In the last week of the preseason we learn the answer to the following question:
Who are the best 450 basketball players in the world?
Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. There are players in Europe and college (and perhaps high school) who would rank among the top 450. Still, most of the best players will be in the NBA. And if you were invited to camp and didn’t make it, then you are probably not among the game’s elite. At least, that’s what we think is true when we see the list of players who don’t make it.
And then we have the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets announced the following cuts this week: Nick Fazekas, Ruben Patterson, Smush Parker, Mateen Cleaves, and James Mays.
Four of these cuts are not surprising. Mays was an undrafted free agent who has yet to play in an NBA game. Parker and Cleaves have played, but neither has ever played particularly well. And although Patterson has been an above average NBA player, he plays the same position as Carmelo Anthony and Renaldo Balkman.
But Fazekas is a different story. Fazekas – as noted last summer – was the most productive college player drafted in 2007. He played at Nevada, though, so it was not entirely clear that his college productivity really indicated that Fazekas would be an above average NBA player.
We did, though, have an additional clue during his rookie season. Last year he played only 269 minutes, which is a pretty small sample. Nevertheless, he posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.289 (average is 0.100). So he was well above average. As I stated last April, ….Fazekas is above average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, and blocked shots. He has also avoided turnovers and personal fouls. And when we look at Win Score, not surprisingly we see a mark that’s well above average. In sum, Fazekas has been fabulous.
In the preseason this trend continued. Fazekas only played 25 minutes in the preseason, so again we have a small sample. But once again, he was well above average. His preseason Win Score per 48 minutes [WS48] was 16.3. An average power forward offers a WS48 of 10.3, so Fazekas was pretty good in very limited minutes.
In sum, we have three samples for Fazekas. All have issues, but all point in the same direction. And that direction suggests that Fazekas should be one of the players the NBA employs in 2008-09.
Keeping the Anti-Fazekas
But that’s not going to happen in Denver. The Nuggets have decided to cut Fazekas and keep… Juwan Howard? According to the Rocky Mountain News (HT Henry Abbott), Denver is choosing to keep Howard, and it sounds like – at least from this article – that Howard is being kept at the expense of Fazekas.
Is this a good decision?
As the following posts indicate, Howard has been a topic of conversation previously in this forum:
And the conclusion reached in these posts is that although Howard has been a prolific scorer in his career, he has not been a prodigious producer of wins. In 1,001 regular season games, Howard has only produced 18.7 wins. His career WP48 stands at 0.027.
When we look at the individual career stats we see a player that is above average with respect to free throw percentage, points scored, assists, and personal fouls. But Howard is below average with respect to shooting efficiency, free throw attempts, rebounds, steals, turnovers, and blocked shots.
In essence, Howard is the anti-Fazekas. Remember, Fazekas is above average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, turnovers, blocked shots, and personal fouls. He is below average with respect to free throw percentage, scoring, and assists.
In sum, with respect to virtually very stat (except personal fouls), where Fazekas is above average, Howard is below. And where Howard is above, Fazekas falls below.
When we look at the entire picture – via Win Score or Wins Produced – we can see that Fazekas is well above average while Howard is not. But Howard will be collecting money from the Denver Nuggets in 2008-09. So in the one stat that really matters – money – Howard is the winner.
It’s important to emphasize that although all the small samples tell us Fazekas will be good, the samples are still quite small. So we don’t really know that Fazekas is going to be a “good” NBA player. We do know – after 14 seasons and 1,001 regular season games – that Howard is not going to be a “good” NBA player.
So why is Howard staying? First and foremost, scoring dominates player evaluation in the NBA. So that’s a point in Howard’s favor. The other issue, though, is George Karl’s position with the Denver Nuggets. Denver has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in each of the past five seasons. The past three have been under the direction of Karl. Once senses that another first round exit – or the team missing the playoffs entirely – means Karl is exiting Denver. Given this situation, Karl is probably not interested in developing a player who might generate wins sometime in the future. Karl needs to win now.
Of course, Howard — as noted – doesn’t help a team win. But he can score, and as noted, people often confuse scoring and winning. In other words, the 15,347 points Howard has scored in his career leads people to conclude that he has helped his various teams succeed.
Although Howard is probably not going to help much, it’s not like Fazekas was going to play enough to make a difference either. No, for Denver to win games this year it’s going to have to rely on other players. And who are those players?
Here is a list of players – on Denver’s roster – who were above average last year: Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Anthony Carter, and Renaldo Balkman
And here is a list of players who have been above average in the past (just not last year): Nene Hilario, Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen (see The Return of the Birdman), and Chucky Atkins.
In sum, there’s some player capable of being “good” in Denver. But the loss of Marcus Camby definitely hurts. Consequently, it’s hard to believe that this is going to be one of the top four teams in the West. And that suggests that even if this team makes the post-season, getting to the second round seems unlikely.
Of course, all of that means in a few months Fazekas, Howard, and Karl will have something in common. All three will be past residents of Denver, Colorado.
Let me close this post with a link to an article – by Eric Neel — in the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine. The article — This Game Isn’t Rocket Science – profiles Darryl Morey (GM of the Houston Rockets). The story Neel tells -which includes some quote from an economist at Southern Utah University – details the increasing role numbers are playing in basketball analysis. As I have noted – whether we use the Wages of Wins measures, the work of Dean Oliver, of the adjusted plus-minus approach of Wayne Winston – we see that wins in the NBA are about more than points scored. As these various measures become more commonplace, I think we can expect players like Juwan Howard to collect less money. And just maybe, Fazekas can start seeing a few more NBA dollars.
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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.