Is this the Year a Charlotte Basketball Team – and MJ – Return to the Playoffs?

Posted on September 14, 2009 by

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One could argue that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever.  So it was not a surprise when he was elected to the Hall-of-Fame.   His speech, though, was somewhat surprising to Adrian Wojnarowski; who emphasized the tone Jordan adopted in his acceptance speech.  Jordan’s speech revealed that he’s primarily motivated by every person who has ever slighted him.  In essence, MJ is motivated by spite.

Jordan defended his approach by noting his competitive spirit.  This spirit drove Jordan to succeed in basketball or any other sport or game he played.  Since his playing days ended, though, this drive has been hard to find.  As an executive with the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats, wins have been scarce.  And if you listened hard to Jordan’s speech you would have heard him reveal that he tried to play any game that would get him out of the classroom.  Yes, Jordan’s competitive desire didn’t extend to his school work either.

In essence, Jordan doesn’t appear to be much different from many people.  When Jordan thinks the chance of success is high, he’s quite competitive. In areas where excelling might be more difficult, he doesn’t seem to try very hard. Consequently, success as an NBA executive has been fleeting.

In 2009-10, though, Jordan’s record as an executive might begin to change.  Last season the Bobcats finished with 35 wins.  This mark was actually the best in franchise history.  And that tells us what we need to know about the short five-year history of the Bobcats.

The 2008-09 Story

If we delve a bit deeper into the numbers, though, Charlotte fans should begin to see some hope. Charlotte’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) suggests this team should have won 37.8 games.  Miami’s efficiency differential, the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference last year, is consistent with a team that won 42.1 games.  So the Bobcats were not far from a playoff spot in 2008-09.

When we look at the individual players via Wins Produced, we can see who is responsible for this team’s success.

Table One: The Charlotte Bobcats in 2008-09

The names at the top of the list – Gerald Wallace and Emeka Okafor – are hardly a surprise.  This is what I said about this duo last December: For those who know Bobcat history, the story of the 2008-09 season is hardly new.  From 2004-05 to 2007-08, the Okafor-Wallace duo have combined to produce 69.4 wins (35.2 by Okafor, 34.2 by Wallace). The remainder of the roster only produced 46.5 victories across these four seasons (or less than 12 wins per year).  Of the players who played at least 2,000 minutes in a season, only Brevin Knight in 2005-06 and Jason Richardson in 2007-08 were above average players.  In sum, Charlotte has been Okafor, Wallace, and not much else since this franchise was created.

Although Okafor and Wallace once again led the Bobcats, help for this duo has appeared.  Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and D.J. Augustin combined to produce 15.6 wins last year.  And had Diaw and Bell been available the entire season this number would have been higher.  In sum, the combination of Okafor, Wallace, Felton, Diaw, Bell, and Augustin was productive enough to win more than 40 games last year.  

Playoff Contention in 2009-10?

Unfortunately, players like Adam Morrison, Nazr Mohammed, Alexis Ajinca, and eight others, combined to produce -6.6 wins.  The good news is that many of these players will not play for Charlotte in 2009-10.  The bad news is that Okafor will also be elsewhere.

Replacing Okafor is Tyson Chandler.  Last year Chandler only produced 2.3 wins – with a 0.078 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] – for the New Orleans Hornets.  Just comparing the 2008-09 versions of Okafor and Chandler suggests the Bobcats have lost about nine wins.

If we look as the past history of Tyson Chandler, though, prospects for the Bobcats look much better.  Here is what Chandler did from 2004-05 to 2007-08.

2004-05 (w/Chicago Bulls): 15.2 Wins Produced, 0.333 WP48

2005-06 (w/Chicago Bulls): 10.3 Wins Produced, 0.234 WP48

2006-07 (w/Hornets): 15.8 Wins Produced, 0.301 WP48

2007-08 (w/Hornets): 14.1 Wins Produced, 0.244 WP48

Across these four seasons, Chandler produced 55.5 wins and posted a 0.277 WP48.  In contrast, Okafor – across these same seasons – only produced 33.8 wins and posted a 0.190 WP48.  So if Chandler can return to form, then the Bobcats are better off after this trade (contrary to what John Hollinger argued – as I noted in July — when the trade was made).

If the Bobcats ultimately re-sign Felton, Charlotte’s first and second string (according to ESPN.com) will be as follows (2008-09 WP48 numbers reported):

First String

PG: Raymond Felton [0.092 WP48]

SG: Raja Bell [0.063 WP48, for entire season]

SF: Gerald Wallace [0.283 WP48]

PF: Boris Diaw [0.065 WP48, for entire season]

C: Tyson Chandler [0.078 WP48, 0.277 WP48 previous four seasons]

Second String

PG: D.J. Augustin [0.075 WP48]

SG: Gerald Henderson (rookie)

SF: Vladimir Radmanovic [0.031 WP48]

PF: Derrick Brown (rookie)

C: DeSagana Diop [0.013 WP48, 0.137 WP48 previous three seasons]

Keeping with Bobcat tradition, this roster only has two above average players.  But the below average veterans, though, don’t wander into the negative range.  And Diop can offer much more. From 2005-06 to 2007-08, Diop’s WP48 ranged from 0.134 to 0.140 (in other words, he was very consistent). This suggests he is capable of being an above average center.

Putting it all together, if Chandler is healthy and Felton is signed, this team can win more than 40 games.  This means the Bobcats might make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Let me close by noting that the list of playoff contenders in the East seems to expand with each Eastern Conference team examined.  The Cavaliers, Magic, and Celtics are clearly the best teams in the East.   Last year the fourth seed was the Atlanta Hawks.  At this point, it doesn’t look like the Hawks are moving up.  It does appear, though, that the Wizards, Bucks, Bulls, and Bobcats are capable of challenging Atlanta.  And I haven’t offered a complete examination of Toronto, Indiana, and Miami.  In sum, forecasting the playoffs in the East – after the top three seeds – looks difficult this year.

It does appear at this point, though, that the Bobcats – if Chandler is healthy and Felton re-signed — have to be on the list of playoff contenders.  And returning to the observation offered at the onset, this means that MJ’s reputation as an executive might be on the upswing.

– 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.