Rondo for ROY

The choice for best rookie was pretty easy last year. Chris Paul was easily the top rookie in 2006, leading rookies in points scored, NBA Efficiency, and Wins Produced.

At the All-Star break it looked like Rookie of the Year would be a pretty easy choice in 2007 as well. Back in January I wrote a post entitled “Roy is ROY.” In that post I said, “…the media shouldn’t have much difficulty in choosing Rookie of the Year. Just remember the phrase: Roy is ROY, and the problem is solved.”

When the season ended both the media and the coaches followed the simple “Roy is ROY” mantra. All but one member of the media voted Brandon Roy as Rookie of the Year. And Roy was the only unanimous selection by the coaches for the All-Rookie team.

When we look at Wins Produced, though, we see that one player managed to eclipse Roy in overall production. Roy finished the year with 6.7 wins and per 48 minutes [WP48] posted a mark of 0.159. Rajon Rondo, though, concluded his rookie campaign with 7.2 wins and a WP48 of 0.189. Although the difference is small, if Wins Produced is your metric, Rondo would be Rookie of the Year.

Updating Our Analysis

Of course, as The Wages of Wins argues, Wins Produced does not mimic the player evaluations of NBA decision-makers. Last January I noted the following in the discussion of the All-Rookie Team for 2006.

In The Wages of Wins, we examined the coaches’ voting for the All-Rookie teams. As we note, this is the only post-season award (other than the All-Defensive teams) that is determined by the coaches. So this award gives a little bit of insight into how coaches evaluate player performance. Our analysis found 73% of the voting points a rookie received from the coaches was determined by the player’s NBA Efficiency and original draft position. If we substituted Wins Produced for NBA Efficiency, explanatory power dropped to 43%. And if we substituted points scored for NBA Efficiency, our explanatory power rose to 74%. In sum, it appears that scoring – which dominates the NBA Efficiency metric – is what attracts the attention of the coaches.

This analysis has been updated for the voting record in 2006 and 2007. With more recent data added to the model we can now say that 74% of the voting points a rookie receives from coaches is determined by NBA Efficiency and the player’s original draft position. If we switch to Wins Produced, explanatory power falls to 42%. And if we switch to points scored, our explanatory power rises to 76%. What does all this mean? Although we have more recent data the story is still the same. Scoring, which again dominates the NBA Efficiency metric, still appears to be the one factor that attracts the most attention of the NBA coaches.

Projecting the All-Rookie Teams

Using the voting points model with NBA Effiicency as the measure of player performance, the rookies of 2006-07 were analyzed. The following table reports both the actual All-Rookie teams, as well as the teams projected by the voting points model.

Table One: The 2007 All-Rookie Teams

As one can see, there is a great deal of consistency between the actual and projected teams. The five projected first team members were all placed on the first team by the NBA coaches. And four of the projected second team members were also placed on the second team by the NBA coaches.

If we consider Wins Produced, though, the teams – as the following table indicates – would look quite different.

Table Two: The 2007 All-Rookie Wins Produced Teams

If we look at Wins Produced we see that the top rookies were Rondo, Roy, Renaldo Balkman, Paul Millsap, and Craig Smith. Of these, only Roy made the top five for the coaches. What do the other four have in common?

Wins in the NBA are determined by offensive and defensive efficiency. Each efficiency measure is simply a ratio of points to possessions. Roy contributes via both scoring and possession factors (he is an above average rebounder for his position). The other four top rookies are each below average scorers, but well above average with respect to possession factors. For example, of players who played at least 1,000 minuts, Rondo led the league in steals per 48 minutes. Rondo was also an above average rebounder. Rebounds were also the speciality of Balkman, Millsap, and Smith. But the lack of scoring by these players appears to have doomed their chances to be named to the All-Rookie first team.

These players were also probably done in by their initial draft position. Consider the top choice in the 2006 draft, Andrea Bargnani, and Adam Morrison, the player taken with the third choice. Bargnani was nearly a unanimous selection to the All-Rookie team despite only being above average as a scorer and shot blocker. Or in other words, despite being below average with respect to the possession factors – rebound, steals, turnovers – Bargnani was still considered one of the very best rookies by the coaches.

Morrison, who finished second among rookies in scoring, was nearly selected by the coaches to the All-Rookie first team. This is the same Morrison who was immensely below average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, and steals. Morrison was even described by John Hollinger as “quite possibly the single worst player in the league this year.” (Insider access required). In this case, Hollinger and I agree. Morrison was indeed the least productive player in the NBA. Despite this performance, though, Morrison still garnered more attention from the NBA coaches than Rondo, Balkman, or Smith.

Given the voting record of the coaches, one wonders if Michael Jordan can take advantage of his fellow decision-makers. Although rookies tend to get better (and I should post on this in the future), Morrison is going to have to improve immensely just to become average. Perhaps it’s time for MJ to work the phones and move Morrison for a player who has already attained the status of “average NBA player.” Although average is “not good” it sure beats “very, very, bad.”

- DJ

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