The Seattle SuperSonics won 52 games in 2004-05 and were a surprising contender in the Western Conference. In 2005-06 the Sonics brought back twelve players from the previous campaign with the intention of building on their success. Surprisingly, though, the team regressed significantly. Only the Houston Rockets – a team ravaged by injuries to its two stars – declined as much as the Sonics. So what happened?
If we look at the Sonics in 04-05 and 05-06 side-by-side – an approach we offered in The Wages of Wins – we can see what happened. The twelve players Seattle brought back produced 42 wins in 04-05. Last season these same players only produced 29.2 wins. So did these players suddenly stop producing?
Well, not exactly. If these players had offered the same per-minute performance in 05-06 as they did the previous campaign, these players would have produced 29.6 wins. Yes, some players did a bit better and others did bit worse. But these changes tended to cancel each other out. The problem for the Sonics was not so much changing performance, but changing minutes.
The biggest of these changes was associated with two players – Reggie Evans and Danny Fortson. In 2004-05 these two players averaged 40.7 minutes and captured nearly 15 rebounds per contest. Last season these two players combined to play 77 fewer games. Their per-game averages also declined. Together they averaged 31.2 minutes and 10.1 rebounds.
These changes were mirrored in the Wins Produced of these players. The combination of Evans and Fortson produced 15 wins in 04-05. Last year these two combined for only 2.9 wins.
Fortson not only played less, but quite a bit worse. And with the acquisition of Chris Wilcox – a player discussed in an earlier post – it appears that Fortson is not going to command significant minutes in the future.
Evans also suffered a decline in per-minute performance, although he was still above average. His games played declined, though, because in mid-season he was sent to the Denver Nuggets. So going forward the Evans-Fortson combination will not be producing wins for the Sonics.
Moving past Evans and Fortson we see that this team has some above average performers. Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Luke Ridnour each posted Wins Produced per 48 minutes above the average mark of 0.100. These three players produced 26.5 wins in 05-06 after offering 24.2 victories the previous campaign. Unfortunately, unlike the o4-05 season, last year the Sonics had little else beyond these players.
In both 04-05 and 05-06 the Sonics had problems with the center position. Actually, this is not unique to these two years. One has to go all the way back to 1992-93 to find a season where the Sonics were collectively above average at the center position. So the Sonics have had more than a decade of weak production in the middle. Given this history it is not surprising that the team keeps drafting centers.
In 2006-07 the Sonics are turning to their recent draft choices. It appears the Sonics are going to be giving Robert Swift – a Bakersfield native — and Johan Petro a chance to produce at the center slot. Both of these players, though, were below average in limited minutes the previous season. If these players cannot solve the problem at center the team did draft another center — Mouhamed Sene – who could demand playing time in the future.
For 2005-06 the Sonics hope that Swift and/or Petro can do what so many centers have failed to do in the past. If these players can post above average numbers like Allen, Lewis, Ridnour, and Wilcox, then the Sonics will field a pretty good starting line-up.
Of course if Wilcox becomes the player he always was before he came to Seattle and the center position still fails to produce, then it will be another disappointing season for the Sonics.
There is a silver lining if this season is not that successful. Another lottery pick does give this team another chance to draft a center. Unfortunately, as economist Walter Neale noted in an article published in 1964, sports teams do face “Bobby Layne Rigidity.” In other words, one great player cannot be replaced by two average players. For the Sonics, this means that several unproductive centers are not the equivalent of one productive man in the middle. And this is a point the Sonics keep proving, year after year after year.
Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts