The Dallas Mavericks recently re-signed Jerry Stackhouse. Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated described this move as a “No-brainer.” This led me to wonder — who is a better basketball player – Jerry Stackhouse or Michael Jordan? (no, Thomsen didn’t make this comparison. But this comparison is part of the story I am telling today).
If you are talking about right now – it might be Stackhouse. After all, MJ is 44 years old and Stackhouse will not turn 33 until November. Then again, during the 2002-03 season MJ turned 40 while Stackhouse was in his prime at 28. When that year ended, MJ has produced 10.1 wins and Stackhouse, Jordan’s teammate at the time, had only produced 2.2 victories. So maybe MJ could still be more productive than Stackhouse.
Obviously – and you don’t need Wins Produced to see this – Jordan was a much more productive player than Stackhouse. But back in 1995, Stackhouse and Jordan comparisons were not hard to find.
Both players were 6’6” guards from North Carolina. Each player was taken with the third choice in the NBA draft. And if we look at what each player did in college, one could argue that Stackhouse was the better college player.
Table One reports the stats for each player his last year playing college basketball at North Carolina. Per 40 minutes, MJ had the edge in scoring, steals, and was less turnover prone. Stackhouse was the slightly more efficient scorer, a better rebounder, blocked more shots, had more assists, and was less likely to commit a foul.
When we look at Win Score per 40 minutes we see that Stackhouse was more productive overall. To put these numbers in perspective, there was no shooting guard taken in the NBA draft in 2007 who posted better college numbers last year than Stackhouse did in 1994-95. And among small forwards, only Kevin Durant and Julian Wright posted better numbers. In sum, if you were looking at Stackhouse in 1995 you would have fully expected him to be a very productive NBA player.
What Stackhouse has done as an NBA player tells us that college numbers don’t always paint an accurate picture of a player’s future productivity. As I have said before, college numbers tell us something. They just don’t tell us everything.
Table Two illustrates this point. In Table Two we see a comparison of Stackhouse’s career performance in his first twelve years to what one would have expected from just an average NBA player. Relative to the average guard-forward (Stackhouse plays both shooting guard and small forward), we see that Stackhouse has many shortcomings.
Although his scoring in the NBA is well above average, his shooting efficiency is well below average. The average guard-forward will score 0.96 points per field goal attempt. For his career, Stackhouse has only scored 0.89 per field goal attempt. So his lofty point totals are really just a function of the large number of shots he takes, not his abilities as a scorer.
When we move past scoring we see that Stackhouse is below average with respect to rebounds and steals, and turns the ball over at an above average rate. He is a bit above average with respect to steals and blocked shots, and he does have the ability to get to the free throw line and make free throws. But his few positives are easily out-weighed by his many negatives.
When we look back at his college numbers we see that Stackhouse was an efficient scorer his last year. As a freshman (Stackhouse only played two seasons in college), though, he was not efficient. And in both years he was turnover prone. What boosted his productivity in college was his ability to rebound. This was not a skill that transferred to his professional game. Absent the ability to rebound, Stackhouse has generally been a player who often ended possessions with either a missed shot or a turnover. Such a player, not surprisingly, will not generate many wins.
Across his 12-year career Stackhous has produced 19.2 wins. To put that number in some perspective, Jordan produced 19.9 wins in his 12th year in the NBA. In fact, MJ produced more wins – 28.5 to be exact – after his 12th year than Stackhouse has produced in his first 12 years.
It’s important to note that Stackhouse doesn’t just look below average when we look at his career averages. Every single year of his career he has been below average with respect to shooting efficiency and rebounds. Every single year of his career he has turned the ball over at an above average rate. In sum, Stackhouse is consistently below average.
Let me close by noting that one doesn’t need Wins Produced to see that Stackhouse performs poorly with respect to most aspects of his job. One doesn’t need Wins Produced to see that he shoots poorly, is a below average rebounder, and above average with respect to turnovers. But what probably confuses the issue is the assessment offered by such metrics as NBA Efficiency or John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating. Both of these metrics tell us that Stackhouse has been an above average player in his career. No, these measures don’t tell us that Stackhouse is Michael Jordan. But they do indicate that Stackhouse is more productive than an average player and hence someone good to have on your bench.
Again, the problem with each of these measures is the failure to adequately account for inefficient scoring (a point previously discussed with respect to both the NBA Efficiency metric and PERs). A player can raise his value in both measures by just increasing his shot attempts, even if the player shoots at a below average rate. Stackhouse’s value with respect to these measures illustrates this observation.
Now this bias has been good for Stackhouse. Thus far in his career he has been paid close to $65 million. Certainly this has been a pretty good living for a player who hasn’t quite lived up to what we thought he would do when he left North Carolina in 1995.