Adrian Wojnarowski — of Yahoo! Sports – is reporting that the LA Clippers are interested in signing Allen Iverson. Why would The Answer be the answer for the Clippers? Here is what Wojnarowski said:
The answer is as simple as it’s flawed: box office over basketball. The worst owner in sports, Donald T. Sterling, believes A.I. can do what No. 1 pick Blake Griffin has been thus far unable – sell tickets.
It has been well-documented in this forum that Iverson doesn’t produce as many wins as is generally believed. For his career Iverson has produced 61.3 wins with a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.080. Average is 0.100, so Iverson has been generally a bit below average. That being said, he did post marks above the 0.100 mark in 2007-08 [0.130 WP48], 2005-06 [0.121 WP48], 2004-05 [0.124 WP48], 1998-99 [0.128 WP48], and 1997-98 [0.135 WP48]. But he has never been able to go very far beyond average, which suggests either
a. Wins Produced is wrong about Iverson.
b. What people think about Iverson is wrong.
Given what happened to the Sixers after he left (they got better), or to the Nuggets after he left (they got better if you consider the loss of Marcus Camby), or to the Pistons when he arrived (they clearly got worse); it seems like (b) is the right answer. But Iverson fans might think otherwise.
All that being said, at this point in time Iverson is 34 years old. So even if you thought he was great once upon a time, you probably can’t think that anymore. And that means the key reason to sign Iverson is that he might sell tickets. But is that true?
Selling Tickets in the NBA
Both Denver and Detroit have recently added Iverson to their respective teams. Here is what happened to home attendance before and after Iverson arrived (data taken from ESPN.com):
First, here is season home attendence for Denver:
2006-07: 706,437 (year Iverson arrived)
2007-08: 711, 962
2008-09: 706,165 (year Iverson departed)
And here is Detroit:
2007-08: 905, 116 (team is at capacity)
2008-09: 896, 971 (with Iverson team is not at capacity)
When we look at the attendance data we see a small increase when Iverson comes to Denver and a small decline when Iverson departs. But the changes are quite small.
For Detroit, the change is not very large either, although when a team stops selling out every game it’s hard to conclude Iverson helped. In other words, the Detroit experience suggests Iverson does not sell tickets (and it is hard to conclude he helped much in Denver).
Of course if you were to really look at the impact of a star player on a team’s performance at the gate you would have to do more than just stare at some numbers. When one actually looks at what determines a team’s gate revenue (via regression analysis), one can see that the home gate is driven by wins, not star power (as detailed in The Wages of Wins). Consequently, it seems likely that the reason given to sign Iverson (and this reason was given by both observers of the Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies) is probably not very good.
By the way, Iverson probably does enhance a team’s road attendance. Both Denver and Detroit saw their road attendance go up with Iverson. And regression analysis does indicate that star power really matters on the road (as detailed in The Wages of Wins). Unfortunately, gate revenue goes entirely to the home team. So turning your team into a better attraction on the road is not a good financial decision either.
So Iverson is not that productive and he doesn’t really enhance a team’s gate revenue. So should the Clippers (or Grizzlies) look elsewhere?
A Reason to Sign Iverson
If we look at these two specific teams the answer is….. “maybe not.”
Here is what the guards the Clippers and Grizzlies have on their roster (this is the roster today) did last year [in terms of WP48].
The Clippers Guards
Mardy Collins: 0.027
Baron Davis: 0.051
Ricky Davis: -0.093
Eric Gordon: 0.048
Mike Taylor: -0.044
The Grizzlies Guards
Mike Conley: 0.154
Marko Jaric: -0.024
O.J. Mayo: 0.035
Quentin Richardson: 0.084
Of all these players, only Conley was above average last season. So maybe an aging Iverson can help somewhat. Of course he’s still old. And probably too expensive. But these teams don’t really have an abundance of more productive choices currently on the roster.
So it looks like I am saying…
1. Iverson is not as productive as most people think.
2. He really doesn’t enhance a team’s home gate revenue.
3. But if you don’t have many other options he might help some.
Of course I am avoiding the whole chemistry issue. In general I think “chemistry” is an over-used term in sports. Furthermore, does anyone really think the Clippers and Grizzlies would have great “chemistry” if Iverson wasn’t there? Let’s face it. These are both bad teams. Such teams tend to have bad “chemistry”. And that’s because “bad chemistry” is really just another way of saying “bad team.”
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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.