Last summer the Chicago Bulls made the major free agent splash in the NBA, signing Ben Wallace away from the Detroit Pistons. The same day the Bulls traded Tyson Chandler, the team’s incumbent center, to the New Orleans-Okalahoma City Hornets. In essence, the Bulls replaced Chandler with Wallace.
If we looked at the career performances of Chandler and Wallace, this looked like an easy choice. In Wallace’s ten-year career he had produced 160.8 wins and offered a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] of 0.356. Last year with the Pistons he produced 20.1 wins and posted a WP48 of 0.335.
In contrast, Chandler had only produced 38.1 wins in the first five years of his career. In other words, Chandler was only on pace to produce 76.2 wins over the first ten years of his career, or more than 80 wins fewer than Big Ben. Part of the difference was the minutes Chandler and Wallace played. Over the past five seasons Big Ben has always averaged more than 35 minutes per contest. Chandler, though, had never averaged 30 minutes per game.
Time on the court is only part of the story. Chandler also offered less per-minute, posting a career WP48 of 0.220 entering the current season. Last year his WP48 was 0.234, a mark Wallace had surpassed every year since his rookie season.
So Wallace, entering into this season, was better than Chandler. And with his new free agent contract, Big Ben is also now more expensive. Unfortunately for the Bulls, it doesn’t look like Wallace is still the better choice.
At this point in the 2006-07 season Chandler has produced 11.4 wins and has a 0.294 WP48. Only two starting centers – Marcus Camby and Dwight Howard – have surpassed Chandler’s per-minute production. He is also staying on the court, averaging 34.6 minutes per game for the Hornets. In contrast, Ben Wallace has produced 9.7 wins and a 0.244 WP48 thus far this season. In sum, Chandler in 2006-07 is the more productive big man.
At this point, I could discuss why Wallace has faltered. But this post is about the Hornets (one of the few teams I have not discussed this season). So I think I will save the Wallace discussion for another day. For now, let me offer a few more thoughts on Chandler and the Hornets.
Although Chandler is very good this year, he plays for a team that is currently struggling to reach the 0.500 mark. So it’s likely people have not noticed how good Chandler has been playing.
Of course one might ask if Chandler is so good, why have the Hornets struggled?
The simple answer is that the Hornets have been devastated by injuries. Although people often argue that injuries are no excuse, often injuries are “the excuse.” If you lose players like Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic, and David West for an extended period of time, your team is likely to suffer. After all, if you change the people in the clothes, you are likely going to change the outcome you observe. And thus far, as the following table illustrates, adding together the production this team has seen thus far does not result in a “good” team.
Of course, the above table reports what the Hornets have done through 56 games. If we look at this team since the mid point of the NBA season, we see a team that has won 11 of 15 contests. Not coincidently, this surge has happened with both Paul and West back in the line-up.
Over the remaining 36 games, Paul, West, and Chandler should be playing. The team has also found production from Devin Brown. Stojakovic is still hurt, and the team is receiving very little from Desmond Mason and Rasual Butler. Nevertheless, it’s possible – given the play of Chandler and the likes of Paul, West, and D.Brown – that this team will finish above 0.500 and perhaps provide a few competitive games in the playoffs (although this team still pales in comparison to the very best in the West). And when that happens, maybe people will focus a bit more attention on Tyson Chandler, a player rapidly developing into one of the most productive centers in the NBA.