The Return of the Birdman

Posted on March 11, 2008 by


As the following posts illustrate, The New Orleans Hornets have been a frequent topic of conversation in this forum.

The Unsurprising Hornets [March 2, 2008]

Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and the Surprising Hornets? [January 30, 2008]

The Best One-Two Punch in the Association [January 9, 2008]

Deron Williams for MVP? [December 5, 2007]

And with each of these posts I offered an assessment of the Hornets.

Table One: The Hornets after 57 games

Table Two: The Hornets at the midpoint of the 2007-08 season

Table Three: The New Orleans Hornets in 2007-08 after 34 games

Table Four: The Jazz and Hornets after 18 games in 2007-08

The above tables show the Hornets after 18, 34, 41, and 57 games.  Table Five presents an evaluation of the Hornets after 62 games.

Table Five: The Hornets after 62 games

The Hornets after 62 games don’t look much different from the Hornets we have checked in on all season.  The team is still led by Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler.  Peja Stojakovic, David West, and Morris Peterson are each offering some support.  And beyond these five the team is getting mostly nothing, or in some cases, less than nothing.

Moving from Less than Nothing to Average

When I have talked about the Hornets in the past, it’s the productive players I have focused upon.  Today, though, I want to focus attention on the nothing, and less than nothing, on this team. 

At the center position the Hornets have Tyson Chandler, one of the most productive players in the game. Backing up Chandler is Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely, two of the least productive players in the game.  After 62 games, Armstrong and Ely have combined to produce -2.0 wins.  If these two players were simply replaced by an average center, the Hornets would have already won four additional games this season. Projected across the entire season, this one move takes the Hornets to 60 wins (vs. the current projection of 54).  In sum, replacing Armstrong and Ely with an average center might be enough to return New Orleans to the top of the conference (where they were at the All-Star break).

But where can you find an average center with 20 games left in the season?  As luck would have it, an above average center – nicknamed the Birdman – has just flown into New Orleans.

The Birdman Returns

In the midst of the 2005-06 season, Chris Andersen of the New Orleans Hornets was suspended by the NBA for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.  At the time, Andersen was in his 5th NBA season.  In four of those seasons his minutes per game was less than 20 per contest.  In 2004-05 he averaged 21.3 minutes a game, and in these minutes he was quite productive.  Unfortunately, when your team only wins 18 games, it’s hard to pay much attention to the contributions of such a player.

This past week Andersen – known as the Birdman – returns to New Orleans.  Given the non-descript nature of his career, it might be hard for most NBA fans to notice.  But when we delve into the numbers, we see this could be a move that helps the Hornets considerably.

Table Six reports both the career performance of Andersen as well as what he did in a New Orleans uniform (he also played for Denver).  Additionally, we see the current performance of Armstrong and Ely, the two back-up centers currently on the roster.

Table Six: Chris Andersen and the other back-up centers in New Orleans

Both Ely and Armstrong offer a remarkable level of performance across each of the box score metrics.  With the exception of Armstrong’s ability to block shots, each player is below average at everything.  Let me repeat.  In 2007-08, neither Armstrong nor Ely (with the exception of blocked shots for Armstrong) have been good at anything.  Although I have only examined a small fraction of the players who have played in the Association, I can’t believe in the history of the NBA that there are too many players who can claim to be bad at everything (and still have a job).

It’s possible, though, that each player might lose his job.  In contrast to Armstrong and Ely, Andersen has demonstrated an ability to hit his shots, rebound, avoid turnovers, and block shots. As a consequence, his Win Score is well above average.

When we turn to Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes], we see that Andersen produced 9.4 wins in the 1,999 minutes he has played in a New Orleans uniform.  This works out to a 0.225 WP48, well above the 0.100 average mark.

To put that number in perspective, if the Hornets had Andersen all season , and he maintained his per-minute performance in the minutes given to Armstrong and Ely, New Orleans would currently have 49 wins (at least, that’s the projection).  Furthermore, this team would be on pace to win 64 contests. In sum, moving from Armstrong/Ely to Andersen vaults the Hornets to the top of the very competitive Western Conference.

Before fans of the Hornets get too excited, there are a few caveats to mention.  First, it’s not clear that Andersen can return to his previous level of production after a two year layoff.  Plus, even if Andersen could still play, it’s not clear that the Hornets would bench Armstrong and Ely and give all of their minutes to the Birdman.

One last note on the Hornets… there’s another way the Hornet could improve.  As noted in the past, Jannero Pargo also costs this team wins.  If Bonzi Wells and Mike James could come in and produce, the Hornets might be able to bench Pargo and thus take a step forward.  Of course, the early returns on Wells and James are not promising. Still, as long as fans of the Hornets are dreaming (and Andersen coming in and playing well is probably a dream), benching Pargo is another dream to consider.

Let me close by noting that this should be my last column on the Hornets this season.  For my next NBA post I think I will turn to the defending NBA champs.  It turns out I have yet to devote a single post to the San Antonio Spurs this year.  That oversight will be corrected in the next column.


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