Are All Scorers Over-Hyped?

The Wages of Wins tells many stories about baseball, football, and basketball.  Of all these stories, though, the one that has received the most attention is that scoring in the NBA is over-valued by decision-makers.  Players like Allen Iverson, Ben Gordon, and Eddy Curry are not as valuable as people believe.  And other players – like Anderson Varejao and Tyson Chandler – are more valuable than people may think.

Although it’s the case that some scorers are over-valued, and some non-scorers undervalued, it’s not the case that Wins Produced – the metric of player evaluation introduced in The Wages of Wins – argues that scorers do not have value. 

The Ryan Schwan Challenge

And to illustrate this point, I shall address the following from Ryan Schwan (of thehornetsfan.blogspot.com).  Last October, Ryan posted this challenge:

So – another preseason game is under way, and as of this moment, our team’s shooters(West, Stojakovic and Peterson) have managed to combine for 4-21 shooting, 2-8 from three point range. As I sputtered in disgust, I began to think about the great shooters of the past.

But – I wonder what our current stat tools would say about those players. NBA stars are made, almost exclusively, through scoring exploits. Would any of those great shooters remain as impressive after being having analysis performed on their their entire body of work? And how good does a player have to be at one thing in order to make up for them not doing anything else well?

There are a large number of easily recognizable players I can come up with that have horrible career rebounding and assist numbers – but scored at a good clip(more than 20 points per 48 minutes) and shot well from distance. Were they overrated? Did I fall for the hype? Using my limited available data, I’ll try to figure it out soon(unless I can convince Dave Berri of the Wages of Wins to do it first. I challenge you, Dave Berri!).

Some of the players I’d like to evaluate who at first glance look like they may be overhyped: Chris Mullin(38 3pt%), Mitch Richmond(39 %), Allan Houston(40%), Reggie Miller(39%), Drazen Petrovic(44%), Good ol’ Dell Curry(40%), Rick Barry(41%), Coach Byron Scott(37%), Joe Dumars(38%, 3 rebounds per 48 minutes. Seriously? Dude, you’re 6’4″), Hersey Hawkins(39%), Dennis Scott(40%).

Still – I can’t say I wouldn’t welcome any of those players on the team right now, with the rock bottom shooting percentages we’re seeing.

If I am reading this correctly, this is the question Schwan is asking: Are Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond, Allan Houston, Reggie Miller, Drazen Petrovic, Dell Curry, Rick Barry, Byron Scott, Joe Dumars, Hersey Hawkins, and Dennis Scott overhyped scorers? 

Productive and Non-Productive Scorers

Last August, when Miller and Houston were threatening to come back into the NBA, I looked at the career performance of these two shooting guards.  This analysis demonstrated that Miller was not only a prolific scorer, but also a prolific producer of wins (a point I had earlier made in July of 2006 in the post – Scorers and Wins Produced).  In contrast, Houston was just a prolific producer of points. 

When we consider the list of players Ryan challenged me to examine, we see a few players who are like Miller, and a few others like Houston.   To see where each player falls, consider Table One. 

Table One: The Career Productivity of Ten Scorers

This table reports the career Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] for each player.  Additionally, each player’s best season – in terms of Wins Produced – is also reported. 

When we focus on career output we see three players – Miller, Mullin, and Hawkins – whose career Wins Produced passed the 100 win mark. All three had at least one season where their WP48 was more the double the league average of 0.100, so it’s pretty clear that these three scorers were truly outstanding.

From the data we have, it looks like Rick Barry was also an outstanding player.  Barry produced an estimated 69.5 wins in 8 NBA seasons, so he probably produced 100 wins if we consider his ABA output.  Of course, one should note that Barry’s NBA career began in 1972-73 and ended in 1979-80 (his ABA career began in 1965-66).  So data like turnovers, steals, and blocked shots had to be estimated for part of his career.  Despite this issue, it does appear to be the case that Barry was well above average across his entire professional career.

A similar story can be told for Byron Scott and Mitch Richmond.  Each of these players posted a career WP48 in excess of the 0.100 (the average mark). And when we turn to the top performance offered in a player’s career, we see two more players – Joe Dumars and Dell Curry – who also managed to exceed the mark of an average player at least once.  In all, only Drazen Petrovic and Dennis Scott join Allan Houston as players who were never above average for an entire season (let alone their careers).  In sum, only these latter three players were truly overhyped – or unproductive — scorers.

What Makes For an Unproductive Scorer?

To answer this question we turn to the average production of each player in each statistical category (points, rebounds, shooting efficiency, etc…).

Table Two: Ten Scorers – Stat-by-Stat

Three of these players – Mullin, Barry, and D. Scott – were primarily small forwards in their career.  The remaining seven were shooting guards.  When we compare each player’s per 48 minutes performance, relative to the average at his position, we see a few interesting trends.  First, all of these player’s (except for Rick Barry) were above average with respect to shooting efficiency.   And all were above average in terms of points scored and shooting free throws.  With respect to rebounds, though, all were below average (except for Rick Barry). 

Okay, so these guys could score but were not great on the boards. Why were Petrovic, Houston, and D. Scott so consistently below average in overall productivity? Petrovic was an extremely good shooter, but a liability with respect to every other aspect of the game.  So it’s not surprising that he rates as a slightly below average player. Houston was an above average scorer, but not quite as good as the other players on the list.  Plus he was well below average with respect to rebounds, assists, and blocked shots while being somewhat prone to turnovers.  A similar story (except for the turnovers) could be told about D. Scott. 

In sum, these three players were consistently below average because what they did well – shoot the ball – did not produce enough to overcome these player’s shortcomings.  In other words, their pluses did not exceed their minuses. 

Despite the below average output of Petrovic, Houston, and D.Scott, we do see clear evidence that players whose primary attribute is efficient scoring can be above average in Wins Produced.  And that should not be surprising.  Scoring matters in the NBA.  The lesson from The Wages of Wins, though, is that scoring has to be efficient to help.  Oh, and other stuff – like rebounds and turnovers – also have some impact as well.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

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