Which Dunleavy Has Underperformed?

Posted on March 31, 2009 by


A few weeks ago Bill Simmons of ESPN.com referred to Mike Dunleavy – head coach and general manager of the LA Clippers – as “Dumbleavy” (see A dumbfounding night in the ‘Dumbleavy Era’).  Beyond the issue of Simmons calling someone else on the planet dumb (see Speeding Up Time for Bill Simmons & I Like Bill Simmons, Really I Do for two examples of Simmons being less than brilliant) is the general idea that Dunleavy is not helping the Clippers.

Apparently the disenchantment with Dunleavy has reached a point where Isiah Thomas is considered a person who can help.  Last week Chris Sheridan wrote an article detailing the contact between Isiah and the Clippers.  This article included the following two paragraphs outlining where Dunleavy has failed:

Dunleavy has generally won praise for his salary cap management and his most recent personnel moves such as signing Baron Davis, acquiring Zach Randolph from New York for Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley, drafting Eric Gordon and acquiring roughly $2 million in cash considerations over the course of this season from teams dumping salaries.

Dunleavy’s coaching is actually the area where the most justifiable criticism could be directed. The Clippers entered Wednesday night’s game against New York 37 games under .500. He has clashed with some Clippers players, most notably Davis and Chris Kaman, although Sterling has been publicly supportive of Dunleavy and overtly critical of his players, most recently when he went on a postgame rant in the locker room after a loss to San Antonio earlier this month.

Sheridan appears to be arguing that the issue isn’t Dunleavy the general manager; but rather, the general manager has been let down by Coach Dunleavy.   In other words, Dunleavy has picked the right players.  The players, though, are not living up to expectations.

Two Views of the Clippers

To see if this is true, let’s compare what the Clippers have done in 2008-09 to what we could have expected if we made the very simple assumption that what we saw last year from this team’s players we would see this year.

Table One: The LA Clippers in 2008-09 After 74 Games

As Table One indicates — given what these players did last year — the Clippers could have expected to win about 31 of their first 74 games in 2008-09.  Instead the team’s Wins Produced stands at 16.5.  If we look at the individual players we can see that about 80% of the difference between these two views can be tied to the play of just four players: Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Ricky Davis, and Al Thornton.

Of these, three – Baron Davis, Ricky Davis, and Kaman – have been injured.  And Thornton has gone from being an unproductive rookie – yet first team All-Rookie member – to a less productive sophomore.  Had the injuries not happened, and Thornton just repeated the miserable performance from his rookie season (which I might have mentioned was still good enough to get the coaches to vote him on the All-Rookie team) the Clippers might be closer to 30 wins right now.  And in the Western Conference that would be good enough still miss the playoffs.   Unfortunately, that’s where they are now.   So even if performance stayed constant from 2007-08 to 2008-09, Dunleavy – or someone on his staff – would still be at the lottery.

Pareto Misses the Clippers

Of course the injuries haven’t just limited production.  The injuries to Kaman and Baron Davis have also limited minutes.  A similar story can be told about Marcus Camby.  Here is a projection of what would have happened if each of these players had been available the entire season and performed as they did last year (with minutes per game from this year):

  • Marcus Camby: 31.5 minutes per game, 2,331 minutes, 17.7 Wins Produced
  • Chris Kaman: 30.0 minutes per game, 2,223 minutes, 10.8 Wins Produced
  • Baron Davis: 34.8 minutes per game, 2,574 minutes, 9.5 Wins Produced

From these numbers we can see that the Clippers could have expected from this trio – based on last year’s numbers – about 38 wins after 74 games this season. 

The Pareto Principle – as applied to basketball – tells us that about 80% of a team’s wins are produced by 20% of a team’s players.  Applying this to the Clippers, if the team received 38 wins from its top three players, and the rest of the team provided 20% more wins, this team would currently have close to 47 wins.

Looking at the rest of this roster, though, it seems unlikely that would have happened.  Once we get past Baron Davis, Kaman, and Camby, only Zach Randolph and DeAndre Jordan are above average. And these latter two are in the frontcourt with Kaman and Camby.  When we look at the rest of the roster, we generally see players that are not only below average but well into the negative range.  So although injuries have limited what the Clippers have done this year, even without injuries they would not be as good as the performance of their top players suggests.

Who is Dumb?

So which Dunleavy is to blame for the Clippers problems? After Elton Brand departed for the 76ers, Dunleavy had a problem.  The Clippers last year had one player – Chris Kaman – who played significant minutes and posted a WP48 that exceeded the 0.150 mark (his WP48 was 0.233 last year and after 481 minutes this season – or before he got hurt — Kaman’s WP48 was 0.200). Obviously if Kaman is the only player significantly above average on your roster you are not going to be too successful.

Faced with this problem, Dunleavy went out and acquired Marcus Camby (for a gift certificate to the Olive Garden) and signed Baron Davis.  These gave the Clippers a trio that could be the foundation of a competitive team.  Unfortunately, Dunleavy the GM stopped at this point.  The remainder of the roster was populated by a number of very poor players.

Putting the entire picture together, had the Clippers stayed healthy they might have contended for a lower seed in the Western Conference.  But I think injuries – not the coaching of Dunleavy – caused that meager dream to be dashed. All of this means that maybe Dunleavy isn’t the most brilliant basketball mind in the world, but the word “dumb” doesn’t apply either.  As for certain basketball writers, well….

– 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.