Chauncey Billups and Isiah Thomas

As I have noted in the past, I was born in Detroit and grew up a Pistons fan.  And since sports allegiance doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) change as you age, I remain a Pistons fan.

My memory of the Pistons extends all the way back to the days of Bob Lanier (I can still remember when he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks).  But I truly began to follow the Pistons when Isiah Thomas was drafted (in 1981 when I was eleven).  The story I believed growing up was that Isiah put the Pistons on the map, and it was Isiah who led the Detroit to the team’s first two championships.

As I noted last summer, the story I grew up believing is not told by Wins Produced (see Looking Back at the Bad Boys).  Wins Produced indicates that The Bad Boys were led by Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer (not Isiah Thomas).

After Rodman and Laimbeer moved on, the Pistons became quite a bit worse.  The Grant Hill era saw some success, but it wasn’t until another productive big man – Ben Wallace – came on the scene that the Pistons once again contended for the title.

Discussing Chauncey and Isiah on Pistonscast

Unlike what we saw with Rodman and Laimbeer, though, when Big Ben left the Pistons didn’t fall apart.  Since Wallace departed in 2006 the Pistons have had two +50 win seasons.  And the leading producer of wins on each team has been Chauncey Billups.

Table One: The Detroit Pistons in 2006-07 and 2005-06

Table Two: The Detroit Pistons in 2007-08

All of this serves as a background to a recent conversation I had with John W. Davis and Deven Khrucell.   John and Deven are the hosts of Pistonscast, “the number one podcast for die-hard Pistons fans.”  As I remember, last spring I was a guest on the program and the subject of Allen Iverson came up.  As I often note, “the Answer” is not quite as productive as many believe.  And I noted at the time, I think Isiah was a more productive player than Iverson.

Such a statement may make Iverson fans unhappy, but is not exactly disputed by “die-hard Pistons fans.”  But as I often do, I could not leave well enough alone.  I also indicated last spring that Chauncey Billups – the current point guard in Detroit – is more productive than the one considered the greatest player in team history.  

When I noted that Billups offers more today than Isiah did in the 1980s, Deven expressed some unhappiness.   As a result, I was asked to return to the show to debate Deven on the relative merits of Chauncey and Isiah.

This debate is now posted at Pistonscast.  The specific podcasts you need to hear – if you are interested in this discussion – are Episodes 62 and 63.  Episode 62 is the first half of our discussion.  We begin on the topic of Kwame Brown, but after awhile move into the discussion of Billups and Thomas.  This debate is then continued in episode 63. 

Essentially, Deven’s perspective is that the numbers are not enough to tell us that Chauncey is worth more than Isiah.  Of course, I disagree.  The numbers in basketball do explain wins.  And those numbers go back to the individuals.  Furthermore, it’s not clear to me how we could ever objectively test the propositions put forward by the non-numbers crowd.  At least, I can’t see how we can test such propositions without numbers.

More on Billups, Isiah, and Iverson

For those who wish to see more numbers on this subject, here is a comparison of the career numbers of Billups, Thomas, and Iverson.

Table Three: Comparing Chauncey Billups, Isiah Thomas, and Allen Iverson

As Table Three indicates, the key stats are shooting efficiency and turnovers. Unlike Isiah and Iverson – who are both below average with respect to shots from the field and turnovers – Billups excels with respect to each of these stats.  Consequently, Billups has a bigger impact on team wins.

If we turn to Wins Produced, we see the following career marks [in Wins Produced and Wins Produced per 48 minutes]:

Chauncey Billups: 90.9 Wins Produced, 0.181 WP48

Isiah Thomas: 97.4 Wins Produced, 0.132 WP48

Allen Iverson: 64.8 Wins Produced, 0.090 WP48

And if we look at each player’s career best marks [in WP48], again we see Billups coming out on top:

Chauncey Billups: 16.0 Wins Produced, 0.304 WP48 [2007-08]

Isiah Thomas: 18.6 Wins Produced, 0.289 WP48 [1984-85]

Allen Iverson: 10.0 Wins Produced, 0.152 WP48 [2004-05]

So those are the numbers.  My sense is that Deven will not be convinced.  And hopefully as you listen, you will hear that it’s okay if we don’t all agree.  The conversation, by itself, is still quite fun (and hopefully interesting).

One More Interview

Last Thursday I was also a guest on the Jack Warkenthein’s Show – Where Wall Street Meets Main Street – on the Biz Radio Network.  If you turn to the Podcasts for Jack’s show you can listen to my two segments on August 21 (part two and three).   One should keep in mind, though, that this interview was done at 7:20am Central Time (the show is broadcast in Texas).  This is 6:20am at my home in Utah.  You are listening to me speak just minutes after I woke up that morning.  So I don’t guarantee that I am entirely coherent (which probably makes the whole conversation even more interesting). 

Still, I do think I offered some reasonable comments on Olympic basketball, the Rockets acquisition of Ron Artest, and the Mavericks acquisition of Jason Kidd.  I think I also said something about why high oil prices could be good news.  Again, the whole conversation was pretty early in the morning.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at 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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