Playoff Basketball in Charlotte?

The last time playoff basketball was seen in Charlotte, the following five players led Charlotte in Wins Produced: P.J. Brown (13.6 Wins Produced), Baron Davis (9.6 Wins Produced), Jamaal Magloire (6.8 Wins Produced), Elden Campbell (6.1 Wins Produced), and Stacey Augmon (3.2 Wins Produced).  And the team was called the Hornets.

After that team was eliminated by the New Jersey Nets in the second round of the 2001 playoffs, the franchise moved to New Orleans.  Two years later, the Bobcats began losing in Charlotte.  Four seasons of Bobcat basketball have now been played and the team has yet to win more than 33 games in a season.  This year – after 61 games – the Bobcats have only won 26 games.  Despite this record, John Hollinger thinks Charlotte has a chance to see playoff basketball. And Hollinger just might be right.

Charlotte’s New Rotation

If you look at what Charlotte’s players have done after 61 games, though, it might be difficult to see Hollinger’s point.

Table One: The Charlotte Bobcats after 61 games in 2008-09

So far the Bobcats have employed 23 players in 2008-09.  If you look at the productivity of all these players – as reported in Table One – it’s clear that most of these players have not very helpful.  Only four players – Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, and Raja Bell – have posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] that’s above average.  For fourteen Bobcats, WP48 is in the negative range.  With such a collection of talent, we are not surprised to see a team with a winning percentage below the 0.500 mark.

Looking at all the players Charlotte has employed this season, though, is misleading.  Many of these players (like Adam Morrison, Jared Dudley, Matt Carroll, etc…) are no longer on the roster. 

And many of those that are on the current roster are not playing much.  As Hollinger notes, Larry Brown – the much traveled coach of the Bobcats – has settled on the following eight man rotation:

Starters: Raymond Felton, Raja Bell, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Emeka Okafor

Reserves: D.J. Augustin (backing up the guards), Vladimir Radmanovic (backing up the forwards), DeSagana Diop (backing up Okafor)

If we focus just on these eight players, this is actually a very good team.  Given these player’s WP48 marks thus far – and guessing at how many minutes each will play the remainder of the season – here is a crude projection for each player in Charlotte’s rotation across the last 21 games:

Emeka Okafor: 714 minutes, 3.9 Wins Produced

Boris Diaw: 756 minutes, 0.9 Wins Produced

Gerald Wallace: 714 minutes, 3.6 Wins Produced

Raja Bell: 714 minutes, 1.6 Wins Produced

Raymond Felton: 714 minutes, 1.7 Wins Produced

DeSagana Diop: 294 minutes, 0.3 Wins Produced

Vladimir Radmanovic: 504 minutes, 0.0 Wins Produced

D.J. Augustin: 588 minutes, 1.0 Wins Produced

Adding all this together we see that given what these players have done in the past, and how many minutes I am guessing they will play across the last 21 games, the Bobcats can expect to win 12.9 more games.  A bit of rounding gives this team a 13-8 record to close the season, and a 39-43 final mark. This forecast does not consider the schedule played, but as Hollinger notes, that’s in Charlotte’s favor as well. 

Given the other teams in the Eastern Conference, it seems possible that Charlotte can make the post-season in 2009. It’s important to note, a 13-8 mark across 21 games is consistent with a 50 win team.  In the Eastern Conference, this is a better winning percentage than everyone outside of Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando.

Unfortunately, unless Charlotte can rise to the fifth seed, the Bobcats will have to play one of these teams in the first round.  So playoff success seems unlikely. But for the Bobcats, just making the playoffs makes the 2008-09 season a success.

Assigning Responsibility

The progress this team is expected to make naturally leads us to wonder who is responsible.  When we look at Wins Produced, we see the same two names leading the team.  As I noted last December — for the entire history of this team Okafor and Wallace have been the primary producers of wins.  And for the entire history of this team, the remainder of the roster hasn’t been much help.

What we see now is that Okafor and Wallace are getting some help from Raja Bell and Raymond Felton.  Consequently, this team has improved.

What about coaching?  Hollinger notes that Larry Brown has a reputation of turning teams around.  When we look at the players in his current rotation, we do see evidence that players have gotten better.  Okafor, Wallace, Bell, Felton, and Diaw are all doing more this year than they did last season.  When we look at Brown’s entire coaching career (and I have), though, we don’t see evidence that what we see this season is the typical Larry Brown story [I would say more, but this is in the next book (sorry)]

Although it’s not clear that Brown is responsible for Charlotte’s improvement, it’s clear the team has improved.  So despite the team’s current record, Charlotte fans should start thinking about the playoffs.  And one of the top teams in the East might be facing a more difficult first round match-up then they are anticipating.

- DJ 

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com 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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