Is a Championship Parade in the Future of Cleveland?

Posted on October 2, 2009 by


The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the 2008-09 regular season on top of the NBA, leading the Association in both win and efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency).  The playoffs, though, didn’t quite work out as they hoped.  Consequently, Cleveland decided to make changes.

Given Cleveland’s record in 2008-09, it seemed unlikely that much could be done to improve the team.  After all, this team won 66 games and posted the 5th highest efficiency differential (9.74) since 1973-74.  The four teams ranked ahead of Cleveland in the efficiency differential rankings (Chicago 95-96, Chicago 96-97, Boston 07-08, Chicago 91-92) all declined the next season.    That suggests that Cleveland might have a hard time getting better.

Table One: Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09

And given the roster employed, one could argue that improvement wasn’t necessary.  As Table One indicates, the Cavaliers were led – not surprisingly – by LeBron James.  But this team had more than King James. Cleveland employed five other players who both played more than 1,000 minutes and posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] that was above average (average is 0.100).  If Cleveland simply returned this roster it would still contend for a title.

Improving on Greatness

Although standing pat would have been the easy choice, Cleveland opted to find a way to improve the roster.  And it appears they were successful.

Last season the following four players were among the top ten players on the Cavaliers roster in minutes played (numbers from 2008-09):

SG: Sasha Pavlovic [0.7 Wins Produced, 0.034 WP48]

SF: Wally Szczerbiak [3.8 Wins Produced, 0.120 WP48]

PF: J.J. Hickson [1.0 Wins Produced, 0.070 WP48]

C: Ben Wallace [4.3 Wins Produced, 0.159 WP48]

Average WP48: 0.096

Although this quartet isn’t bad (on average), Cleveland managed to find – via trades and signings – an even better quartet.

SG: Anthony Parker [6.3 Wins Produced, 0.114 WP48]

SF: Jamario Moon [8.4 Wins Produced, 0.194 WP48]

PF: Leon Powe [4.8 Wins Produced, 0.187 WP48]

C: Shaquille O’Neal [7.9 Wins Produced, 0.167 WP48]

Average WP48: 0.166

When we compare these two groups of players we see, in each instance, the player lost at the position was replaced by a better player [at least in terms of WP48].  And yes, I know; Leon Powe is hurt and he may not play much.  But let’s say he does manage to return to the court before the playoffs.  This would mean the Cavs could enter the post-season with the following ten players leading the way:

Potential First String

PG: Maurice Williams [7.1Wins Produced, 0.119 WP48]

SG: Delonte West [7.3 Wins Produced, 0.163 WP48]

SF: LeBron James [27.8 Wins Produced, 0.436 WP48]

PF: Anderson Varejao [8.1 Wins Produced, 0.168 WP48]

C: Shaquille O’Neal [7.9 Wins Produced, 0.167 WP48]

Potential Second String

PG: Daniel Gibson [0.6 Wins Produced, 0.015 WP48]

SG: Anthony Parker [6.3 Wins Produced, 0.114 WP48]

SF: Jamario Moon [8.4 Wins Produced, 0.194 WP48]

PF: Leon Powe [4.8 Wins Produced, 0.187 WP48]

C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas [3.4 Wins Produced, 0.093 WP48]

Of these ten players, eight posted WP48 numbers that were above average in 2008-09; and Ilgauskas has been above average much of his career.  The only player who has never been above average is Gibson.  So at this point, this roster is

a. better than what we saw last year, and

b. better than anything assembled by any other franchise in the NBA this year, and perhaps

c. one of the greatest NBA teams ever (remember, last years’ team ranked 5th in efficiency differential since 1973-74).

In sum, the Cavaliers (and I think many people know this) are the favorites to win the 2009 title.

Two Issues

Now there are two potential problems.  Delonte West finished third on the Cavaliers in Wins Produced in 2008-09.   As reported, though, he currently is having problems.  If West can’t play, Anthony Parker will probably move into the starting line-up.  Behind Parker is rookie Daniel Green, who was above average in college last season.   So the Cavaliers have depth (as note above). Nevertheless, if West can’t play the entire season Cleveland will be hurt.

And then there is the issue of Shaq.  Before the 2010 playoffs begin Shaq will turn 37.  In basketball age, that’s ancient.  Less than 2% of all seasons played in the NBA since 1977-78 have been played by people 37 or older.  In fact, only 46 times has a player logged 1,500 minutes in a season when he was 37 or older.

The good news for the Cavs is that the list of players who managed to do this rank among the very best in NBA history.  For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, David Robinson, John Stockton, Robert Parish, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller, Charles Oakley, Artis Gilmore, and Patrick Ewing all played significant minutes after 36 years of age.  And all were still above average (at least in one season after 36 years of age).

That being said, at some point age takes its toll and the production stops.  Will that “some point” happen this year for Shaq?  If it does, the Cavs still have Ilgauskas.  But Ilgauskas is also “old” and was not above average last year.  So Shaq playing – and playing well – is important for Cleveland. 

If Shaq and West are available and productive the entire season – and significant injuries do not occur elsewhere on the roster – Cleveland will be a very formidable team.  And this means the city of Cleveland – a city that has suffered more than most with respect to sports – may actually be able to host a championship parade.  Sure, such a parade might end with LeBron leaving town.  At the very least, though, a parade will be a nice memory for the long-suffering fans of Cleveland sports.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

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.