The Slightly Rising Suns and a Comparison of Greg Oden and Spencer Hawes

Posted on December 11, 2008 by


Last season the Phoenix Suns made a bold move.  Despite leading the Western Conference in wins, Steve Kerr – the general manager in Phoenix – traded Shawn Marion to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O’Neal.  At the time of the trade I noted that this move would cause Phoenix to decline.  And when the season ended, Phoenix with Shaq had clearly declined.

The “good” but not “great” Richardson

After 23 games this season, the Suns had set even further.  Although the team had won 13 games, the team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) was exactly 0.0.  In other words, this team was exactly average; and average is only good enough for 9th place in the Western Conference.  And that means Phoenix is not currently expected to make the playoffs. 

So let’s briefly summarize the Kerr regime.  Last February Phoenix had the best record in the Western Conference.  Less than one year later, this team looked to be destined for the NBA lottery. 

As a consequence, it’s not surprising to see this team make another move.  This week the Suns sent Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, and Sean Singletary to the Charlotte Bobcats for Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, and a second round draft choice in 2010.

Of the players in this transaction, Richardson has attracted the most attention.  A lottery pick in 2001, Richardson has averaged 18.8 points per game in his career.  Last year his average was 21.8, and he scored 23.7 points per contest in 2005-06.  Clearly Richardson can score.

However, as is often noted in this forum (perhaps too often?), just scoring points is not enough to produce wins in the NBA.  When we look at all that Richardson has done in his career – via Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] – we see a player who is not quite as good as his scoring suggests.

  • 2007-08: 8.0 Wins Produced, 0.122 WP48
  • 2006-07: 4.0 Wins Produced, 0.114 WP48
  • 2005-06: 9.4 Wins Produced, 0.156 WP48
  • 2004-05: 8.0 Wins Produced, 0.141 WP48
  • 2003-04: 8.2 Wins Produced, 0.134 WP48
  • 2002-03: 1.7 Wins Produced, 0.030 WP48
  • 2001-02: 1.1 Wins Produced, 0.021 WP48
  • Career: 40.4 Wins Produced, 0.104 WP48

An average WP48 is 0.100.  So for his career, Richardson is only slightly above average.  But after his first two seasons, Richardson’s WP48 stands at 0.135.  This means that Richardson is better than “slightly above average”.  One could actually call him “good” (but not exactly “great”).

Of course, what Richardson brings to the table is only half the story.  Richardson’s minutes will primarily come from Raja Bell, and Bell’s WP48 this year has only been 0.001.  And Bell’s career mark is only 0.015.  So clearly Richardson tends to offer more than Bell.

But how much more?  For an answer we turn to Table One.

Table One: The Phoenix Suns after 23 games

So far Bell hasn’t produced any wins in 712 minutes.  If Richardson steps in and posts a WP48 of 0.135 in Bell’s minutes, Richardson will produce 5.1 wins across the rest of the season.  This will transform an average team into a team that will still fall short of 50 victories.

Now the Suns can be even better if Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire return to the form we saw last year.  As one can see in Table One, drop-offs with respect to both Nash and Stoudemire – if these continue for the full season – will cost Phoenix about 12 wins.   So if Nash and Stoudemire revert to what we saw in 2007-08, the Suns could still win 50 games this season. 

And if that happens… this team still won’t be as good as they were before they acquired Shaq.  But they might win a playoff series.   In sum, although this trade means the Suns are rising just a bit, Phoenix is still not serious a contender (not with the Lakers, Cavaliers, and Celtics in the league).

What about the Bobcats? 

Well, they were never contenders in the first place.  And after this trade… it looks like they will be in a better position to get more lottery balls.

Oden vs. Hawes

There have been other events in the NBA in recent days.  Players have been traded.  Coaches have been fired.  But I want to comment on something I read two weeks ago.  Bill Bradley – of the Sacramento Bee – penned the following column on November 26: Leading Off: Hawes or Oden? It’s closer than you think (HT: Henry Abbott and TrueHoop)

After spending two of the past five nights watching the top centers of the 2007 NBA draft, I ask you to ponder this: Who would you pick now, Spencer Hawes or Greg Oden?

I would take Hawes.

You say I’m crazy? Stay with me. As much hoopla as there was over Oden as the No. 1 overall pick – and yes, he was injured all of last season – he seems to be a one-dimensional player. He is great inside, rebounding and blocking shots. Yet he doesn’t have the offensive impact like the big men to whom he was compared, Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone.

Hawes isn’t in that league, either. But what makes him attractive is his other dimensions: passing and outside shooting. Plus, Hawes has bulked up enough to compete with the wide bodies and he isn’t afraid to play inside this season.

In two games against each other, Oden had a combined 10 points (4-of-9 shooting) and 14 rebounds in 38 minutes. Hawes had 30 points (12 of 26) and eight rebounds in 72 minutes.

You get what you get with Oden. It appears the best is to come for Hawes.

Let me just first focus on the numbers Bradley cites.  Using the above numbers, we see that Oden – per 48 minutes – scored 12.6 points, grabbed 17.7 rebounds, and posted a 44% field goal percentage.  Meanwhile, Hawes – again, per 48 minutes – scored 20.0 points, grabbed 5.3 rebounds, and hit on 46% of his field goal attempts.  So Hawes was a better scorer, but on the boards he was a disaster.  Despite these numbers, Bradley wants us to “stay with him”.

Let’s go past the head-to-head match-up and consider what each player has done (prior to Wednesday night’s games).

Table Two: Greg Oden vs. Spencer Hawes

It’s important to remember that Oden – prior to Wednesday night – has only played 17 games in his NBA career while Hawes has appeared in 93 contests.  So Hawes benefits from just a bit more experience.

Despite the benefit of more experience, Oden’s contribution currently exceeds what we see from Hawes.  Yes, Hawes is a better scorer, with three more points scored per 48 minutes.  But Oden grabs 4.5 rebounds more per 48 minutes.  Plus he blocks more shots.  As a result, Oden’s Win Score per 48 minute [and WP48] is higher.  And I think it’s reasonable to expect – contrary to what Bradley asserts — that the difference between these two players will continue to expand.

Let me close by noting, though, that Bradley is not the only one who is down on Oden.  In the most recent edition of Sports Illustrated it’s noted that Oden only scored two points during a recent game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.  According to SI, this is the lowest point total by a number one draft choice in his debut at the Garden in 40 years.

Both the comments of Bradley and Sports Illustrated highlight a potential problem with Oden’s career.  Given how much people focus on scoring, it’s possible that Oden’s career will disappoint many NBA fans.  But his production of wins should make Portland fans happy.  And since the objective of the game is to win, perhaps that should be enough.

– 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.