t know how the Wizards assessed Blatche’s contribution, that assessment seems to be consistent with the NBA’s performance metric. When we look at Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48], though, we see some problems.  Blatche only posted a WP48 of 0.038 last season, which is well below the average mark of 0.100.

Delving deeper into the numbers we see where the problems lie.  Blatche is at least an average rebounder for his position, so hitting the boards – a place we often suspect when we think about below average big men – is not the issue for Blatche.   No, his problems are with respect to both shooting efficiency and turnovers. Again, NBA Efficiency does not adequately penalize a player for inefficient scoring.  So this issue is not often caught when we look at the NBA’s measure. And, as we note in The Wages of Wins, both shooting efficiency and turnovers are statistically unrelated to free agent salary.  So apparently, these issues are not emphasized by NBA decision-makers either.

Summarizing the Story

Blatche’s WP48 at the midpoint of 2007-08 stands at 0.021.  Such a mark is below average, and tells us that Blatche is still not a “solid contributor” for the Wizards.  In the past he had trouble hitting shots and avoiding turnovers. He now is a slightly below average rebounder. 

Blatche is only 21 years old, so it’s still quite conceivable that he will develop into an effective player.  But at the moment, he is not the reason why Washington has survived the loss of Arenas.  And we can see this clearly, when we focus on more than a few per game measures (and metrics like NBA Efficiency).

By the way, if you wish to see more on how the Wizards are thriving this season, the following columns might be of interest.

Disagreeing with Agent Zero about Caron Butler

Surviving the Loss of Agent Zero

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com 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.

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