The response to yesterday’s comment on Dikembe Mutombo has centered on the value of Tracy McGrady. People have noted that McGrady came back from injury just when Yao Ming was injured. So maybe it was McGrady that allowed the Rockets to stay afloat without Yao (or Ming, or Yao Ming – there has been some debate about what I am supposed to call him).

As always, let’s look at the numbers. After 27 games, just after Yao Ming was injured, I posted an analysis of the Rockets.

Table One: The Houston Rockets after 27 games

At this time, McGrady had a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [Wp48] of 0.159. Yesterday’s analysis of the Rockets after 61 games revealed that McGrady now has a WP48 of 0.191.

Table Two: The Houston Rockets after 61 games

With a bit of math, we can see that McGrady has posted a 0.211 WP48 since returning from injury. In other words, McGrady has played better.

To put this performance in perspective, let’s consider the productivity McGrady has offered throughout his career.

McGrady’s WP48 in 2005-06 was 0.157, or just about what he offered before his injury this year. His mark of 0.211 since the injury is consistent with what he posted in 2004-05 when he and Yao Ming led the Rockets to 51 wins.

One should note, though, that McGrady’s career WP48 stood at 0.254 entering this season. This means that although McGrady is playing better since his injury, he is not quite what he was most of the years he played for Orlando.

In sum, McGrady (who is very good) and Yao Ming (who is very good) led the Rockets to 51 victories two seasons ago. This year the Rockets are on pace for about the same record, but Yao Ming missed 32 games. How do we explain the ability of the Rockets to maintain their winning record? If it is McGrady, then we should see him playing at a much higher level than what we observed in 2004-05. That is not what we see in the data.

Consequently, I think I am sticking to my story. The return of Mutombo allowed the Rockets to survive the loss of Yao Ming.

Let me add one more point, though. Yao Ming does play more minutes than Mutombo. So per game, Yao Ming has produced 0.15 wins this season, while Mutombo only produces 0.14 victories. Hence, in that sense, Yao Ming is a bit more productive today (although Mutombo was clearly more productive when he was younger).

- DJ