The Data Ain’t Lying

Posted on April 2, 2008 by

10


Henry Abbott of TrueHoop posted the following earlier in the week:

What a Time to Be a Sixer — Part One 

No one disputes the same basic series of events.

The team was in fairly dire straits. They had done a lot of losing. The few signs of hope were the things bad teams tend to get without even trying — young players, cap room, and draft picks.

That wasn’t enough for Billy King to keep his job running the team, and King was fired in December, when the team had five wins, 12 losses, and little hope.

His replacement, Stefanski, almost instantly did the things that are normally associated with throwing in the towel to kick off a long-term rebuild. He traded away a good player — Kyle Korver — who is a shooter in his prime. He said that he would take some time to evaluate the entire organization, which is not the same as saying you love the coaching staff (he later gave Coach Cheeks a contract extension for one more year past the end of this season). And he also talked to coach Maurice Cheeks about playing the youngsters who had been mired on the bench. The reason? “We wanted to see,” says Stefanski, “if they could play.”

When teams do those things, they are saying that they are ready to lose.

The Sixers did those things, however, and somehow started winning. They beat some bad teams, and slowly more and more good teams. Houston fell. Dallas. Cleveland. Orlando. Things were looking up a little, with younger, more athletic players like Rodney Carney and Thaddeus Young in the mix. Then there were wins against Phoenix, Detroit, San Antonio, Denver, and even at Boston.

The team is now .500, and is likely to be fifth, sixth, or seventh seed when the playoffs start in the East. And since early January, the team is 19-7 and this season they have beaten every team they might face in the first round.

A veteran Philadelphia beat writer just said to me that “if anyone tells you they saw this coming, they’re lying.”

The Data Ain’t Lying

Okay, let’s go right to the data. 

Table One: Projecting the 76ers After 75 Games

Table One offers two projections of the Sixers. The first looks at how many wins we could expect if each of the Sixers (except the rookies) played as well as they did last year.  The second looks at how each player has played this year.

As one can see, given what these players did last year one would have expected a team that would hover around average this year.   In other words, if we looked at Wins Produced, we most definitely could have seen this coming.

When we look at the individual players we see a fair amount of consistency (again, not a surprise).  Based on last year’s numbers, the following veterans (minimum 1,000 minutes played) were expected to post WP48 marks in excess of 0.150:

Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Samuel Dalembert, and Reggie Evens. 

The following veterans (minimum 1,000 minutes played again) were expected to be below the 0.150 mark:

Louis Williams, Rodney Carney, and Willie Green

Looking at this year’s numbers we see that each of the players above the 0.150 mark last year is again above that mark this season.  And those below remained below.

Searching for a Surprise

All that being said, there is some movement in the numbers of two players: Reggie Evans and Willie Green.  With respect to the latter, I noted a few weeks ago that Willie Green has progressed from truly awful to just bad.  Green is still hurting this team at shooting guard.  The pain, though, has been reduced.

As for Evans, he posted a WP48 of 0.266 last season.  This year his mark is only 0.151.  One should note that in the second half of the season, though, Evans has posted a 0.239 WP48.  In other words, part of the second half surge is because Evans has returned to his career norm (career WP48 of 0.219 entering the season).

Evans has not been the only player who played better in the second half.  Andre Miller has also offered better numbers and now has a WP48 in 2007-08 that is virtually the same as the mark he posted last season.

And then there is Thaddeus Young. Young’s numbers at Georgia Tech did not suggest he was going to be a productive rookie.  But Young has been one of the few rookie who is above average.  When we look at all the Sixers have done this year, it’s the play of Young that is truly surprising.

That being said, Young has only produced 3.2 wins this year.  So even without Young playing well, this team would still be hovering around the average mark.  Or to put it another way, without Young this team would still be doing what we should have expected.

Two More Links

Let me close with two more links.  First, I want to note – as regular readers of the WoW Journal might remember  — that I essentially told this story a few weeks ago (and in telling that story I noted that the leaders of this team have benefitted from the low expectations people had for this franchise).

I also would be re-miss if I didn’t note that Sam Cohen at Sixers Pride told this very same story – complete with a reference to WP48 — just two days ago. Cohen’s post was also in reaction to the statement made by the anonymous beat writer quoted by Abbott.

By the way, does anyone have any idea about this beat writer’s identity?  If you have a guess, please post it in the comments.

– 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.