Worth the Money – the Bogut and Okafor Story

Posted on December 28, 2008 by

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Chris Broussard – in the December 29 issue of ESPN the Magazine – noted that a number of expensive NBA contracts signed last summer have not paid off this fall (the article – which I can’t find on-line — is on page 71 of the print edition).  Included in Broussard’s list were the contracts paid to Elton Brand, Luol Deng, Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas, and Monta Ellis.  Each of these players is either below average in 2008-09 or hasn’t actually played.  So at this point, one could have an issue with the nearly $400 million guaranteed to these five.

If Broussard would have confined his story to this quintet, then his article would have been on fairly solid ground (a bit quick with the assessment, though). But Broussard couldn’t stop himself.  To these five he also decided to add the names of Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, and Emeka Okafor.   

According to Broussard, Iguodala is having the worst season of his career. Certainly Iguodala’s scoring numbers are down.  But his rebounds and assists are up.  And when we look at WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minute] we see only a small decline.  Last year Iguodala’s WP48 was 0.172 while this year it is 0.170. In sum, Iguodala is not responsible for the problems in Philadelphia this season.

Bogut and Okafor Score Less and Produce More

A similar story is seen with respect to Bogut and Okafor.  Before I get to that story, I should note that I commented on each player’s deal last summer (see The Bogut Economy and Okafor Finally Signs). At the time I noted that both players were above average, but Okafor has consistently been better (at least on a per-minute basis).

When we look at the numbers from this year we again see that each player is above average.  And Okafor is again offering more.  But contrary to what Broussard contends, each player has actually improved. 

Table One: Andrew Bogut and Emeka Okafor in 2008-09

As Table One indicates, both players – like Iguodala – are scoring less.  Consequently it’s not surprising to see Broussard – who has a history of focusing on scoring — conclude that each player is actually less productive.  When we look past scoring, though, we see each player is offering more.  Bogut has improved with respect to shooting efficiency and rebounds.  Okafor’s rebounding numbers are down, but his shooting efficiency is much better.

The Better Bucks

When we look at Wins Produced we can see what these players mean to their respective teams.  Let’s start with Bogut.

Bogut – as Table Two indicates – is Milwaukee’s most productive player.  Despite his new contract, though, he’s not the highest paid player on this team.  Even after his new contract kicks in next year, his pay will still lag behind the compensation of Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd.  Not surprisingly, Jefferson and Redd lead the Bucks in points scored per game.  But both players are below average with respect to WP48 (and this was true last year as well).

Table Two: Milwaukee Bucks after 31 games in 2008-09

Before moving on to Okafor, let’s quickly note that the Bucks have improved in 2008-09.  Given what the players have done in the past the Bucks should have expected to be on pace to win 26 games this year (what they won last year).  The performance of this team this year, though, is consistent with a team that will win about half their games.

About one-third of this improvement can be tied to the play of Bogut.  Although Bogut has taken a step forward, the biggest leap can be seen in the play of Luke Ridnour.  Ridnour’s WP48 was 0.125 as a starter in Seattle in both 2004-05 and 2005-06.  When Ridnour stopped starting on a regular basis, though, his performance fell into below average territory.  This season he has been returned to the starting line-up and his WP48 has risen to 0.147.

In addition to Ridnour and Bogut, the Bucks are also getting an above average performance from Ramon Sessions and a nearly average performance from Luc Mbah a Moute.  Each of these players was a recent second round selection.  Their play suggests that someone in Milwaukee knows something about drafting players.  Then again, these same people selected Joe Alexander and Yi Jianlian in the first round.  Both of these players have been below average NBA players, so maybe Milwaukee still has some issues in its scouting department.

The Charlotte Duo

Okay, enough about Milwaukee.  Let’s look at Charlotte.

Table Three: Charlotte Bobcats after 31 games in 2008-09

Although Charlotte has only won 11 of its first 31 games, the team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) of -2.33 is consistent with a team that will win 35 games this year.  In other words, Charlotte is not far behind Milwaukee.

Like Milwaukee, Charlotte is led by the man in the middle.  Okafor’s WP48 of 0.293 is similar to what he did in 2006-07 (a 0.290 mark) and a bit better than Bogut this season (Bogut has a 0.260 mark).   

Currently Okafor is on pace to produce 17.4 wins, a career high mark. Gerald Wallace is also on pace to produce a career high in wins [though not a career high in WP48].   If these two players maintain their current performance, this duo will combine to produce 31.6 wins this season.  Unfortunately the rest of the roster is only on pace to produce 3.9 wins.   After Okafor and Wallace, no other player on this roster is above average.  And once you get past Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaw, Ryan Hollins, Raja Bell, and Matt Carroll, every other player currently has a WP48 in the negative range.

For those who know Bobcat history, the story of the 2008-09 season is hardly new.  From 2004-05 to 2007-08, the Okafor-Wallace duo have combined to produce 69.4 wins (35.2 by Okafor, 34.2 by Wallace). The remainder of the roster only produced 46.5 victories across these four seasons (or less than 12 wins per year).  Of the players who played at least 2,000 minutes in a season, only Brevin Knight in 2005-06 and Jason Richardson in 2007-08 were above average players.  In sum, Charlotte has been Okafor, Wallace, and not much else since this franchise was created. 

The generally poor play of the Bobcats likely impacts the assessment of both Okafor and Wallace.  Statistics, though, have the power to separate a player from his teammates. When we make this separation we see that Okafor has been a very good player.  And like Bogut, he has so far been well worth the money.

– 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.