Depressing News in Minnesota

Posted on February 12, 2009 by


A few days ago Al Jefferson of the Minnesota Timberwolves tore his ACL and is now lost for the season.  As Table One indicates, Jefferson produced 8.2 wins this season and posted a 0.217 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. The former mark leads the team.  But the WP48 leader on the T-Wolves is Kevin Love.  And it just so happens that Jefferson’s injury puts Love into Minnesota’s starting line-up.  So clearly this injury helps Minnesota.

Table One: The Minnesota Timberwolves after 51 games in 2008-09

Measuring the Loss

Okay, not so fast.  I think it was John Hollinger who noted that the key issue we need to consider in understanding the impact of an injury to a starter is not the relative productivity of the replacement player.  No, the key is the productivity of the player(s) who take the replacement player’s minutes.  And when we take that extra step we can see Minnesota has some problems.

Given how many minutes Jefferson played before the injury, we can see Minnesota now has 1,140 minutes to re-allocate the rest of the season.  Jefferson’s WP48 suggests he would have produced 5.1 additional wins in that time.  Unfortunately, the production they are likely to get is not going to match the loss of Mr. Jefferson.

To see this, let’s start with how many minutes they can now give to Love.  Prior to the injury, Love was averaging about 23 minutes a game.  Even in these limited minutes, Love led all rookies (and all sophomores) in Wins Produced.  With Jefferson gone, Love’s minutes and Wins Produced will increase.  But there is a limit to how many more minutes Love can take.  In the one game without Jefferson, Love was on the court for 38 minutes. If this continues, then 465 of Jefferson’s missing minutes will go to Love (15 minutes * 31 games).  If compare Love’s performance to Jefferson’s, this shift is worth about 0.4 additional wins for Minnesota across the last 31 games.  In other words, not much difference.

When we turn to the other 675 minutes, though, we do see a difference.  Looking back at Table One we see the population of above average performers currently available to the T-Wolves includes the following players: Kevin Love and Mike Miller.

In contrast, the population of players whose WP48 is in the negative range – not just below average, but below zero – includes Rodney Carney, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins, Sebastian Telfair, and Rashad McCants.  Ryan Gomes – who has really struggled this year – has a WP48 of 0.003, so he is almost in this group.

The minutes Love cannot take are going to have to be taken by at least some (if not all) of the negative players.  It’s likely that Gomes will be spending more time at power forward.  And that means Rodney Carney will be spending more time at small forward.  Or maybe Miller will be spending more time at small forward while McCants takes up the slack at shooting guard. 

There are actually a number of ways the T-Wolves could split the minutes.  But because the options involve players who are not productive, these options leave this team worse off. 

Had Jefferson stayed healthy, the team’s efficiency differential – offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency – suggested this team might win 31 games (it would be close to 40 if Gomes was playing like he did last year).  With Jefferson gone, though, this team will struggle to win 10 more times this year.  And that means this team will finish closer to 25 wins.  In other words, the loss of Jefferson is going to cost this team about five wins in the final standings.

And the really bad news in this story is that there isn’t the usual silver lining to the team’s accumulation of additional losses.  When we think of the draft, the loss of Jefferson will probably not change Minnesota’s draft position much.  Currently Minnesota has the 6th worst record in the league.  If the T-Wolves only wins 5-7 more games, they may still have the 6th worst record.  It’s possible they might get passed by Oklahoma City or Memphis, but it’s possible that won’t happen also.

Summarizing the Story

So let’s summarize the news for Minnesota.

1. The loss of Jefferson means Kevin Love will produce more wins.  He will likely lead all rookies in Wins Produced, although that was probably true before this happened.

2. The team will lose more often.  Instead of winning more than 30 games, Minnesota will probably finish closer to the 25 win mark. 

3. These additional losses will probably not change the team’s draft position (barring a lucky lottery bounce). 

If we put the whole picture together, the loss of Jefferson just means more losses and not much gain.  And really that’s too bad.  Kevin McHale – the much maligned architect of this roster – made a bold move last summer.  In exchange for O.J. Mayo, McHale got both Love and Miller.  Both players are much more productive than Mayo, so this move was quite good.  Unfortunately, the loss of Jefferson means we are not going to see much overall improvement in Minnesota.  So the one brilliant move McHale has made might ultimately go unnoticed (at least, outside of this forum).

– DJ

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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.