There are 29 cities who currently host at least one NBA team. Of these, only 15 have ever witnessed an NBA title. And if we focus on life in the NBA since 1980, we see only eight teams winning an NBA title (Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, and Heat). Such a record suggests that the NBA is not competitively balanced (which is true). It also suggests that fans of most NBA teams don’t have much hope of seeing playoff glory in the near future.
Despite this record, though, hope does spring eternal in July. Fans look at the players their favorite team has drafted, and the veteran “stars” the team has acquired, and suddenly dreams of playoff glory spring to life.
And then some cynical economist has to come along and dash the whole dream to hell. Well, at least that’s going to be true today for fans of the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors Set a Record
In terms of efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency), the 2007-08 edition of the Toronto Raptors was the best in franchise history (really). The team’s differential of 3.1 translated into a 48.9 Wins Produced. The team, though, only won 41 games. Consequently the Raptors didn’t appear to be as good as their differential suggested.
As a result, changes to the roster were made. The primary departures included Carlos Delfino [6.6 Wins Produced, 0.165 Wins Produced per 48 minutes or WP48], T.J. Ford [4.0 Wins Produced, 0.160 WP48], and Rasho Nesterovic [3.2 Wins Produced, 0.104 WP48]. These players combined to produce 13.8 wins in 2007-08. So if the team just wanted to maintain what we saw two years ago – assuming the returning players maintained their production (and overall they came close) — it needed to find players who could produce nearly 14 wins.
Unfortunately when we look at the eleven players added to the Raptors for the 2008-09 season, all we see are 1.5 wins. Of these eleven, only five – Shawn Marion [3.3 Wins Produced, 0.168 WP48], Jermaine O’Neal [0.6 Wins Produced, 0.023 WP48], Pops Mensah-Bonsu [0.4 Wins Produced, 0.071 WP48], Will Solomon [0.3 Wins Produced, 0.028 WP48], and Quincy Douby [0.3 Wins Produced, 0.172 WP48] – managed to finish with a Wins Produced mark in the positive range. And yes, that means six new players were in the negative range.
Because the Raptors failed to replace the productivity of their departing talent, the team’s fortunes fell. When the 2008-09 season ended, the Raptors had only won 33 games and their team’s efficiency differential was a -3.0. When we turn to Wins Produced, we see a team mark of 33.5. Most of these, though, could be linked to the play of the following four individuals: Jose Calderon [12.4 Wins Produced, 0.255 WP48], Chris Bosh (10.9 Wins Produced, 0.179 WP48], Jamario Moon [6.0 Wins Produced, 0.210 WP48], and Anthony Parker [5.4 Wins Produced, 0.097 WP48].
Moon departed in the trade that brought the team Shawn Marion. And Parker has now departed in the trade that cost the team Shawn Marion. This means that the only significant producers of wins the Raptors are retaining from the 2007-08 and 2008-09 teams are Calderon and Bosh. And these players only produced 23.3 wins last season.
Obviously to be a playoff contender you need more than 23.3 wins. But who else is going to produce wins?
Rebuilding the Raptors?
Here are the primary players the team has added so far (with what the player did last year reported):
Hedo Turkoglu [6.7 Wins Produced, 0.115 WP48]
Antoine Wright [-2.7 Wins Produced, -0.083 WP48]
Reggie Evans [2.6 Wins Produced, 0.108 WP48]
Of these, Wright is the least helpful and Turkoglu the most famous. In a move that dashed some hope in Portland, Toronto “stole” Turkoglu with a contract that will pay the former Magic player more than $10 million per season (and one wonders if the NBA Finals impacted that contract). For his career, Turkoglu has produced 41.4 wins with a 0.105 WP48. Average WP48 is 0.100. So Turkoglu has been essentially average across his career. And now he is 30 years of age (not a good age for an NBA player) and will turn 31 before the next season ends (an even worse age for an NBA player). The career production of Evans is similar (41.9 Wins Produced) to Turkoglu, but because he has played fewer minutes his career WP48 is 0.200. But Evans was not nearly that good last year, and he is still just a reserve in the frontcourt (so his minutes will be limited).
The starters in the frontcourt will be Bosh and Bargnani. The latter just signed a lucrative extension, despite the fact he is the least productive number one pick in the lottery era. Bargnani did improve last season, but he still hasn’t had a season with a Win Produced mark in the positive range. The odd incentives of the NBA, though, mean that Bargnani’s inability to produce did help the Raptors land another lottery pick in 2009 draft. DeMar DeRozan, though, was not very productive in college last season. So it’s not likely (although certainly possible) he will help much in 2009-10.
Not a Pretty Picture in Toronto
When we put the whole picture together, it appears the Raptors will employ the following starting line-up in 2009-10: Calderon (PG), Wright and/or DeRozan (SG), Turkoglu (SF), Bosh (PF), Bargnani [C]. Last season the NBA veterans in this line-up combined to produce fewer than 30 wins. So unless these players improve dramatically, or the team finds very productive players off the bench, it’s hard to see how this team improves dramatically. And that’s true even if Delfino returns to Toronto (although if Evans returns to what we saw in the past there might be some hope this team can get past 40 wins).
All of this means that
- Turkoglu will be seeing much more money in 2009-10, but probably far fewer wins.
- Bargnani will also see much more money, but it seems unlikely he is ever going to produce many wins.
- Bosh will see even more money after this next season, but if the Raptors don’t approach 45 or 50 wins (which seems likely) then it seems unlikely that the money Bosh is paid in the future is going to be paid by the Raptors.
- So it looks likely the Raptors record performance in 2007-08 will stand for awhile. In other words, if Bosh departs this team in 2010, then rebuilding will probably continue beyond 2009-10.
- And this means — assuming the Raptors don’t make any major change to this team — the fans of the Raptors will keep paying money to see a team that’s not contending for a title.
Of course, a similar story can be told for many of the teams and cities that have yet to win an NBA title. And I suspect – given my cynical nature – similar posts will be written about a few of these teams in the coming weeks and months.
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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.