Are the Wizards one of the ten best teams in the NBA?

Posted on August 27, 2009 by

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Although the summer is not quite over, Chris Mannix of CNNSI.com has decided to rank the teams in the NBA right now.  And coming in at the #8 spot is…. the Washington Wizards?

Last season the Wizards won 19 games and finished with a -7.9 efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency).  This differential ranked 28th in the league and 0nly the Sacramento Kings and LA Clippers finished lower.

Looking at the top of the 2008-09 differential rankings we see that the 8th best team was the Denver Nuggets, a team that posted a 3.5 differential and won 54 games.  The Wizards franchise has not fielded a team that was this good since 1978-79.  At that time the team was named the Bullets and Washington was competing in the NBA Finals.  Since that season, the best finish by a Washington team came in 2005-06 when the Wizards posted a 1.9 differential and won 42 games.*  In sum, it looks like Mannix will only be correct if this is the best Washington team in 30 years.

Again, last year this team was very bad.  And when we look at the players on this team, we can see why.

Table One: The Washington Wizards in 2008-09

An average player will post a 0.100 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  Last season the Wizards employed only four players – Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Dominic McGuire, and Gilbert Arenas – who were above average.  And Arenas only played 63 minutes.  Of the thirteen remaining players employed, eight were producing in the negative range.  Consequently, we should not be surprised this team played so poorly.

What would it take for this team to play as well as the Nuggets last season?  Again, the Nuggets won 54 games and posted a 3.5 differential.  This means the Wizards would have to win 35 more games and improve its differential by 11.4.  To put this improvement in perspective, here is the list of all teams since 1973-74 who have improved by 30 wins.

  • Boston (2007-08): 42 more wins, 14.5 increase in differential
  • San Antonio (1997-98): 36 more wins, 13.1 increase in differential
  • San Antonio (1989-90): 35 more wins, 10.1 increase in differential
  • Phoenix (2004-05): 33 more wins, 11.1 increase in differential
  • Boston (1979-80): 32 more wins, 11.9 increase in differential

What do these five teams have in common?  All of these teams added a very productive player.  The Celtics added Larry Bird in 1979 and Kevin Garnett in 2007.  The Spurs added David Robinson in 1989 and Tim Duncan in 1997.  And the Suns added Steve Nash in 2004.

The Wizards traded away their lottery pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.  Yes, Gilbert Arenas is coming back from injury.  But even with a healthy Gilbert Arenas in the past, this team didn’t win 50 games.  So what is Mannix thinking?

Well, maybe he looked at everyone who was expected to play for Washington in 2009-10.  Here is the expected first and second string for Washington (WP48 = Wins Produced per 48 minutes):

First String

PG – Gilbert Arenas [2006-07]: 39.8 minutes per game, 10.7 Wins Produced, 0.174 WP48

SG – Mike Miller: 32.3 minutes per game, 13.9 Wins Produced, 0.282 WP48

SF – Caron Butler: 38.6 minutes per game, 8.1 Wins Produced, 0.150 WP48

PF – Antawn Jamison: 38.2 minutes per game, 10.1 Wins Produced, 0.157 WP48

C – Brendan Haywood [2007-08]: 27.9 minutes per game, 5.4 Wins Produced, 0.116 WP48

Second String

PG – Randy Foye: 35.6 minutes per game, 1.3 Wins Produced, 0.026 WP48

SG – Nick Young: 22.4 minutes per game, -1.2 Wins Produced, -0.032 WP48

SF – Dominic McGuire: 26.2 minutes per game, 7.5 Wins Produced, 0.174 WP48

PF – Andray Blatche: 24.0 minutes per game, -1.5 Wins Produced, -0.042 WP48

C – JaVale McGee: 15.2 minutes per game, 0.6 Wins Produced, 0.025 WP48

Adding together the Wins Produced of these players we get 54.8 wins.  The minutes of these players, though, summed to 22,456.  For these minutes to be played, the Wizards would have to average about 274 minutes per game.  Assuming the Wizards are not playing a large number of overtime games, someone is going to have to play fewer minutes, and therefore, 54 wins is not quite right (assuming these players offer the same level of production).  Nevertheless, it does look like these ten players can win between 45 and 50 games.  And with a bit of improvement here and there, maybe this edition of the Wizards can indeed post numbers similar to what the Nuggets did last year.

Of course, we are assuming

  • Arenas returns to what he was two years ago.
  • Haywood returns to what he was a year ago.
  • Miller maintains the productivity we saw last year in Minnesota

So we are assuming quite a bit and therefore, there is no guarantee that the Wizards will approach 50 wins.

That being said, it does look like what Mannix argued – as unbelievable as it appeared at first glance – is at least possible.   Without adding a future Hall-of-Fame player, the Wizards might improve by 30 games in the standings.  And Washington fans might see a team that is better than any edition of this franchise since Jimmy Carter was president. 

*- the Wizards did win 45 games in 2004-05 but the team’s differential was only -0.3.

– 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.

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