Kevin McHale and Blogger Power

Posted on December 21, 2008 by

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Apparently Kevin McHale fears blogger power:

“I think you’re going to see more and more shorter term stuff in our league,” he (McHale) said. “Just because the access now, there’s so much media availability and everything else.”

“There’s just so many bloggers; everybody’s got an opinion. There’s all kinds of stuff going on. Sometimes that starts forming the opinion of people in front offices, too, and owner. It’s been kind of a crazy year so far.”

Looking back, McHale has been the subject of quite a few posts offered in this blog.

Is Minnesota the Worst NBA Franchise in the History of the League? August 12, 2008

Missing and Missing and Missing in Minnesota April 15, 2008

T-Wolves Minus Garnett Equals the Worst NBA Team December 10, 2007

George Costanza, Danny Ainge, and Are the Timberwolves Better off Without Garnett? August 7, 2007

An Inconsistent Consistency Story March 22, 2007

But You Are Consistent March 19, 2007

The Timberwolves Change Coaches January 24, 2007

The Mayor Comes to Minnesota’s Front Office September 16, 2006

Despite this attention – which hasn’t been very kind – McHale is still an employee of the Minnesota Timberwolves. This suggests that

  • McHale is wrong about the power of bloggers
  • McHale is right about the power of bloggers, but this blog isn’t very powerful
  • McHale is wrong about the power of bloggers, and this blog isn’t very powerful

Looking at the Last Major Decision

My sense is that point #3 is correct.  Despite the powerlessness of this blog, I thought I would spend some time re-visiting McHale’s last major decision as a general manager.

On draft night McHale traded the draft rights to O.J. Mayo (and a few other players) to the Memphis Grizzlies for Kevin Love and Mike Miller (and a few other players).  At the time this trade was made I noted that I thought McHale got the better of the deal.  After 26 games this year, though, the T-Wolves have only won four games while the Grizzlies have a record of 9-17. 

So did McHale make another mistake?  Did I say something that was wrrrrrrr…., not correct?

As always, let’s look at some numbers.

Table One: The Minnesota Timberwolves after 26 games in 2008-09

Table One reports the standard perspectives on a team.  First we have what the team could have expected given what the players did last year.  Then we have what these players have done this year.  As one can see, there is a clear difference.  The Timberwolves are actually a bit better this year than their record indicates. Given the team’s efficiency differential and corresponding Wins Produced this season, Minnesota should have won six to seven games.  And if we look at what these players did last year, Minnesota should have won 12 to 13 games so far this season.

When we look at the performance of the individual players we can see what happened.  Heading into this season it was believed that Al Jefferson, Mike Miller, and Kevin Love were going to be above average performers.  Looking at the numbers we see this expectation confirmed.  Unfortunately, the remainder of the roster has been awful. Six players have played more than 100 minutes and posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] in the negative range.  And leading this pack is Ryan Gomes.

When we look at the individual stats, we can see where Gomes has come up short.

Table Two: Evaluating Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, and Ryan Gomes

As Table two indicates – with the exception of turnovers and personal fouls – Gomes has been below average with respect to every box score statistic.  In contrast, Jefferson has been above average with respect to everything except steals.  Love’s game has problems, but his ability to rebound and avoid turnovers also translates into an above Win Score and WP48.

When we look at this roster it seems clear – at this point — that McHale didn’t make a mistake on draft day.  Heading into the draft Minnesota had one outstanding player.  After the draft the T-Wolves had three good players.  Unfortunately, the T-Wolves don’t have much else.  And consequently, Minnesota isn’t a very good team.

Memphis and Mayo

What about the Grizzlies?

Table Three: The Memphis Grizzlies after 26 games in 2008-09

Table Three reports the standard perspectives on Memphis.  Unlike what we saw with the T-Wolves, Memphis is about on target.  Given what the players did last we would expect Memphis to have seven victories thus far.  The player’s performance this year – thanks to the improved play of Mike Conley and Darko Milicic – translates into 8.9 Wins Produced. Consequently Memphis is on pace to win about 28 games this year.

More than 20% of these wins can be tied to the play of O.J. Mayo.  In fact, only Conley has produced more wins for Memphis.  Despite this overall level of productivity, though, Mayo is only about average on a per-minute basis.

Table Four: Evaluating OJ Mayo

When we look at the individual stats – reported in Table Four – we see that Mayo has been an above average scorer.  But with respect to every other statistics (except personal fouls), Mayo is below average.  Consequently, he has not yet developed into a “good” player.

It’s important to remember that neither Love nor Mayo has played 30 NBA games yet.  So it’s a bit early to reach any strong conclusions.  Nevertheless, at this point I think McHale should be happy with the decision he made on draft day.

As for much of the rest of his decisions… well, many of those don’t look too good.  And that suggests that maybe the T-wolves were wise to move McHale out of his position as general manager.  Of course, that doesn’t mean I – or any other person with a blog – should take responsibility for that decision.

Memphis Missing One Key Ingredient

Let me close with one last note on the Grizzlies.  Currently Memphis has three above average performers: Conley, Marc Gasol, and Kyle Lowry.  If Mayo improves a bit, Memphis might have four “good” players.  Although this suggests Memphis is on the way back to playoff contention, there’s currently one major missing piece. Conley has the highest WP48 on the team, but his mark is only 0.144.  As I have noted in the past, a team can’t be very successful if its best player can’t post a WP48 beyond the 0.200 mark.  And right now, Memphis doesn’t have anyone near that level.

This means Memphis is still missing a very important piece. What this team has is a collection of “good” players. What this team needs is at least one “great” player.

My sense is that in general, getting the one “great” player is harder than collecting a few “good” players.  This suggests that McHale and Minnesota – despite their current record – is closer than Memphis to finding success.  Of course, McHale and Minnesota have been in this position before.  Once upon a time Minnesota had Kevin Garnett.  Unfortunately, finding that collection of “good” players proved to be a difficult task for McHale.  Perhaps this is why he’s no longer in charge of the search (not that I would suggest that was the right decision).

– 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.