The Chicago Bulls finished the 2008-09 season by taking the Boston Celtics – the defending NBA champions — to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Such a performance likely gave fans of the Bulls hope for the future.
Since the Chicago-Boston series ended, though, little has happened. In the draft Chicago added James Johnson and Taj Gibson. Both Johnson and Gibson appear to play power forward, or the same position as Tyrus Thomas (and perhaps Joakim Noah). So it’s unclear how much either rookie will play (or if they are an upgrade over what the Bulls currently have).
Gordon vs. Pargo
The only other move the Bulls made was the signing of Jannero Pargo, a move made at the same time Ben Gordon signed with the Detroit Pistons. Both Gordon and Pargo are undersized shooting guards who like to launch shots from beyond the arc. There are, though, substantial differences. On the positive side, Pargo is far cheaper. Unfortunately, the Bulls are getting what they pay for. In terms of on-court productivity, Pargo is very much a downgrade.
As has been noted in the past in this forum (and also in The Wages of Wins), Gordon – relative to an average shooting guard – is not very good. In fact, Gordon has never posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] mark that was above average. WP48, though, compares a player to the average at his position. If Gordon could be compared to Pargo, he would be a superstar.
Table One reports the productivity of each player the Chicago Bulls employed last season. As one can see, Gordon’s WP48 was 0.097 last season. Pargo didn’t play in the NBA last season, but his career WP48 is -0.018. So Gordon was 0.115 better than Pargo’s career average; or if Pargo was an average player [WP48 of 0.100], Gordon would have a 0.215 WP48 [i.e. Gordon would be a star].
To put these numbers in perspective, Gordon produced 6.1 wins for the Bulls last year. Pargo’s career mark indicates he would have produced -1.1 wins in Gordon’s minutes. So replacing Gordon with Pargo would have cost the Bulls 7.2 wins and their opening round match-up with the Celtics.
Looking for Hope
The comparison between Gordon and Pargo suggests the Bulls are going to decline in 2009-10. When we consider the team’s current depth chart (taken from ESPN.com), though, there is reason for optimism (2008-09 WP48 reported)
PG: Derrick Rose, 0.084 WP48
SG: John Salmons, 0.098 WP48 (for entire 2008-09 season)
SF: Luol Deng, 0.121 WP48
PF: Joakim Noah, 0.208 WP48
C: Brad Miller, 0.122 WP48 (for entire 2008-09 season)
PG: Kirk Hinrich, 0.104 WP48
SG: Jannero Pargo, –0.043 WP48 in 2007-08
PF: Tyrus Thomas, 0.120 WP48
Looking at these numbers we see that five players who will be part of the rotation next year were above average in 2008-09. And Salmons and Rose were very close to average. So Pargo is the only weak link on the team. It appears, though, that Salmons is the primary replacement for Gordon; so Pargo’s negative impact will be mitigated.
Looking at just these numbers – and assuming the remaining roster is not a detriment to the team (the team will employ more than the eight players listed above) – this team is capable of winning at least half their games. It’s possible, though, for the Bulls to do better.
For example, Luol Deng posted the following numbers prior to this season.
2004-05: 5.0 Wins Produced, 0.148 WP48
2005-06: 10.7 Wins Produced, 0.198 WP48
2006-07: 14.7 Wins Produced, 0.230 WP48
2007-08: 5.9 Wins Produced, 0.133 WP48
The first three years of Deng’s career we see the standard pattern in young players. Each year Deng got better. In 2006-07, though, Deng missed 2o games and his per-minute performance declined. Deng also missed games last year. If Deng could be healthy and productive, though, the Bulls could expect about five additional wins.
And then there is the case of Derrick Rose. The media and coaches stated that Rose was the top rookie last season. The Wins Produced story, though, suggests Rose was only average. If Rose continues as an average player (and Deng doesn’t return to form), the Bulls will probably be close to an average team. But what if Rose follows the career path of LeBron James and Kevin Durant? Both LeBron and Durant struggled their first year and then developed into above average performers. If Rose follows the same path, then the prospects of the Bulls improve dramatically.
To illustrate, Rose produced about five wins last season as an essentially average point guard and the team won 41 games. Here is what happens if Rose plays better:
WP48 = 0.150, Wins Produced are about 9.0, Bulls win about 45 games
WP48 = 0.200, Wins Produced are about 12.0, Bulls win about 48 games
WP48 = 0.250, Wins Produced are about 15.0, Bulls win about 51 games
WP48 = 0.300, Wins Produced are about 18.0, Bulls win about 54 games
In sum, if Rose becomes the player people think he was last year, the Bulls can be above average. If Deng returns to form, the team is even better. And if the Bulls sign Dwyane Wade in 2010 (a rumor I have seen), the Chicago Bulls could be a title contender in 2011.
Of course, all these “ifs” might not happen. But contrary to what I said last March, it’s possible (not a guarantee, just a possibility) that Barack Obama can legitimately invite the Bulls to the White House before his first term ends. And the signing of Pargo is not enough to derail this hope.
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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.