Minnesota Defies Pareto

Posted on October 20, 2009 by

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The Pareto Principle states that 80% of outcomes can be linked to 20% of people.  Although it’s not clear (at least to me) how much this simple rule – originally noted by the famed economist Vilfredo Pareto – applies in the general economy; it does appear that the Pareto Principle works in the NBA.  At least, it works in general.  About 80% of wins are produced by 20% of NBA players.

Reviewing 2008-09 in Minnesota

When we apply this rule to an individual team, though, Pareto can come up short.  For example, consider the Minnesota Timberwolves.   Last season the T-Wolves employed the following three players:

  • Mike Miller (13.9 Wins Produced)
  • Kevin Love (8.9 Wins Produced)
  • Al Jefferson (6.1 Wins Produced)

In general, 20% of a team’s roster equals three players.  And these three players combined to produce 28.8 wins for Minnesota.  Had the Pareto Principle applied, the T-Wolves would have won about 36 games in 2008-09 (28.8 is about 80% of 36).  But as Table One reveals, the Wins Produced of this team was only 27.6 (and the team actually won just 24 games).  Yes, after Minnesota’s top three, the remainder of the roster combined to produce in the negative range.

Table One: The Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008-09

Certainly the injury to Al Jefferson hurt Minnesota.  But when a team employs 14 players who combine to produce -1.3 wins; that’s going to hurt also.

Looking Forward to 2009-10

This past summer the T-Wolves made changes.  Compared to the start of the 2008-09 season, Minnesota has made changes in the front office, head coach and coaching staff, and throughout the roster.  In fact, Minnesota only has five players – Jefferson, Love, Ryan Gomes, Corey Brewer, and Brian Cardinal – who were with the team last year.  So it’s safe to assume, the T-Wolves of 2009-10 will be very different from what was seen in 2008-09.  Then again, maybe not.

When we consider Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] from the 2008-09 season, the top three players on the current roster are as follows:

  • Kevin Love [0.208]
  • Ramon Session [0.198]
  • Al Jefferson [0.160]

Let’s imagine that this trio manages to play 36 minutes a night throughout the 82 game regular season.  And let’s imagine the productivity of these players doesn’t change.   Given our imagination, the T-Wolves would get 34.8 Wins Produced from these players.  Now if we also imagine that the Pareto Principle applies, then we can expect the T-Wolves to win about 44 games in 2009-10.  Perhaps this isn’t good enough to make the playoffs.  But it certainly is the best mark Minnesota has ever achieved without Kevin Garnett on the roster.

Unfortunately for fans of Minnesota, these “ifs” are not going to come true.  For starters, Kevin Love is hurt and he’s going to miss several weeks.  More importantly – despite all the changes to the roster – the problem that existed in Minnesota last year still remains.  Once you get past the top three players on the team, there are simply not many wins to be had.  To see this point, consider the team’s depth chart (taken from ESPN.com and Yahoo.com):

Potential First String

PG: Ramon Sessions [9.0 Wins Produced, 0.198 WP48]

SG: Corey Brewer [0.3 Wins Produced, 0.053 WP48]

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

PF: Kevin Love [8.9 Wins Produced, 0.208 WP48]

C: Al Jefferson [6.1 Wins Produced, 0.160 WP48]

Potential Second String

PG: Jonny Flynn [Rookie]

SG: Wayne Ellington [Rookie]

SF: Ryan Gomes [0.6 Wins Produced, 0.012 WP48]

PF: Oleksiy Pecherov [-0.1 Wins Produced, -0.014 WP48]

C: Ryan Hollins [-0.5 Wins Produced, -0.051 WP48]

In addition to these ten players, the T-Wolves will also employ the following:

PG: Antonio Daniels [1.3 Wins Produced, 0.063 WP48]

SG: Damien Wilkins [-0.6 Wins Produced, -0.046 WP48]

PF: Brian Cardinal [-0.6 Wins Produced, -0.033 WP48]

C: Mark Blount [-0.8 Wins Produced, -0.176 WP48]

The career WP48 numbers of Corey Brewer [-0.004] and Sasha Pavlovic [-0.024] are both in the negative range (the same can be said of Pecherov, Hollins, and Blount).  Brewer is still young, so he might improve (and the same could be said for Pecherov and Hollins).   But the phrase is “might improve.”  At this point, the T-Wolves are employing three very good players – Sessions, Love, and Jefferson – and a large collection of veteran players who were below average in the past. 

Minnesota is adding Jonny Flynn, a lottery pick in 2009.  But his college numbers don’t suggest he is going to be a significant producer of wins in 2009-10.  As for Ellington, he was above average in college last season.  But one wonders how much the 28th pick will actually play this next season.

The Same Story in Minnesota

Okay, let’s put the whole picture together.  Last year Minnesota had three above average performers and a collection of unproductive players.  After vast changes to the team’s roster, the T-Wolves still have three above average performers and a collection of unproductive players.  In sum, Minnesota – despite all the changes – looks like the same team we saw last year.  Except this time, Jefferson is healthy (well, maybe) and Love is going to miss significant time (last year it was the other way around).

All of this is bad news for the LA Clippers. According to DraftExpress, Minnesota’s first round pick in 2010 will go to the Clippers, but only if this pick falls out of the top 10. Given the T-Wolves current roster, though, this pick should remain in the top ten.  And if Minnesota fails to improve next summer, the T-Wolves pick shouldn’t move to LA in 2011 either.  In 2012, though, the pick is unprotected.  So by 2012 the level in happiness will have to increase in Minnesota, or a little bit of happiness will be moving to Clipperland.

– 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.