Using Wins Produced to Find Hope in Milwaukee?

Posted on August 17, 2008 by

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Last summer I wrote a post which called the Milwaukee Bucks “the least interesting team in the NBA.” In that column I noted the following:

When we look at the rest of the roster we see three above average players: Andrew Bogut, Williams, and Redd.  None of these players managed to post a WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes) of 0.150 or higher in either 05-6 or 06-07.  As noted in the discussing the Pareto Principle, 20% of the Association players produced 80% of the wins.  From a team’s perspective, this means that your best three players tend to produce the majority of your victories. 

For the Bucks this tendency is bad news.  Milwaukee’s best three players are not that great.  Consequently, it’s hard to see this team becoming “interesting” in a good way in 07-08.

A Different View in 2007

A few fans of the Bucks did not like my 2007 analysis.  Apparently a few people bought into the story Larry Harris – Milwaukee’s former general manager – was telling.  Here is what Harris said when he was fired last March:

 “Our expectations going into the season were that we thought we were a playoff team,” Bucks general manager Larry Harris said in a telephone interview the other day. “I really felt going into the season that this was the best team that I had had in my five seasons as general manager; I told the team that, I told the community that, I told the fans that.”

“We have experience, we have an inside game, we have an outside game, we have some veterans, we have some toughness. Sometimes it’s played itself out, but there have been times we’ve been in games and had some things transpire and it ends up getting away from us quickly. Those are growing pains that we’ve had and we assumed would take place, but not to the level it has to this point. We’re certainly not happy with our record, but … when you’re in the Eastern Conference, you still feel like you’ve got a chance even as well under .500 as we are.”

The analysis I offered was based solely on what the team’s players had done in the past.  I was not looking at the team’s “experience, inside game, outside game, veterans, or toughness.”  No, I simply assumed that what the players did in the past is what we would see in the future.

When the 2007-08 season concluded, the Bucks – still led by the three players I identified – didn’t quite live up to their fans’ expectations.  But as Table One indicates, the team did perform up to the expectations we would form from the past numbers.

Table One: The Milwaukee Bucks in 2007-08

Milwaukee Makes Changes

Recognizing that what the team had wasn’t working, the Bucks have now made some changes.  Again, though, I don’t think – as the following two posts indicated – that the Bucks should be optimistic.

At Least We Have the Bucks

Spoiling the Fun in Milwaukee and Oklahoma

In response to my analysis I once again see a few comments that are in the tradition of what I saw last summer.  Somehow the Bucks players are going to perform differently than they did last year.  And consequently this team is going to defy the numbers.

Such arguments seem less than convincing.  Counting on better team chemistry, better effort, better coaching, etc… is not a dependable strategy.  The best way to build a winner is to follow the example of the Boston Celtics last summer.  In other words, if you want to see your team win frequently, acquire players who have produced wins frequently in the past.

Using Wins Produced Against Me

Given that I don’t buy the “better chemistry” or “better coaching” argument, I think we have to go back to the numbers.  And the numbers speak pretty clearly.  Or do they? 

Some readers in this forum have decided to do a little Wages of Wins research.   At this point I have posted numbers of NBA players back to the 2005-06 season.  And some people have noticed that in 2005-06, the projected starting line-up employed by the Bucks in 2008-09 performed as follows:

Andrew Bogut: 0.140 WP48, 6.9 Wins Produced

Charlie Villanueva: 0.082 WP48, 4.0 Wins Produced

Richard Jefferson: 0.244 WP48, 15.6 Wins Produced

Michael Redd: 0.144 WP48, 9.4 Wins Produced

Luke Ridnour: 0.125 WP48, 6.8 Wins Produced

In 2005-06 these players combined for 42.7 wins.  And this would be good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.  Therefore, some of the very numbers I have posted in the past indicate that fans of Milwaukee should now be quite excited.

Looking At Recent Numbers

Before Milwaukee fans get too excited, though, consider what these same players did in 2006-07:

Andrew Bogut: 0.145 WP48, 6.9 Wins Produced

Charlie Villanueva: 0.051 WP48, 1.0 Wins Produced

Richard Jefferson: 0.044 WP48, 1.8 Wins Produced

Michael Redd: 0.133 WP48, 5.6 Wins Produced

Luke Ridnour: 0.045 WP48, 2.0 Wins Produced

In 2006-07 these five players only combined to produced 17.3 wins. 

And when we look at 2007-08, we see the same story:

Andrew Bogut: 0.157 WP48, 8.9 Wins Produced

Charlie Villanueva: 0.014 WP48, 0.5 Wins Produced

Richard Jefferson: 0.040 WP48, 2.6 Wins Produced

Michael Redd: 0.087 WP48, 4.9 Wins Produced

Luke Ridnour: 0.006 WP48, 0.1 Wins Produced

If we add it all together we see only 17.1 wins.  

In sum, what we see from these players the past two seasons again doesn’t leave us very optimistic about the Bucks. 

Looking Again at Ridnour and Jefferson

Some people have noted, though, that Ridnour should benefit from a change of scenery.  And if Ridnour offers what he did in 2005-06 (again, looking at Wins Produced), the Bucks will be getting about the same that they got from Mo Williams. 

But even if Ridnour replaces Williams, the Bucks still have the same problem they had last year.  The team has three above average performers and then little else.  And that means the team is going to struggle.

Let’s not forget, though, Richard Jefferson. RJ was amazing in 2005-06, but has done very little since.  Back in May I referred to Jefferson as the NBA’s MOP (Most Overrated Player).  Yes he can score.  But as the following table indicates (posted originally last May), Jefferson is no longer offering much else. 

Table Two: The Career of Richard Jefferson

One particular area of concern is seen with respect to rebounding.  These numbers were above average in 2004-05 and 2005-06.  Now, though, these numbers are well below average.  

Jefferson has not been entirely healthy these past two years.  And I think (although I do not know this) that these injuries have led Jefferson to focus on scoring and to ignore rebounding.  If that continues in Milwaukee, then the Bucks will probably not be a playoff team next season.  And that is probably going to be the outcome even if Ridnour returns to what we saw two years ago. 

To summarize, I think Milwaukee fans will be happy if the players, specifically Richard Jefferson, offer the performances we saw two years ago.  I think, though, that what we saw in 2006-07 and 2007-08 is a better predictor of what we will see in 2008-09. Consequently, I still think the Bucks will once again disappoint their fans next year.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

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.