Devin Harris Takes Many Shots and the Nets Improve Slightly

Posted on January 11, 2009 by

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The New Jersey Nets – led by Dr. J. — won the final ABA championship in 1976.  The next season – without Dr. J. – the Nets won only 22 games in their inaugural NBA campaign.

That first NBA season proved to be a harbinger of things to come.  In the first 25 years this team played in the NBA, the Nets made the playoffs just ten times and only reached the second round of the playoffs once.  In other words, Dr. J. made the second round of the NBA playoffs (nine times) in his career almost as often as the entire New Jersey franchise made the playoffs in the first 25 years the team played in the Association.

And then in 2001, Jason Kidd arrived.  Over the next six seasons the Nets made the playoffs six times.  New Jersey also found some post-season success, moving past the first round on four occasions (and twice reaching the Finals).

Last season, though, Kidd was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and the Nets stayed home from the playoffs.  As noted last May, the departure of Kidd was not the entire story.  The Nets also suffered from a failure to build around Kidd and a substantial decline in the productivity of Richard Jefferson.

The Nets in the Playoffs?

Regardless of the reasons, the Nets failed to contend in the Eastern Conference last season.  This year, though, it looks like this team is back.  At least, through games of Saturday night, the Nets are currently a playoff team.   If the season were to end today the Nets would hold the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

Although the current standing of this team may give hope to this team’s fans, the won-loss record of the Nets is a bit misleading.  When we look at efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) we see that New Jersey currently has a mark of -2.03.  So far eight teams in the Eastern Conference have a better mark.  And the Raptors and Pacers currently sport a differential of -2.2 and -2.3 respectively (and the Pacers just got back Mike Dunleavy, the team’s most productive player from last season).  In sum, right now it doesn’t look like the Nets are clearly headed for the playoffs.

That being said, it does appear that this team has improved.  And when we look at Table One, we can see why this team is a bit better.

Table One: The New Jersey Nets after 37 games in 2008-09

Devin Harris Shoots and Shoots

The big story is the play of Devin Harris.  In his first four seasons, he posted WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] marks that ranged from 0.099 (his rookie season) to 0.135 (what he did for the Nets last season).  In sum, Harris was a bit above average for most of his career.  This season, though, his WP48 has increased to 0.226.

When we look at Table Two we can see how Harris improved.  In general we focus on shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, and turnovers when we wish to see why a player’s productivity has changed.  For Harris, though, we see very little difference with respect to these statistics. He’s a bit better with respect to turnovers and steals, but he’s doing less with respect to rebounds.  And with respect to shooting efficiency from the field he’s about the same.  In sum, with respect to the statistics that tend to drive performance, Harris hasn’t changed much.

Table Two: Evaluating Devin Harris in 2008-09

And yet, his Wins Produced has clearly risen.  When we look carefully at Table Two we can see the reason.  The primary difference is shot attempts. Whether we look at shots from the field or shots from the line, Harris is simply launching more basketballs towards the hoop.  And because Harris is an above average scorer – both from the line and the field (and despite a field goal percentage below 50%, Harris is above average from the field) – the more shots he takes the more wins he produces. 

Although Harris has increased his production of wins, the overall increase — when we project across the entire season — is only about four victories.  And unfortunately, there is not much improvement elsewhere on the roster.  Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell are essentially returning to what they were before last year.  Yi Jianlian – the primary player the Nets acquired in the Richard Jefferson trade with the Bucks – has progressed from very, very bad to just bad.  And the team is almost getting an average level of production from rookie Brook Lopez (which is good for a rookie).

After these players, though, not much is happening.  The other veterans — Vince Carter, Josh Boone, Keyon Dooling, and Jarvis Hayes — are essentially the same players they were last year.  And in the case of Dooling and Hayes, the same is not good.

Looking to the Future

Here is the simple story in New Jersey.  When we look over this entire roster, we simply do not see much production.  After Harris and Carter, only Boone is posting a WP48 beyond the 0.100 (what an average player does) mark.  Obviously the Nets are going to need to add more if this team is going to once again contend in the East. 

One position to focus upon is power forward.   Yi (who will miss the next month) and Ryan Anderson are currently offering very little.  Back in preseason it looked like Anderson might be good.  Anderson, though, has not delivered in the regular season (NetsDaily indicates this might be due to injury).  Of course, it’s still quite early in Anderson’s career.  So he certainly could get much better. The same story could be said about Yi, although he has played more the 2,500 minutes in the NBA.  And his productivity has yet to approximate what you would see from an average power forward. 

In sum, at this point it appears that the current edition of the Nets is plagued by the same problems it had during much of the Jason Kidd era.  The team’s big men tend to offer little.  Consequently this team goes as far as its backcourt can take it.  And right now, that looks like a team that can win between 35 and 40 games. 

In the improved Eastern Conference, though, this might not be good enough to get in the playoffs.  And this leads one to wonder.  If the Nets miss the playoffs again, will Lawrence Frank – the longest tenured coach in the Eastern Conference – survive? Or will Mike Woodson and Doc Rivers be able to assume the title of longest surviving head coach in the East?  Yes, the often maligned Mike Woodson might be on the verge of this title (perhaps a post on the Hawks would be a good idea this week).

– 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.