A Few Thoughts for Thursday

While we wait for Game Four tonight (which I hope is not the final game of the 2006-07 season), here are a few more thoughts on Larry Hadley, the legacy of the Spurs, and the trade of Juwan Howard to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

A Few More Comments on the Life and Career of Lawrence Hadley

A few days ago I posted some thoughts on the life and career of Larry Hadley. Yesterday I learned that Sports Illustrated also offered an obituary.

Larry Hadley dies at 62: Famed sports economist was pioneer in baseball trade.

Additionally, via Skip Sauer and The Sports Economist, I see that the University of Dayton has also offered some comments.

The Economics of Baseball: A funeral Mass will be held on campus June 15 for Larry Hadley, an associate professor of economics, who made his mark analyzing the economics of America’s greatest pastime.

The Western Economic Association meetings – where many of the sports economists from around the world meet each year — will be held at the end of this month. As I noted, it was Larry who started these annual gatherings that have done so much for our field. Certainly these will not be the same without Larry.

Robert Horry Makes an Interesting Prediction

Robert Horry, who is on the verge of winning his seventh ring, says the Spurs can beat the Lakers and Celtics. This year, by my count, the Spurs were 2-3 against these two teams. But Horry was not talking about this year. He was actually talking about the Lakers and Celtics teams from the 1980s. Yes, Horry thinks the Spurs this year could beat the Celtics with Larry Bird and the Lakers with Magic Johnson.

If we consider the efficiency differentials of these teams it’s possible Horry has a point.

Table One: Efficiency Differential of the NBA Final Participants

The 2006-07 Spurs boasted an efficiency differential of 9.1. The Celtics won three titles in the 1980s. Boston had a differential of 8.9 in 1986, 6.3 in 1984, and 5.6 in 1981. The Lakers won five titles in the 1980s, and posted the following differentials: 5.5 in 1988, 8.8 in 1987, 6.9 in 1985, 4.6 in 1982, and 5.5 in 1980. In all, the Celtics and Lakers won eight titles but none of these teams had a differential as great as the one offered by the Spurs this year.

One should note that Horry didn’t look at efficiency differential, but rather made a statement about how the talent level in the league has improved since the 1980s. Specifically Horry observed the following:

No disrespect to the guys back in the 80’s and the 70’s, but the guys now are so much better than those guys,” Horry said. “I don’t care what they say. If you look at old films, guys only went right. They turned and kept it in their right hand. Look at the things LeBron (James) can do, Tim (Duncan) can do, Tony (Parker) can do, Manu (Ginobili) can do. Little (Daniel) Gibson over there. There’s no way you can compare those guys. We watched what they did and expanded on that.”

I am personally sympathetic to Horry’s general perspective, although I am not sure about including “Boobie” with LeBron, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.

Spurs Luck Out in the Finals

If the Spurs win tonight (or on Sunday, next Tuesday, or next Thursday), San Antonio will win their fourth title in eight seasons. This is an impressive achievement, although one should note that the Spurs have had a relatively easy time in the NBA Finals. Here is the differential of the teams the Spurs have played:

New York Knicks in 1999: 1.1

New Jersey Nets in 2003: 5.5

Detroit Pistons in 2005: 4.2

Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007: 4.0

The average team in the Finals since 1974 has a differential of 5.7. The average for San Antonio’s opponents has been 3.7. To put that in perspective, the Chicago Bulls faced six opponents in the Finals during the 1990s. The worst of these teams – the Phoenix Suns in 1993 – had a differential of 6.5. The average team facing the Bulls had a differential of 7.5.

Magic Johnson and the Lakers played in nine NBA Finals from 1980 to 1991. These nine teams had an average differential of 6.2. Interestingly Larry Bird and the Celtics, who got to play two very weak Houston teams in the 1980s, faced five opponents with an average differential of 4.4.

So when we look at the quality of opponents the major dynasties faced, we walk away even more impressed by Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1990s. And we are a bit less impressed by the Celtics in the 1980s and the Spurs this past decade.

Kevin McHale Makes His First Move

And then we come to Kevin McHale. McHale has been the only general manager Kevin Garnett has ever known. And despite having one of the very best players in the game, McHale – as the following posts have noted – has failed to build a winner around KG.

Speeding Up Time for Bill Simmons

An Inconsistent Consistency Story

But You Are Consistent

The Timberwolves Change Coaches

The Decline of Kevin Garnett?

After winning only 32 games in 2006-07, McHale has to do something this summer. And that “something” begins with the off-season’s first trade. Marc Stein of ESPN reports that the Minnesota has sent Mike James to the Houston Rockets for Juwan Howard. According to the story, Garnett welcomes this move.

Garnett, meanwhile, is expected to welcome the arrival of Howard, a 34-year-old former All-Star, after publicly calling — repeatedly — for more size in the Wolves’ frontcourt and more of a veteran presence in the locker room.

It’s true that Juwan Howard is a large veteran. So if the objective was to add an older big guy, the mission has been accomplished. Unfortunately, if the goal is to build a winning team in Minnesota, this first move is not going to help.

Juwan Howard’s shortcomings have been reviewed in this forum before. Still, it might be good to once again review his career.

Table Two: Juwan Howard’s Career Performance

Howard has thus far been paid $130 million to play in the NBA. For this money he has produced 19.6 wins. Per win he has been paid $6.7 million. If all NBA players were paid at this rate the Association would be paying its players $8.2 billion each season. So clearly Howard has been a bit overpaid.

When we look at the individual stats we see that Howard is an above average scorer. But he is an inefficient scorer. He also is the below average with respect to every other aspect of the game.

And there is another problem with this signing. Minnesota had exactly two above average players last season. The first is KG, who was the second most productive player in the league. The other was rookie Craig Smith. Like Howard, Smith is a power forward. Although Smith is two inches shorter than Howard, he is much more productive as an NBA player (Smith produced 3.6 wins this past season with a WP48 of 0.113). Obviously if Howard takes minutes from Smith, McHale’s first move this summer has made a bad situation worse.

Yesterday I noted that the Blazers of 1977 were led by Bill Walton. It was Walton’s immense production – not teamwork, team chemistry, etc… – that allowed Portland to field such an impressive team. It’s important to note, as I mentioned yesterday, Walton was not a one man team. Yes, he was the key to the team’s success. But there had to be other productive players on the roster to allow Portland to contend for the title.

McHale has been given the equivalent of Walton. But unlike Walton, Garnett has been both productive and healthy. McHale, though, can’t find other productive players. Year after year McHale guesses, and year after year he guesses wrong.

The trade for Howard will not be the last move McHale will make this summer. But the quality of this first decision suggests it might be another very long year for KG and the fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

– DJ

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