More Analysis at the Midpoint and a Brief Comment on the Gasol Trade

Posted on February 4, 2008 by

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A few days ago I presented a list with every player’s Wins Produced at the midpoint of the 2007-08 season.  This column extends that conversation by reporting what each team looked like across the first half of year. 

This story begins with Table One, which reports the summation of Wins Produced for each team in the league.

Table One: The NBA at the midpoint of 2007-08

The teams are listed by conference, with teams within the conference ranked in terms of Wins Produced.  These rankings can be segmented into the following categories:

Elite – projected to win more than 50 games

Contenders – projected to win more than half their games, but less than 50

Pretenders – is projected to contend for a playoff sport but is not projected to win half their games

Lottery – is not projected to win half their games nor contend for a playoff spot.

It’s important to note that these observations are based solely on what each team did across the first 41 games of the season.  Projections simply assume that what we saw in the first half will be exactly repeated in the second half.  Obviously that’s not a great assumption for teams that have suffered major injuries (see the Lakers) and/or made major trades (see the Lakers).   Still, despite this simplifying assumption, I think Table One, as well as the tables that list each player in each conference, can provide some insight into the second half of 2007-08.

Here are a few observations – reported for each conference — I had when looking over Table One.

Eastern Conference Observations

The discussion of Table One actually begins with Table Two, which has the Wins Produced of each player on each team in this conference across the first half of the season.

Table Two: All Eastern Conference Players

From Table One and Two, we can breakdown the teams as follows:

Eastern Conference Elite — Boston, Detroit

Eastern Conference Contenders — Orlando, Washington, Toronto

Eastern Conference Pretenders — Cleveland, Indiana, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Charlotte

Eastern Conference Lottery — Miami, New York, New Jersey, Milwaukee

Additional notes:

1. Table Two shows us which players are responsible for the results we see in Table One. 

2. Boston and Detroit are the only elite teams in the East. And of these two, Boston is clearly the best team in the conference. If Andrew Bynum (and Trevor Ariza) comes back, though, the Lakers with Pau Gasol might be able to challenge Boston.

3. After Boston and Detroit, only three other teams had a positive efficiency differential in the first half of the season.  Cleveland – when Anderson Varejao is healthy – should join this group.  Even with Cleveland improving, though, the East looks to have two teams make the playoffs with losing records. 

4. The list of pretenders in the East – assuming Cleveland improves – includes five teams (and I am not too sure about Charlotte).  Moving past these five we see Miami, New York, New Jersey, and Milwaukee.  These teams -despite the general weakness of the East — do not seem to have much of a chance of making the playoffs (by the way,  I hope to offer more thoughts on Milwaukee in a few days).

Western Conference Observations

Again we start with a table reporting the Wins Produced of each player on each team in this conference.

Table Three: All Western Conference Players

Western Conference Elite: Phoenix, New Orleans, San Antonio, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas, Utah

Western Conference Contenders: Denver, Houston, Portland, Golden State

Western Conference Lottery: Minnesota, Seattle, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings

Additional Notes

1. With the acquisition of Gasol, and a healthy Bynum (and Ariza), the Lakers are the top team in the West.  If Bynum doesn’t come back this year, though, the Western Conference title will be up for grabs.

2. There are ten above average teams in the West.  Six of these – the Elite – are quite close (assuming Bynum is hurt).  The next four are also quite close.  But after 41 games, the Nuggets and Rockets were a bit better – in terms of Wins Produced and efficiency differential – than the Blazers and Warriors.  So I would guess that Portland and Golden State will be watching the playoffs.  I should emphasize, though, that the difference between these teams is not much.  So fans of the Trail Blazers and Warriors might still see playoff basketball (involving their teams) in 2008.

3. Of the lottery teams, the Timberwolves and Sonics were easily the worst teams in the NBA in the first half of the season.  With the Gasol trade, the Grizzlies should be able to join this group. 

More on the Gasol trade…

My first glance at the numbers indicated that the Lakers with Bynum and Gasol (and Ariza) are every bit as good as the Celtics.  So if Bynum comes back this year, another LA-Boston Final is a very real possibility.

If Bynum is out for the year – which Henry Abbot indicated was possible on Friday – then the Lakers are not much different from the other Elite teams in the West.  Consequently, although the Celtics are clear favorites in the East, Boston’s opponent (assuming Boston does do what we expect in the playoffs) in the NBA Finals is still hard to identify at the midpoint of the season.

And one final note concerning the Grizzlies…

For Gasol the Grizzlies received the Lakers first round pick from last year (Javaris Crittenton), two first round picks in the future, and Marc Gasol.  Pau’s brother, according to Memphis, is like a first round pick.  So Memphis has claimed that they received four first round picks in this trade.

It’s important to note that first round in the NBA is quite different from the first round in the NFL.  The NBA has only five starters.  The NFL has 22 starting positions.  By the time the NBA finishes its first round, it has gone through the equivalent of six starting units.  For the NFL, six starting units are not completed until the 132nd pick, or the start of the fifth round.

When we look at the Gasol trade, we see that all of the picks the Grizzlies received are likely to be in the bottom third of the first round. So these are basically 3rd, 4th, and 5th round NFL choices.  In sum, the Grizzlies have surrendered a player who has definitely shown he can produce wins in the NBA for a chance to take players who will probably not create many wins.  Yes, it might save Memphis some money.  But in terms of wins, it’s hard seeing this move paying off in the short or long-term. 

And back to the Lakers… LA has managed to add a significant producer of wins without giving up much of anything.  Now who thought Mitch Kupchak – the Lakes GM – didn’t know what he was doing? 

– 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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