Fire George Karl?

Henry Abbott – of TrueHoop – posted the following story on Wednesday:

George Karl’s Lawyer Makes FireGeorgeKarl.com Famous

The article details a letter sent from George Karl’s lawyer – Bret Adams – to Andrew Feinstein, founder of the website FireGeorgeKarl.  In this letter, Adams tells Feinstein:  

As Coach Karl’s counsel I am putting you on notice that I will sue you into bankruptcy should you cross the boundaries of permissible speech.

According Abbott’s post, it appears that lawyers are not supposed to send such letters.  In essence, Adams has made the website  FireGeorgeKarl a much more popular destination in the Internet.  And this was obviously the opposite of what Adams intended.

I have little to add to the controversy between Karl’s lawyer and Feinstein. What I do wish to comment upon is the basic premise behind FireGeorgeKarl

Why FireGeorgeKarl Exists

Last Friday it was noted – at FireGeorgeKarl – that George Karl was asked to respond to the website (I believe this was before Karl’s lawyer sent the e-mail).

In the column noting Karl’s response, was the following explanation for why Feinstein’s blog exists in the first place:

The purpose of this blog is to energize the coach, the players and the entire organization. We as Nuggets fans have suffered for 14 years without winning a playoff series, 23 years since last playing in a Conference Finals and 32 years without appearing in an NBA Finals. So before we fuss over a blog de-energizing anybody, let us not forget the core facts…
-The Nuggets have two of the top-four scorers in the NBA (Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony), who are also having one of their best all-around seasons statistically. And Marcus Camby is currently the NBA’s second leading rebounder and leading shot blocker, too. (On a side note, no pair of teammates who were NBA All-Star Game starters have ever missed the playoffs nor, as far as I could tell with my limited access to research, have ever finished worse than 6th in the conference).
-Exempting Nene (who we should be used to playing without by now anyway), the Nuggets core players have been remarkably healthy – including Camby, who has missed a career-best three games. And losing Chucky Atkins for most of the season shouldn’t be a burden, but a blessing in disguise.
-Not only have the Nuggets dropped 7 games to under .500 teams, but they are 6-11 against current Western Conference playoff teams. You can live with one set of losses, but not both. For example, Utah has dropped 9 games to sub-.500 teams, but is 10-7 against Western Conference playoff teams.
-The Nuggets haven’t had this much talent (or this high of a payroll) in team history, and yet they are currently 9th in conference seeding, with even a 7th or 8th seed all-but-guaranteeing a first round exit to the Lakers or Spurs.

In sum, the Nuggets have a high payroll and two of the league’s top scorers.  Therefore the team should be contending for a title.  But it’s not.  Therefore the coach should be fired.

The Productivity of Melo and The Answer

Readers of The Wages of Wins can guess the problem with this argument.  The Nuggets do employ two of the league’s top scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson.  Unfortunately, neither player is as productive as people commonly believe.

To see this point, consider Table One.

Table One:  The Denver Nuggets after 59 games in 2007-08

From Table One we can see that last year – in terms of WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] — Anthony hovered around the average mark while Iverson was slightly below.

For 2007-08, though, Feinstein notes that each of these players is “having one of their best all-around seasons statistically.”  The numbers don’t quite support the basic sentiment this statement is trying to make.  Yes, it’s true that Anthony’s WP48 of 0.130 (entering Thursday night’s game against the Suns) is the best of his career.  Still, 0.130 is only slightly above average.  In terms of shooting efficiency (adjusted field goal percentage of 49.1%), he remains only an average scorer (although his rebounding has improved).

Turning to Iverson, we see a WP48 of 0.123.  Like Anthony, this is also above average.  But Iverson has actually bested this mark in four other seasons during his career.  In other words, what Iverson is doing this year is not very surprising (and he is still not an outstanding scorer in terms of shooting efficiency).

When we look at both of these players – via Wins Produced – we see two players offering production that’s just beyond average.  Unfortunately, as Table One makes clear, these are two of the best players on the Nuggets.  And when your best players are only slightly better than average, it’s hard for your team to contend for a title.

Not Contending

And it should be emphasized Denver is not much of a contender this season.  Table One offers two projections of the Nuggets.  The first assumes that what the players on the Nuggets did last year on a per-minute basis will be offered again this year.  The second projects what we have seen so far to the end of the season.

Based on performance last year, the Nuggets should have expected to be slightly below average as a team.   Instead, this team – heading into Thursday night’s game against the Suns – boasted a 2.6 efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency).  So the Nuggets have improved (primarly due to slight improvements in the play of Iverson, Anthony Carter and Linas Kleiza).  But a mark of 2.6 is hardly sufficient to contend.

To see that point, here are the differentials posted by the Nuggets the last few years.

– 2006-07: 1.6

– 2005-06: 0.2

– 2004-05: 2.1

– 2003-04: 1.1

– 2002-03: -8.7

Back in 2002-03, the Nuggets were quite bad.  In fact, the team had posted a negative efficiency differential for eight consecutive seasons.

And then in 2003, something happened.  As I argued last September – [see Did Melo Resurrect the Nuggets?]-the something was not the drafting for Carmelo Anthony.  No, the something was Marcus Camby becoming healthy enough to play consistent minutes and the signing of Andre Miller.

In 2004-05 this team had a mark of 2.1.   In other words, not much different from this year.  And no one believed that team – which was bounced in the first round of the playoffs — was a contender.  Although the Nuggets slipped a bit in 2005-06, last season the Nuggets started 14-9.  And then they sent Andre Miller (and other players) to the 76ers for Allen Iverson.  The expectation was that this trade was going to transform the Nuggets into a title contender.  But the results suggest otherwise.

Iverson has now played more than 100 games in a Denver uniform.  And after all these games, Denver still can’t get their differential above 3.0. And I should note, a 3.0 differential doesn’t even translate into 50 wins in the NBA.

One last note on the differential of this team: The Nuggets are in the positive range, but it’s not because of their offensive efficiency.  No, it is their defense – anchored by Marcus Camby – that’s driving this team to whatever success it has achieved. 

Fire Who?

So here is the basic problem in Denver.  Because people believe scoring equals wins, there is an expectation that a team with two of the top scorers in the league should be a contender for a title.  And when that doesn’t happen, people demand someone pay for this disappointment.

When we look at all the numbers, though, a different story is told.  Because a few players are a bit better, the Nuggets have actually done better than expected.  They are still not good enough, though, to contend for a title.  But when we look at what these players have done in the past, it’s hard to see why anyone would expect a title from this collection of talent.

In sum, one could argue that George Karl has done more with this team than could be expected (do I see a SaveGeorgeKarl.com site starting soon?). And all that effort still might not be good enough to get this team into the playoffs. 

One last note… yes, the Nuggets did post an impressive win over the Suns on Thursday night.  Of course, the Suns are another team that needs to revise expectations.  But that’s a story for another day.

– 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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