Bob Newhart, Danny Granger, and Group Therapy in Indiana

One of my favorite sit-coms from the 1970s is the Bob Newhart show.  Last night my wife and I put in the DVD from the fourth season of this show and watched an episode titled: The Duke of Dunk.

Here is how this episode was described at allmovie.com: It seems that even before Dennis Rodman, the Chicago basketball world was plagued with showboaters who thought that they were the center of the universe. In this episode of The Bob Newhart Show, Anthony Costello is cast as Dwayne Granger, aka “The Duke of Dunk,” a star basketball player. Upset that Dwayne’s monumental ego has resulted in a drop in morale and a long losing streak, the team’s coach goes to Bob for help. Written by Douglas Arango and Phil Doran, “Duke of Dunk” originally aired on January 31, 1976.

The synopsis at allmovie.com chose to compare the character of Dwayne Granger to Dennis Rodman.  A more apt comparison, though, is any scorer who dominates the ball.  To this point, let me offer a bit more information on this episode.

The Duke of Dunk in Therapy

The story begins with Bob and his friend Jerry going to a basketball game and walking away amazed by the exploits of the “Duke of Dunk”.  In discussing Granger’s exploits the next day at the office, Carol – Bob and Jerry’s receptionist – observes that despite Granger’s scoring the team still lost.  Bob and Jerry insist Carol doesn’t know basketball.  But Carol argues Granger is nothing more than a “hot dog”.  Furthermore, the great Celtic teams of the 1950s and 1960s were not about just one player.  Carol then proceeded to name all the players who helped Bill Russell win all those championships (yes, Carol understood the Wisdom of Red Auerbach).

Although Bob and Jerry scoff at Carol, we later learn that Granger’s coach essentially reaches the same conclusion.  Soon Granger is lying down on Bob’s couch, as Bob tries and figures out why Granger isn’t much of a team player.  In the course of their conversations we learn that Granger is clearly motivated by his own scoring totals.  He is also so focused on himself and his stats (i.e. scoring) that he doesn’t know the names of his teammates.  

Obviously this story – told more than 30 years ago – has a Wages of Wins theme.  The Duke of Dunk is obsessed with his own scoring numbers.  It’s these numbers that have made him into a “millionaire athlete” and he sees no reason why he should change his ways.  After all, scoring got him fame, attention, and money.  So why should he care about wins and his teammates?

Granger Today

As I watched this episode – which I obviously enjoyed (although my wife – who is not a big basketball fan –did not) – I thought about linking this to players today.  Although there are some players who come closer to the character played by the late Anthony Costello, I decided to just go with today’s Granger.  No, I don’t think Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers is quite the “hot dog” we see in the Duke of Dunk.  But he does share the same last name as this character. And Danny Granger has also earned many of the benefits of being a scorer without making a comparable impact on his team’s ability to win.

Granger is averaging 25.0 points per game this season, a mark that leads the Pacers and ranks 6th in the NBA.  Not only does Granger lead the Pacers in scoring, he was the lone representative of Indiana at the mid-season all-star game.  In addition, he just signed a contract extension last November that will pay him $60 million over the next five seasons.  This will make him one of the highest paid players on the Pacers.

So Granger is clearly Indiana’s star.  But he’s not the primary producer of wins on this team.  This season Granger has missed 14 games.  In those games the Pacers have posted a 9-5 record.  With him the team is 19-33.  Although there are problems with looking a team’s performance with and without a player (we are not holding things constant so we are not sure what we are seeing is truly due to the player), in this case the Pacers’ performance without Granger is consistent with the story told by Wins Produced.

Table One: The Indiana Pacers after 66 Games in 2008-09

The Pacers have won 28 games this season — and as Table One indicates — the team’s Wins Produced sums to 29.4.  Looking at Table One we can see that the play of Troy Murphy is a big part of this team’s success.  After Murphy the team’s roster of above average players – WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] above 0.100 – consists of Jeff Foster and Travis Diener.  T.J. Ford and Danny Granger – the two leading scorers — are close to average, so each helps.  But most of the teams wins do not come from their top scorers.

Granger is primarily a small forward, and at this position – despite being a below average rebounder – his overall production is above average.  But Granger also plays power forward, where his inability to rebound hurts his team.  And when we put the whole picture together his overall production is below par.

King and Granger

Yesterday Daniel Fitzpatrick – a WoW Journal reader and fan of the Knicks – asked if I could look at Bernard King.  Although I had forgotten this when I read Fitzpatrick’s comment, it turns out I had looked at Bernard King last fall in a post on the very much underrated Clark Kellogg.  That post revealed that Kellogg, a small forward for the Indiana Pacers in the early 1980s, was a far more productive player than King.  King, though, was a much bigger scorer playing in a much bigger market.  Consequently, King is still remembered as an All-Star while Kellogg is known as a commentator on college basketball.

Like Kellogg, Granger is also a small forward with the Indiana Pacers.  But unlike Kellogg, Granger’s level of productivity is quite comparable to King.

Table Two: Comparing Bernard King and Danny Granger

Table Two reports what the average small forward did from 1977-78 to 1990-91, as well as the small forward averages from 1991-92 to 2007-08.  As one can see, small forwards from the earlier time period posted somewhat bigger numbers.  But the stories with respect to King and Granger are quite similar. 

Both players are (or were) above average scorers, in terms of efficiency, shot attempts, and scoring totals.  Once you move past scoring, though, both players come (or came) up short.  Granger and King are (or were) below average with respect to rebounds, steals, turnovers, and personal fouls.  Consequently, Granger and King – despite their ability to score – don’t (or didn’t) contribute as much to wins as their fame and relative salaries suggest.  As noted, Granger is about average.  When we look at King we see a player who produced 68.4 wins and posted a 0.112 WP48 across his entire career.  In sum, just like we see with Granger this year, King wasn’t – if we look at his entire career — much different from an average NBA player.

Group Therapy and the Demise of the Pacers

At the end of the Bob Newhart episode the Duke of Dunk brings his entire team in for group therapy.   The implication was that if the team simply “came together” the wins would soon follow.

Although such an approach might work, it seems far easier to just find more productive players.  Turning back to the Pacers we see that the quest to find more productive players is hampered when you invest $60 million of your team’s limited funds in a player who is only about average.   When this happens, I am not sure group therapy is going to help.

Even with the Granger deal, though, I don’t think the Pacers are a terrible team. At the start of this season I agreed with John Hollinger.  The Pacers in November looked like a potential playoff team.  However, the injury to Mike Dunleavy – the team’s most productive player last year – has probably derailed that prediction.   If Dunleavy comes back next season, though, the Pacers should be able to eclipse the 40 win mark.

Unfortunately, it might be the case of too little too late.  Right now the Pacers are hampered by low attendance, which is primarily due to the team’s below average record.  Indiana’s failure to draw is impacting the team’s bottom line – and as Cliff Brunt of the AP noted – might cause the Pacers to move out of Indiana. 

Brunt’s article indicates that if attendance improved, the Pacers “need” to exit would be reduced.  But for attendance to improve, Indiana needs a better product on the floor.  In fact, I imagine they need a much better product on the floor.

Dunleavy recovering, though, is not going to transform this team into a title contender.  So this means the team is going to have to find something else.  Given the financial constraints of the team, the free agent market is not a real possibility. Consequently this team is going to have get lucky in the 2009 draft.  And if that doesn’t happen, there is a real possibility that all fans of the Pacers are soon going to need a great deal of group therapy.

- 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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