Pledging Allegiance to the Brooklyn Nets?

Imagine you are a resident of New York who wishes to pledge allegiance to an NBA team. Naturally your thoughts turn to the home town Knicks.  Unfortunately, the Knicks don’t exactly inspire allegiance. Currently their record stands at 13-28, one of the worst marks in the league. And if you look over their recent history you see a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2000-01. 

The Brooklyn Nets

Unfortunately, unlike baseball, football, and hockey fans in the Big Apple, basketball fans who wish to follow a hometown team are stuck with the woeful Knicks.  Soon, though, this might all change. The Nets look to be departing New Jersey for Brooklyn, and in 2010 (maybe) the Brooklyn Nets – or New York Nets – could be challenging the Knicks for supremacy in New York (assuming this whole move works out).

Assuming the Nets ultimately make this move, they look to be an attractive alternative to the Knicks. The Nets have not had a losing season since 2000-01.  Jason Kidd, the team’s point guard, led the NBA in Wins Produced last season.  Although the Nets are currently below 0.500, their 18-24 mark clearly tops the Knicks this season. So clearly, if you could choose, the Nets would be your choice (and if you are lucky enough to also root for the Mets and Jets, you can take great pride in knowing that the names of all your sports teams in 2010 will rhyme).

The Knicks vs. Nets in 2007-08

Before any Knicks fans consider switching allegiance (as if that were possible, a point I will make in a moment), they might want to consider a few more numbers.  When we look at efficiency differential – offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency – the Nets and Knicks this season don’t look much different.  At the midpoint of the 2007-08 season, the Nets have a differential of -6.5.  The Knicks differential after 41 games is -6.7.  Each mark is consistent with a team that wins 24 games over a full season.  This means that although the Nets currently have a better won-loss mark, the Nets have not performed significantly better this season.

When we turn to Wins Produced – which simply connects efficiency differential to the players – we see a similar story. 

Table One: The Nets and Knicks at the midpoint of 2007-08

From Table One we see that the summation of Wins Produced for each team is basically the same.  How we get to each team’s summation, though, is not quite identical.

Summing the Nets

The Nets in 2007-08 are once again led by Jason Kidd.  As noted last summer, since the days when this team went to the Finals, Kidd’s supporting cast has consistently declined.  And in 2007-08, the decline has gone a bit further.  Vince Carter, Sean Williams, and Jason Boone are the only other above average performers in the rotation.  Richard Jefferson, who was generally an above average player in the past, has dropped off considerably the past two years (primarily because of injury).   

The Nets don’t have many above-average players.  But it’s the quality – not the quantity — of below average performers that’s really causing problems.  If all the Nets after Kidd, Carter, S. Williams, Boone, and Jefferson offered zero wins, the Nets would be on pace to win 42 games.  Unfortunately, every other player on the roster currently has a WP48 [Win Produced per 48 minutes] in the negative range.  These nine negative performers basically act as a huge anchor dragging down the overall productivity of this team.

The good news is that by 2010 (according to HoopsHype), all of these negative players (except Marcus Williams), will no longer be under contract.  Unfortunately, the same can also be said for Jason Kidd.  Kidd’s contract expires after next season.   And given his age, it’s more than likely his productivity has to drop off soon, making signing him to a new contract a risky proposition.

Without Kidd, though, where will the Nets get wins in 2010?  The players who might be under contract (depending on various options) in 2010 include Carter, Jefferson, S. Williams, Boone, and M. Williams.  Currently these players are on pace to produce 20 wins in 2007-08.  For the Nets to be contenders, it will have to find more wins someplace. Given the ability of the Nets to find players to complement Kidd these past few years, though, one can seriously question the ability of the Nets to find production to replace Kidd.

The Future of the Knicks

Turning to the Knicks we see a somewhat different story.  The Knicks will probably be without the services of Stephon Marbury by 2010 (it’s possible they are without him now).  But much of the remaining roster is still under contract in 2010 (again according to HoopsHype).

The big decision between now and then is the re-signing of David Lee.  Last year Lee led the Knicks with 13.6 Wins Produced and a 0.378 WP48.  This year his minutes, per-minute productivity, and Wins Produced have all declined.  One should note that there is a link between declining minutes and per-minute performance.  And I think it’s reasonable to think (although I have not studied this) that increasing the variability in minutes also adversely impacts performance.

Last year, before Lee was hurt in February, he was averaging 33 minutes a contest and only once had he played fewer than 20 minutes.  This year Lee is averaging 26 minutes a game, and already he has played fewer than 20 minutes seven times.  Given the yo-yo nature of his minutes, I think we shouldn’t be surprised to see Lee’s productivity slip.

Although Lee has slipped, he’s still the most productive player on this roster.  And if the Knicks can re-sign Lee, there is some hope for this team. 

So here is the choice facing our hypothetical fan.

Should you pledge allegiance to a team that is sort of on top now, but looks to be in clear decline once Kidd departs the scene? 

Or should you turn to team that could build around a very productive player, but first has to realize that Lee is indeed the most productive player on the roster? 

Or should you just move someplace else?

Can You Switch Allegiance?

An unanswered question in all of this analysis is whether it’s even possible to choose between the Nets and Knicks. Certainly if you are not aligned with either team, you could choose one or the other.  But I think New York fans are just like me. I grew up in Detroit, and although I have not lived in the Motor City for 27 years, I still follow the Lions, Tigers, and Pistons.  And although the Lions consistently disappoint, I am unable to shake my addiction.

My sense is the same is true for fans of the Knicks. Even if the Brooklyn Nets were a better team, Knicks fans cannot shake their addiction.  Consequently, the only people the Nets will be able to win over in Brooklyn are those that are currently non-affiliated.  These would include primarily children (who haven’t formed an addiction yet) and recent transplants to the Big Apple.  On the surface this is not a very big group.

Let me close by noting that there is a literature that discusses sports allegiance in terms of addiction.  Perhaps I can get one of the writers in this area to offer a guest post in the future.

- DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially 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

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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