Building a Winner in Cleveland?

Posted on July 22, 2008 by


This weekend I noticed that the New Jersey Nets – in the supposed to effort to build a playoff contender – signed Keyon Dooling.  Having spent some time thinking about the NBA, I knew immediately that Dooling’s level of production in his career was not likely to help a team contend.  And when I looked at all the other veteran players the Nets added to their roster this summer, I saw the same pattern.  Like Dooling, the other veterans added were simply not that productive. 

Given the productivity – or lack of productivity – of the newest Nets, I looked for some other motivation for these roster moves.  And the obvious choice was the “LeBron Conspiracy.”  Essentially the Nets were not making moves to win in 2008-09 or 2009-10.   What the Nets were apparently doing is making sure that when King James was ready to move in 2010, he was going to move to New Jersey (or Brooklyn).

Having settled on the conspiracy theory, I then asked the question: “… is King James going to win in New Jersey?”  After all, the Nets do not look like a very good team right now.  So why would LeBron want to join a team that wasn’t very competitive?

Is Cleveland Competitive?

A few people read my comment on the Nets and wondered whether the Cavaliers had done enough to keep LeBron.  In other words, if you take LeBron away from the Cavs, what have you got? For an answer we turn to Table One.

Table One: The Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007-08

Last season the Cavs won 45 games.  Had each player performed as he did in 2006-07 (except for those who didn’t play much or at all in 2006-07), the Cavs could have expected to win… 45 games. 

When we look at the performances in 2007-08, though, Cleveland was actually a bit worse than a 45 win team.  The team’s efficiency differential was -0.38.  This is consistent with a team that is just below the 0.500 mark.

Looking at the individual players we see that LeBron – who was very good in 2006-07 – was very, very, very good in 2007-08.  Although James improved, Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic, and Ira Newble were quite a bit worse.  And if we consider all the ups and downs, Cleveland was a tad bit off what we might have expected (but only a tad).  

One might look at the play of Gooden, Pavlovic, and Newble and start thinking about all the below average players employed by Cleveland last season.  The Cavaliers, though, did have a few above average performers (in addition to LeBron).  An average player posts a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.100.  Looking at Table One we see that Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, Ben Wallace, and Dwayne Jones all surpassed the average mark.

Of course looking at a few players here or there is not a great way to evaluate a team’s supporting cast.  What did the Cavaliers have without LeBron?  LeBron’s Wins Produced was 20.2 last season.  The rest of the Cavs produced 20.0 wins.  Given the minutes everyone played, everyone not named King James posted a 0.057 WP48.  This is not the worst mark in the league for a supporting cast, but it’s clearly below average.

All this leads to a couple of questions:

Landing LeBron

First – and this one I will try and answer – who is in a better position to land LeBron in 2010, the Cavs or Nets?

In 2007-08 the Cavs employed a below average supporting cast.  The Nets supporting cast, though, was even less productive.  Jason Kidd led the Nets in Wins Produced last season.  The average WP48 of everyone in New Jersey not named Kidd last season was only 0.039.  And as noted a couple of days ago, New Jersey hasn’t done much to improve the cast.

How the rosters are now, though, is not the issue. What matters are the players available in 2010.  Turning to HoopsHype, we see the New Jersey Nets currently have only Vince Carter and Eduardo Najera under contract for the 2010-11.

The Nets also hold an option on Yi Jianlian, Brook Lopez, Sean Williams, Ryan Anderson, Josh Boone, and Maurice Ager.  If the Nets chose to keep all these players, New Jersey would have – assuming 2007-08 performance held until 2010-11 (a strong assumption but not impossible) – two above average performers: Carter and Boone.  Again, that’s not much of a supporting cast. But then again, with that much room under the cap (and the potential for two more lottery picks), the Nets could have much more to entice LeBron (besides money).

What about the Cavs? Again, looking at HoopsHype, we see that Cleveland has the following players under contract after 2010: Daniel Gibson.

Yes, that’s it. Rookie JJ Hickson is available under a team option and LeBron can stay under a player option.  Every other player is not under contract for the 2010-11 season.

This means at this point we are not sure what Cleveland will have on its roster if and when King James opts out of his contract.   With LeBron on board for two more seasons it seems unlikely the Cavs will have any lottery picks.  But Cleveland could be adding additional free agents that might give LeBron hope that a championship contender could be built in Cleveland.

Other Questions

Okay, I said a couple of questions.  Beyond the issue of who is in a better position to land LeBron is the issue of how the 2007-08 supporting casts in Cleveland and New Jersey compared to the rest of the league. Yes, I said both are below average.  But how far below average?  Does anyone have a supporting cast that is less productive?  And which team has the best?

These questions are going to have to wait for another day.  And that day won’t be tomorrow.  My next post (which might go up tomorrow) is going to focus on the Las Vegas summer league.  Erich Doerr was nice enough to send me the final data.  Now all I have to do is offer some useful analysis.  Here is a quick preview: So far it looks like Minnesota is winning the Kevin Love – OJ Mayo trade.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

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

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.