Andre Miller came to the Philadelphia 76ers –via the Allen Iverson trade — in December of 2006. At the time of the trade, the Sixers were 5-19. With “the Answer” departing Philadelphia, the future looked bleak in Philadelphia. Across the remainder of the season, though, the Sixers were 30-28 (a mark predicted in this forum).
The next season – as E. James Beale noted in the Philadelphia City Paper – the media expected the Sixers to be very bad. After all, Iverson had left. Sure the team managed to play 0.500 ball without Iverson. But such evidence, prior to the 2007-08 season, was ignored.
When the 2007-08 season ended, though, the Sixers were once again average (40-42 final record). Yes, that isn’t good. But it isn’t “historically bad” (as Beale quoted people saying) either.
During the summer of 2008 the Sixers added Elton Brand. In the past, Brand has been very good. But he only played 29 games last year and consequently didn’t make much of a contribution. Despite Brand’s inability to contribute, though, the Sixers were once again average (record of 41-41).
The Impact of Miller
When we look back at the last three editions of the Sixers, we see the same three names leading the team in Wins Produced. In 2006-07, 27.9 of the team’s 35 wins could be traced to Andre Iguodola, Samuel Dalembert, and Andre Miller. In 2007-08, 30.4 of the team’s 40 win were linked to these players. And last year – as Table One indicates – 31.1 of the team’s 41 wins were linked to Iguodala, Dalembert, and Miller.
The rest of the roster, though, only produced 10 wins last season. And a similar story is told for 2006-07 and 2007-08. Across the past three seasons, players not named Iguodala, Dalembert, and Miller have only produced 26.6 wins for the Sixers (or about nine wins per season).
Miller will be 33 years old before the next season ends. So he is rapidly approaching “ancient” for an NBA guard. Given his age, the Sixers decided to allow him to depart for Portland. Assuming Miller’s production doesn’t decline dramatically, this move really helps Portland. But Philadelphia has a problem. Eleven wins have left the team, and if this team is going to maintain its “average” status someone is going to have step-up and produce.
The experts at ESPN apparently believe the Sixers can easily replace Miller. This week the consensus forecasted 39 wins for Philadelphia. In other words, losing Miller only costs this team about two wins. Oddly enough, these same experts think adding Miller will cost Portland two victories. Obviously, just as we saw when he joined the Sixers, Andre Miller is under-valued by the experts (a perspective that is probably due to the fact Miller has only averaged 14.0 points per game in his career). Nevertheless, past history suggests Miller does help quite a bit and the Sixers will need to replace his contribution if Philadelphia is going to return to the playoffs.
To see how they can do this, let’s consider the current depth chart in Philadelphia (stats from 2008-09; WP48 = Wins Produced per 48 minutes):
PG: Jrue Holiday (rookie)
SG: Willie Green [-0.3 Wins Produced, -0.008 WP48]
SF: Andre Iguodala [13.1 Wins Produced, 0.193 WP48]
PF: Elton Brand [1.5 Wins Produced, 0.081 WP48]
C: Samuel Dalembert [6.9 Wins Produced, 0.162 WP48]
PG: Royal Ivey [-0.7 Wins Produced, -0.037 WP48]
SG: Louis Williams [1.8 Wins Produced, 0.046 WP48]
SF: Jason Kapono [-1.7 Wins Produced, -0.045 WP48]
PF: Thaddeus Young [2.2 Wins Produced, 0.040 WP48]
C: Marreese Speights [0.6 Wins Produced, 0.023 WP48]
The Sixers also have Jason Smith [-1.5 Wins Produced, -0.067 WP48 as a rookie in 2007-08] and Primoz Brezec [career -0.002 WP48, but who posted a 0.088 WP48 in 2004-05].
When we look at the entire roster we only see two players – Iguodala and Dalembert – who were above average last season. And these players only produced 20 wins last year. For this team to get to average status, someone else is going to have to produce 20 more wins. The remaining veterans on the team, though, only produced 3.5 wins last season. And after Elton Brand (who we will discuss in a moment) the highest WP48 from last year was the 0.046 mark posted by Louis Williams. Such numbers tells us that this roster doesn’t have an abundance of productive problems.
It does, though, have Elton Brand. From 2001-02 to 2006-07, Brand averaged 14.5 Wins Produced per season. In 2007, though, Brand was hurt. Since this injury, Brand has only played 37 games and produced 1.8 wins. And he is now 30 years old. So although it is possible Brand can return to form, there is evidence that this won’t happen. But if Brand does return to form, the Sixers can get back to “average” status.
After Brand, the picture does look bleak. Again, most of the players on the roster have never been productive NBA players. It’s possible that some might look to the one player without prior NBA experience. The player ESPN.com lists as the starting point guard – Jrue Holiday – is a rookie. Of the 47 players drafted out of a college last year, Holiday was ranked 30th in Position Adjusted Win Score per 40 minutes (PAWS40). Right after Holiday was selected, the Denver Nuggets chose Ty Lawson; who was ranked 3rd in PAWS40. Those numbers suggest the Sixers made the wrong choice, and Philadelphia is not going to Miller-like production from the point guard spot. Of course, that’s just a suggestion. College numbers do not project perfectly to the NBA (although there is a correlation).
Best Case vs. Worst Case
Okay, so what can fans of the Sixers expect? The Best Case scenario is that Brand returns to what we saw two years ago and Iguodala and Dalembert remain productive (and maybe Holiday is not as bad as his college numbers suggest). If that happens, the Sixers will get about 35 wins from their top three players and the team might make the playoffs. The Worst Case scenario, though, is that Brand doesn’t return to form. Given what’s left on this roster, the Sixers will then struggle to get past 30 wins.
If the worst case scenario occurs, I suspect some people will blame Eddie Jordan (the team’s new coach). And I suspect others will argue that the team misses Allen Iverson. For the first argument I would note that coaches do not generally change player performance in the NBA. As for the second argument we can talk about Wins Produced. But also consider the following: The Sixers were 111-111 with Andre Miller. From 2003-04 to 2005-06 (or the last three full seasons Iverson played in Philadelphia), the Sixers were 114-132. Yes, the Sixers did reach the NBA Finals with Iverson. But the team’s record with the Answer (throughout his career in Philly) was actually below 0.500 (really, it was). So Iverson – as Wins Produced suggests – was never really “the Answer”.
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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.