Rashard Lewis Goes to Orlando

Last season the Sonics won 31 games. Fifteen of these wins, or nearly half, can be tied to two players: Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.  On draft night Allen was sent to the Celtics for three players: Jeff Green, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak.  And now Lewis has signed with Orlando.  So although the Sonics were able to land Kevin Durant on draft night, the talent that has departed may mean that the Sonics might not be improved in 2007-08.

Then again, maybe they will be.  Regardless, the Sonics are not the subject of this post. 

What I wish to discuss is what Rashard Lewis means for the Magic.Lewis has played nine NBA seasons, but since he came directly out of high school into the league, he’s actually pretty young (27 years old) for a grizzled veteran.

Across these nine seasons Lewis has produced 61.7 wins with a 0.141 WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes).  An average player offers a 0.100 WP48, so Lewis has generally been above average.  

Why is 0.100 average?  An average team will win 0.500 games per 48 minutes.  So an average player – or one-fifth of a team – will produce 0.100 wins per 48 minutes.  In 2006-07 there were 260 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes.  Of these, about one-half had a Wp48 of 0.100 or better (not surprising).  Of these 260, though, 39 had a WP48 in excess of 0.200.  What does 0.200 mean?  If a team of 0.100 players win half their game, then a team of 0.200 players must win all their game.  In other words, 0.200 players can be thought of as “perfect.” 

Lewis, though, was not one of these players.  In fact, he has never been a “perfect” player.  Despite this record, the Magic agreed to give Lewis a maximum salary.  This suggests that perhaps the Magic are paying just a bit too much for his services.

It’s actually possible for Lewis to become perfect.  Lewis is a comb0-forward, which means he has logged minutes at power forward and small forward in his career.  WP48 is calculated by comparing a player relative to the average player at his position.  Because power forwards tend to rebound at a higher rate than small forwards, power forwards tend to offer higher levels of productivity.  So when Lewis is compared to players at the four spot, he tends not to look so good.  Relative to small forwards, though, he can be very good.

To illustrate, consider last season.  When Lewis played power forward his WP48 was only 0.096, which is close to average.  At the three spot his WP48 was 0.209, which is above the “perfect” mark.

So for the Magic to make this work, they simply need to play Lewis at small forward.  Unfortunately, to sign Lewis the Magic had to pass on power f0rward – center Darko Milicic.  This move leaves the Magic with Dwight Howard and Tony Battie as the only returning player to receive major minutes at the power forward and center spots.  These two players are not going to take all the available minutes at the four and five spots, so one suspects the Magic are going to be tempted to play Lewis major minutes at power forward.  And when that happens, Lewis will not be earning his money.

This is a basic lesson The Wages of Wins basketball metrics teaches.  In evaluating players, position played matters.  Centers and power forwards do not offer the same set of statistics as guards or small forwards.  So when we evaluate a player’s contribution we have to consider what we should have expected given the player’s position.

For the Magic this lesson is extremely relevant in 2007-08.  When Lewis plays small forward he likely can produce at a level that justifies his wage.  Shifting him to power forward, though, will leave the Magic wanting more wins.  And leave Magic fans just a bit disappointed. Unfortunately, unless the Magic find someone else to offer productive minutes at power forward, it looks like the Lewis signing is going to leave everyone wanting just a bit more.

– DJ

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