Explaining the Disappointing Wizards

Posted on December 30, 2009 by

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Each time someone links to the Wages of Wins Journal I am notified by Word Press. A few days ago I noticed a link to the following entry at Ted’s Take:

A Really Great NBA Blog

Check this one out.

That was the entire entry. 

Ted Leonsis and the Wizards

The Ted of Ted’s Take is Ted Leonsis.  Here is just a part of his lengthy bio (which one can read in its entirety at Ted’s Take).

Ted is also the founder, chairman and majority owner of Lincoln Holdings LLC, a sports and entertainment company that holds ownership rights in several Washington, DC entities including 100% of the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Lincoln Holdings also owns approximately 44% of Washington Sports and Entertainment Limited Partnership (WSELP), which owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, DC’s Verizon Center and the Baltimore-Washington Ticketmaster franchise.

So Ted Leonsis is owner of the Washington Capitals and a part-owner of the Washington Wizards.  Of these two, the Capitals are probably making Leonsis quite a bit happier these days.  And if he read what I said about the Wizards last summer, he is probably even more disappointed with the Wizards today.

Explaining the Disappointment

Last season the Washington Wizards were the worst team in the Eastern Conference.  This season the Wizards are 10-20 – and with a -3.6 efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) – Washington is on pace to win about 32 games in 2009-10.  Despite this projected 13 game improvement, though, fans of this team are probably unhappy.

Again, such unhappiness stems from last summer’s evaluation of this team.  Last August, Chris Mannix of SportsIllustrated.cnn.com argued that the Washington Wizards were the 8th best team in the NBA.  And I argued that this team could win between 45 and 50 games.  Clearly Mannix and I don’t look to be correct.  The Wizards don’t look like a top 10 team and a winning record in 2009-10 seems unlikely.

In evaluating this team’s problems, some might focus on the play of Gilbert Arenas.  Agent Zero is simply not the same player we saw in 2006-07 (the last season he was fully healthy).   A quick glance at his stats from Basketball-Reference (which reports his stats per-36 minutes) reveals that Arenas today – relative to what we saw in 2006-07 – has improved with respect to assists and is essentially the same with respect to shooting efficiency from the field, shot attempts from the field, rebounds, blocked shots, and personal fouls.   He has declined, though, with respect to steals, turnovers, free throw attempts, and free throw percentage. 

When we convert these numbers into Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] we see that Arenas is posting a 0.069 mark this season.  Had his performance returned to what we saw in 2006-07, though, his WP48 would be 0.148.  Translating this into Wins Produced – and projecting across the entire 82 game season (as reported in Table One) – we see the decline in Arenas’  performance is costing the Wizards about five wins in 2009-10.

Table One: The Washington Wizards after 30 games in 2009-10

In other words,  even if Arenas was performing as well as he did before his recent health problems, the Wizards would still be below average.  So the declines in the performance of Agent Zero can’t explain the difference between where the Wizards are today and my evaluation of this team this past summer.

To see this difference we need to look at the second column in Table Two, or how many minutes each player has played.   Of the players listed, the top player in WP48 in 2008-09 was Mike Miller.  Thus far this season, though, Miller has only played nine games.  Had he been played the entire season – and maintained what he did last year in Minnesota – Miller would currently be on pace to produce 12.2 wins this season.  Such production would increase the Wizards season projection by 8.6 wins.  And coupled with Arenas returning to form, transforms the Wizards into a 45 win team.

The Wizards are currently 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and again, fans of this team might be a bit disappointed.  If Arenas and Miller were playing and producing, though, this team would currently be the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference.  And this means fans of this team could expect to make the playoffs….where they would probably be eliminated in the first round.

Repeating What Was Said Three Years Ago

Okay, even if the players for the Wizards were healthy and performing as expected, this is still not a title contender.  A “good” team, yes.  But a championship parade is not to be expected.

To understand the bigger problem in Washington one has to return to what I said about this team in October of 2006.  Three years ago I argued that the Wizards had assembled a collection of above average talents.  But because the team lacked a superstar – defined as a player who produced well beyond the 0.200 WP48 mark (i.e. approaches the 0.300 level) – the Wizards ceiling was limited.

What I said back in 2006 appears to apply today.  The team still has a collection of above average players.  But again, really no superstar. Yes, Miller can post a mark above 0.200. But his career mark entering this season was only 0.163 and he has had trouble staying on the court in 2009-10.  So Miller can help, but by himself he is not going to transform this team into a title contender.

Again, what the Wizards need is a player – or better yet players — who can stay on the court and post a WP48 mark that approaches 0.300.  Until such players are acquired, one suspects fans of the Wizards — and their owner — will continue to be a bit disappointed. 

Let me close by note that looking back on what I said about the Wizards in 2006 led me to think about the history of this forum.  This blog began in April of 2006.  Across the past three years (actually, we are getting close to four), more than 1,000 entries have been posted (we hit the 1,000 mark with the post on the Phoenix Suns from December 14).  Each post tends to be about 1,000 words, so this means 1,000,000 words have probably been offered in this forum.  To put that in perspective, the Wages of Wins was about 120,000 words (and our next book is a bit shorter). This means about eight books have been posted in this forum (and that mark doesn’t even consider the more than 15,500 comments that have been offered). 

As the year and decade ends I want to once again thank everyone (and that includes both new readers like Ted Leonsis and others who have been coming here since 2006) who makes this forum a part of their day.  And although the thought of writing eight books makes me tired, as long as people keep stopping by it looks like this forum is going to be continuing into the next year and decade.   

– 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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