One of the very first columns posted in this forum was “The Tragedy of Kevin Garnett.” For years KG was the most productive player in the NBA. And for years, the Minnesota Timberwolves surrounded KG with relatively poor players. Consequently, Garnett could never experience the playoff success enjoyed by players like Kobe Bryant; a fact that led some to conclude Kobe is actually more productive than Garnett (yes, I know, kind of silly).
Now a similar story is taking place in New Orleans. For each of the past two seasons Chris Paul has led the NBA in Wins Produced. In 2007-08, Paul produced 25.4 wins while his teammates produced 29.7. Such a combination was sufficient to win 55 games, although had Paul been merely average (average WP48 is 0.100), then the Hornets would have only won 36 games (and missed the playoffs).
Last season – as Table One reveals – Paul was even better. His 28.2 Wins Produced led the league. And as I noted a few weeks ago, when you consider standard deviations above average, Paul’s 2008-09 performance was the best the NBA has seen since the days of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
Unfortunately, Paul’s teammates were very bad. Everyone not named CP3 only produced 16.7 wins for the Hornets in 2008-09. So if one replaced Paul with an average player, the Hornets ranked among the very worst teams in the league.
This past summer changes were made to the Hornets roster. The big move was trading Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor. Here is what I said when this trade was announced:
…Chandler has been traded to the Bobcats for Emeka Okafor.
John Hollinger made the following comment on this trade (Insider access required): …Okafor is the better player. Both players consistently have been honorable mentions in my all-defense picks, but Okafor is the superior scorer. That might not be saying much — both players are somewhat limited offensively — but Okafor can score on post-ups occasionally and make short bank shots, while Chandler’s range ends at the charge circle. Over the past three seasons, Okafor has averaged nearly five more points per 40 minutes — that’s big.
If we look at the past three seasons, Chandler has a 0.230 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] while Okafor has a 0.222 WP48. If we focus on just the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, though, Chandler trumps Okafor 0.271 to 0.235. Again, Chandler – primarily because of injury – had a poor season last year. If Chandler is now healthy it’s more than possible that the Bobcats come out ahead on this deal. At least, that appears to be true if we look past scoring.
Let me also note that if we focus solely on 2008-09, Okafor did offer more. In other words, it’s likely that Okafor in 2009-10 will do more than Chandler did last season. The Hornets, though, didn’t stop with this move. They also added Darius Songaila [-0.8 Wins Produced, -0.024 WP48] and Bobby Brown [-2.6 Wins Produced, -0.136 WP48]. Both Songaila and B. Brown were among the least productive players in 2008-09. So these moves are probably not going to help. The addition of these players gives the Hornets the following depth chart:
Potential First String
PG: Chris Paul [28.2 Wins Produced, 0.451 WP48]
SG: James Posey [5.0 Wins Produced, 0.111 WP48]
SF: Julian Wright [0.9 Wins Produced, 0.054 WP48]
PF: David West [6.5 Wins Produced, 0.105 WP48]
C: Emeka Okafor [11.0 Wins Produced, 0.196 WP48]
Potential Second String
PG: Darren Collison [rookie] or Bobby Brown [-2.6 Wins Produced, -0.136 WP48]
SG: Devin Brown [-0.3 Wins Produced, -0.015 WP48]
SF: Peja Stojakovic [1.9 Wins Produced, 0.044 WP48]
PF: Darius Songaila [-0.8 Wins Produced, -0.024 WP48]
C: Hilton Armstrong [-2.6 Wins Produced, -0.115 WP48]
Chris Paul note the following about this team:“This might be the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
When we consider Wins Produced, though, we see a different story. The Hornets currently have one amazing player in Paul, one very good player in Okafor, two players who are close to average (Posey and West), and then a collection of players that are well below average. In sum, I think this team is better than what we saw last season. But I don’t think this team is as good as it was in 2007-08. Yes, it is possible Julian Wright can play better (or just play the entire season). And Posey, Stojakovic, and D. Brown have played better before 2008-09. Still, when we compare the Hornets to the other top teams in the West (i.e. Lakers, Blazers, Spurs, Mavericks, Jazz, and Nuggets), I think New Orleans – despite having the very best player in the league – come up short.
One wonders how long this will continue. Paul is only 24 years old and signed through the 2011-12 season. So New Orleans does have some time to truly build “a deep team” around Paul. It’s possible, though, that we are seeing a replay of the KG story. After 12 seasons of struggling in Minnesota, Garnett was finally traded to Boston where he won his first title. For KG, this happened when he was 31 years old. Will Paul have to wait this long?
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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.