Malcolm Gladwell’s review of The Wages of Wins focused primarily on the story we told with respect to Allen Iverson. Specifically, we argue “The Answer” is not quite as good as people believe, a point expanded upon in this forum last July. Our view of Allen Iverson led people to ask how the 76ers in 2001 could have reached the NBA Finals.
The answer to this query was also posted last July. In the course of examining this issue, an analysis of each 76er team from the past six seasons was offered. If one scrolls down this list, an analysis of the 76ers last season appears. For those who are too busy to scroll, one can also look HERE for what the 76ers did last year.
Philadelphia in 2005-06 was led in Wins Produced (explained HERE and HERE) by three players – Andre Iguodala, Allen Iverson, and Samuel Dalembert. Iguodala and Iverson each played more than 3,000 minutes. Dalembert, though, played less than 2,000 minutes. Part of this was due to injury, but part of this was the decision to start Steven Hunter over Dalembert towards the end of last season. This seems like an odd choice, since Hunter has never posted a Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48) that was above average while Dalembert has always exceeded the average mark of 0.100. So although the primary problem with the 76ers last year was a lack of productive talent, their problems were compounded by the team not always playing its most productive players.
Even if Dalembert did play, though, this team would have still struggled. Beyond Iguodala, Iverson, and Dalembert, every other player on the team was below average. And that includes Chris Webber, who clearly is not what he used to be. For the first ten years of Webber’s career he averaged nearly ten wins per season with a WP48 that was always above average. In 2003, though, Webber got hurt. Since the injury he has been consistently below average.
What happened? Webber has gone from being an efficient to an inefficient scorer. In terms of points-per-shot [(PTS-FTM)/FGA)], the measure I like best, Webber posted a mark above 1.0 – in other words, above average — each of his first five seasons. The last three years his mark has been below 0.9, which is quite a bit below average. Consequently, his overall productivity has declined.
Going forward, what can fans of this team expect? It would be nice if Webber started hitting his shots more frequently. If that happens, Philadelphia might contend for a playoff spot. If not, the team looks to again have problems. Billy King, the 76ers President, only added Alan Henderson and a few rookies to a team that won 38 games. Given these additions, progress in the standings will only come if existing players play better.
In sum, Philadelphia is hoping – like the New York Knicks – that its current cast of characters can improve significantly. While it certainly is possible for players to get better, dramatic changes in player performance is not the norm in the NBA. Unfortunately, both Billy King of the 76ers and Isiah Thomas of the Knicks are betting their jobs that what they saw last year is not what they will see this year. The data suggests, though, that this is not a bet that will pay off for these two executives.
Teams Analyzed Thus Far