The Tragedy of Clark Kellogg

Posted on September 16, 2008 by

18


Two months ago CBS announced that Clark Kellogg would replace Billy Packer as the network’s lead college basketball analyst.  Packer has announced 34 consecutive Final Fours, so an era has ended in sports broadcasting.  For Kellogg to match Packer he will have to still be announcing the Final Four in 2042 (when he is 80 years old).  And if that happens, Kellogg will have certainly establish himself as a legendary figure in broadcasting.

Although this would be impressive, I think Kellogg should be remembered for something else.  It turns out that Kellogg is not just a basketball analyst, he was also an amazing professional basketball player.

Forgetting Kellogg 

For many fans, this might seem hard to believe.  Kellogg was the 8th overall choice in the 1982 draft and was named to the All-Rookie team in 1983.  But he never played in an All-Star game.  He was never named to an All-NBA team.  And he never even played in an NBA playoff game.  So how could he be considered a “great” basketball player?

To answer this question, let’s first note that Kellogg was drafted by the Indiana Pacers.  And due to injuries, his career only lasted five seasons.  In fact, he was only a full-time starter in three seasons (playing just 23 games across his last two years).  In his three full seasons the Pacers only won 68 games, or less than 23 victories per year.  When you play such a short period of time — and on a bad team in a very small market — we may not be surprised that your career gets forgotten.

Kellogg and the King

But when we look at the numbers we see that Kellogg was indeed an amazing basketball player.  And to make this argument, I will compare what Kellogg did his first three seasons to Bernard King. 

Why King?

The first three years of Kellogg’s career also coincide with the time when King was in his prime.  In both 1984 and 1985, King was name to the All-NBA first team.  The other forward named to these teams was Larry Bird (Bird was on the first team every season from 1980 to 1988).  Consequently, one could argue that King was considered the second best forward in the NBA at this time.

But despite this perception, it’s clear that King was no Kellogg. When we look at Wins Produced – reported in Table One – we see that the player perceived to be the second best forward was actually less productive than the young – and quite anonymous — Kellogg.

Table One: Comparing the Career Performances of Clark Kellogg and Bernard King

From 1982-83 to 1984-85, Kellogg produced between 13 and 14 wins each season.  Kellogg’s average WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] was 0.247 (average is 0.100). 

Looking at Table One we see that King was also above average in each season.  But his production lagged behind Kellogg.  Across these three seasons – when King was an All-NBA selection – he only averaged 7.8 Wins Produced with a 0.163 WP48.    Again, these are good marks.  But not what we saw from Kellogg.

Driving Perceptions

So what explains the differences in perceptions?

First there is a difference in where each player played.  King spent these three seasons in New York.  As noted, Kellogg played in Indiana.  King was also a more prolific scorer.  Across these three seasons King scored 26.6 points per game while Kellogg only scored 19.3 points per contest.

Although each of these factors impact perceptions, I would draw attention to a different issue.  Previously I noted that the Pacers were a particularly bad team at this time.  If we look at the rosters of these Indiana teams we find the following above average performers not named Kellogg (among those who played at least 500 minutes):

1982-83: Billy Knight [0.154 WP48], Clemon Johnson [0.125 WP48]

1983-84: None

1984-85: Steve Stipanovich [0.110 WP48], Jim Thomas [0.101 WP48]

Other than these players – and Kellogg – every other player who played at least 500 minutes was below average.  And several teammates were actually in the negative range.

When we look at the average performance of Kellogg’s teammates – reported in Table One – we see little Kellogg’s supporting cast offered.  Across these three seasons the average WP48 of Kellogg’s teammates as only 0.034.  To put this in perspective, the average performance of the teammates of the leading Wins Producer on each team in 2007-08 was 0.076.1

For further perspective, consider the performance of King’s teammates.  In each of these three seasons King’s teammates posted an average WP48 of 0.095.  When we see this number we begin to see why King was regarded so highly.  He was a prolific scorer, playing in a large market, with above average teammates.  Such a combination is difficult for the media to resist.

On the flip-side, we can now see why Kellogg’s NBA career has been basically forgotten.  He was a scorer, but not as prolific as King.  He also played in a small market with very bad teammates.  And that combination – even if you are a productive player – is not going to result in much love from the media.

The story of Clark Kellogg brings to mind the story told about both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce prior to the 2007-08.  As the following posts indicate, both Garnett and Pierce spent much of their respective careers on bad teams. 

The Tragedy of Kevin Garnett

The Tragedy of Paul Pierce

Because their teams often failed, the perceptions of both Garnett and Pierce were not quite as high as the performance of each player would suggest. 

These stories all highlight the same issue in the coverage of team sports.  As I have noted before, the purpose of tracking statistics for players is to separate a player from his team. It should not be the case in sports – where we have detailed measures of player performance – that our evaluation of a player is dictated by his teammates.  But often we find that players are not separated from teammates.  Specifically, often teammates dictate perceptions of a player’s value.  The story of Kellogg and King once again tell this story.  Kellogg was clearly the more productive player.  But King was believed to be the better player because he played in a larger market with better teammates.  As a consequence, Kellogg may be remembered someday as a legendary broadcaster.  But his performance in the NBA is not something many will remember.

More Numbers

Let me close by noting why Kellogg was more productive than King. 

Table Two: Comparing the Career Averages of Clark Kellogg and Bernard King

As Table Two indicates, Kellogg was above average with respect to everything except turnovers, blocked shots, and personal fouls.  Although he was an above average scorer, he was truly outstanding on the boards. 

Looking at King, we see a player who could not best Kellogg in any non-scoring category.  Yes, King was a prolific scorer.  But he really didn’t excel at any other facet of the game.

As is true today, though, King’s scoring ability – coupled with his other advantages – was enough to garner much acclaim.  In contrast, Kellogg — despite all he did on the court — will probably only be remembered as a broadcaster.    And he can thank his teammates – and a media that generally can’t separate a player for his team – for people forgetting an outstanding (albeit brief) NBA career.

– 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.