Kevin Durant has become a popular topic in this forum. So far the following columns have featured his exploits.
July 12, 2007: Looking Back at the NBA Draft, Part Two
July 7, 2007: Disappointing Durant
July 21, 2007: Durant Disappoints Again
October 31, 2007: Will Kevin Durant Be the Best Rookie?
November 16, 2007: Choosing the Best Rookie in November
November 27, 2007: Evaluating Future Stars in Baseball and Basketball
November 28, 2007: The Top Rookies, Again
These posts tell the following story:
Durant was very productive in college last year. On draft night – based on the college numbers — it was perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Blazers should take Greg Oden or Durant.
And then we saw Durant in summer league play. Although I recall one sportswriter saying that “Durant did not disappoint” this summer, the data told a very different story. Against many players who are not employed by the Association this year, Durant was very, very bad. And, as Table One illustrates, this poor performance continued in pre-season basketball and across the first few weeks of the regular season.
My sense is that most everyone understands that Durant hasn’t played very well this year. He has problems hitting his shots and he’s prone to turnovers.
There is an expectation, though, that with time this will change.
Certainly I think that’s possible. But I want to emphasize that there are no guarantees. And to illustrate this point, I want to re-hash the story of Jerry Stackhouse and Carmelo Anthony.
The Jerry Stackhouse story has been told in the following posts:
June 15, 2006:Myth and Measurement after Game Three of the NBA Finals
July 20, 2007: Stackhouse vs. Jordan
October 14, 2007: Looking Back at the 1995 Draft or An Antidote for the Potential Drug
While the Melo story was told in the following columns.
September 12, 2007: Did Melo Resurrect the Nuggets?
October 24, 2007: Melo, King James, and the Human Highlight Film
For those who don’t want to read through these posts, let me review the early career performance of each player.
Let’s start with Stackhouse. Here is what Stack did in each of his first five seasons [WP48 – Wins Produced per 48 minutes].
1995-96: -0.4 Wins Produced, -0.007 WP48
1996-97: -2.8 Wins Produced, -0.043 WP48
1997-98: 4.2 Wins Produced, 0.080 WP48
1998-99: 0.4 Wins Produced, 0.016 WP48
1999-00: 5.1 Wins Produced, 0.078 WP58
In terms of Wins Production, 1999-00 was the peak for Stackhouse. Now in his 13th NBA season, he has yet to post a WP48 that exceeded the average mark of 0.100. And as noted previously in this forum, this is because Stackhouse can’t shoot efficiently and he is prone to turnovers (sound familiar?).
Now let’s look at Melo. Here are his first four seasons.
2003-04: 2.0 Wins Produced, 0.032 WP48
2004-05: 0.2 Wins Produced, 0.004 WP48
2005-06: 4.8 Wins Produced, 0.079 WP48
2006-07: 5.1 Wins Produced, 0.098 WP48
After fifteen games this season, Anthony has posted a 0.065 WP48 and is on pace to produce 4.0 wins. Of course, Melo is still young. And unlike Stackhouse, he can hit his shots at an average level of efficiency. But Anthony is simply not outstanding at any aspect of the game. And to be outstanding, you have to do something outstanding. Yes, it’s that simple.
Let me note that both Anthony and Stackhouse did improve after their rookie season. But let me also note that both performed at a higher level than Durant is performing at right now. So Durant is going to have to improve more just to get to the level of these players.
And I also want to note how far Stackhouse and Anthony improved. Neither player has reached the level of productivity one would associate with “a franchise savior.” Certainly that’s what Seattle’s fans were hoping for when this team took Durant last summer. But the early returns tell us that the savior hasn’t arrived yet.
Let me emphasize that it’s still very early. Durant could certainly improve. But right now, he’s not a very productive basketball player.
And that is my point. Players should be evaluated in terms of what they actually have done. Not in terms of what we imagine they might do at some point in the future. When we look at what Durant has done, he is not the best rookie in 2007-08. He isn’t even in the top five or the top ten. Yes, and I repeat myself, he could become the best rookie. But based on what we have seen so far, there is no guarantee that’s going to happen.
Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.