A friendly war has broken out between two of my favorite NBA blogs. A few days ago Ryan Schwan – of Hornets247 — posted the following:
Flat out, the Grizzlies will be pushing to have one of the worst records of all time. Their veterans are the worst sort of dregs: Greg Buckner, Antoine Walker, and Marko Jaric. Useless, Cancer, Slacker
You’re No Tyson
Josh Coleman — of 3 Shades of Blue — took exception to this comment and made an effort to highlight the positives on the current edition of the Memphis Grizzlies. In the course of this effort, Coleman offered the following specific observation:
Let’s take a look at some stats. Player A averaged 7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg in 22.5 mpg over 180 games. Player B averaged 7.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg in 22.1 ppg over 181 games. Look strikingly similar? Player A is Darko Milicic since he got traded to Orlando and actually got playing time. Player B is Tyson Chandler’s first 3 years in the league — the 3rd year was shortened by injury. If Darko’s thumb injury that plagued him for most of last season makes him an injury-prone stiff, then I guess I’ll take that with a grain of salt.
After I read this paragraph I wondered if Darko Milicic would agree. In other words, would Darko compare himself to Tyson Chandler? Given that this is the political season, here is my response to this hypothetical thought from Mr. Milicic:
Darko, I have seen Chandler play. I have analyzed Chandler’s numbers. And Darko, you’re no Tyson Chandler.
Let’s look at the numbers. To begin, we need to make a small correction to Coleman’s figures. By my calculation, here are the per-game averages from Milicic (after Detroit) and Chandler’s first three years.
Milicic: 23.4 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Chandler: 22.1 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg
It appears Coleman’s numbers on Milicic’s minutes and rebounds per game were a bit off. But I think his argument remains the same. These per game numbers don’t look much different.
But as is often the case, a selection of per game numbers can be misleading. Let’s look at all of the box score statistics, per 48 minutes played.
When we look at performances per 48 minutes, it’s hard to see how Milicic – after he left Detroit – compares favorably to what we saw from Chandler in his first three seasons. Relative to an average center, Milicic has only demonstrated the ability to block shots, take field goal attempts, and avoid personal fouls. With respect to all other aspects of player performance, Milicic is below average (and this is not an immensely different story if we compare Milicic to an average power forward). This is highlighted by Milicic’s Win Score value, which again is below average.
In contrast, Chandler’s Win Score his first three seasons was above average. And this was because Chandler – in contrast to Milicic – was above average on the boards and in terms of shooting efficiency.
When we look at Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] we see the consequence of these differences. Across his first three years, Chandler – in 3,998 minutes – produced 12.2 wins with a 0.147 WP48 [average WP48 is 0.100]. So Chandler was above average. Milicic has played 4,204 minutes since leaving Detroit. And in these minutes he has produced 2.8 wins with a 0.032 WP8. Yes, those are below average marks.
If we put it all together, we see that Milicic is nowhere near what Chandler was at the end of the 2003-04 season. Chandler has been above average in every season after his rookie campaign. Milicic has never been as productive as an average player. In sum – as I said earlier – Milicic is no Chandler.
And You’re No Answer
Of course, Milicic is not the only player the Grizzlies are depending upon. Memphis also added O.J. Mayo on draft night. Unfortunately – as Ryan Schwan noted – Mayo really wasn’t that good in college (a point Erich Doerr has also made). This statement also led to a response from Coleman:
You know, I thought the same thing about O.J. Mayo prior to the draft. But then I did a little research and came up with these numbers: 20.7 ppg, 3.3 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, .442 FG%, .409 3PT%. For a comparison, here’s some stats: 20.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.5 apg, 3.0 spg, .390 FG%, 23.2 3PT%. Those are Allen Iverson’s after his freshman season at Georgetown. I think we can upgrade him from “simply not that good” to “much better than perceived”
Here are two responses to Coleman’s comparison:
1. Mayo posted a Win Score per 40 minutes of 5.82 at USC. Iverson’s Win Score per 40 minutes at Georgetown was 9.69. The key differences: Iverson had significantly more assists and steals. The Answer was also a more efficient scorer. All of this means that Mayo is not The Answer.
2. And as has been noted many times, Iverson is really not as productive in the NBA as many generally believe. So even if Mayo was as good as Iverson (and in college he wasn’t), that really wouldn’t be saying much.
Speaking as a Lions Fan
Let me close by noting that as a fan of the Detroit Lions, I can feel the pain of those devoted to the Memphis Grizzlies. Your team is simply not very good. No, they are probably not the worst team in NBA history. But they are not likely to contend for a playoff spot in 2009 (and I wouldn’t be too hopeful about 2010 either).
When faced with so little hope, you start grasping at anything. Lions fans used to think Jon Kitna could be a good quarterback. We used to think the defense was going to stop someone. And we used to think that Matt Millen – just due to the law of averages – would make a good decision. But let’s face it, being a fan of the Lions under Millen means you live for a high choice in the NFL draft.
The same is probably true of the Memphis Grizzlies right now. You may look at this collection of young players and convince yourself that if they only develop this team could be like the Hornets in two or three years. But that seems unlikely. The players who lead the Hornets in wins – Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler – have been good for almost their entire careers. There simply is no evidence that talent like this is currently employed in Memphis. Yes, the Grizzlies youth movement could eventually yield a gem or two. But right now, prospects look pretty bleak.
So Memphis fans, fight if you want. Look at any numbers you can find that give you hope. When next April rolls around, though, I think you will see some very bad numbers in the final standings.
When that happens, though, I urge you not to despair. Just repeat the question every fan of the Lions asks each year: “I wonder who we are going to take in the draft this year?”
The WoW Journal Comments Policy
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.