Dallas Makes a Contending Move

Posted on February 14, 2010 by

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The Dallas Mavericks entered the All-Star break on top of the Southwest Division.  The team’s winning percentage, though, only ranked 4th in the Western Conference.  And when we turn to efficeincy differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) – reported in Table One – we see that Dallas currently ranks 8th in the West.

Table One: Efficiency Differential Rankings at the All-Star Break

Given these numbers, we would expect the Mavericks to make the playoffs.  But a first round exit seems likely.

When we move from efficiency differential to Wins Produced we can see who is responsible for this team’s performance.

Table Two: The Dallas Mavericks after 52 games in 2009-10

As Table Two reports, Jason Kidd is once again leading this team in Wins Produced.  After Kidd, though, the team only has three above average performers (among players who have played more than 300 minutes).  Consequently, despite the play of Kidd, the Mavericks are only slightly above average as a team.

Dallas Makes a Move Up the Western Conference Standings

The “averageness” of this team has driven the team to make a significant move.   Drew Gooden, Josh Howard, Quinton Ross, and James Singleton have been sent to the Washington Wizards for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson.  Of these players, it’s tempting to focus on Butler. Last season Butler averaged 20.8 points per game.  This year his average has dropped of to 16.9 (a mark close to his career average). Nevertheless, Butler is still the top scorer in this transaction.

Although Butler can score, the most productive player the Mavericks acquired– as the following numbers report – is Brendan Haywood.

Haywood: 6.5 Wins Produced, 0.192 WP48

Butler: 3.2 Wins Produced, 0.083 WP48

Stevenson: -0.5 Wins Produced, -0.038 WP48

The addition of these players give the Mavericks the following rotation across the last 30 games of the regular season (at least, I think this is a reasonalbe guess at the rotation):

Starters

Jason Kidd: 0.308 WP48

Caron Butler: 0.083 WP48

Shawn Marion: 0.138 WP48

Dirk Nowitzki: 0.130 WP48

Brendan Haywood: 0.192 WP48

Bench

Jose Barea: 0.024 WP48

Rodrigue Beaubois: 0.053 WP48

Jason Terry: 0.065 WP48

Erick Dampier: 0.170 WP48

Note: The Mavericks have an abundance of guards.  So it seems likely that Butler will spend quite a bit of time at small forward and Marion will often shift over to power forward.   

Given this roster, how good are the Mavericks today? Looking back at Table One we see that Howard was the least productive player on the Mavericks this season.  So replacing Howard with Butler is an upgrade.  And once again, Haywood is very productive.  Consequently, it’s possible the Mavericks could win about 21 of their final 30 games (this estimate is based upon my guess of how many minutes each player will play down the stretch).  Had the Mavericks stayed the same, this team could have expected to win about 17 more games.  So in terms of the final standings, this move doesn’t really alter the final record dramatically. But that’s because there are only 30 games left. 

If we look at how this team would be expected to perform across 82 games, though, we see a bigger difference.  Winning 21 out of 30 games translates into a final mark of 57 wins.  Looking back at Table One, we see that a 57 win team would rank just behind the LA Lakers in the Western Conference.  

So here is what the Mavericks have done.  Prior to the trade the Mavericks were on pace to make the playoffs but exit in the first round.  Now the Mavericks have caught the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets and are quite close to the LA Lakers.  Now Dallas shouldn’t be favored to reach the NBA Finals.  But this move might make it possible for Dallas to reach the Western Conference Finals (or at least, the LA Lakers in the second round if Dallas can’t get above the fourth seed in the West).  And all of this means that Dallas has moved from the status of pretender to contender in the West. 

John Hollinger of ESPN.com (Insider access required) argues that this trade will cost the Mavericks about $30 million.  Since it seems unlikely that this move will generate that much additional revenue, from the perspective of the bottom line this move isn’t great.  But if the purpose was to lengthen the team’s stay in the playoffs, this move will probably work (BTW, Hollinger doesn’t appear to agree on this point, but that is because the Player Efficiency Rating – as we briefly note in our next book — doesn’t really connect very well to team wins).   

The Season that Wasn’t in Washington

Okay, enough about the Mavericks.  What about the Wizards?  Of the players acquired, James Singleton – who doesn’t often play – is the only above average performer.  So in the short-run, the Wizards are much worse off.  This means the Wizards – who were going to miss the playoffs anyway – are likely to secure a higher draft choice. 

It’s unfortunate that Washington’s season has taken this turn.  Before the season started it looked like Washington would be able to field the following starting line-up: Gilbert Arenas, Mike Miller, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Brendan Haywood.  All five of these players are capable of being above average, and consequently, Washington should have expected to make the playoffs.  According to 82games.com, though, this line-up only played 45.8 minutes together this season.  And with different players on the court, we shouldn’t be surprised that Washington has never contended in the East.

Now Washington has effectively blown-up their roster.  At the moment, the Wizards only have two above average players [Miller has a WP48 of 0.278 while Jamison’s mark is 0.108].  As noted, the Wizards will be able to add a very high draft choice.  But it looks like Washington is going to need more help than what they will find in the draft.  So although this move will save money, it looks like the Wizards have quite a distance to travel before playoff basketball once again returns to Washington.

Last Notes on Efficiency Differential

Let me close with a final observation from Table One.  At the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the best team in the NBA.  And now there is talk that the Cavalies are going send two below average players (J.J. Hickson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) for Amare Stoudemire (a slightly above average player).  Such a move makes Cleveland even better.  So it is seems increasingly likely that LeBron will win his first title this season.   Of course, upsets do happen in the playoffs (as LeBron learned last year).  But at the All-Star break, it does look like Cleveland is going to be one happy town this summer.

– 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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