Jamal Crawford is Unlucky?

Posted on April 23, 2009 by


Now that regular season is over there are many, many stories to be told.  For example, I could – and probably should – talk about the Rookie of the Year (Derrick Rose is the best rookie?), the 6th Man of the Year (Jason Terry is the best 6th man?), the Coach of the Year (Mike Brown is the best coach?), or the playoffs.  But in the April 27 issue of Sports Illustrated is an interesting article by Phil Taylor about the misfortune of Jamal Crawford.  And after reading the story I decided to offer a comment (or two).

Unlucky Crawford

Let me start with some of what Taylor had to say.

Not once in his nine years with the Bulls, Knicks and Warriors have you Higher Powers of Hoops allowed Crawford into a postseason game without a ticket. When Golden State put the finishing touches on its 29-53 record last week, yet another one of his idle springs commenced. “You would think after all this time, I would have gotten at least one chance,” Crawford says. “It’s weird, right?”

It’s more than weird; it borders on historic. Crawford, 29, has played in 597 games without a playoff appearance, the longest current streak and the sixth-longest in league history. At least he’s not close to Tom Van Arsdale’s record 929 games (yet). Crawford thinks he’s just had a run of rotten luck, but you know better. This is the NBA, where 16 of the 30 teams qualify for the postseason — it’s about as hard as getting called for jury duty. Sometimes it seems the six-month regular season exists just to eliminate the Clippers.

…..If you’re going to try to make the case that Crawford is the cause of this, don’t bother. Sure, he launches the occasional ill-advised 25-footer and sometimes plays less than inspired defense, but who in the NBA doesn’t? His résumé clearly shows that his failure to pass through the postseason gates is due to powers beyond his control (and we’re not just talking about Isiah Thomas’s coaching in New York). Crawford averaged 19.7 points for the Warriors this season, and he’s one of only four players in history to score at least 50 in a game for three different teams. The others? Wilt Chamberlain, Bernard King and Moses Malone. The guy can play.

Measuring Crawford

Okay, Jamal Crawford is not Wilt Chamberlain or Moses Malone.   And even though King is overrated – as noted HERE and HERE – Crawford isn’t quite Bernard King either.  For his career King posted a 0.112 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  Crawford’s best season thus far was in 2005-06 when he posted a 0.109 WP48.  This was Crawford’s only above average campaign (average is 0.100), and after this last season his career mark was only 0.047.  In sum, Crawford is a below average shooting guard.

Of course one might wonder how this is possible (okay readers of The Wages of Wins might not wonder, but Taylor might).  Crawford has averaged 15.2 points per game for his career and managed to average 20.6 points per contest in 2007-08.  And since we know player evaluation often begins and end with scoring in the NBA (as it did in this article), Crawford must be a “good” player.

When we look at all the individual stats, though, we can see some problems in Crawford’s game. 

Table One:  Career of Jamal Crawford

For his career, Crawford is below average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, and steals.  And other than taking shots, he really isn’t much different from average with respect to anything else.   Once again, though, scoring dominates player evaluation.  Therefore one should not be surprised that “unlucky” Crawford has collected more than $40 million in his career (and is scheduled to make more than $10 million in 2010-11).

What-If Crawford

Okay, so the evaluation of Crawford seems to be overly influenced by scoring.  And Crawford really hasn’t helped his teams be more successful.  But that doesn’t mean Taylor is wrong.  It’s possible that Crawford has missed the playoffs because of bad luck.

To check out this story, I went back over Crawford’s career and played a game of what-if.   Specifically, what-if Crawford was more productive?  How often would he have made the post-season?

To play this game I increased Crawford’s WP48 in each season of his career and then looked at how his team’s Wins Produced would have changed.  For example, in 2006-07 Crawford posted a 0.019 WP48 and his team’s (the Knicks) Wins Produced was 33.7.  Had Crawford’s WP48 increased to 0.100, his team’s Wins Produced would have risen to 37.2.  The 8th seed in the Eastern Conference that season won 40 games, so this improvement would have probably still left Crawford out of the playoffs.  But at a WP48 of 0.150, Crawford’s team gets quite close.  And at 0.200 or 0.250 it looks like Crawford would have been in the playoffs in 2007.

Table Two: Playing What-If with Jamal Crawford

Table Two repeats this game for each season of Crawford’s career (prior to 2008-09).  As one can see, unless Crawford managed to reach the 0.200 mark, his teams probably never make the playoffs.  To put this in perspective, Kobe Bryant and Brandon Roy posted WP48 marks of 0.226 and 0.240 respectively this year (who would have guessed Roy was slightly more productive than Kobe in 2008-09?)   So Crawford’s productivity would have had to come close to Kobe and Roy for his team to make the playoffs during his career.

When we look at it this way, maybe Crawford – despite all his millions – has suffered from some bad luck.  Yes, Crawford is not a very productive player.  But he has also not played on very good teams.  And unless Crawford morphed into one of the better shooting guards in the game, he simply was not going to make the playoffs given the teams that decided to pay him.

Before we feel all that sorry for Crawford, though, we should remember that he has been paid more than $40 million in his career.  And we should also remember, NBA players are not paid much to participate in the playoffs.  In other words, the salaries paid to NBA players have already been paid before the post-season begins.  So maybe Crawford has really been quite lucky.  So far in his career he has never had to play an NBA game for less than his regular salary.  And this is more than Kobe or Roy can say (and really, how many people think Kobe and Roy are that close in productivity?).

– 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.