Sitting Spencer Hawes and Hope in Sacramento

Posted on February 26, 2010 by


Apparently there is some conflict between Paul Westphal and his team.  After Spencer Hawes and other members of the Kings criticized Westphal’s rotations, the head coach responded by reducing Hawes’ minutes to zero.  Since Hawes has been the starting center for this team for much of the season, some might see the deactivation of Hawes as an action that makes Sacramento a worse team.  But the numbers don’t seem to point in that direction.

Hawes was selected by the Kings with the 10th pick in the 2007 NBA draft.  In his first two seasons he has posted the following numbers:

2007-08: -0.9 Wins Produced, -0.046 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]

2008-09: -1.0 Wins Produced, -0.021 WP48

So Hawes was in the negative range his first two season.  This season – as noted in Table One — Hawes has improved.  After 57 games he has produced -0.2 wins and posted a -0.006 WP48.  Yes, he has improved but he is still not in positive territory.

Table One: The Sacramento Kings after 57 games in 2009-10

If we look at the individual numbers, we see that Hawes began his career with a level of shooting efficiency that was below average. These numbers have improved, but still remain below par.  When we turn to rebounding we see that again he was below average in 2007-08.  These numbers, though, have just gotten worse.

So sitting Hawes is not really a bad strategy.  But that is perhaps not the point of Hawes’ critique.  Is there a problem with Westphal’s rotations?

One way of addressing this is to look at how the performance of individual players has changed from last season to this season.  And as we can see in Table One, of the players who have played significant minutes, only Andres Nocioni has declined.  Most players on the team – like Hawes – have gotten slightly better.

What does that mean?  Well, our null hypothesis would be that Westphal messing around with the player’s minutes would cause per-minute performance to decline.  Just looking at the numbers (which is really not a substitute for more systematic analysis where we control for factors that cause performance to change, but this is all I am willing to do for a blog post) it doesn’t appear that Westphal’s rotations are hurting this team. 

Although Westphal is probably not hurting the team, it also doesn’t appear that this team is much better this year (this is typical, since most coaches don’t appear to help their team much).  Very early in the season, though, a different story was told.  After nine games the team was 5-4, and as noted as the time, Jason Thompson was a big reason why the Kings looked so competitive.  Since that start, though, the Kings have been 13-35.  And Thompson looks very much like he did last year. 

Such a story highlights the problem with looking at numbers over a small sample. It is very easy for these numbers to lead one to incorrect conclusions (but early in the season, such numbers are really hard to resist).

Basketball numbers over a larger sample, though, are generally more reliable.  Looking back at Table One we can see the story the bigger sample is telling.  The Kings currently employe a few above average players.  This list includes Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, Ime Udoka, and Jon Brockman.  Three of these players are rookies, so the Kings look like they have added some pieces.  But at the moment, none of these players are far removed from average.  For the Kings to really make strides in the standings, one or two players are going to have to produce wins in double-figure quantities.  Currently, no player on this team is on pace to produce ten wins.

Until players improve – and/or better players are added –Westphal is probably going to have trouble finding a line-up that can be consistently successful. 

There is some hope that the recent transactions will help.  Carl Landy and Dominic McGuire were productive last season.  Thus far in Sacramento, though, these players haven’t produced.  Again, though, our current sample is really very small (so drawing inferences at this point is not a good idea).  If we look at both player’s careers, it does look like each can be productive. 

So going forward, the Kings will have a rotation that includes six productive players (Evans, Casspi, Landry, Udoka, McGuire, and Brockman).  If one or more of these players could get substantial minutes and/or up their WP48 numbers above 0.200, the Kings could be a competitive team in 2010-11.  As for 2009-10, though, it looks like players, coaches, and fans in Sacramento are not going to be as happy as they would like.  And that story is going to be the same regardless of how Westphal assigns minutes.

 – DJ
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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.