Traditionally sports teams visit the White House after winning a championship. This past week, though, we were able to witness a change that Chicago Bulls fans can believe in. The Bulls were invited to the White House by Barack Obama, the team’s most powerful fan.
Clearly such an invite trampled on historical precedence. And in general, historical precedence is not easily ignored (see baseball’s anti-trust exemption). So let’s imaging Congress passes a law restricting the power of President Obama to visit with his favorite team in the White House. If the Bulls can only visit when they win another title, how soon can the Bulls expect another visit?
The Bulls Today
For an answer, let’s look at the Bulls today. The Bulls have won 27 of their first 60 contests in 2008-09; with an efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) of -1.5. This differential mark is an improvement over last year (-3.2) but is still below average. When we look at the individual players, reported in Table One, we can see why this team is below par.
So far eleven players have logged at least 500 minutes with Chicago in 2008-09. Of these, only three – Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Thabo Sefolosha — have posted WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] marks that are above average. And of these three, Sefolosha has left the team and Deng may have suffered a season ending injury. So the Bulls have problems in 2008-09. It’s still possible Chicago will make the playoffs in 2009, but a return trip to the White House as NBA champions is going to have to wait.
The Very Good
So let’s look at next season. Here are the players under contract for next season: Noah, Deng, Brad Miller, Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas, John Salmons, Tim Thomas, and Jerome James.
Based on past performance, three players are likely to be productive in 2009-10. But Brad Miller – with a career WP48 entering this season of 0.197 – plays the same position as Joakim Noah. If the Bulls can move one of these very good players to power forward, then their starting frontcourt looks solid. If not, substantial production is going to be stuck on the bench next season.
After these two big men, the next most productive player is Deng. As noted, Deng is hurt. And although his production is still above average, he’s not what he once was. Two years ago Deng posted a 0.234 WP48. This season his mark is only 0.116.
When we look at the individual numbers – listed in Table Two – we can see where Deng has slipped.
From Table Two we see that Deng’s Net Possession (Rebounds + Steals – Turnovers) are unchanged from 2006-07. His shooting efficiency, though, has fallen quite a bit. And this decline is part of a trend. Last year Deng increased his shot attempts from 2006-07 and his efficiency dropped. This year his shot attempts were reduced and his efficiency fell even further. If Deng is going to return to what he was two years ago, someone is going to need to figure out why his shots are not dropping. If that problem can be solved, the Bulls have a small forward that can produce for years to come. If not, the Bulls can turn to….
Well, the Bulls did just trade for John Salmons. Although Salmons has been above average the first five games he played in Chicago, his career WP48 entering this season was 0.064. And in Sacramento this season he was also below average. So it seems likely that Salmons is not the answer.
Fans of the Bulls probably don’t think Salmons is the answer. For fans of this team, the future is Derrick Rose. Rose was the number one pick in 2008 NBA draft and it’s expected that he will be a star. After 60 games, though, his numbers are a bit disappointing. Yes he is averaging 16.6 points and 6.3 assists per game. But when we look at the per-48 minute numbers – and compare Rose to an average point guard and t0 what other “star point guards” did their rookie season – Rose often comes up short.
Just looking at Rose and the average point guard, we see a player that’s about average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, turnovers, blocked shots, and free throw shooting. And he’s below average with respect to steals and assists. In sum, at this point Rose does nothing particularly well.
Table Two also notes the rookie numbers of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, and Jason Kidd. All four are above average point guards this season. And three of these players were above average their first season in the league.
So at this point, Rose is not a top point guard. He’s not even playing like a top rookie point guard. But just as we saw with Deron Williams, it’s certainly possible that Rose can get much better. And if Chicago hopes to pay a legitimate visit to the White House it seems likely that they need Rose to do more.
But this team needs more than a productive Rose. Currently Noah is the team’s most productive player. After Noah, there’s quite a drop-off to what Deng is currently offering. And after Deng there’s not much else.
If the Bulls do miss the playoffs in 2009, another lottery pick can be added. But the roster for next season – barring a trade – looks pretty set. Unfortunately, this is not a great collection of talent.
So at this point it looks like the Bulls – like a number of teams – are looking at the 2010 free agent market. Certainly the abundance of talent in that market gives the Bulls some hope. But the abundance of teams in the market tells us that planning on something wonderful happening in 2010 is more about hope than a plan.
Fortunately for Chicago, if the plan is to visit the White House the Bulls don’t need more than hope. Barack Obama appears to be a devoted fan of this team. And since no one is going to tell the First Fan who he gets to invite to the White House, future invites are probably going to happen regardless of what this team does.
For the Bulls, this is good. Because one would need to be quite audacious in their hope to think Chicago is going to secure a legitimate invite to the White House any time in the near future with their current collection of talent.
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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.