The Greatness of Chris Webber

Chris Webber announced his retirement this week.  And almost immediately we were treated to a couple of articles reviewing C-Webb’s career and wondering “what might have been?”

Webber never won when it mattered most [Johnny Ludden, Yahoo! Sports]

Webber’s career path full of promise and pain [ J.A. Adande, ESPN.com]

These articles primarily focus on where Webber appeared to come up short.  As is often the case, I am going to offer a different perspective. 

Where Webber is the Best

Webber was a star player at the University of Michigan, leading his team to the NCAA Final Four in both 1992 and 1993.  And as detailed in the following two posts, he went on to become the most productive NBA player – in terms of career Wins Produced – to ever attend Michigan.

Ranking the Michigan Alumni

Were the Fab Five all Fabulous?

The road to becoming the most productive Wolverine in NBA history began in 1993, when he was the first player chosen in the NBA draft. Of the players taken in that draft, 43 managed to take the court for an actual NBA team.  And of these 43 players, only Sam Cassell and Lindsey Hunter are still playing for an actual NBA teams.

When we look back on the this draft – which I did in a lengthy post last summer (see Looking Back at the 1993 Draft) – we see that unless Cassell and Hunter suddenly become immensely more productive (or start playing many more minutes), C-Webb will remain the leading Wins Producer in this draft class.

The final tally for Webber is as follows:

30,847 minutes played

831 games

112.4 Wins Produced

0.175 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]

In terms of Wins Produced, Anfernee Hardaway finished second in this draft.  When his career ended earlier this year his career Wins Produced stood at just a shade below 85 wins.  Cassell – whose career Wins Produced number stands at about 83.6 – might catch Hardaway for the number two spot.  But Cassell, as noted, will not catch C-Webb.

So C-Webb is the greatest NBA player out of the University of Michigan.  And he is the most productive player from the 1993 draft.

The Most Productive from 1991 to 1995

Maybe Michigan is just a bad basketball school (lately this is true). And maybe the 1993 draft was a bad draft class.  So maybe C-Webb really isn’t all that great.

To address these issues, I examined each player who was drafted (and actually played in the NBA) from 1991 to 1995.  In all, 228 players entered the league via the draft at this time.  Of these players, here are the top ten in career Wins Produced (numbers taken prior to the 2007-08 season):

1.  Kevin Garnett [247.9 Wins Produced, 0.335 WP48]

2. Shaquille O’Neal [247.7 Wins Produced, 0.331 WP48]

3. Dikembe Mutombo [223.4 Wins Produced, 0.297 WP48]

4. Jason Kidd [222.6 Wins Produced, 0.302 Wp48]

5. Dale Davis [127.0 Wins Produced, 0.206 WP48]

6. Grant Hill [122.3 Wins Produced, 0.250 WP48]

7. Chris Webber [112.2 Wins Produced, 0.175 WP48]

8. P.J. Brown [110.3 Wins Produced, 0.157 WP48]

9. Eddie Jones [109.0 Wins Produced, 0.164 WP48]

10. Alonzo Mourning [106.9 Wins Produced, 0.201 WP48]

No other player taken in these five drafts has produced 100 wins (although Brent Barry and Donyell Marshall still have a chance).

What do these numbers mean?

KG has surpassed Shaq, Mount Mutombo is very good, Grant Hill really had a great career (story for another day), and Alonzo Mourning also had a great career (another story for another day). 

And, the subject of this column, has been more productive than all but six of the players drafted from 1991 to 1995.  Yes, of the 228 players drafted who actually played for an actual team from 1991 to 1995, C-Webb ranks among the top 3% in career Wins Produced.

The Impact of Injury and Coming up Short

Although C-Webb played over 30,000 minutes (according to Basketball-Reference.com, only 92 players in NBA history played more minutes), people believe he was plagued by injury.  Certainly injuries were part of the story throughout his career, with the knee injury suffered in 2003 being the most devastating. 

Prior to this injury, Webber had produced 98.9 wins and posted a 0.208 WP48.  After the injury he played more than 25% of his career games.  But he only produced 13.5 additional wins.  His post-injury WP48 was a slightly below average mark of 0.081.

So yes, C-Webb’s career was diminished by injury.  However, it was still a great career.  No, he didn’t play on a team that won an NCAA or NBA title.  But if we think about it for a moment, was that really a surprise?  The intriguing part of the Fab Five story was that no one expected a team with five starting freshmen could win an NCAA title (or five starting sophomores).  Despite the odds, the Fab Five came very close to a title.  Still, they came up short. 

People have also looked at Webber’s NBA career and noted that his teams consistently came up short.  But again looking back, there was only one team that employed Webber that was favored to win an NBA title.  This was the 2001-02 Sacramento Kings, which led the NBA in regular season wins and efficiency differential (offensive efficiency – defensive efficiency).  The Kings that season posted a differential of 7.7, but lost to the eventual champion LA Lakers – with a 7.3 differential — in a thrilling seven game Western Conference finals.  Yes, that is technically an upset.  But it’s not shocking that the Lakers were able to win game seven of that series.

Other than this one season, Webber was never on a team expected to take a title.  So it’s not surprising that he never was on an NBA champion.

And I would argue that this fact does not diminish his career.  He remains one of the most productive players of his era.  No, he’s not Kevin Garnett or Shaq.  But he is still in the upper echelon of NBA players.  And I think this is the primary story we should be telling now that his career is over.

– 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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