Hope in Last Place

Posted on January 18, 2009 by


The NBA season is almost half over (Tuesday night is the official midpoint).  Given the relative consistency we see in basketball (relative to football and baseball), teams that are currently at the bottom of the standings should probably be making plans for the lottery.  In other words, the Washington Wizards – who currently reside in last place in the Eastern Conference – know this season is over.

Washington Looks at Next Season

Washington only won eight of their first 39 games.  The team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) is -6.72, a mark that also ranks last in the conference.  For this team to reach the 0.500 mark it would have to win 33 of its last 43 games.  Such a pace would be consistent with an efficiency differential in excess of 8.0.  In sum, the Wizards would have to improve by nearly 15.0 in efficiency differential to just win half their games in 2008-09.  Even if Gilbert Arenas came back (and there are indications that will not happen), Washington is not going to improve this much.

Although the season is effectively over in Washington it doesn’t mean the 2008-09 campaign was entirely negative.  Table One reports the Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of each player employed by the Wizards this season.  As one can see, most of this team is below average. 

Table One:  The Washington Wizards after 39 games in 2008-09

Not surprisingly, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler – the two stars on this team – are posting above average numbers.  And joining these two – and this might be a surprise – is Dominic McGuire.

McGuire was taken in the second round by the Wizards in 2007.  Last year – in only 695 minutes – McGuire was below average (not surprising for a rookie).  This year he has already played 648 minutes and started 14 games.  And although he is only averaging 3.0 points per game, his WP48 of 0.163 leads the team (primarily because he has improved with respect to rebounds and turnovers).

If McGuire can continue to play well – and Arenas and Brendan Haywood can both play and be productive next season – the Wizards will have a formidable starting five in 2009-10 (Arenas, Butler, McGuire, Jamison, and Haywood).

The remainder of this season, though, is not going to look good.  At least, not for fans of Washington.

The Pacers Have Some Hope this Season

If we look at the team just above Washington in the standings, though, a different story could be told.  Again, if a team is out of contention today it will probably be seated at the lottery in a few months.  An exception to this story, though, might be the Indiana Pacers.

Across the first forty games the Pacers only won 15 games with a winning percentage that only ranks ahead of the Wizards in the East.  But when we look at efficiency differential, the Pacers mark of -2.06 currently ranks 9th in the conference. 

Indiana’s efficiency differential is consistent with a team that should have already won 18 games (or 36 games across the entire season). Such a mark is probably still not good enough to make the playoffs, but the Pacers would not be incorrect if they thought they were close.

When we look at Table Two we can see which players are responsible for giving Indiana some hope.

Table Two: The Indiana Pacers after 40 games in 2008-09

For many fans, the player who is leading the Pacers is Danny Granger.  He certainly lead the team in scoring.  But when we look at overall production, Granger is only slightly above average.

Again, as a scorer Granger is very good.  But when we look at net possessions (a term coined by frequent WoW Journal and Knickerblogger commentator Owen Breck) Granger is below average.  Per 48 minutes he posts the following numbers:

Rebounds: 6.7 (average 7.6)

Steals: 1.4 (average 1.6)

Turnovers: 3.5 [average 2.8]

All of Granger’s net possession [rebounds + steals – turnovers] marks are below average.  Consequently, although he’s an above average player, he’s not the leading producer of wins on the Pacers. 

If we look over this roster we see that Troy Murphy, Jeff Foster, and T.J. Ford all post WP48 marks beyond what we see from Granger.  And if we look at last year’s numbers, we see that Mike Dunleavy – who just returned from injury – is also capable of putting up numbers beyond what we see from Granger.

After 152 minutes, though, Dunleavy hasn’t yet returned to the form we saw last year.  If he does, though, it’s quite possible that the Pacers will make the teams ranked ahead of Indiana sweat a bit. Although it’s unlikely given the Pacers current record of 15-25 that Indiana can finish in the playoffs, there’s certainly hope heading into next season.

Next season Indiana – like the Wizards – could field a starting line-up that consists entirely of above average players (Ford, Dunleavy, Granger, Murphy, Foster).  And that line-up – if on the court the entire season – could contend for the playoffs in 2009-10.

Scheduling Note

The only teams I have not yet devoted a post to in the first half of this season are the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Hornets.  On Tuesday I will comment on the former. The Hornets will be discussed next Thursday.

After I review the 2008 NFL season next Sunday, I will turn to reviewing the entire first half of the 2008-09 NBA season. The first of these posts – and there will be more than one on the NBA at the mid-season mark — will be offered on Tuesday, January 27. 

– 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.