A few days ago I received an e-mail from Daniel Petersen (a Wages of Wins Journal reader) alerting me to a story about Rip Hamilton in the Detroit News.
The story (Pistons’ Hamilton glad to start anew) – by Chris McCosky – begins as follows:
Nobody wanted a fresh start more than Richard Hamilton.
By almost every measure, 2007-08 was a down season. His point production was down. Though his shooting percentage was up, his overall offensive efficiency was down.
The article goes on to add…
“I was disappointed at the way Flip (Saunders) did things, that was the frustrating thing about it,” he (Rip Hamilton) said.
Hamilton didn’t want to get into specifics, but his major point of contention with Saunders was that he didn’t hold all players accountable for their actions.
“Players like to be challenged, and they want discipline, even if they fight at times,” coach Michael Curry said.
“Rip was frustrated because he didn’t feel that everybody was being held accountable. Our goal as a coaching staff this year is to do a better job holding everybody accountable every day.”
To summarize, this article makes three arguments:
- Last season did not go so well for Rip.
- Rip’s failure was because of Flip Saunders.
- And Flip’s problem was that he didn’t challenge his players.
The Best of Rip
Let’s examine the first two contentions with some numbers (I will address the last issue at the end of the column).
Here is what Rip Hamilton has done in terms of Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] across his career:
2007-08: 6.6, 0.131 WP48
2006-07: 4.4, 0.076 WP48
2005-06: 3.6, 0.060 WP48
2004-05: 2.8, 0.046 WP48
2003-04: 4.8, 0.083 WP48
2002-03: 3.5, 0.063 WP48
2001-02: -0.8, -0.017 WP48
2000-01: -2.9, -0.055 WP48
1999-oo: -2.3, -0.082 WP48
Career: 19.6, 0.042
An average shooting guard (and an average player in general) posts a WP48 of 0.100. When we look at Hamilton’s career we see that he has only been above average once. And that one “good” season was last year.
What made last season “good”? To answer that question we need to turn to the individual stats.
Table One reports what Hamilton did last season relative to an average shooting guard. We see that relative to the average two-guard, Hamilton was an above average scorer last season (this is seen when we look at shooting efficiency and points scored). When we look at the other stats, we see that Hamilton was also able to avoid turnovers and personal fouls, while being above average with respect to assists.
Unfortunately he was not good at everything. Hamilton has generally been below average with respect to rebounds, steals, and blocked shots. It’s important to note that this is not a comparison of Hamilton to all other NBA players. This is only a comparison of Hamilton to the average shooting guard. And relative to other two-guards, Hamilton has never done very well with respect to many of the non-scoring factors.
The Saunders Impact, Hamilton’s Misperception, and the Scoring Decline
What’s interesting is that prior to Saunders coming to town, Hamilton was also a below average scorer. Hamilton did not post an above average adjusted field goal percentage until 2005-06 (Saunders first year in Detroit).
So when we look at the numbers, it seems that Rip Hamilton is very wrong. In terms of shooting efficiency, Hamilton’s best season was last year. And in his career, Hamilton played his best with Saunders as his coach.
How do we explain the difference between Hamilton’s perceptions and the numbers?
The answer, I think, lies in the focus on per game scoring. As noted in the past, salaries (and other evaluations made by decision-makers in the NBA) are primarily determined by how many points a player scores per game. And when we look at points per game – listed for Hamilton below — we see some justification for the Hamilton-McCosky viewpoint.
Career average: 17.9
In terms of per game scoring, last season’s average was Hamilton’s lowest since his rookie year. Again, scoring per game dominates player evaluation in the NBA. And Hamilton’s self-evaluation is consistent with that tendency.
Now what if you went to Hamilton and noted that although his scoring was down, his shooting efficiency and turnovers had shown improvement? It turns out that shooting efficiency and turnovers don’t seem to have much impact on player pay. Therefore I would expect you would find that Hamilton would discount improvement in these areas.
Although shooting efficiency might be overlooked, one still might wonder how Hamilton improved upon his adjusted field goal percentage and still saw his points per game decline. One factor that explains this inconsistency is how many minutes Hamilton played in 2007-08. Last year Hamilton only played 33.7 minutes per game, his lowest per game total since the 2002-03 season. Obviously when your minutes decline, your total scoring (and your other stats) will also decline (this is why stats people tend to focus on production per minute, or per 48 minutes).
Declining minutes, though, isn’t the whole story. Another issue is free throw attempts. Hamilton only went to the line 221 times last season, his lowest number of charity stripe attempts since his rookie year. Hamilton is an above average free throw shooter, so when his free throw attempts decline that hurts the team.
Now why did Hamilton shoot less at the line? For that question I am simply going to offer this possibility. I think it’s possible that the offense Saunders employed resulted in Hamilton getting more open looks. Certainly this could explain why Hamilton’s adjusted field goal percentage was so high. And with more open looks, the players guarding Hamilton might not have been close enough to him to foul. Hence we end up with fewer free throw attempts.
Regardless of how his free throw attempts declined, the drop-off in this area of his game did impose a cost on the Pistons. But this cost is more than offset by other improvements in Hamilton’s game. Relative to his career averages, Hamilton was better in 2007-08 with respect to adjusted field goal percentage, steals, turnovers, assists, and personal fouls. Consequently, his Wins Produced and Win Score – two measures that consider all the box score statistics – tell us that Hamilton had his best season last year.
So we see that McCosky’s statement that “By almost every measure, 2007-08 was a down season” is not supported by The Wages of Wins metrics. And his statement… “though his shooting percentage was up, his overall offensive efficiency was down” is also inconsistent with the numbers (and I would add, this statement didn’t entirely make sense even without the numbers).
A Lack of Discipline?
What about the discipline issue? A few days ago I thought I heard Rasheed Wallace in an interview make the same argument. Apparently Saunders is not enough of a disciplinarian.
This whole argument is not a new to sports, but still strikes me as odd. And it’s not something that just players argue. Professional athletes are well paid and it’s the owners who agree to these contracts. These very owners – who freely pay the salaries of professional athletes – often argue that a salary cap is necessary because owners cannot control themselves. In other words – like players – owners need external discipline.
Again, this strikes me as odd. You often hear people want to find ways to get other people to behave better. But I just don’t hear many people outside of sports argue that they personally would behave better if someone simply made them behave better. At least, I can’t imagine a person accused of a crime getting very far with the argument that the crime wouldn’t have been committed if someone just stopped them from committing the crime.
Yet in sports, this kind of argument about discipline is offered frequently. Aren’t owners and players generally adults? Given the money being paid, shouldn’t these adults simply discipline themselves? My sense is that Flip Saunders would argue that players are indeed adults. And as adults, they have to do more than blame their own perceived failings — and remember, in the case of Hamilton this was just a perception — on the coach.
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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.