The Changing Fortunes of Jamal Magloire and Zach Randolph

Jamal Magliore’s Decline

One of the stories we tell in The Wages of Wins is that there is a “short supply of tall people.” The NBA requires very tall people to play its game, but the number of really tall people in the world is very small. And when a population is small, the variation in athletic talent increases. What this means is that some big people in the NBA are very good, and others are very bad.

The short supply of tall people tends to cause NBA teams to cling to big people who have once demonstrated the ability to play. This willingness to keep around currently under-performing big people does favor a player like Jamal Magloire. Although Magliore is currently playing badly, once upon a time he was quite good.

In Magloire’s first four seasons with the Hornets he produced 27 wins and had a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] of 0.165. An average player offers a WP48 of 0.100, so Magloire was quite good. In 2004-05, though, Magloire only played 23 games and was below average. Last year in Milwaukee he appeared in 82 games, but his performance was again below average. And this year in Portland he has again played in every game, but he is again below average. What exactly, though, has happened to his performance?

When I see a player’s performance decline I immediately suspect that something has happened to the main determinants of productivity – shooting efficiency, rebounds, or turnovers. In 2003-04 Magliore captured 14.6 rebounds and committed 3.5 turnovers per 48 minutes. His points per field goal attempt [(PTS-FTM)/FGA] was 0.95. And his WP48 for that season was 0.165.

Last year in Milwaukee his WP48 dipped to 0.96. Per 48 minutes, though, he collected 15.1 rebounds and only committed 3.2 turnovers. His points per field goal attempt did dip to 0.93, but one would not suspect that this would cause such a large dip in overall productivity.

There is one stat where we do see a large dip, free throw percentage. It’s not uncommon for big men to miss free throws – see Shaquille O’Neal or Ben Wallace – but Magliore was a 75% free throw shooter in 2003-04. Last year, though, his free throw percentage dipped to 53%. Had his percentage remained at 75% his WP48 would have been 0.142. In sum, much of the decline in Magliore’s performance is tied to his sudden failure to hit free throws consistently.

The Wins Produced algorithm is an accurate depiction of how productive a player has been. But as has been noted in this forum several times, it does not tell us why a player is productive. Reasons why a player’s performance will change include injury, experience, coaching, and the productivity of teammates. It’s hard to see how any of these factors would cause Magliore’s free throw shooting to decline yet leave every other aspect of his performance virtually unchanged.

The good news for Magliore is that he is still big. And consequently he will probably keep his job in the NBA. Nevertheless, if he continues to exhibit a lack of skill at the charity stripe – where he’s shooting 52% this year — he will continue to cost his team wins.

The Return of Zach Randolph

This year Magliore’s minutes have been limited in Portland and his performance has declined a bit more. Although Magliore is giving his newest employer less, Zach Randolph is suddenly giving the Blazers his best season ever.

Randolph only played 238 minutes his first season. In his second season he played only 1,301 minutes, but his WP48 of 0.165 suggested that he had a bright future ahead of him. His third season he became a full-time starter. In more than 3,000 minutes he produced 6.9 wins. His WP48 of 0.107, though, was only about average.

In 2004-05 Randolph dipped below average, posting a WP48 of 0.085 in only 46 games. Last year he again returned to full time duty, but his WP48 fell to -0.003. Of the 74 players who played at least 2,500 minutes last year, only Trenton Hassell offered less production.

After 31 games in 2006-07, though, Randolph has been transformed. His WP48 is 0.219, the highest mark of his career. So what happened to Randolph? Relative to last year he is hitting a higher percentage of his shots and capturing many more rebounds. Per 48 minutes in 2005-06 he captured 11.2 boards. This year he is collecting 14.3 rebounds per 48 minutes.

Now why is Randolph playing better? Judging by interviews I have read with Randolph, his attitude appears to have changed. And that is something else we should add to our list of factors that cause performance to change. Sometimes a player plays better (or worse) because his attitude changes. Unfortunately it is not easy to measure a player’s attitude.

It is important to note that the swings we see in Magliore’s and Randolph’s productivity is unusual in the NBA. For the most part player performance does not change dramatically. Although players tend to be consistent from year-to-year, this tendency does not mean – as the Magliore and Randolph stories illustrate – that performance cannot change.

The Other Blazers

Magliore and Randolph are not the only players in Portland. What of the rest of this team? If one clicks HERE, you will see a table with the Wins Produced for each Portland player after 31 games this year. As noted, Randolph is leading this team. Unfortunately, other than Randolph the only player receiving major minutes and offering above average levels of productivity is Jarrett Jack. The rookies – LeMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy – are each below average thus far. Last year’s lottery pick – Martell Webster – is also below average.

Given a plethora of below average players it is not surprising that this team is playing sub-0.500 basketball. The good news is that players – as Jarrett Jack is demonstrating this year – can get better in their second year. This has not happened for Webster yet, but I would expect Roy to play better as his career progresses.

So if Randolph continues to play well, and Jack and Roy solidify the backcourt, Portland fans might have something to get excited about in then near future. This is still a very young team – Randolph is only 25 years old – and as it ages it should improve. Until that happens, though, the team will remain south of the 0.500 mark. The good news is that losing in 2006-07 better positions a team in the Greg Oden sweepstakes. And if Portland does win that sweepstakes, this team could progress quite far in 2007-08.

- DJ

 

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

Wins Produced and Win Score are 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

 

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