The Clippers Continue to Meet Expectations

Posted on May 12, 2008 by

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The last team to lose a game in the Western Conference in 2007-08 was the LA Clippers. After four games the lowly Clippers were the only 4-0 team. Had the Clippers won four straight in the playoffs their team would have been remembered forever (or at least for a few weeks).  But when you have to play 78 more games – and you only win 19 more of these contests – the 4-0 start gets forgotten. 

Given how infrequently the Clippers win, we should take notice when it happens.  When this franchise was in Buffalo (as the Braves), it posted three winning seasons in eight years.  In the team’s first season in San Diego (1978-79) it again posted a winning season.  Since that inaugural California campaign, this franchise has only won more than it lost twice (1991-92 and 2005-06).

Consequently, when the 2007-08 season was another losing effort, we were not surprised.  Of course, it was not just the history of this team that led us to believe the Clippers would struggle. Elton Brand, who has led this team in Wins Produced each season played from 2001-02 to 2006-07, was not going to be available to the Clippers until the very end of the 2007-08.  Without the team’s most productive player, people were pretty sure the Clippers were going to struggle.

Meeting Expectations in 2007-08

And as Table One indicates, this team met our expectations.

Table One: The LA Clippers in 2007-08

Given how many minutes each player played in 2007-08, and what these players did in 2006-07, we would have expected the Clippers to win about 17 games.  With Chris Kaman improving dramatically over his 2006-07 numbers (less dramatically if we consider his 2005-06 numbers), the Clippers managed a team Wins Produced of 21.6. 

Although the Clippers were dismal, there were a few bright spots.  As noted, Kaman improved.  In 2005-06 his WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] was 0.160.  Last year he was below average – and as I noted last September – the primary reason the Clippers declined in 2006-07.  This season Kaman posted a 0.233 WP48, and as I noted in November, was the primary reason the Clippers started 4-0.

Although the record indicates otherwise, Kaman was not the only above average talent employed by the Clippers last season. Corey Maggette – with a WP48 of 0.132 – and Brevin Knight – with a mark of 0.112 – both turned in above average performances.  Neither performance was much of a surprise.  Entering the 07-08 campaign, Maggette had a career WP48 of 0.139.  Knight, who is now 32 years old (old for a point guard), has a career mark of 0.166.   

After Kaman, Maggette, and Knight, the cupboard was pretty bare.  The only players with an above average WP48 were Sam Cassell, Nick Fazekas, and Andre Barrett. Cassell was allowed to depart for Boston before the season ended.  And Fazekas (referred to earlier as the Fabulous Fazekas) and Barrett barely played.

The rest of the roster, consisting of ten players who played more minutes than Fazekas, was all below average. 

Included in this gang of ten were Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas, and Al Thornton.  Each of these players posted WP48 marks in the negative range. Entering the season, Ross had a 0.007 WP48 while Thomas had a mark of -0.012.  Thornton was expected to help at small forward, but the loss of Brand often forced him into duty at power forward (where he obviously didn’t help much). 

A Look to the Future

When you combine a few above average players with many below average performers, it’s not surprising when your team fails to win many games.  Now that this season is over, though, we begin to wonder if there is anything the Clippers can do to return to the glory that was 2005-06.

If Elton Brand and Corey Maggette each depart in free agency (see the updated free agency list at ESPN.com HERE), then the immediate future looks bleak.  Again, until this season, Brand was the team’s most productive player each year he played in LA.  And Maggette has generally been above average in his career.  If these players walk, this team is reduced to Chris Kaman and not much else.  Such a team would have serious problems.

Assuming Brand and Maggette come back (a giant assumption), how much help will he have? Kaman looks like they can help. So the starters at center, power forward, and small forward – assuming the stars return — look solid. 

After these three, though, the Clippers just have problems.  At point guard, Knight is old and a replacement is probably needed. Dan Dickau has been close to average whenever he has received consistent minutes in his career.  But he is now 29 and a free agent, so his probably not the answer at this position.  Shaun Livingston was above average in 2006-07, but he needs to recover from a devastating injury (and is also a restricted free agent). So the lead guard spot is full of uncertainty.

At shooting guard the Clippers have Cuttino Mobley.  Mobley, like Knight, is 32 years old.  Unlike Knight, Mobley has been consistently below average in his career.  Behind Mobley is Ross, who we have already seen doesn’t help much.  Given such production, perhaps the Clippers could look at shooting guard with their next lottery pick.

And then we have the issue of depth in the front-court.  Behind Kaman, Brand, and Maggette are Josh Powell, Tim Thomas, and Al Thornton.  Each of the latter three is below average. Yes, the Clippers could turn to Fazekas (a restricted free agent).  But we really don’t know yet if Fazekas can be productive across significant minutes (and I would be surprised if he gets the minutes necessary for us to find out). 

In sum, the Clippers do not have much in the back-court.  They also don’t have much depth in the front-court. Obviously they need Brand (and probably Maggette) to return to have any hope.  But for Brand to have any desire to return, this team is going to need to find productive players to supplement the frontcourt.  Until that happens, the Clippers will continue to perform badly, just as the history of this franchise has led us to expect.

– 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.